No, it’s not a cross between 1960s Japanese and 1940s American monster movies. iLounge got some hands-on time with Zune and its initial report doesn’t turn up anything dramatically threatening to the iPod. As with Vista, Microsoft is paying more attention to eye candy and animations with smooth transitions (I must admit I’m a fan of the “dissolve”) and overlays of letters while scrolling are a nice navigation aid. Beyond that, it looks like Apple’s competitive advantage is still intact. The Zune has no scroll wheel and it’s thicker. As I’ve advocated, it also looks like Microsoft has put the kibosh on iTunes reimbursement as well. Toshiba’s GigaBeat S has the aided navigation and it’s just as small as the iPod with a larger screen like the Zune.
Of Zune’s much-touted Wi-Fi features, iLounge notes that you can “lend” a song to a friend for a day (what’s with the content industry’s infatuation with a 24-hour cycle?) While iLounge does a fine job of pointing out limited utility of this feature until both the Zune and its store achieve critical mass, it does represent one of the first advantages that protected music might have over unprotected music.
For example, you can stream MP3s across a home network, share them on as many PCs as you like, and download them to practically any portable music player, but Zune would only enable peer-to-peer sharing — even in its limited form — only for protected music. Microsoft may be banking on users wanting to reanimate a bunch of deactivated music files on their Zune as a distant way of driving viral music purchase. Microsoft will probably also work to enable this kind of sharing on Zune’s community-focused music service as well, where it can spread more quickly.