Firmware details for the upcoming Zune 16 and Zune 120 have just showed up online, and as before, fantastically, all new features are being added retrospectively to existing Zunes.However, as a British Zune owner, I’m afraid to say that not many of the new features are very useful for us over here. Read on for full details.
The only thing “new” about the hardware in the new Zunes is the bigger storage. Other than that, the hardware is identical to the Zune 2.0s, so you’ve still got the flicky song-scrolling “Zune Pad”, and the huge screen. There’s also the inbuilt FM radio and WiFi. Microsoft said in an interview with Ars Technica that they’re very happy with the hardware they’ve got and don’t feel any pressing need to update it – instead they’re concentrating on making that hardware more useful.
Buy from FM Radio
Microsoft did a survey, and it turns out that 61% of people discover new music by listening to the radio. 50% of Zune users use the radio on a regular basis, too, so it makes sense for Microsoft to make this feature more useful. In the new firmware, you’ll be able to listen to the radio and if a song comes on that you like then you’ll be able to tag it for buying immediately. If you’re in a wireless hotspot, then you’ll get it instantly, otherwise it’ll download the next time you sync with your PC.
Access the Zune Store on the go
You’ll also now be able to get into the Zune store from your Zune. It’s something that a lot of people have been asking for since day one, and Microsoft admit that it’s mainly a feature for power users. Again, it’ll only work when you’re in WiFi range.
Channels for music discovery
If you feel like you want “music industry experts” picking your music for you, then you’ll be pleased by the addition of “channels”. These are playlists of songs recommended for different purposes, like a heavy workout, or in a particular genre. They come with a Zune Pass subscription, or if you don’t have one of those you can buy them a la carte.
Or, if you prefer the love of a cold machine over a warm human being, then the Zune software will analyse what you play and recommend you new artists that other customers have bought alongside the ones you played. Much like Amazon’s recommendations system.
Cesar, one of the Zune team, even had a sly dig at Apple when announcing this feature, saying “We wouldn’t go as far as to consider ourselves “geniuses” at telling you what music you should check out, but we do think we’ve come up with some pretty good ways for you to expand your music library based on the type of music you and your friends listen to“
Games and Audiobooks
Zune will also support a couple of games – Hexic and Texas Hold’em Poker – on the new devices, as well as a range of audiobooks powered by Audible and Overdrive. Audiobooks are fair enough, but haven’t people already got enough crap games on their phones to need ones on their MP3 player too?
Lastly, the software for syncing your Zune to your PC has also seen a refresh. You can select an artist, album or Zune Card to see a “mixview” of other related artists and albums, like a grid of album covers. From each one, you can click to further explore. On top of that the “now playing” view has been revamped. There’s now a bunch of biographical info and images of artists whacked up there, for when you want to find out more about a band.
You know what the worst thing is about this update? If you don’t have a Zune account, then the only benefit you get from this update is the games and the audiobooks support. Let me rephrase that slightly – if you’re in the UK and are unable to register for a Zune account because Microsoft have blocked non-North American IP addresses registering, then you just get games and audiobooks in the 3.0 update.
I see absolutely no value in blocking international users from registering for Zune accounts – so why do Microsoft do it? Perhaps it’s issues with rights-holders, but I imagine that very few users outside of the US and Canada would bother registering anyway. If you’re reading this from one of those countries, then this firmware will be available from next Tuesday – the 16th Sept. If not, and you’ve imported a Zune, then I wouldn’t bother upgrading if I were you – it’s just more clutter on your device that you won’t be able to use.
Does this update make the Zune more attractive to you? Does it even think about challenging Apple? I’m inclined to think the answer to both is “no”, but I’d love to know if you agree. Let us know in the comments.