Billboard magazine has confirmed that Microsoft has a new portable entertainment platform that includes both hardware and software in the works. The brand name fo the platform is Zune (logo pictured right). CNet's Jasmine France has a lot of the details including some of the information that can't be had from BillBoard unless you're registered with the site. In coordination with the release of the new, there are also two new Web sites available on the Web. One called comingzune.com with a teasing animation and the other the Zune Insider blog by Cesar Menendez who left Microsoft's XBox team to work on Zune (one of the worst kept secrets in the industry). According to Rice's summary:
The first implementation of this will be the portable music player and digital music service....Additional Zune-branded devices will follow, including a portable video player and, potentially, a portable game device....the initial music device will contain a hard drive and the much-discussed Wi-Fi connection for wireless Internet access....Zune users will be able to view each other's playlists, recommend music, and sample tracks in what Stephenson describes as a multifaceted music discovery experience. This capability will extend to the Xbox 360 game console, PCs running Windows Media Center, and mobile phones using the Windows Mobile operating system....The article also suggests that the existing MSN Music service will not be part of the Zune ecosystem and that, while it will be supported by Microsoft, it will probably be "left to die on the vine."
So, in addition to keyboard, mice, and XBoxes, Microsoft is adding more hardware to its portfolio. The first thought that comes to mind giving the connectivity these devices will have is how much easier it will be for content providers to work the DRM levers (for example, revoking a device's ability to playback a certain song). The more such devices can make contact with the Internet, the more the DRM system can work in real-time.
The second question that comes to mind is, "What about all of Microsoft's PlaysForSure hardware partners like Creative Labs, Samsung, and iRiver?" Their entire strategy is built around the notion that Microsoft is creating an ecosystem that each can equally play in and that Microsoft won't be competing against them. But if Microsoft is coming out with hardware, then something has changed. Either Microsoft can't count on these partners to help it compete against Apple's iTunes and iPods, or, the hardware it's coming out with is more of a reference design that its existing partners can build from.
Only time will tell.