"Under the Zune brand, we will deliver a family of hardware and software products, the first of which will be available this year," said Chris Stephenson, general manager of market for entertainment and services at Microsoft, in a statement. "We see a great opportunity to bring together technology and community to allow consumers to explore and discover music together."The Zune family will kick off with an online music service and a digital media player, Stephenson told Billboard in another interview. Like the iPod, the Zune player will be outfitted with a hard drive, but it will also feature built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Stephenson says Microsoft is currently examining scenarios for the wireless capability, such as letting Zune users buy music online and store content in an "online digital locker." Compatibility with a variety of devices, including Windows Media Center PCs, Windows Mobile phones, and Xbox 360 game consoles, is also on the menu.
As the icing on the cake, Microsoft plans to allow Zune users to share playlists and sample music off each others' players. According to Virgin Records Executive VP Jeff Kempler, however, this music sharing capability will require "evolving licensing schemes that have some flexibility in them," and a balance will have to be struck between "the benefits of discovery and remuneration of paid content acquisition."