The music player's Wi-Fi capabilities allow people to share full-length sample tracks of their favorite playlist from wherever they are. Those users can listen to a shared song three times over three days before deciding whether to buy it. Pictures can also be shared.
The device, which is being manufactured by Toshiba, may be the best last chance for the Redmond, WA-based behemoth to wrest any vestige of cool from Apple, which mounted an elaborate event dubbed "It's Showtime!" earlier this week.
Zune is expected to be available for the holiday season. A suggested price was noticeably absent from Microsoft's announcement. A debut of $299 was widely anticipated before Apple's news of a new entry-level iPod, carrying a $249 price tag.
A Zune Marketplace, competing with Apple's online iTunes store, will be available shortly. Microsoft said users will be able to buy individual songs, or purchase a subscription to listen to unlimited tracks at a flat fee. Each Zune will come preloaded with music from DTS, EMI Music's Astralwerks Records and Virgin Records, Ninja Tune and others.
Accessories will allow the user to use Zune from car, home, or the road.
In an interview published earlier this week, J. Allard, the 37-year-old Microsoft legend behind Zune, said customer focus and "tomorrow's content, not yesterday's content" are at the forefront of his Zune strategy. "We're just starting out. We're the independent label," he told Seattle Weekly. "Never mind that the company is ginormous. In the music space, we're nobody."