Zune Guns for Music Discovery Role

A few comments on Microsoft's latest Zune updates to tide you over till the Apple announcement. Announcement details here.

- Zune's pitch that it's a device (and services) about music discovery isn't half bad, and allows for some differentiation from Apple and SanDisk. I've always liked the beam-a-song-to-a-friend capability -- all too rare good use of DRM! Now Zune can tap the other major source of music discover -- radio.

Jupiter consumer surveys show that radio (63% of online adults) and friends' recommendations (26%) are the top two means of music discovery. Recommendations increase in importance for younger audiences and for sophisticated music fans.

- Microsoft continues to treat its Zune users well. All software and services are available and upgradeable for all Zune models.

- Channels and Personal Picks are logical extensions to the service, but they're both table stakes for digital music services (eg Rhapsody, Napster) and personalized recommendations are the same for stores (eg iTunes, Amazon). There's still no ad-supported service strategy.

- The build-out of Zune as a music-themed social network continues, but I remain unconvinced. Wouldn't it be better to embed a lot of Zune connections into music communities with lots of members like the obvious social networking suspects?

- The hardware is competitive -- at least for this morning -- but undifferentiated aside from WiFi, which, of course, the iPod Touch and iPhone have, too.

It's a long slog to a competitive position in media players, but we all said that about Xbox, too. But I'd feel a lot better about Zune's fortunes if I heard something super-aggressive about on-demand services, advertising, and syndication.