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Competitors update music players, continue to fight

Apple released new music players last week along with an updated version of the iTunes music store. The store now has music recommendations based on your tastes as well as new games for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Microsoft also released new music players last week and a new firmware for the Zune players to include Audible support, buying music over Wi-Fi and FM tagging.

The battle is on.

Microsoft upgraded the Zune to include a new 16GB version ($199), a price drop on the 4GB ($129) and 8GB ($149) and a new harddrive-based 120GB ($249) model as well.  Other features added to the Zune include support for games and recommendations for new music.

Micorsoft was criticized when the first Zune came to the market for adding restrictions when sharing music with other Zunes.  Microsoft deserved praise —and got it— when they released an updated firmware for Zune because all new features will work for all models of the Zune family, even the discontinued models.

When Apple releases a new iPod, some of the accessories that worked on previous versions of iPods won’t work for the newer version.  It’s Apple’s way of giving the middle finger to consumers who spend hundreds of dollars on accessories that worked for the first generation iPhone and won’t work on the second generation iPhone because Apple removed one pin from the dock connector.

One feature Microsoft added to the Zune is FM tagging. While listening to the radio on your Zune, you can ‘tag’ the song and buy it.  Unfortunately, FM stations have to support Radio Data Systems that display the song title on the Zune and only two stations in Baton Rouge area correctly support it — 101.5 WYNK and 102.5 WFMF.

Another feature added to the Zune is the expanded use of the built-in wireless Internet.  You can now explore the Zune marketplace and buy songs over a Wi-Fi connection. And a new partnership with McDonald’s allows Zune users to download purchased songs for free at any Wayport-powered McDonald’s.

Microsoft also released new software that recommends music based on your genre styles.  But it will only recommend music available in the Zune Marketplace.

Even though Microsoft updated its music players, Apple stole the spotlight with new Nanos, an updated second- generation iPod touch, new 2.1 firmware for the iPhone and a new version of iTunes that features music recommendations.

The new version of the Nano features a new 16GB model ($199), a price drop on the 8GB models ($149) and liposuction.  Gone are the ‘fat nano’ and in is the new taller, skinner, rounded Nano while still keeping the same screen size from the older nano.

New features were added to the Nano that are already in the iPhone, like changing into a coverflow version when titled into landscape mode and a new way to shuffle songs — just shake it.

Apple also released a new iPod touch with the iPhone 3G model — slim with rounded corners.  One feature that was not mentioned was the ability to record audio on the new iPod Touch through special headphones, due out next month.  This could clear the way for the iPod Touch to be used for telephone calls over the Internet — known as VOIP. There are no VOIP applications on the iTunes app store, and Skype does plan to release a version in the future.

Apple also released a new version of iTunes that includes music recommendations called ‘Genius sidebar’. Just like the Zune Marketplace, it recommends music based on your tastes in music, as long as iTunes has it available for purchase.

The only problem that might kill the success of the iPod lineup is the ever-expanding bloat-ware of the iTunes software.

The new version of iTunes did not recognize my collection of two thousand MP3s that was downloaded during the Napster/Morephus/KaZaa period because the ID tags on the MP3 are outdated. Some users are reporting bugs that crash Windows when the iPod is plugged in if users upgraded to the current version of Itunes.  Luckily, I never had any issues when I plugged (and prayed) my iPod in my computer.

There are other music players in the market, but Apple dominates the market with 71 percent, according to the NPD Group.  Will Microsoft become the dominate music player in the market?

Nope.

All Microsoft and the others players can do is hope to chip away at Apple’s dominance.

This column appeared in the Daily Reveille newspaper on Friday, September 19, 2008 called "Competitors update music players, continue to fight"