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The Battle of Two MP3 Player Titans: Microsoft vs. Apple

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Updated November 17, 2006
The Apple iPod has for sometime now seen dominance in the MP3 player market. Its ease of use, wide array of iTunes downloadable content and various designs have made it a must have for many a gadget loving person and beyond. Apple computer rival Microsoft, long seeking to gain greater market share through its PlaysForSure alliances with third party companies like Creative and SanDisk, has grown tired of the white player and is now aggressively preparing its own entry: the Zune. This portable media device has some of the same features as the iPod and is also designed to let you wirelessly share music with others.

Which will win you ask? The odds on favorite is the Apple iPod given its current loyal following. That being said, Microsoft is known for pecking away at a competitor's lead through learning by example and producing a better product with each new generation. The Zune is a sure sign Microsoft has learned from their PlaysForSure mistakes and is looking for a fight.

Which player should you choose? That really depends on what you want out of a portable media player. To help you get started, we've provided below a brief comparison of key related sets of features of the Zune versus the primary iPod 5G (video). There are also some links to more indepth articles and photos of the new iPods and Zune.

Storage Size & Price
The Apple iPod, now in its fifth generation, prices at $249 for a 30GB model (7,500 songs) and $349 for an 80GB model (20,000 songs). The Microsoft Zune offers up a first generation 30GB (7,500 songs) model for $249.

With this pricing as it is, Microsoft is looking to go head to head with the smaller sized iPod in terms of both storage size and dollars you will be spending.

Audio/Video/Picture Files Supported
The Apple iPod supports the common music file type known as MP3 as well as others such as the AAC format (or, more specifically, a copy-protected subset of this format), which is what you get when you download a tune from iTunes. The Microsoft Zune supports MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA), among others. WMA is Microsoft's traditional music file format and will be the type of audio you download from the Zune Marketplace (or, more specifically, a copy-protected subset of this format).

It should be noted iPod users won't be able to enjoy Zune Marketplace content because it is in a copy protected format not compatible with the iPod. Zune users also will not be able to enjoy iTunes Store music because of similar copy protections on these select AAC files from that online music store.

Neither will Zune users be able to enjoy music from online music subscription services like Napster, Yahoo or MTV's URGE, which are PlaysForSure certified. PlaysForSure is a program Microsoft runs separately to guarantee ease of use between third party MP3 player makers like SanDisk and compatible online subscription services like the ones previously mentioned. Microsoft plans to run the Zune as a separate entity for the time being and is not allowing crossover.

As for digital video, the Zune will support Microsoft's Windows Media Video format but looks like it will not support subscription video from any source but the Zune Marketplace. The Apple iPod, meanwhile, supports a wider array of formats and is capable of playing back the hundreds of hours of video available through the iTunes Store.

With regards to digital photos, both the Zune and iPod support viewing of JPEGs, which is the most common digital image format out there.

Display and Controls
The Apple iPod sports a 2.5-inch QVGA transflective LCD display and uses as its primary control the multi-directional and generally easy to use Click Wheel. The Microsoft Zune sports a 3-inch LCD which can be oriented vertically or horizontally and has has its primary control a four way, simplistic D-Pad.

The iPod screen, while small, makes for great viewing of digital images and movies. The Zune's screen, while not yet tested, should also offer a nice viewing experience. The ability to change the viewing angle of the Zune's screen will make viewing videos especially a treat.

iTunes versus Zune Marketplace
The Apple iTunes Store currently offers (and is ever growing) a collection of more than 3.5 million 99¢ songs, 65,000 free podcasts, 20,000 audiobooks, 200 TV shows and over 75 movies. The Zune Marketplace is set to offer at launch over 2 million songs through either individual music purchases to own or a monthly subscription plan to rent as many songs as you can handle at once. No video looks to be initially available.

Dimensions and Weight
The Apple iPod (30GB) measures 4.1-inches (height) by 2.4-inches (width) by 0.43-inches (depth) and weighs 4.8 ounces. The Microsoft Zune measures, in the same dimensions, 4.4-inches by 2.4-inches by 0.6-inches and weighs 5.6 ounces. These dimensions make the iPod smaller then the Zune, which will be something to consider for ease of pocketing your player.

Worth Noting
Apple iPod: Established leader in portable media player space, largest amount of accessories, search and scroll functions for more quickly finding music selections, body color choices of black or white.
Microsoft Zune: Backing of one of the world's largest computer companies, key iPod accessory makers are making Zune accessories, built-in wireless technology so one can share full length sample tracks (with restrictions), playlists, pictures and personally recorded audio directly from Zune to Zune, body color choices of black, brown or white.

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