Zune 2 better than the iPod classic?

Will Microsoft's new Zune players cause as much fuss as the recent iPhone launch? No. Nobody is expecting a media fanfare and queues of a thousand people outside Circuit City.

While Microsoft made a grab for Apple's MP3 heartland with the original Zune, it made little impact on iPod sales. Microsoft just didn't think big enough, cool enough or slim enough. Instead, it played it safe with a rebadged Toshiba Gigabeat. And when you're going up against Apple, this strategy just isn't going to work.

Give Zune a chance

Microsoft has lined up two new Zunes for its second bash at the MP3 player market. Both the new HDD-based Zune 80, and its baby, flash-equipped brother (available in 4GB and 8GB models), go on sale in the US on Tuesday November 13.

Both Zunes are also available through a new store - Zune Orignals. Cashing in on the fad for device personalisation and customisation, Bink.nu explains that Zune Originals gives customers "the option to customize their Zune player with laser-engraved designs and personal text."

Interestingly, the first Zune 2 reviews are now starting to trickle in from US tech sites - PC World, Wired and ZuneScene. And there's little of the blatant Microsoft-bashing that you might expect. PC Mag even goes as far as saying that "the 80GB Zune trumps the iPod Classic."

There's no denying that the new Zunes are certainly better. But they lack that cutting edge look-'n'-feel when compared to the fresh phalanx of Apple's iPods - the new shuffles, revamped iPod classic, the video nano and the love-it-or-hate-it iPod touch.

Will Zune 3.0 be 'Zune touch'?

Nevertheless, Microsoft is camped in the digital audio market for the long haul. It has a grand vision of a connected entertainment platform that links together Windows Vista PCs, Xbox 360 and Zune. These new models are the next, albeit small, step forward.

Admittedly, the original Zune could be considered a failure. But unlike Apple, which replaces ageing models with shiny new versions, Microsoft is making the Zune 2.0 firmware available for Zune 1.0 devices. It's a clever move, giving the old Zune 30 a new lease of life. Especially as the original chunky Zune can be bought second-hand in the US for less than $100.

With Zune 2.0 drawing interesting responses Stateside, the question now is what form Zune 3.0 will take? A slimmer Zune 2.0? A surprising Zune Phone? An Xbox handheld, perhaps? Will Microsoft push the technology boat out to attack the iPod touch/iPhone head on or hang back, slowly evolving its product line?

And will we ever see a Zune in the UK? Microsoft isn't saying.