Amid the clamor of Apple’s showy unveiling of its next generation of iPods, Microsoft is planning to refresh its own line of personal music devices, the Zune.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) plans to roll out a software upgrade that will allow Zune owners to download and stream music over a Wi-Fi connection, and tag and purchase songs from the built-in FM radio tuner.
Microsoft is touting the changes as a billing the changes as a major improvement in how people discovery music. In addition to the “Buy from FM” feature, the free software upgrade will enable Zune Pass subscribers to access personalized recommendations based on their preferences.
“Digital music services really come alive when they help people find not only the music they know they like, but the music they didn’t know they would love,” Chris Stephenson, general manager of Global Marketing for Zune at Microsoft, said in a statement.
Another discovery tool Microsoft plans to offer Zune Pass subscribers is a roster of channels, offering content such as songs from the Billboard Top 100 or workout-themed music.
When people hear a song they like and are in a wireless hotspot, they can use the “Buy from FM” feature to purchase the song. The Zune will maintain a queue of songs that users add when not in a hot spot to download later.
Then too, Zune owners will be able to access their friends’ playlists through the Zune social music community. All these discovery features are aimed at the needle-in-a-haystack problem people have of finding new music they like in an ever-increasing glut of content.
“Friends are amassing very large libraries of digital music,” Gartner analyst Mike McGuire told InternetNews.com. “One of the things that’s tough is it’s so easy to acquire content, but getting recommendations and discovering new music is a lot of times hit-or-miss.”
In that sense, the new features are similar to the “Genius” feature that Apple unveiled today in its new line of iPods and its iTunes update. The Genius feature runs an algorithm to queue up songs that it identifies as similar to one that a user selected.
McGuire called the upgrades “different takes on the same concept.”
Microsoft also plans to introduce new Zune models with storage capacities of 16 gigabytes and 120 GB. The new devices will be available in all black and blue-and-silver color schemes. The 16GB model will retail for $199.00, the 120GB model for $249.99.
The new models build on the existing line of Zunes, which had capacities of 80GB, 8GB and 4GB.
Microsoft plans to begin rolling out the new features and devices Sept. 16.