By Craig Zammit

SYDNEY: Microsoft launched its challenge against Apple’s iPod this week in the US through its new wi-fi mp3 player, the Zune, however Microsoft representatives in Australia have yet to confirm the local release date for the product. received confirmation that Microsoft currently has no plans regarding an Australian release for the Zune, however with the Christmas period rapidly approaching it’s conceivable Microsoft does not wish to flood the local market and potentially cannibalise sales of its front line Christmas product – the Xbox 360.

The main drawcard of the Zune, and the feature which Microsoft has been championing, is the product’s ability to wirelessly ‘share’ songs and photos between Zune players using its wi-fi connectivity.

Microsoft claims this unique feature will create a portable music-sharing culture, or the ‘Zune community’, which is designed to bring about a paradigm shift and eclipse the functionality of the iPod by creating a platform which casual users and musicians alike can utilise to share their music across a new domain.

However, as the Zune began hitting the shelves in the US and users began exploring the device further, it was soon discovered that any tracks shared from Zune to Zune are limited to a maximum of three plays before being permanently erased from the device, leaving the user to head over to Microsoft’s music download service, Zune Marketplace, to purchase the song – which is similar to Apple’s iTunes service.  

This shortcoming aside, the Zune does boast a three-inch display (larger than the iPod), an FM receiver, a 30GB hard drive, is reportedly easier to use but remains slightly larger and heavier than its competing iPod, and sells for $US249 ($AUD325).

In a conversation with Reuters, Microsoft CEO, Steven Ballmer stated that the Zune was a long-term project which Microsoft will commit hundreds millions of dollars to build its return and slowly eat away at Apples more than 75 per cent share of the digital music player market.

Interestingly, Microsoft has also stated it is working on a Zune mobile phone, which no doubt will go head-to-head with the rumoured Apple iPhone.