Microsoft, which trails far behind Apple in the portable media player market, tried to narrow the gap Tuesday with the release of new technology that enables Zune users to share more of their music libraries with friends.
The latest update to the Zune software that synchronizes the player with a person's music library on the PC and Microsoft's online store reflects how Microsoft is hoping to grab market share from the Apple iPod by encouraging Zune users to build online social networks. Microsoft last November launched a music community Web site called Zune Social, where users could browse each other's playlists and share opinions on songs and bands.
The upgrade takes the community element a bit further by letting Zune users download each other's nine most recently played songs, as well as nine tunes flagged as favorites. The playlists are updated each time a person connects their Zune to the PC.
In order for people to trade tunes, they have to subscribe to Microsoft's mobile music service called Zune Pass. The service costs $14.99 a month and lets subscribers download onto their Zunes any of the 3.5 million songs in Microsoft's library.
Only time will tell whether Microsoft's strategy will gain ground against Apple. Up until now, however, the Zune, which Microsoft launched in late 2006, has failed to make a dent. In the first quarter, Apple accounted for 71% of the portable music player market in the U.S., while Microsoft had only 4%, according to The NPD Group.
In other Zune news, Microsoft on Tuesday added television shows from Comedy Central, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting, and others to the Zune online store. Microsoft added a total of 800 episodes, including those from the popular South Park and Heroes programs. Each show costs $1.99 each.
Nevertheless, Microsoft's offerings fall far short of Apple's. The latter company's iTunes store offers thousands of episodes from 600 shows.