Microsoft's Zune HD launches

Finally all our questions are being answered.

Pretty much all the gadget blogs have now gotten their hands on a Zune HD and early reports and pseudo-reviews are rolling in. One of the first surprises users will get is that the Zune HD doesn't work out of the box. The device apparently comes with no firmware, and the first order of business for new owners is to sync it with a PC to get the thing working. At least, that's the way I'm reading things, though it seems almost too bizarre to believe. Maybe a TechnoFile reader/early adopter can confirm this? In any case, Mac and Linux users need not apply.

One of our big questions leading up to release was what form the app store would take. It sounds like Microsoft is retaining control of the Zune app store, and that for now at least all the apps are free. Basically they're taking extra software bits out of the main Zune OS and allowing users to pick and choose what they want to devote space to. The Seattle Times interviewed Zune marketing manager Brian Seitz, who said, in response to a question about the app store:

Last year our apps were games. We introduced a bundle of games in the update, which was convenient but also really painful because the download was really big. So we stripped those out. Now they're a side-load experience through the software in the marketplace or on the device.

When it comes to apps on Zune on the 15th what you'll see is primarily games. We're refreshing a lot of the games to take advantage of the multitouch. Casual games. plus a couple of apps like the weather app and calculator. Plus we're building a Twitter (app), a Facebook (app) and a bunch of 3D games like "Project Gotham Racing" that will come out in November.

All of our apps are free ... and it's a managed solution right now, so we're building these apps or working with third parties to build these apps and provide them to our customers for free.

It really sounds like the Zune app store is a work-in-progress. The Xbox 360 has the XNA ecosystem that allows end users to build and sell games on the Xbox Live Marketplace; it seems like a no-brainer to fork this system to support the Zune HD as well. Maybe Microsoft just isn't ready to talk about that yet.

On the other hand, Seitz goes on to reaffirm that the Zune team's "laser focus" is on music and video.

Here's an incomplete list of sites that have Zune hands-on pieces available:

Electronista

Ars Technica

CNET

With many more to come. I don't know, I'm feeling slightly underwhelmed after reading all this coverage. Maybe I was hoping for more of a geek toy than a media player? More of a direct competitor to the iPod Touch, which clearly is being positioned as being more than just a media player.

What about you? Did you pre-order? If not, are you planning on getting one of these things? My burning desire for a Zune HD has cooled a bit and I'm now in a 'wait and see' frame of mind.

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