On Friday, Microsoft revealed its long-awaited handheld device, Zune. But the media player is not the handheld games device many had expected.
Rather, Zune, at least in its first incarnation, will be squarely targeted at the portable music market, with a hard-drive based music player being released before the end of 2006.
Zune will wage its battle across a front combining the new hardware with a software shopping-and-sharing equivalent to Apple's iTunes. As we predicted recently in our 'Apple's opportunity in games' article on the Pocket Gamer blog, Microsoft (and Zune project leader J Allard, the public face of the Xbox 360) plans to use everything it has learned with Xbox Live to make Zune's software largely community-driven.
Is that the end of the story? Not by a long shot. The well-informed pundits at engadget suspect – and we agree – that a portable games version of the Zune family is on the way, exploiting the Xbox Live Anywhere functionality that Bill Gates talked about at the Game Developers Conference back in March.
Meanwhile, another gadget site, gizmodo, has received a tip-off that an add-on magnetic games controller is already in the works for the first Zune device, and that it will enable you to play early 1990s-level portable games on this first-generation machine. (Our view on that: "Hmmm…")
However it plays out, we strongly suspect that within 12 months you'll see 'Zune' sitting up there in our Pocket Gamer navigation system, between Game Boy and N-Gage most likely. Perhaps we'll eventually squeeze that rumoured Apple portable in there too? Before doing so we'll wait for solid confirmation of either device.
On that note, while most have painted this as another clash between Microsoft and Apple, it could be the cheaper non-Apple handheld music players like the iRiver that most lose out. The market for higher-end music-to-go is certainly still growing fast: Apple sold another eight million iPods in the past three months to July 1st.
We were going to end with a typical dodgy pun and say it was 'coming Zune', but, incredibly, Microsoft got there before us. You can sign up for an official Zune newsletter at Coming Zune.
Alternatively, click 'Track It!' here to get any more games-related Zune news just as soon as we do.