Microsoft Corp. said Monday that it is updating its Zune digital media player so the product can wirelessly download and stream songs when users have access to Wi-Fi networks.
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Free updates to the device's software and firmware, as well as more capacious hard drive-based and flash memory-based models, are set to be available Sept. 16.
The software and firmware updates will build on the Zune's current wireless functionality by letting users with Wi-Fi access buy songs they hear over the Zune's built-in FM radio that are available through the Zune Marketplace online music store.
And when users are in a Wi-Fi hotspot they will also be able to wirelessly log on to the Zune Marketplace and get music recommendations or use an on-screen keypad to type in song names, the company said. Then, chosen tunes will be able to be downloaded to the Zune.
Zune owners can currently buy tunes one at a time, or pay $15 per month for a Zune Pass subscription, which gives access to every song in the catalog. With the new wireless features, Zune Pass holders will also be able to stream songs to their devices.
Previously, the Zune's wireless feature — one of the key things that sets it apart from market leader Apple Inc.'s iPod — was limited to syncing music, movies and photos automatically with users' PCs and to sharing songs between Zune owners.
Katy Asher, group marketing manager for the Zune, said the new wireless features are meant to help people find new music.
She said the radio feature is about instant gratification, noting that the medium is "still one of the number-one places people find out about new music."
Microsoft is also updating the Zune's hardware with the rollout of a model with a 120-gigabyte hard drive, which will cost $250, and a model with 16 GB of flash memory, which will cost $200.
The company is phasing out the current hard drive-based 80 GB model, which had been its most capacious player, and the flash memory-based 4 GB model, which was its smallest. The 80 GB model's price will drop to $230 from $250, while the 4 GB model will still cost $130.
Those players were introduced last October, along with an 8 GB flash memory-based model that Microsoft will continue to sell. The 8 GB player's price will drop to $150 from $180.
There will be two new colors, as well — the 8 GB player will be available with a glossy blue face, and the 16 GB and 120 GB models will be available in a glossy black that is also black on the back, eschewing the Zune's traditional silver back.
The price changes are also expected on Sept. 16.
The updates are the most recent to the Zune's hardware and firmware since last October, when Microsoft unveiled the 80 GB hard drive-based model and 4 GB and 8 GB flash memory-based models.
The Zune is still a small fish in the portable media player pond — since its launch in November 2006, Microsoft has sold 2.5 million of the device.
Apple, meanwhile, sold 11 million iPods in its fiscal third quarter, and the company is expected to reveal its own product lineup update on Tuesday in San Francisco.