REDMOND, Washington, Wednesday (UIS) — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today announced a new era at the Redmond software company, announcing their entry six nine twelve months hence into the cell phone market with the exciting new Zune Z-Phone, to finally get the company properly into the rapidly changing digital media landscape.
Ballmer, speaking to a group of trained-monkey analysts and cynical bloggers at the company headquarters today, unveiled mock-ups prototypes of the Z-Phone, which combines the Zune music player (with wifi for “squirting” songs), a CDMA cell phone, a PDA, an eight gigabyte hard disk, a camera, a laser pointer and a bottle opener into one semi-portable device. It will also allow you to “squirt” music to and from your Windows Vista Service Pack 1 2 Media Center computer.
The product underscores the shift the company has attempted to make in recent years from an office supply company to a consumer electronics darling as it aims not to become utterly obsolete in the digital future. “And even Linux fanboys admit our hardware is pretty nice,” Ballmer said before the somewhat sullen and cynical crowd. “It’s definitely the best music player we’ve ever made.”
Ballmer called the Z-Phone a revolutionary device that will leapfrog current technology. He said the company expects to sell about 100 million of them next year. “Maybe two hundred million. This is so the coolest music player ever.” Unlike the MP3 player market, which the iPod has dominated even with the entrance of Microsoft’s Zune two months ago, the cell phone market is much more fragmented. “There is not one device that everyone buys,” said completely independent analyst Rob Enderle, “but this fabulous device should trounce all comers. I’ve ordered three already in anticipation.”
Weighing in at only 15 ounces (425 grams), with a 5-inch 640-by-480 pixel screen, the $498 (with three-year $80/month contract) Z-Phone, a rebadged version of the LG Smart Display from 2003 with new firmware, looks like a Classic Brown Zune (to come in mission, chocolate, corduroy and meconium) with a phone touchpad in place of its imitation scroll wheel. It runs Windows Mobile, Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Microsoft Office, Pocket Solitaire and Pocket Pool. MSN will supply e-mail, mapping, search and other Internet services to the Z-Phone. It also features an amazing 1.3 megapixel (300,000 pixels interpolated) black and white camera. Battery life is estimated at up to four hours in Microsoft tests.
To better work with its content partners and ensure that you, the user, can rest safe in the knowledge that the artists and their representatives have been paid properly for all their hard work, Microsoft has limited “squirtable” songs to encrypted WMA files purchased from the Zune Music Store, which can be listened to three times or within three days before automatically being deleted from both the Z-Phone and the Media Center computer. Songs may also be “squirted” between two Z-Phones (though not the original Zune) if both are registered with Microsoft as being linked to that installation of Media Center. Users are advised to purchase Microsoft Zune Secure Headphones ($129), which encrypt the signal between the Z-Phone and your ears, as playback quality is degraded on conventional “analog hole” earphones or when playing back unencrypted MP3 files. Phone calls may be made to or received from any number on the network carrier you bought the Z-Phone from, with only a 99-cent charge for humming a song to someone you call or are called by on the phone or ten cents per use of the camera, laser pointer or bottle opener. Microsoft will also pay $20 from each Z-Phone sold to Universal Music. In addition to the ability to “squirt” songs, the user may “squirt” his calls, which are stored on Microsoft Zune Live servers and cost $40 per month to access.
In other news, Ballmer said that Microsoft had reached over 600 music downloads since introducing its Zune Music Store, selling over 70 songs a month. To keep those numbers rising, Ballmer announced a new partnership with Warner Music Group to offer their music on the Zune Music Store at the discounted price of 97 cents instead of 99 cents. “Bill and I have invited Edgar Bronfmann, Jr. from Warner to join the Microsoft board of directors. We feel he embodies the sort of natural business talent we need at Microsoft.”
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for thirty years,” Ballmer said. He wrapped up the keynote with a live performance by Milli Vanilli. “I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I was so excited about today. Join the ‘social’!”