Sweet Zune o' Mine: Where do we go, now, where do we go?

So now the new Zunes are out and about, cool. They’re a big improvement to the original, which had been out less than a year. And while we’re supporters of the Zune and the Zune marketplace, there’s no doubt that the Zune still has a long way to go to catch up with Apple and the iPod line. While we now have two versions of Microsoft’s media player, Apple is filling out with fou. Or five if you count the iPhone (which, for now, we won’t). That being said, the Zune is still less than a year old to the iPod’s six. But let’s look at the parity in the market and really get down to who’s in charge here.

It’s not Microsoft. Not yet, anyway. We’re glad that the Zunes aren’t just copycats of the iPod (anymore), but rather innovative devices of their own fate. That’s the way things have to happen if they want to be successful, and you know that Bach and his friends know it. That being said, the PI reports that one analyst has stated that the new Zunes kick ass, circa 2006. Ouch. But we see what he’s saying.

While the Zune 2 isn’t even on the shelves yet, it’s not at all too soon to start predications on what’s coming next; the new Zune’s are a good upgrade, but not the product overhaul it could have been. That being said, we’ve heard much of what the Zune group is working on, and most of the things aren’t included here. That means that a future Zune might have stuff that would position it as a real competitor to the iPod. No, really, let’s break this down.

We’ve been waiting for a full-screen, wide-screen, touch-screen iPod for a couple years now, and we finally have it. All of Apple’s development muscle was hands-down committed to the iPod Touch, that’s a given. But now that it’s out, where does the iPod go next? We’re not sure. There are general upgrades in storage capacity and things of that nature, but those are upgrades for upgrades sake, not really changes. So we might have this lineup for awhile.

The Zune, on the otherhand, has a lot of room to grow. And by letting Apple take the lead in the new media-player-plus marketplace, Microsoft can stand back and see what happens. Thus it will know what mistakes not to make, and will be able to tell what worked. Thus, while Zune 3 might be a few months (or even a couple years) behind the next iteneration of iPod, look for it to be not just competitive, but possibly even, you know, better.

And don’t get me started about Zunephone vs. iPhone. No, really, don’t.

Sure, it’s probably premature to discuss, guess, or even flat-out make up what the Zune 3 will feature, but it’s safe to say that Redmond is looking to use this next generation as a way to totally differentiate its offerings from Cupertino’s.

Think games. Think organization. Think of automated wireless applications we haven’t even dreamt up yet. While one device is plateaued, it means another can climb higher.

Now none of this is a given: Microsoft has a reputation for taking a good thing and messing it up beyond recognition. But if it can keep its head and realize that the Zune group seems to kind of know what it’s doing, then things for the holiday season next year could get pretty interesting, with a reversal of the normal Apple vs. Microsoft/David vs. Goliath story. We’re just really not sure who to root for.