The next generation Zune devices, software, and services have just been announced by J Allard and Bill Gates - check the official Zune site!

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Some of the highlights which, IMHO, make this release really, really exciting:

  • The new HD-based Zune comes with a 3.2" display and 80 GB HD.
  • Two Flash-based Zunes with a smaller display have 4 or 8 GB of Flash memory.
  • A new "Zune Pad" for navigation (internally called "squircle") acts both as a touch pad (for flicking) and a D-pad (for clicking). Very cool & innovative. No need for a touch-sensitive display.
  • WiFi sync of content with your home PC.
  • Podcast support.
  • DRM-free music in the Zune Marketplace.
  • New, cool-looking Zune desktop software.
  • Sync of TV recordings from a Media Center PC.
  • A new "Zune Social" community program.
  • No 3-day limit for playing songs sent between Zunes.
  • A software upgrade for 1st generation Zunes (30 GB) which gets them all of the new functionality!

The last item is by far the most important one for me personally, since it means that I can continue to use my current Zune device (which I love), and benefit from all the new features. This shows our commitment to early adopters, and emphasizes our idea of software as an enabler - it's the software that makes the difference, not just some fancy hardware features.

The new Zunes, and the firmware upgrade, will be available from mid-November. Can't wait to upgrade my Zune!

(No announcements have been made when Zune will be available outside of the U.S.)