Microsoft signs three-year deal with Wayport for old and new Zune owners alike: This is a nice win for Zune users, Wayport, and McDonald's, each in their own way, and it's something Microsoft can simply write off as useful marketing--and a way to get people to try the latest models of their music player, which are being released on 16-September.
The Zune doesn't include a Web browser or any Internet focused features; it's not an iPod touch. But you can use Wi-Fi to browse the Zune Marketplace for music and games, and download new songs in programmed channels, music selections created by a variety of artists and stations. Zune offers both music purchases and a subscription for unlimited music listening. The new models range from $149 for an 8 GB flash model to $249 for a 120 GB hard drive-based player.
The feature I'm most interested in is Buy from FM, which leverages the built-in FM tuner and very low-bandwidth data that's already pushed over analog AM/FM. (See my write-up of this feature from last week.) With Buy from FM, when you're listening to radio stations that participate, you'll be able to click a button and buy the song you're listening to if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. Zune Pass subscribers can download the song at no additional charge. If there's no Wi-Fi network, the song download or purchase is queued.
Wayport's marketing head Dan Lowden said, "Obviously, it's cool because folks who already own a Zune device and just need to do an upgrade will be able to use this just as with any of the new Zune devices that they start selling as soon as possible." (Microsoft may have a little accounting work to do: Sarbanes-Oxley doesn't let you enhance a product in the market without a fee if you realize the revenue all at once.)
The benefit for Wayport is to have yet another hefty but undisclosed fixed sum underlying its fixed infrastructure costs. In the past, Wayport has done deals with Nintendo, ZipIt, and Eye-Fi to allow all devices in a category unlimited access at McDonald's locations. McDonald's obviously gets more customers, or existing customers who spend more time or visit more frequently.
A partnership with a hotspot operator means that Microsoft doesn't have to provide tools and their users endure frustration in joining a network. "We're experts enabling one click to get this network connected," Lowden said. He noted that Wayport has opened test labs to work with manufacturers in Japan, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. "We're working with these guys from day 1 to make sure it's one click to get connected," he said. I'd also note that San Diego happens to be where Qualcomm's headquarters are located, not that Lowden gave me any tip-off there.
And I have to just say: burn, burn, burn on Apple. Despite Apple partnership with AT&T, which relies on Wayport to operate the AT&T-branded hotspot network and resells access to Wayport's own network, iPhone and iPod touch users have no inclusive Wi-Fi service. AT&T slipped a few times and ostensibly opened up their network or released details that iPhone users would gain free hotspot access--like all AT&T's fiber and all its standard and premium DSL customers.
As Wi-Fi becomes an expected part of any handheld gadget, the venues in which Wi-Fi is used multiply beyond cafes and hotels. Lifestyle locations--which could be clothing stores, nightclubs, ski resorts, and the tops of mountains suddenly become places where people want the same kind of access they have at home. Ultima thule is already unwired.