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Zune 2 shivers in iPod's shadow

Isn't Microsoft embarrassed about always being second to Apple?

Doesn't Microsoft ever get fed up with playing catch up with Apple?

I guess that Bill's old company can sit back and count the cash and laugh at the market share figures, but somewhere there must be an ache in the soul as its latest products merely ape the design gloss of Apple's pioneers.

Recently Microsoft has released Vista, and copied lots of bits from Apple's Mac OS X.

Aside from a few features, the Zune mimicked Apple's iPod but couldn't match its sales.

Now the Zune 2 is laughably behind Apple's latest iPods, as if Microsoft had waited a couple of weeks to see what Apple was going to produce. I suppose that if the Zune 2 had been sandwiched between the iPhone and iPod touch it would have been quickly forgotten, but today's timing is just embarrassing.

The new Zunes have Wi-Fi so users can download music, photos, and video from their computer. Apple's iPod was second to the plate with Wi-Fi but is already way in front: the iPod touch can download new music from a special online wireless store so its users can buy music on the move. Zune owners are stuck in the wire age of wireless.

The new Zune's touchpad is more gesture-based than the Click Wheel, as you flick your finger across the pad to navigate, rather than circling around it to scroll through tracks.

But this looks positively ancient compared to the iPod touch's iPhone-like touchscreen. (Its one redeeming factor is the availability of a white version - a massive slip-up on Apple's part has removed the iconic colour from its range.)

"This device with the all-too-familiar dial wheel compares reasonably favourably with last generation iPod players," says Jupiter Research analyst Mark Mulligan.

"Microsoft needs to come at Apple from an unexpected angle but at the moment it is Apple with its new iPod touch and nanos that is shaking up the market," he said. Quite right.

Microsoft has shown that it can take on established market leaders in new sectors, as it has with its Xbox games console. But you can almost hear the sad sighs of second place when the company unveils its latest products that go up against Apple's.

Money and market share are what businesses are about, but surely there's some pride involved when it comes to out-thinking the opposition – and having people complement you on your innovation instead of sniggering about too-late, copy-cat products.

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