This might sound kind of weird, but here it is: The iPod and the Zune arenít rivals anymore.
And not just because the iPod outsells the Zune about a gazillion to one, either. No, itís because the iPod and the Zune no longer serve the same audience.
Thatís a surprising development. After all, when the Zune had its debut in 2006, it couldnít have been more iPoddy if you ran it through a Xerox machine. Same layout, capacities, prices and product line (a big one and a Nano).
But in the last few days, Apple and Microsoft both unveiled new music-player lineups (what a coincidence ó just in time for the holiday shopping season!). And Microsoft, it turns out, has added something truly new to the Zune: differentiation. The Zune has become a sensational music-discovery machine.
Overall, the players themselves havenít changed much except for colors, capacities and prices.
The huge exception is the iPod Nano, which has undergone its fourth redesign in four years (8 or 16 gigabytes, $150 or $200). Itís now a truly gorgeous, incredibly thin aluminum stick, in your choice of nine vivid, reflective colors. It maintains Appleís design theme for 2008: tapered edges, as seen on the MacBook Air and the iPhone.