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Zune, Voyager Take Aim At iPod/iPhone

Verizon and Microsoft took aim at Apple with new MP3 players and smartphones both sporting the kind of touchscreens that helped give the iPhone iconic status.

Verizon’s new LG Voyager smartphone offers two advantages over the iPhone: a faster network speed and a convenient extra QWERTY keyboard.

IDC mobility research director Shiv Bakhshi said that the Voyager, with its iPhone-like design, “might stem the temptation on your part or my part to leave Verizon and go to AT&T to buy the iPhone.” But he added, “The iPhone is an iconic device that operates on many levels including product envy. Will the Voyager be able to replace that? I don’t know.”

Jupiter Research offered a similar reaction. “The iPhone is a lot more than putting a touchscreen on a device. Verizon is going to have to work very hard to build up the same consumer mindshare that Apple and AT&T were able to build,” said digital entertainment director Michael Gartenberg, referring to the iPhone’s cool factor.

On Verizon’s EV-DO network, the Voyager offers download speeds of up to 700kbps compared to iPhone speeds over AT&T’s EDGE network at up to approximately 200kbps.

The Voyager has a large touchscreen, Web browsing, email and multimedia capabilities. It includes a camera and can fold open to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. It allows TV reception via MediaFLO and over-the-air music downloads and has a microSD memory slot that holds up to 8GB of memory. It is expected to be available in November at a price to be announced.

Microsoft’s new 4GB and 8GB Zune portable media players each have a touchscreen that responds to “thumb flicks” to scroll through lists of songs or videos. Users press on the screen for pause, volume and other commands. They also feature flash memory and can sync over a wireless home network when the Zune is placed in a cradle with an AC adaptor.

A third, 80GB Zune with a standard 3.2-inch screen was also introduced at an estimated retail of $249.

With the original Zune, users could share songs with friends but those songs would expire within a certain time limit. Now shared songs may be listened to without a time limit, up to three times. In addition, the Zune can now import TV shows and movies recorded on a PC running Windows Media Center or Vista Home Premium or Ultimate for viewing on the go.

The new flash Zunes are expected to ship in November at suggested retails of $149 for the 4GB and $199 for the 8GB, and are available in pink, green, black and glossy red.

Although the Zune brand was launched almost a year ago, Microsoft has won only a 3 percent share in MP3 players compared to Apple’s near 70 percent share, according to The NPD Group’s second-quarter figures.