Update (4/15/2009): More alleged images of the Zune HD have surfaced.
Anonymous tipsters have provided Engadget with promotional artwork depicting what may be Microsoft's upcoming fourth-generation Zune MP3 player.
If the artwork is real and the rumors are accurate, we're looking at a touch-screen version of the Zune, sized slightly smaller than the iPod Touch, with an HD-resolution wide-screen display that reminds us of the Samsung P3.
Historically, Microsoft has released new Zune models toward the end of the year, in November or September. Considering the half-hearted hardware refresh of the third-generation models last year, it's conceivable that new hardware may drop unseasonably early this time around. A quick product launch may also help stem the tide of complete iPod saturation revealed by a recent Piper Jaffray survey of teens.
While the Zune HD depicted in the artwork looks like an attractive and worthy competitor to Apple's iPod Touch, it leaves us with a lot of unknowns. For instance, how would a one-button, touch-screen design mesh with Microsoft's recent move to bring games to the Zune? Will Microsoft be able to continue its practice of delivering its latest firmware to owners of older Zune models? Will the Zune get a Web browser or enhanced audio and video streaming capabilities? Will Bluetooth finally get thrown into the mix now that it's coming to the Touch? Can Microsoft deliver the video services necessary to make an HD screen worth something?
Let's hope Microsoft has some interesting answers to these questions. I'd hate to see the Zune vs. iPod war lose its steam.