October Debut for Microsoft 'iPod Killer'

EXCLUSIVE Microsoft's so-called "iPod killer" could be unveiled as early as late next month, with the company preparing to build momentum towards an October launch, sources close to the situation have told BetaNews.

These latest developments indicate that Apple has only a short period of time to react before a barrage of marketing and publicity surrounds Microsoft's new device. To its defense, Apple told analysts in an earnings call Wednesday night that it "wasn't standing still."

Redmond's moves to counter the success of the iPod have also resulted in several code-names, including Argo, Pyxis, Zune, and Alexandria. Although solid information as to the actual product details is scarce, various media sources have compiled some information from sources inside and outside Microsoft.

The entire initiative falls under the name "Project Argo," and insiders believe Microsoft is working on at least two portable players. Zune, which first surfaced in June, is believed to be the iPod-like device that would include wireless connectivity in a design very reminiscent of the Apple iPod.

Sources have confirmed to BetaNews that a second player exists, known by the code-name "Pyxis." While details are scant on the player's features, it is being billed as a competitor to the iPod nano in both size and functionality, with the addition of video support. Talk of a third device has not been verified.

Finally, "Alexandria" is believed to be the service that would accompany these devices, much like the synchronous relationship between the iPod and iTunes. While some believed Microsoft and MTV's URGE service would fill this role, that is not the case. However, some analysts say Alexandria will be URGE-like in the way it operates.

In any case, movement on these fronts is likely going to happen fast over the next month, as public demonstrations and presentations are scheduled to begin the last week of August. This would be followed by another wave of presentations in the second week of September, sources said of Microsoft's plans.

The possible unveiling of the Project Argo players would come three weeks after Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, where the company might unveil a refresh to the iPod nano lineup including multiple colors and larger capacities. But Apple isn't expected to update the main iPod until next year, opening the door for Microsoft's market entrance.

Promotional efforts for Argo will begin after the public demonstrations and continue through the launch. While specifics of the marketing campaign were not given, it's likely from past Microsoft launches that it would include a print, online, television, and outside advertising component to support the products.

People close to the situation said they were confident that Microsoft could meet its goal to have the Argo players ready in October. This would enable the company to compete with Apple during the crucial holiday shopping season.

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