Microsoft to follow Apple's lead with third-gen Zune players

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Like Apple, Microsoft is expected to announce this month a new family of Zune media players that will introduce some new features while adopting others that have been available on iPods since this time last year.

The plans were outed over the weekend when electronics retailer Frys inadvertently published specifications and a photo of an third-generation, flash-based 8GB Zune model.

The webpage, since removed, listed the players as being in stock, suggesting the Redmond-based software giant may make an attempt to steal some of the thunder surrounding Apple's Let's Rock event by introducing the new Zune offerings on Tuesday or shortly thereafter.

Like Apple's iPods, the 8GB Zune will come pre-loaded with a selection of games. "Play the popular poker game Texas Hold'em or challenge yourself to a game of Hexic, and make sure you play your favorite song from your collection to create your own personal game soundtrack," read the spec sheet leaked by Frys.

Similarly, the player will also let users browse the Zune Marketplace for new songs when connected over Wi-Fi. The capability is documented as one of the features of a new "Device to Cloud" technology that will also let users exchange favorites with friends and purchase songs tagged through Zune's built-in FM radio application.

Another feature described in the spec sheet, called "Channels," will reportedly support "custom programming stations" that deliver personalized playlists to Zune users.

The leak by Frys arrived on the heels of a similar slip by online retailer, which posted to its web store a listing for a $250 120GB hard disk-based Zune that appeared otherwise identical to the outgoing 80GB model.

According to the information published by Frys, the 8GB flash-based Zune will retail for $150 and come in new colors that include blue and silver. A 16GB model is expected to fetch $200.

For its part, Apple is widely expected to announce steep price cuts on a new line of iPods to be introduce Tuesday, likely undercutting those planned by Microsoft for its new Zune line. Much of that speculation was drawn from comments made by Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer during a July 21st conference call with analysts.

"We have some investments in front of us that I can’t discuss with you today where we’re going to be delivering state of the art new products that our competitors just aren’t going to be able to match," he said.