As expected Bill Gates and J Allard have unveiled the next generation of Zune portable media players, as well as new software, community site Zune Social in beta, and a revamped online store in the States.

There are three new models of Zune. A black Zune 80GB hard-drive model, which has a 3.2-inch screen and comes with "premium" headphones ($249.99), the flash-based 4GB ($149.99) and 8GB ($199.99) models, both available in pink, green, black and glossy red.

The new Zune models feature the "squircle" Zune Pad, a touch-sensitive button for navigating on the device, as well as wireless sync, a feature that allows Zune devices to automatically sync over the device owner’s home wireless network when it is connected to an AC adaptor, in a dock or speaker dock accessory.

The original Zune 30GB is staying in the family for now, and existing owners will be offered a free update for the new features late this year, so will be able to benefit from the improvements to the software which includes automatic wireless syncing.

"Twenty years ago we bet the company on an integrated productivity suite of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, and we changed the way people work", Bill Gates said.

"Today we’re making big bets on games, music, video and connecting these entertainment experiences to help change the way people play."

Other improvements include extended wireless sharing between Zunes, and the Zune software will now automatically import TV and video content recorded on Microsoft Windows Media Center for Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate.

The Zune Marketplace online store has been restocked and redesigned, as well as three million songs, the updated version of Zune Marketplace will launch with music videos for sale and over 1000 audio and video podcasts available for free.

In addition, and quite a turnaround for Microsoft, there will be over one million DRM-free MP3s, which can be played with Zune or any other digital media player.

Comparison with the new iPods is inevitable, especially as the new Zunes are entering the market at the same price points.

Although competent (and great for Vista users) these new players do not offer anything revolutionary, and Microsoft will no doubt be criticised for stopping short of downloads over Wi-Fi, especially now that Apple offers that feature for certain iPods.

The wireless abilities used to be what set the Zune apart from Apple's offerings, but it could be argued that the software company has let Apple take the lead in that area now too.

There was no mention of these new players launching outside America. The original Zune never saw a European or UK launch.