Company offers glimpse at its iPod rival.

Microsoft unveiled its Zune digital music device and service today (Sept. 14), providing a glimpse into exactly how the company intends to take on Apple Computer's iPod.

The device—which has no official launch date or retail price—is manufactured by partner Toshiba and is loosely based on its Gigabeat device. It contains a 30 GB hard drive and a large color display screen. In addition to music, it also plays videos and displays personal photos transferred to the device. Users are able to set personal photos as a background image, and album artwork is used in the navigational menus. The device come in black, white and brown.

As previously reported, it also contains a WiFi connection. At launch, each Zune device can use this feature to connect with one other Zune device at a time, in order to share tracks, playlists and photos. Video sharing is not enabled at launch.

The sharing function contains several restrictions. While Zune users can share an unlimited number of tracks, each individual track can only be shared once with any given user. Once shared, it can never be shared again. Also, each shared track is good for only three spins, or three days, whichever comes first, after which it disappears from the user's device.

Recipients can opt to "flag" the shared songs they like, which will allow them to download a permanent version of the track when synced with a PC running the Zune software and service. Photos can be shared an unlimited number of times.

One of the concerns of the WiFi connection is its impact on battery life. With the WiFi function turned off, the device will have 12 hours of continuous music playing time, according to MSFT officials. They did not provide figures for when the WiFi function is on, but confirmed it would be less.

The music service will feature both an a la carte and subscription model, although pricing was not revealed for either.

Over time, Microsoft says it hope to allow the Zune to connect and share tracks with other devices as well, such as PCs, Xbox 360 consoles, and mobile phones.