Microsoft is again refreshing its line of Zune digital music players with software to help people discover new music and more capacity to store it.

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Microsoft is again refreshing its line of Zune digital music players with software to help people discover new music and more capacity to store it.

Word of the updates, originally scheduled for a Sept. 16 announcement, leaked out late Sunday when a retailer posted information about a new device to its Web site. The Seattle Times had been briefed last week on the details.

Microsoft has struggled to gain market share in the digital-music business, which is dominated by Apple’s iPod line. Apple is expected to announce updates to its line and perhaps lower its prices today.

During the first half of 2008, Apple represented 70 percent of portable digital-music players in the U.S., according to The NPD Group. Microsoft had 3 percent.

Some analysts are skeptical that the latest Zune updates will do much to close the gap soon.

But Microsoft is undeterred by its underdog status. Adam Sohn, Zune’s director of public relations, said the business was built to continue to grow organically over the long term.

“Frankly, we’re a small enough business that we can be super-agile, which is one of the good things,” Sohn said. “I’d trade it for having 100 million customers, but, you know, one thing at a time.”

The Zune designs remain largely the same, but they’re getting more capacity.

Microsoft is replacing the 80-gigabyte Zune with a 120-gig hard-drive player for $250. (The biggest iPod can store 160 gigs and is priced at $350.)

It is introducing a 16-gigabyte flash-drive player for $199. It will be in the same design as the current 8-gig player. The 4-gigabyte player is being discontinued.

In addition to new hardware, Microsoft on Sept. 16 is rolling out an update to the Zune software, on the device and the PC.

Listeners will be able to flag a song on the radio for purchase later and to stream or download songs over a Wi-Fi connection directly from the device.

Microsoft has made new-music discovery a marquee feature of the Zune software, which runs on a PC and is free to use regardless of whether you own a Zune. In this update, the company is introducing programmed “channels” such as Billboard Top 100 or picks from Seattle’s KEXP.

Other music-discovery features include:

• Lists of popular songs in specific genres based on usage patterns of other Zune users.

• Custom song suggestions based on what other listeners with similar tastes are playing.

• A new visual display of artists and albums related to the song playing, including an artist’s influences and other musicians he or she influenced.

Additional updates to the software will add a clock, two games and audiobook support.

“Microsoft’s latest enhancements will likely do little to change its market share in the short term, but the company is looking at the music-player market as a marathon, not a sprint,” Ross Rubin, The NPD Group’s director of consumer-technology-industry analysis, said in an e-mail.

Music-discovery features do differentiate Zune from Apple, for now, he added. However, Apple “does have a tremendous iTunes base to which it could add similar features, and now connected devices in the iPod touch and iPhone.”

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com