NEWS: The sequel – Microsoft strikes back with the Zune 2

Microsoft is squaring up to take on the Apple iPod, with a second-generation raft of its 'Zune' MP3 players. Despite having sold just 1.2 million of the first-generation Zune – as opposed to the iPod's sales of 100 million since its launch six years ago – Microsoft is hoping it can make a bigger dent into the Apple-dominated digital portable market.

There are three new models: an 80GB hard-disk model, and two flash-based models that differ only in memory size – 4Gb and 8GB respectively. The new players have wi-fi as standard, so you can automatically transfer tunes, pictures and video from your computer without having to plug the device in.

Microsoft is backing up the launch of the new Zunes with a social networking site – dubbed Zune Social – that will allow users to share their music and comment on it.

While trying to dent Apple's dominance, Microsoft has also been learning some lessons from its rival: the new Zune features a familiar-looking circular touch-sensitive 'thumbwheel' similar to that sported by the iconic Apple player. If it ain't broke, as the saying goes...

The new Zune players go on sale in the U.S. in November, with a European launch expected shortly after. Prices are expected to be £249 for the 80GB hard-disk version, £97 for the 8GB flash player, and £73 for the 4GB version.