The promotional video and leaked shots already made it clear but now it's official: the Zune HD will be a gaming and application platform. In addition to a few casual games, calculator and MSN Weather apps pre-loaded onto the Zune HD, the official Microsoft press release touting the launch contains this little nugget of gaming gold:
"Later this year, Zune plans to release free applications such as Twitter for Zune and Facebook for Zune, in addition to fun 3-D games such as "Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition," "Vans Sk8: Pool Service" and "Audiosurf(TM) Tilt." Games can be added to Zune HD via Zune Marketplace over the Wi-Fi connection or when connected to the Zune PC software."
Hear that Nintendo, Sony, and Apple? There's a new handheld gaming platform in town. All that remains to be seen is how it will integrate with the Xbox 360.

Update: A bit more is revealed in a Seattle Times Q&A with Brian Seitz, Microsoft's Zune marketing manager. At the moment, the strategy is to keep all the apps and games free and developed in-house or in close collaboration with third parties -- no third-party SDK for devs to freely crank out apps just yet. Seitz is clear that games will be the primary focus of the "sometimes-connected" Zune HD and the Windows Marketplace is Microsoft's priority for handheld app development:
"So what we didn't want to do was build two parallel app store experiences that didn't work together. Right now our product roadmaps didn't line up perfectly for us to snap to what they're doing or vice versa... Down the road if there's a way we can work with Windows Mobile or another group inside the company that's building an app store and take advantage of that, that's something we'll look into."
Man, Windows Mobile 7 and the rumored OneApp app store can't get here soon enough.