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For the past few weeks now there’s been a persistent “Zune is dead!” rumor. There was one a few months ago as well speculating about the name itself. The most recent one focuses on the hardware. It’s been “we have nothing to announce”-ed by Microsoft, which is Microsoft code for… having nothing to announce. As tech companies go, Microsoft doesn’t really go in for the whole rumor mill thing. The merits of that policy is a different discussion.

I don’t have any insider knowledge. I don’t know anyone at Microsoft beyond the occasional twitter conversation and exchange on the App Hub forums. So, this is quite simply just my own musings and thoughts on the recent to-do.

For a number of years now, Microsoft has made Zune hardware. I’ve never owned a Zune (nor any other portable music player since a portable CD I had for a car that only had a tape deck more than a decade ago) but I’ve heard generally good things about them. But the rumors are that Microsoft may not be making another Zune device. This has been covered as being doom and gloom with all the usual stereotypes about Microsoft. But I see it as a potentially good thing, assuming it’s true.

Last fall Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7. If you haven’t yet used one, let me assure you that it’s a really nice platform. Everyone I’ve shown my WP7 to has been impressed and most have said, in one way or another, that the ads just don’t do it justice. (I don’t know that it’s possible to really capture it’s elegance in an ad). I expect it to continue to grow as more people come in contact with it and as their existing phone contracts expire. Smart phones are expensive. Most people I know that have one have gotten it as part of a new 1 or 2 year phone service agreement and so until their existing contracts expire it’s unlikely they’d spend the $500+ to buy one outright. I expect that’s true for most people in general. I also expect the recent addition of Sprint and the future addition of Verizon to add to adoption rates. (I know a number of people who have been/still are waiting for Sprint/Verizon WP7 phones).

Nonetheless, it’s a simple truth that people who already have other smartphones have a lot of time and money invested in their current phone platform in the form of apps, games, etc. There are also quite a few people who have phones through their job such that the choice of phone is out of their hands. So not everyone who would be interested in the Windows Phone 7 platform would be willing or able to get a WP7 phone.

What does that have to do with Zune hardware? Well, WP7 (as a platform) is the next logical Zune device. It interfaces with the Zune software. It stores and plays music, podcasts, and movies. And it integrates very well with a Zune Pass. Many great consumer hardware companies are shipping WP7 devices and more companies are on the horizon. The phone part of Windows Phone 7 is great, but it’s just one part of the platform. There’s no technical reason why someone like Samsung couldn’t strip the phone hardware out of the Focus and sell it as a competitor to the iPod Touch as-is (let alone with a few sweet additions).

I know a lot of people with “dumb” phones who have an iPod Touch. So why shouldn’t there be a WP7-based competitor? Indeed, why shouldn’t there be multiple WP7-based competitors from different manufacturers each meeting the base WP7 hardware specs and providing additional goodies on top of that to attract consumers? That would open up the platform to people who are interested in WP7 for Xbox LIVE games, Office on the go, and the many other great features of the WP7 platform but who already have another smartphone that they aren’t able to switch from for one reason or another. Stripping out the phone hardware and adding in an A/V out to play music and videos through a home entertainment center would make for a really great WP7 device, for example.

Were that to come to pass, it simply wouldn’t make sense for Microsoft to make new Zune hardware. All of those devices would be Zune hardware, after all, just like WP7 phones are currently. And it’d be hard to convince consumer hardware companies to make them if the company making the OS that powers them were making competing hardware. So to me, the rumors of no more Microsoft-made Zune hardware would fit perfectly with a strategy of launching a wave of WP7-based iPod Touch competitors at some point in the future (e.g. Holiday 2011 or Summer 2012).

Anyway, just my thoughts on one thing these rumors could mean. If my speculation turns out to be right, I doubt we’d hear anything about it before Autumn anyway. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed, though, because I think that’d be a great future development for Zune and the WP7 platform!

Posted on Friday, March 25, 2011 3:53 PM general , wp7 | Back to top

Comments on this post: Musings on the Possible Future of Zune (Hardware)

# re: Musings on the Possible Future of Zune (Hardware)
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When the ZuneHD came out, I was excited to be able to write apps for it with XNA, then I was pretty upset about XNA 4 not supporting Zune. Then there were the rumors of no more Zune hardware, only Zune on WP7 devices. I was having trouble understanding why Microsoft would limit themselves to just phones and not have any stand alone music/media devices. So, it would certainly make sense that they are focusing on being a software company and leaving the hardware to the hardware companies. I love my ZuneHD and would be very happy to upgrade to a non-phone WP7 device. I just hope that is what their plan is.
Left by Patrick on Mar 25, 2011 5:12 PM

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