In late 2009, I began searching for a Personal Media Player (PMP) to update my old trusty Sony Mini-Disc (gasp!) unit. Skipping the obvious choice at the time (iPlod) – I stumbled across a US based site from Google – anythingbutipod. Looking at offerings from Cowon, Creative, Sony and more…I eventually settled on the latest generation Microsoft manufactured hardware device, the ZuneHD. Fast forward less than two years, and I have my own site on Windows Phone (and a WP7.5 Mango device), moderate the WP section of anythingbutipod AND still have my 32GB ZuneHD PMP. Unfortunately, overnight, the Zune Hardware line of devices from Microsoft, which culminated in the ZuneHD, appear to have been terminated as a new product offering. It’s a sad end to a great product – which was never able to climb out from the massive shadow cast by the IT brand which capture the consumer’s mind (and wallet).
As first reported today by WPCentral, without any formal media release or announcement, the Zune support page was updated over the prior 24 hours with this message:
Just short of its 5th Birthday, the dedicated Zune PMP has been around since the initial models launch in late 2006 (developed with Toshiba) into a market already mature with Apple PMP models. It never really captured the interest of the mainstream market – which Apple marketed to so effectively to create a phenomenon. MS enthusiasts were left wondering at Microsoft’s lack of Marketing push, International release and promotion of devices that through Zune’s life-cycle were sometimes more feature rich – or ahead of its main rival (inclusion of Radios – FM and HD, larger screens, OLED display technology, HD Video out etc).
In recent months, the web has been rife with speculation of the product platforms demise. With the Zune brand being more and more associated with the XBOX service sweet, and then with Windows Phone, numerous write-ups in 2011 have prematurely announced its demise. The updated webpage announcement from Microsoft today follows on from the recent departure of the Zune Hardware Business Development Manager, Australian ex-pat Dave McLauchlan to start his own business venture outside MS. Furthermore, it was only yesterday that Zune Insider Podcast hosts Matt Akers and Jessica Zahn let listeners know that Podcast episode 134 from 30th SEP 2011 would be the last.
It’s a sad – but not unexpected – development for the Zune brand. As Microsoft state, they will now 100% turn their focus to the Zune brand as part of the XBOX suite, Windows Phone platform and on broadening the global reach of their Zune Pass subscription Music, Video and TV services. It also might explain the rush of recent Apps and Games that were pushed out (free as they all are) to ZuneHD owners before Dave’s departure. It will be interesting to see if further items will still make it through the pipeline (MS announced they were closing the App Beta program for the ZuneHD in the last week also). It’s also unknown as to whether the Apps/Games region restriction will be lifted at some future date so Australian ZuneHD owners can get access without workarounds with US-based Windows Live accounts.
Every single Windows Phone device today, and each new handset sold with Mango, each new Nokia phone or any other platform partner owes a little debt of gratitude towards the evolution that took place with the ZuneHD, helping the Metro UI we all love in WP7 be what it is today. Congratz to the work of Dave and his team, Matt and Jessica and all those regulars and guests on the podcast. It been fun to be a listener, device owner and fan.
****** UPDATE *******
The mystery on Zune Hardware and it’s future deepens. Today, 24 hours after the Zune Announcement appeared on the link (screenshot) above, the page has disappeared and a “Page not found” error now has taken it’s place. Additionally, Zune Support are not commenting on – and also cannot see the page. Did someone at MS jump the gun? Can we expect an nnouncement from MS to clarify the situation? I hope so.
In further news, the always responsive Zune Twitter team have confirmed that the Zune Page update yesterday was definately placed there in error. Now whether that error was that is was prematurely put up, or a draft that became public, only time will tell. Given recent HP Touchpad experiences, consumer expectations on “dead” hardware platforms jump immediately to massive $$$ discounts. Depending on remaining ZuneHD hardware stocks, Walmart and MS may want hold off on a fire sale. Suffice to say we are no clearer on this matter – however one thing is for sure – speculation will continue to run rampant.