updated 05:00 pm EDT, Mon March 14, 2011
Microsoft said axing Zune players permanently
Microsoft will mark the end to a sidetrack in its history by phasing out its Zune hardware once and for all, according to a Bloomberg source said. Under the strategy, the company would keep selling the existing Zune HD but would phase it out entirely once considered obsolete. The Zune software would be left, as would the Zune Marketplace key to getting content for Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox 360.
A timeline wasn't given for the change. Microsoft also hasn't commented on the plans.
The Zune was launched in November 2006 as Microsoft's attempt to replicate the success of the iPod, which it had ignored until Apple virtually dominated the market. It represented a complete about-face in Microsoft strategy where it dropped hopes of forcing the licensing-based Windows model on to the MP3 player market and adopted a closed but much more seamless, Apple-like model with easy syncing and an intuitive interface. A handful of firsts came through the Zune, including automated Wi-Fi syncing and the concept of social networking.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had been confident that Microsoft would be at least second in the MP3 player market and even had a chance of beating them, although he admitted it was "not going to be easy" at the time. The claim was accurate for a time, but Microsoft never got significantly past two percent of the MP3 player market. A lack of truly standout features and, eventually, a sluggish upgrade pace eventually made it hard for the Zune to compete even against SanDisk or Sony; most initial gains were from companies that ironically used Windows Media Player for most syncing and were using PlaysForSure copy protection for music.
The portable platform isn't necessarily finished and may have new life in Windows Phone 7, where the media player app is Zune-branded and shares similarities with the Zune HD interface. Its success will hinge on whether or not Nokia and other partners can push WP7 into the mainstream years after Apple had already popularized smartphones with media playback through the iPhone.