updated 10:30 pm EDT, Mon October 3, 2011
Zune HD support page, podcast end lineup
Microsoft in spite of its earlier claims has said it will drop Zune players. A support page has made clear the company will "no longer be producing Zune players." It will keep honoring support and sales, but hasn't made mention of future OS updates.
The company quietly discontinued the Zune Insider podcast on Friday after hosts Jessica Zahn and Matt Akers said they had to move on to other projects. Zahn is working on social services involving Live.
Its end comes after two years without significant hardware updates and signs that the Zune line was coming to an end. It recently stopped selling Zune Originals and began porting Zune HD apps to Windows Phone.
While the core music component will live in Windows Phone, the Xbox 360, and the desktop, it marks an end to Microsoft's hopes of competing with the iPod almost exactly five years after entering the field in fall 2006. Microsoft had hoped to use its size and unique features to outmuscle Apple. While it had advantages such as FM radio, "squirting" songs, and later Wi-Fi syncing and the Zune Pass, they weren't considered big enough to sway users from the iPod line.
Zunes may have inadvertently helped Apple in the process. By entering with the Zune device and Marketplace, Microsoft started competing with partners that were using PlaysForSure on their music stores, such as Walmart. The Zune never got more than two percent share in the US, but it was enough to lead to the closure of some stores and mostly cannibalized device share from Microsoft's allies.
Apple's success has been credited both to stronger momentum as well as to a much more aggressive update schedule. Microsoft started slowing down as soon as 2008, when it put out a conservative update to the "clickpad" Zunes. Apple has always updated iPods at least once a year and, with the iPod nano, has had a significant redesign every year. The company was quicker to touchscreen players and had both cheaper as well as higher-end models.