Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, words and deeds

What I think is going on with Zune

with 11 comments

There have been numerous stories in the past 24 hours, specifically from Paul Thurrott and Mary-Jo Foley, speculating as to what is going to happen to Microsoft’s Zune product and services in the future. Thurrott goes as far as saying:

The stuff that is currently part of Zune, in the public’s eye at least—the Zune PC software, the Windows Phone player and management software, the Zune Marketplace, and Zune Pass—will all continue going forward. But these things will no longer bear the Zune brand. They will instead become part of Microsoft’s broader efforts around other products and brands. Most likely Windows Live?

I have paid close attention and I have a theory about what is going on. Bear in mind that I am not privy to any more information than anyone else with an internet connection – this is just me joining the dots.


First let’s assess where we are today:

  • Zune as both a device and a set of services has not made a dent on the iPod/iPhone/iTunes ecosystem and, even though Zune is widely lauded for some excellent services and experience, that isn’t going to change any time soon.
  • Windows Live realised some time ago that trying to being all things to all men was futile and has instead moved to concentrating on some key vertical brands (Hotmail, Messenger, Office, Essentials) while augmenting those by partnering with 3rd parties like Facebook, WordPress, LinkedIn and many others.
  • Microsoft are circling their wagons and using the Windows brand as the standard bearer – Windows 7, Windows Live, Windows Phone etc…

With those points in mind here’s what I think is going to happen.

The software that that we currently know as “the Zune software” or “the Zune client” will be distributed with the next version of Windows Live Essentials and will be a replacement both for the current Zune client and the aging Windows Media Player. It will not be called “Zune” but will have a name more befitting its new role as part of the Windows Live and larger Windows ecosystem – for the purposes of the rest of this blog post I’ll refer to it as “Windows Live Media Player”.

Windows Live Media Player will still be the means by which people get content onto their Windows Phones.

Windows Live Media Player will not just be a rebranded version of the Zune client – it will be a gateway for partners to get their wares in front of consumers on the Windows desktop (of which there are millions upon millions) and onto Windows Phones (slightly less of those). Expect Windows Live Media Player to have some sort of plugin model so that the likes of Amazon, Last.fm, Walmart, Nokia’s Ovi music store, Netflix, Rhapsody, Tesco Digital, Spotify, iLike and many others can get their content in front of customers; the current Zune services like Zunepass and movies will just be another provider of content in that ecosystem. Microsoft must have realised by now that they’re not going to compete with the iTunes juggernaut on their own – they need some help. Moreover the content providers cannot compete with iTunes either and the prospect of getting in front of millions of Windows users is a mighty big carrot.

Windows Live Media Player will manage this all of this media content in a single library, very similar in nature to the unified contacts list that Windows Live provides today for Hotmail and Windows Phone.

As well as being a platform for content providers Windows Live Media Player will allow for 3rd party device manufacturers to interact with it also. Want to get your Amazon AND Ovi-purchased songs along with your Netflix movies onto your Samsung/Sony/AN-other media player? Windows Live Media Player will be the ‘glue to make that happen.

The aforementioned Zune services like Zunepass and movies will still exist, possibly still under the Zune brand or possibly moved under the XBox brand. Zune Social, which is a great idea but poorly implemented, will I suspect disappear in favour of more mature partner offerings from the likes of Last.fm.

There will be no more Zune devices.

 

There are many advantages to this model:

  • All of the parties that currently need a credible competitor to iTunes can come together in a single offering, one that is buoyed by millions of existing Windows and Windows Live users.
  • The Zune brand, which in many ways has become a punchline, will either sink into the background or disappear completely. That will disappoint its diehard fans (of which I am one) but the reality is that no-one outside a small bubble of enthusiasts really knows what actually Zune IS. Is it a service, a product, or what? That is a problem and its one that Microsoft have found themselves having to face up to before. Remember the “Live Search” travesty? You can bet Microsoft executives are looking at what has happened there since it was remodelled as “Bing” and thinking Zune could do with some similar treatment.
  • Using a product called “Zune” to link together Windows desktops and Windows Phone always struck me as being slightly odd. With these changes the software link between these two will also bear the “Windows” moniker and is in keeping with Windows Live’s stated remit of “lighting up Windows” through the power of products and services.

There are some distinct downsides too, the main one being the fact that the name “Windows Live Media Player” (or whatever similar moniker they come out with) is just awful, especially compared to the much snappier “Zune”.


So that’s my theory as to what is going to happen to Zune. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

@Jamiet

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Written by Jamiet

February 16, 2011 at 7:51 pm

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11 Responses

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  1. i think you’re right on target here. hoping that the hardware sticks around, tho, maybe through a partner. still have my v1 brick, but 3 other Zunes in the family. superior software, for sure, but the ZuneHD just all around rocks.

    Christian Buckley

    February 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

  2. Hey Jamie, I tried Zune Player recently in my attempts to escape from the Apple walled garden and it took me five minutes to like the user interface; then uninstall it. Why jump from one walled garden into another?

    What you’re proposing is a cool idea: get all my content from all my content providers onto all my devices through a single media management app. Nice. But never gonna happen.

    Microsoft will never play with Apple devices and vice versa. It will be ever thus.

    Instead I found MusicBee. It’s a fantastic media management app (OK, so no video yet). It’s free. It syncs with my iPods and Palm Pre (yes, I am the UK Pre owner!). Did I mention it’s free? And it was written by one guy, in his bedroom, in his spare time, in Northamptonshire. It knocks iTunes and Zune player into a cocked hat. Like my music, I like my music player to be independent.

    Neil Benson

    February 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

  3. [...] I wrote this blog entry, I think Jamie Thomson’s makes the most sense. Thompson suggests that Zune will become the new Windows Live Media Player, and, effectively, Microsoft’s competitor to iTunes. I — unlike Thompson — still [...]

  4. [...] Jamie Thompson offers some thoughts on future Zune in the post aptly titled “What I think is going on with Zune”. Here is an excerpt The software that that we currently know as “the Zune software” or [...]

  5. Hopefully you’re all wrong. I vastly prefer my Zune and the software for managing my podcasts and music. If Microsoft doesn’t continue supporting the device into the future I will be hard pressed to replace it. ITunes is horrible software on the PC, the Zune software is more elegant and the subscription service is a great deal.

    regularpcuser

    February 17, 2011 at 3:54 am

  6. If not what they had been planning, it likely is now after they’ve read this.

    Brian Garraty

    February 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm

  7. I see your point about brand confusion, but I’m afraid the Windows Live brand is also getting pretty tricky to pin down. Even though Zune’s identity includes hardware and software, the hardware identity is so small as not really threaten the future of its software side. Either way, I pray it’s not turning into “Windows Live Media Player”. iTunes wasn’t named “OS X Media Center” for good reason.

    Zune is invading the living room via Xbox, so it’s got a great head-start over anything new — and that’s something to take very seriously. “Powered by Microsoft Zune” sends a very clear message. I’m afraid “Windows” carries too much corporate baggage… do I really want my creative media imprisoned by the name I associate with the daily grind, Excel spreadsheets, and policy-restricted internet access?

    I’m still waiting with baited breath for Microsoft to sell an embedded OS branded specifically for media appliances, especially DVRs. I’d hoped Zune would evolve to that end, adding DVR features and supplanting Media Center entirely. The media appliance industry is full of terrible software (my DVR from Comcast is embarrassing), where Zune’s interface would be an amazing improvement, and provide incredible market penetration for its Windows-connected features.

    scH4MMER

    February 22, 2011 at 5:05 pm

  8. [...] I wrote this blog entry, I think Jamie Thomson’s makes the most sense. Thomson suggests that Zune will become the new Windows Live Media Player, and, effectively, Microsoft’s competitor to iTunes. I — unlike Thomson — still am thinking [...]

  9. [...] the Zune client (or whatever “Dorado” is called, going forward) end up becoming the new Windows (Live) Media Player, as has been suggested by [...]

  10. Oh Lord, say it ain’t so! Windows Media Player is one of the FEW things (along with Windows 7) MSFT has gotten right in years! The new WMP in Windows 7 is like a breath of fresh air when compared to all these ‘Want to buy some tunes? Huh huh? buy some tunes!” media programs that have been shoved down our throats. With WMP I can manage 20 years worth of CD rips, have them all nicely sorted with any missing info and album covers a simple click away, it is just TOO nice!

    If WMP goes to “Windows Live (please buy from us!) Media Player” I WILL be blocking it as well as blocking it for ALL my customers and family. Let them keep Zune Player and rename it, leave WMP alone! And that goes DOUBLE for Windows Media Center!

    kevin

    March 19, 2011 at 12:19 pm


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