Oh Zune, wherefore art thou?

In all of the hubbub about Windows Phone and it’s future, many are noticing that the word Zune isn’t being mentioned in practically any conversations of the OS updates. It’s not even brought up when the phone is demonstrated. This is a far cry from when Windows Phone 7 was introduced in 2010 and even when the phone was officially launched last year. In those demos, much was made about the Zune part of the “music+videos” hub and how even having Zune Pass turned your phone into a virtual jukebox. Joe Belfiore, in the keynote for Mobile World Congress last year even stated “Every Windows Phone will be a Zune”. That kinda quelched people who were clamoring for the infamous ZunePhone.

Now, fast forward to today. Not much is mentioned about Zune. It’s still the name you see when you open the “music+videos” hub, but not much is being said if Zune is going to add anything new or what. As a Zune MVP this makes going into the MVP Summit quite interesting for me. Of course, whatever I find out at Summit will be under NDA, but maybe we’ll get more on the story of what’s being planned for Zune in 2011.

My issue with the lack of Zune notice goes in quite a few directions. For starters, much was made about using the Zune software as your syncing station for Windows Phone 7. The Zune software is a wonderfully designed interface and people have considered it a great improvement over the presentation given in iTunes. If Zune isn’t going to be Zune anymore where does that leave the Zune software? And could this explain why the trigger hasn’t been pulled on the discontinuation of Windows Media Player?

Secondly, what does this do for Zune Pass? Zune Pass is arguably one of the key differentiators for Zune at the moment and is a great way for people to discover music. Having a Zune Pass account fuels most of the features that you can use across a wide range of devices: Windows Phone, Zune HD, XBOX 360, etc. Would we just get Music Pass or Media Pass or Hall Pass or Pass the Peas, I don’t know!?

Then there’s the reorganization of Zune. A while ago the hardware and software teams were split. I’m all fine with that but does that bleed ultimately result in a dissolve of Zune as a name and will things that Zune does blend into other services. The talk is that it will blend into Windows Live (which could explain why long ago, people were asking why “Zune Live” was mentioned in some of the knowledge base articles). But then again, how exactly would Zune fit into Windows Live?

Microsoft guru, Paul Thurrott, has sources that tell him that Zune would be blended into Windows Live. Again, it would explain that whole Zune Live label, but I can’t fully see how that would work. Would the Zune software become part of Windows Live Essentials, for example?

My buddy Michael Gillett, over at My Microsoft Life, has the theory that Zune isn’t being mentioned because it’s not that well known in those areas like Bing and XBOX 360 are. The problem I have with that is Zune has been out longer than Bing has (as a name at least), but then much can be said about Zune’s lack of international flavor. However, when you’re on grand stages like Mobile World Congress and a blockbuster Nokia announcement, those are the times to mention things like Zune — you know, when you have everyone’s attention on you.

Then there’s the recent story that Zune Video (thanks to blockbusters like Kinect) have actually been gaining on iTunes. So now Zune’s name is out there in a positive story and suddenly we’re still going to phase it out?

One other piece in this equation? Zune Social

Nothing is mentioned of Zune Social by anyone. I’ll still argue that Zune Social is head and shoulders above Ping and could still be a great music community with a few tweaks and additions. Are we now leaving that service in limbo? Again, I say that Zune Social should either (re)become part of the Windows Live aggregate of services or be fused into the OS and made part of the people hub.

Ultimately, the assumption is that Zune (as a name) goes and the services stays. Um, so what the hell do you call the software? Download the Windows Phone Software? Download the Microsoft Media software? Anyone have a better name for it, if it won’t be labeled as Zune?

If this does sound like a bunch of rambling, it’s primarily because nothing has been said by anyone about the lack of Zune moving past anyone’s lips lately. Thoughts, speculations, criticisms, etc are flying left and right as more people trying to piece together what’s going on and how could that bode for Zune in 2011.

Lots can be said about the lack of international presence, the fragmentation of the service, the state of devices and more, but us Zune users who have to endure finger pointing, stale Family Guy jokes, “Who still owns a Zune?” questions on Twitter and having to make ‘squirting’ not sound as bad as it could’ve been, deserve some kind of clarity on what’s happening with this brand.

I would like to sign off this post with “time will tell”, but how much time are people willing to give?

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About Marques Lyons
Microsoft Xbox MVP. Xbox Music Correspondent. Music Fanatic.

19 Responses to Oh Zune, wherefore art thou?

  1. Grady Bailey says:

    I’d like to preface this by saying that I don’t have any more concrete evidence than you (Perhaps even less, given that you are an MVP), but I can’t say that things look good for Zune as a brand/product.

    Nothing has been said about Zune hardware for some time. I recall hearing a few times that “Zune is a brand! A service AND hardware!” several times since the launch of the Zune HD, as though MSFT is trying to make the point that they want to focus on the Zune service.

    Now, they’ve done that with WP7, but you’re right, things have been relativey quiet on that front for the past year. Despite being in the same position as Bing (Relatively unknown service going up against a HUGE competitor that already owns the space) when is the last time you saw a Zune advertisment?

    In addition to all of this, you have the reorganization that you mentioned. How can you expect a strong cohesive product from a team that is constantly restructured/moved/etc?

    I love my Zune Pass, and I will continue to use it as long as it is offered, but beyond that Zune hasn’t done a whole lot for me lately. The movie selection via Xbox is sub-par (Lots of SD only movies), there haven’t been any new devices even hinted at, and some of the best features (Smart DJ!) aren’t even on the service’s latest release.

    If merging Zune and Live, as you suggest, comes with some more structure and innovative features such as cloud-based playlists, I’m all for it. I’m not attached to the “Zune” name, but I am attached to the services. Hopefully Microsoft has an ace (At least. I’d love a royal flush) up their sleeve for Zune like they have for Windows (Windows 7), Xbox (Kinect), WP7 (Some of the new stuff announced today), and Bing (Social integration)

    • Thanks for this insight. I agree that Zune’s services are great but I can’t currently subscribe to the idea of phasing out the name, especially when so much has been put into getting it across Microsoft properties.

  2. SnarkMaiden says:

    My guess would be that Zune didn’t get a mention because it didn’t play into any of the new features, let alone get new features – they keynote is less a chance to advertise and more a chance to stay focused on what’s new.

  3. Aaron Kowall says:

    Well and it would be nice to hear the roadmap for offering Zune (or whatever you want to call it) content OUTSIDE the US. It is less than compelling for those of us in Canada as an iTunes competitor.

  4. DoomedGuy says:

    Two words: Ovi Music.

    Almost totally unknown in the US, very little known in Europe but the #2 download service world-wide. More tracks than iTunes, too.

    Put that together with the Zune interface and things get interesting, fast.

  5. PHuZZy says:

    With the Nokia joining I dare say Zune was not mentioned because ZUNE is ALMOST Exclusive to USA.
    Nokia sells it’s phones everywhere else other than USA.
    I’m in Australia.. I can’t use ZUNE or Zune Pass (unless I want a movie…..)

    I don’t care if it is Zune or Ovi just get more music in more countries!!

  6. Master Devwi says:

    As a big Zune fan, I sincerely hope it isn’t going away. It’s possible they wanted to cover newer information in today’s announcement, rather than spend valuable time on something they have talked about at length. That being said, I do agree: Microsoft should be promoting Zune whenever possible.

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  9. Geoff Coupe says:

    As others have mentioned, outside of the US, Zune services are either totally non-existent or a pale shadow of what you have in the US. For example, there are many countries (e.g. India) where Windows Phone 7 devices are available and supported by local carriers, yet the App Marketplace is not available via Zune.

    The backend infrastructure of Zune services has design problems as well. You can’t ever change your country of residence or even delete your Zune account and start afresh.

    These issues are leading many non-US customers to have a negative view of the Zune brand. Microsoft need to fix this very quickly,

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  13. downhillrider says:

    Zunes and the software that goes with it are top notch IMO. Its a shame that MS has chosen not to build it up as far as advertisment. I own 3 and I love them. Unfortunately MS was late to the party and couldnt get enough ppl off iPods and into Zune’s. I used to tell myself and others who were looking for an mp3 player than once you tried the Zune and the software you would automatically love it.

    I still feel that way but it seems no one is listening. Sadly I think we can count on maybe 1 more update to the Zune hardware and I believe everything Zune related will be folded into WP7. People are looking for all in 1 devices. I know carrying around my iPhone 4 and my Zune’s (I refused to use iTunes) became a hassle.

    Besides I consider WindowsPhone 7 the “Zune Phone” that ppl talked about for so long.

  14. adacosta says:

    The Zune has a lack of recognition in international markets. I have only seen two persons with a Zune in its 6 year life time on the market and those were first gen Zunes (which died btw and one of the persons tried to steal parts off the other Zune to revive his Zune, LOL). With Zune HD, Microsoft has the right product, but its execution seems to be 3 years late after iPhone and iPod Touch. I don’t believe the lack of the services that make Zune special in International markets is really the core problem. I personally have an iPod Touch and don’t use iTunes to buy music, I buy my CD’s and rip them, that’s how I like to discover music in addition to the traditional mediums such as TV, YouTube, Radio which work well for me ever since I knew myself. Its just that Zune as a competitive product is not necessary anymore, the market has changed, its not 2003 to 2005 anymore since we are now in a state of convergence, Smart Phones are taking over, instead of creating two similar products, its best to just fold the capabilities of one into the other (Zune into Windows Phone, whatever it becomes). The reason why Apple continues with the Touch is because people like iOS but don’t want the contract to go with it so they keep it going. The Zune has a upper hand, since persons will not be limited by the hardware and will be able to have a variety of Zune Windows Phone form factors that suit their style. I just hope the execution of its transition to where ever its going in 2011 is done well.

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