What I think is going on with Zune
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.