Over the past few days, more and more Microsoft watchers are noticing that Microsoft execs seem to be making a deliberate effort to avoid using the Z (Zune) word. That avoidance has set off a wave of speculation.
Some pundits claiming that Microsoft is moving to rebrand the service (Windows Live Entertainment, anyone?). Others believe Microsoft is clearing the decks to allow Microsoft's latest and biggest Windows Phone partner Nokia to take over the streaming-music part of the service. (I'm not putting a lot of stock in that one, since Nokia recently closed the Ovi Music Streaming service.)
As a Zune HD and ZunePass user -- and one who is looking forward to syncing her Zune account to her Windows Phone (whenever Verizon finally delivers a WP7 model) -- I was worried Microsoft might have decided to pull the plug on its Zune music/movie/TV service. With the ill-fated Kin, Microsoft has shown that not all its bets, even those that come to market, are long-term ones. I asked the Softies whether Zune was about to be Kinned.
A spokesperson responded to my question late in the day of February 14:
"We’re not 'killing' any of the Zune services/features in any way. Microsoft remains committed to providing a great music and video experience from Zune on platforms such as Xbox LIVE, Windows-based PCs, Zune devices and Windows Phone 7, as well as integration with Bing and MSN.”
Windows Supersite blogger Paul Thurrott's rebranding theory is sounding more and more plausible. But I'm thinking that Microsoft may opt to rebrand Zune as "Xbox entertainment," rather than anything to do with Windows Live. After all, the Zune service already is available on the Xbox. And the rumored Zune HD2 -- supposedly a device meant to compete with the iPod Touch -- easily could be positioned and marketed as a portable gaming device.
Some veteran Microsoft heavy-hitters are moving to the Xbox division, as I've blogged recently, and are seemingly working on some kind of services-focused project. And the Zune team -- which Microsoft split and reorged (twice) -- is already in the Interactive Entertainment Business division, which is the home of the Xbox. Maybe the Zune service will end up as part of the evolving Microsoft IPTV strategy?
Anyone have any guesses (educated or not) about what's next for Zune?
Update: Of all the posts I've read since 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 there could be one more Zune iPod Touch competitor, but more likely positioned as an Xbox-branded portable gaming device