Here's a nice find by patent sleuth Manan Kakkar. A group of Softies filed a patent application in 2009 for a media player that Microsoft never ended up launching.
The device was going to be similar in form to Apple's iPod Nano, according to the images Kakkar found.
While I can't say for sure that the mini Zune device mentioned in the patent application will never launch, I'd say it's highly unlikely. Microsoft officials have provided inconclusive statements as to whether the company will launch any more Zune devices (beyond Windows Phones running Zune services). Shortly after launching the Zune HD in 2009, Microsoft execs said there would be at least one more Zune hardware device coming to market. Since then, Microsoft has been emphasizing that Zune's future is as a music/video service, while refusing to comment about rumored plans for a Zune that would be more of an iPod Touch competitor.
As interesting to me as the patent application for the smaller Zune were the bios of several of the patent applicants. Both Albert Shum and Jonathan Harris were members of the group that launched Microsoft's now-defunct Pioneer Studios.
Harris was the co-founder of Pioneer Studios, according to his bio. Harris' LinkedIn profile lists him as the co-founder of the ill-fated Microsoft Courier venture. (The Courier was a dual-screen tablet that Microsoft killed before it ever launched.)
Harris' profile notes that the original Courier team spent two years working on the project. Harris, whose current title is "Principal Experience Director," explains his current role this way:
"Co-founder of the Microsoft Courier venture. Georg Petschnigg and I pitched the Courier concept to executive leadership while working at Pioneer studios. Since then Courier was formally incubated as an Alchemy venture project within the entertainment and devices division at Microsoft. For the last 2 years built and led a talented creative team of interaction, motion, brand, and industrial designers to bring the story of Courier to life.
"Deeply focused on interaction design. Invented intellectual property in the area of natural user interface design in the context of a digital journal – notable inventions in pen and touch, ink, creation tools, and UI mental models around navigation, search, organization and multi-tasking.
"Brand driven thinker. Spent a considerable amount of time understanding how to drive interaction design, industrial design, and brand communication from a core Brand idea. Developed Courier brand story, personality, and creative platform from ground up. Execution of brand went as far as building identity and tools as well as communication concepts: ad campaigns, packaging, point of purchase, and pop up stores.
"Passionate about industrial design. Oversaw development of form and function for hardware design. Worked with internal and external partners to re-invent the journal form factor. Inventions include double hinge design execution and soft good integration."
(Petschnigg -- mentioned in Harris' bio as one of the original creators of the Courier concept, left Microsoft in April 2011, according to his LinkedIn page, but not before he helped lead the conception and incubation of Courier. His bio asserts that he "managed $3.5M seed funding, secured $20M to develop this new product category.")
Pioneer Studios, which was charged with building "brand driven consumer experiences for Microsoft’s entertainment business: Xbox, Zune, Mobile, and emerging areas," as explained by Harris.
Another of the Zune patent holders, Albert Shum was a director at Pioneer Studios and also involved with the Courier project, according to his LinkedIn profile. He is currently the General Manager of the Windows Phone Design Studio.