The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: CXO, Microsoft
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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.

Topics: CXO, Microsoft

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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16 comments
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  • Interesting stuff

    What is the Windows Phone Design Studio?
    rjohn05
    • More about Shum and his job

      here, from MS Presspass site:

      http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2010/feb10/02-16shum.mspx

      MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

    The Zune never was as Computers should have never Been.

    They are all a waste of our time
    X41
    • I am so glad

      @X41

      You posted this line of drivel, if they are all a waste of our time why don't you disconnect your mother's computer, go back to the basement and play with your Pokemon cards. Year around school for all children should be a necessity.
      hopp64
      • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

        @hopp64 LOL - ouch - but probably dead on McDonalds was slow today.
        ItsTheBottomLine
  • Steve Ballmer Quote Museum

    I wonder if it's true that Zune lost no money on the hardware?

    October 11, 2006

    Ballmer claims Microsoft won't lose money on Zune
    ...
    Ballmer said his company's upcoming Zune player fits into the hardware model because the value, if its successful, is all in the software. "It's in community [the ability to share music and pictures with other Zune users]," he said. "I want to squirt you a picture of my kids. You want to squirt me back a video of your vacation. That's a software experience."

    "The truth is," Ballmer added, "if it makes money, it will be built into the gross margin on the hardware. We'll figure out how to make money on the community perhaps later though advertising or other means."

    Asked how much money Microsoft will lose per Zune, Ballmer said, "None."
    HollywoodDog
    • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

      @HollywoodDog

      iYawn.
      Hallowed are the Ori
  • Message has been deleted.

    Message has been deleted.
    james347
  • Zune always reminds me of plays for sure

    I still giggle every time I remember plays for sure: best hubris name ever. Kin was another surreal little episode.
    paulhknight
    • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

      @paulhknight My daughter has the 80Gig GenII Zune. Still works great, she loves it and it has been everywhere with her for her select team involvement. She has had two iPods both broke (they are smaller) and/or batter was crap. So lack of marketing properly would be my .02 on Zune's lack of traction. The Zune Software is far superior to iTunes and the unit itself it tough and works very well. And I have an iPhone, iPad (both for work) and a Mac as well as 4 homemade Win 7 machines. No loyality either way here.
      ItsTheBottomLine
      • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

        @ItsTheBottomLine
        Cool Story, Bro!
        Tigertank
  • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

    I love my Zune HD ...Apple still hasn't put HD radio on its ipod it is so ahead of it time ..im sure the Mini ZUNE HD would be made killer sales records ..we will never know ..some killed the product it is all mystery..Zune HD wasnt no Kin .if Microsoft stuck with Danger designs for Sidekick and not try to reinvent the Sidekick ..Microsoft will learn
    geektech713
  • Zunepass, great service, where's the marketing

    I have a WP7 and bought a ZunePass. It is fantastic. I'm out, I Shazam a song, press the Zune button and download it. Back at home when my phone is on the charger for more than 10 minutes it syncs the song to my home media server. My wife has a Zune and when she plugs it in after 10 minutes the song syncs to it and she now has it to. Fantastic workflow, great service, but no one knows about it!

    On the hardware and support side Zune was a disaster. My wife had one break, it took 3 months to get a new one. That one broke a week later and it took 5 months to get a second replacement. I am in the US Virgin Islands and they kept shipping it to Michigan or god knows whereelse. When we'd call we'd get a call center in India that was utterly useless. It was by far the worst experience I've ever had with any company. As someone who is invested in MS technology via my job as a .net developer I was disappointed. Her replacement is now going again 3 months after she got it (play/pause button isn't working) and we are afraid of dealing with returning it again.
    stiphy
  • Zune HD, worked, and was simple to use.

    I really enjoyed my Zune HD. I thought it was an awesome product when it came out. It lacked a lot of features though. For example podcasts, by default it played newest to oldest. Which is dumb since most podcasts progress from oldest to newest. What was even dumber you couldn't change the play order on the player. Only on the zune software on the PC which then would sync how you wanted to play them. Also I lost podcasts some updates to the software on the PC would screw up the podcast for some reason so you had to delete the podcast and readd it. Which of course deleted all the downloaded podcasts. Simple things like that. Eventually it just because easier and easier to find new ways to get my stuff. I use an Squeezebox for everything around the home, then my Droid phone for anything mobile. My Zune HD still works just fine last time I checked anyway. I usually have to charge it up every time I dig it out.
    BOUND4DOOM
  • RE: The Zune that never was, developed by members of the former Microsoft Courier team

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