It finally looks to be the end of the road for Microsoft Zune media players

It looks like it's finally official that Microsoft is out of the Zune hardware business -- the same day that Microsoft is changing its ZunePass subscription terms of service.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

When Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported in March of this year that Microsoft had decided to pull the plug on its Zune media players, Microsoft officials declined to confirm that was the case.

(To be more precise, Microsoft officials' response to that story were so convoluted that it was impossible to tell if they were confirming it without confirming it; denying it; or not commenting on it. The Microsoft manager who provided that statement recently left Microsoft to launch a startup, by the way.)

A few of us loyal Zune HD users were holding out hope that in spite of the ridicule by many of our beloved HDs, Microsoft might still deliver one more Zune.

However, on October 3, Microsoft pulled all references to the Zune HD devices from the Zune.Net page, as first noted by Zune Most Valuable Professional Marques Lyons (@tromboneforhire). The new Zune.Net page refers to Zune solely in the context of the Zune Music Pass -- the service formerly known as plain-old ZunePass.

Update: Microsoft officials said the publishing of the page without the Zune devices mentioned was a mistake. The old page is back up that mentions Zune HD devices. I still think no more new models are in the works, but Microsoft still isn't saying that, to be clear.

Microsoft officials have been signaling for a couple of years that Zune's future was as a service, not hardware. But they also said that Microsoft planned to deliver one more Zune player after the Zune HDs, which the company launched in the fall of 2009. There were rumors that Microsoft might deliver a new Zune player line this year.

But with today's move, it seems the Zune HD is the end of the Zune hardware line. I've asked Microsoft officials for confirmation, but am not expecting I'll get it. If I do, I'll update this post. Update: No comment from Microsoft as to whether there will be another Zune player, but as I note above, I'm increasingly doubtful.

While on the topic of Zune, if you're among those unable to access Zune music on your Xbox today, Microsoft is acknowledging it is experiencing multiple Xbox Live service issues. Here's the Xbox Live status dashboard showing the Xbox Live problems, as of early afternoon on October 3:

(click on the image above to enlarge) Microsoft officials said via Twitter they are aware of the Xbox Live problems and are working to remedy them. Update: Xbox Live seems to be back up, as of 2:30 ET or so.

Today, October 3, is the day that Microsoft officially changes the terms of service for its ZunePass subscription offering and turns on the service in Canada.

Microsoft isn't the only company rethinking whether standalone media players are a sound business, for what it's worth. Apple may be distancing itself from the iPod, too, though there's no official word from that company, either.

Bottom line: There are no more Zune media player devices coming. WPCentral quotes the Microsoft support page, which states: "We recently announced that, going forward, Windows Phone will be the focus of our mobile music and video strategy, and that we will no longer be producing Zune players." (I'm not sure when Microsoft believes it recently announced this, but there you go...)

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