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Innovation

Microsoft's next-generation Zunes: The end of the line?

The Zune hardware team that Microsoft moved into the Windows Mobile unit earlier this year still has one more media-player refresh up their sleeves, after all. Based on new tips and tweets this week, Microsoft is readying new Zune players that will debut before the end of 2009.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

The Zune hardware team that Microsoft moved into the Windows Mobile unit earlier this year still has one more media-player refresh up their sleeves, after all.

Based on new tips and tweets this week, Microsoft is readying new Zune players that will debut before the end of 2009. (Before this week, all we had were some half-hearted claims that Microsoft wasn't killing off its Zune line.)

After the new line debuts (not just here in the U.S., but internationally, Neowin reported), Microsoft is expected to put its Zune focus on services, rather than dedicated media players.

The next likely form factor where Zune technology is expected to show up in some way is as part of "Pink," the consumer-focused mobile platform that will be based on the Windows Mobile 7 core. If Microsoft sticks to its current schedule, Windows Mobile 7 and Pink are likely to roll out in the first half of 2010.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer foreshadowed the future of the Zune platform in February of this year, during his annual strategic update for Wall Street analysts. Ballmer told analysts:

"We're bringing our services, our gaming service, and our Zune Service, not the Zune hardware but the Zune Entertainment Service, to all three screens, PC, phone, and TV.  So it becomes a fundamental part of building a real business around TV sets."

(This isn't too surprising when you remember that the Zune software and services team now resides in Enrique Rodriguez's division. Rodriguez runs Microsoft's Mediaroom and Media Center TV businesses. The Zune hardware team is under Tom Gibbons, who is Corporate Vice President for Phone Strategy and Commercialization for Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business.

Even if Microsoft offers the best service and support plan imaginable, I'd be leery of buying what seems destined to be the last of the dedicated Zune devices that Microsoft intends to build.

What do you say, Zune fans and foes? Are the forthcoming Zunes already passe?

Update: One of the original sources of the next-gen Zune rumors seems to think this won't be the last Zune player from Microsoft. I'd say if it isn't, it isn't far off.... His tweet:

Update No. 2: Someone has leaked the alleged marketing materials for the Zune that's coming this fall.

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