Microsoft's Zune team is usually good at giving its customers ample warning when it has to take the service down for maintenance or an upgrade. That's why the seemingly sudden decision to take the service down the evening of June 21 for "system maintenance" is spawning some interesting speculation.
The Xbox Support team tweeted last night around 10 p.m. ET that the Zune service was undergoing system maintenance and would have "limited or no availability." The downtime could last up to 24 hours, according to that tweet. The Xbox Support folks added there were "no further details available at this time" as to the reason for the maintenance.
Update: 1:30 p.m. ET June 22: The Zune service seems to be restored, though some users are reporting page errors. Microsoft officials arent talking about what was behind the sudden maintenance suspension.
Some users were saying this morning (June 22) that they were getting belated notices sent to them via e-mail warning them of the downtime. If the email had arrived on time, they still would have gotten only a couple of hours heads-up. The note from the Zune team said:
"As part of our continued efforts to improve the service, Zune is undergoing scheduled maintenance that will prevent you from renting and purchasing content for up to 24 hours starting 11:00 pm (PST) on June 21st. Your local video and music library will continue to be available during this time.
"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience."
Could Microsoft be tinkering with the Zune music/video services so that Windows Phone 7 developers will be able to access the system on the loaner WP7 devices that Microsoft has said it will be providing to the chosen few in July? Maybe...?
Other Zune users were speculating that Microsoft had taken down the service to add the promised Zune music-Xbox Live integration that Microsoft showed off last week during E3 when company execs showed off the newly-named Kinnect hands-free controller. But according to a Microsoft spokesperson, that integration won't be going live until holiday 2010.
The Zune announcements at E3 got little attention. Here's what the Softies unveiled last week, via an e-mail note I received from a Microsoft spokesperson:
"The Kinect transformation will also extend to the Zune experience on Xbox LIVE. Turning the user into the controller, Kinect and Zune will give you unparalleled control over your music and videos. With just a wave of your hand or the sound of your voice, you’ll be able to navigate through the Zune catalog of videos and music to control your content.
"We also announced at E3 that the Zune music experience will come to Xbox LIVE this holiday. With a Zune Pass subscription, you’ll have unlimited access to on-demand streaming of more than seven million songs through Xbox LIVE. With Kinect, navigating through the Zune music catalog will be as easy as using a wave of your hand to find the artist you want and telling Xbox to “play.” We’ll be sharing more details around the markets where Zune music on Xbox LIVE will launch later this summer.
"And as previously announced, we’ll also be bringing the Zune video service on Xbox LIVE to Mexico and Japan this holiday, giving even more consumers direct access to a high-definition home video experience on their Xbox 360. With the addition of Japan and Mexico, consumers in 20 international markets will have access to Zune video on Xbox LIVE."
Sadly, still no word on if/when Microsoft will sell the Zune HD in other countries or if/when it will make the music (and not just video) service available to customers in those countries.
I've asked via the official channels for more information on Microsoft taking the Zune service offline so suddenly. If I get more, I'll update this post.
Update No. 2: Thanks to @tromboneforhire, we have another clue about why the Zune service was offline today. It looks like there's going to be a Zune/Bing tie-up, with Zune providing streaming song results for artists you search for using Bing. I searched on "Beyonce" and found some interesting new results this afternoon:
(click on image above to enlarge)
As @tromboneforhire notes, in a way, Zune is becoming Bing's music service.
Currently, when you click to play the song, you don't yet get it streamed to you. Instead, you get this:
As I noted earlier today, Microsoft is set to take the wraps off a bunch of Bing updates focused on the entertainment space later tonight (June 22).