The Zune is dead; long live the Windows Phone.
That's a paraphrase of a statement from Microsoft, who quietly discontinued the Zune line by removing all mentions of the Zune hardware from its website. The death of the Zune had been rumored before, in March 2011, and now it seems it will join the Sony MiniDisc Walkman in portable music player heaven.
Here is Microsoft's press release/eulogy, taken from the Zune Support website:
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. So what does this mean for our current Zune users? Absolutely nothing. Your device will continue to work with Zune services just as it does today. And we will continue to honor the warranties of all devices for both current owners and those who buy our very last devices. Customer service has been, and will remain a top priority for us.
Those "Zune Services" include the Zune Software suite, which is a media manager for the Zune and Windows Phone; the Zune Marketplace, where Zunies can purchase their music and movies; and the Zune Music Pass, a $10-per-month all-you-can-eat music streaming option similar to premium services from Spotify and Rhapsody. The Zune software is integrated into Microsoft's Window Phones (which are just now receiving the much-hyped and potentially platform-saving Mango operating system) and will continue to operate as it did before, only without new physical Zune mp3 players on the shelves.
First released in November 2006 as a 30GB mp3 player for $250, the Zune was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to the ragingly popular iPod; two months later, Steve Jobs and Apple would announce the iPhone, signaling the shift away from MP3 players and toward all-in-one smartphones with music-playing capability. Microsoft will now apparently focus on its Windows Phones, which it hopes can step up and compete with Android smartphones and iPhones more than it has.
The Zune never sold very well, and perhaps the most notable moment of its life was a bizarre glitch that caused almost all Zune players around the world to freeze simultaneously on December 31, 2008; Microsoft immediately issued a fix that involved draining the battery and then recharging after 12 PM Greenwich Mean Time on January 1.
Play the Zune off, Keyboard Cat:
For more Microsoft fails, take a look at the list of the company's biggest flopped gadgets (below).
The Microsoft Kin smartphones debuted in April 2010. Marketed for teens, the devices were priced at $50 for the Kin 1, $100 for the Kin 2. Less appealing were Verizon's $70-per-month subscription plans, as were early reviews calling the devices "not smart enough" and "downright ugly." In June, Microsoft pulled the plug on the Kin family and focused exclusively on Windows Phone 7.
Launched in 2004, the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watches connected to Microsoft's FM radio-based network (MSN Direct) and delivered weather reports, news snippets, stocks and sports scores to users. Writes CNET, "Microsoft put a lot of money behind the Smart Watch and partnered up with Fossil, Suunto, Swatch, and even Tissot, which produced a high-end, touch-screen model that cost $800." Critics and consumers were not buying it, though. Washington Post reviewer Rob Pegoraro tested a $300 Suunto model and wrote the following: "[It was] too big, too ugly, too useless, too expensive (especially with a $9.95/month subscription charge for Microsoft's MSN Direct data service)." The devices were discontinued in 2008.
The Courier Tablet, leaked in 2009, was expected to be announced shortly before the iPad's debut in January 2010. According to rumors, the device would have featured two seven-inch screens that folded shut. However, this innovative twist on the tablet PC never saw the light of day. Microsoft instead unveiled a comparatively "underwhelming" single-panel tablet device called the HP Slate, which PCWorld called "a mediocre device" and "a big disappointment." By late April, both the Courier Tablet project and the HP Slate were tabled. UPDATE: A post written for the official Microsoft Blog in 2010 clarified that the Courier "project" was never an official Microsoft product. The statement read: "At any given time, across any of our business groups, there are new ideas being investigated, tested, and incubated. It's in Microsoft's DNA to continually develop and incubate new technologies to foster productivity and creativity. The 'Courier' project is an example of this type of effort and its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings." The HP Slate was the result of a partnership between Microsoft and Hewett-Packard.
The first hand-held devices built on Microsoft's unique Ultra-Mobile PC platform launched to ample buzz in 2006. This new class of powerful mini-devices, which accepted pen and touch input, never caught on. The first U.S. release, the Samsung Q1, received poor reviews because of its hefty price tag ($1,099), buggy software, and odd keyboard design. Other releases suffered similarly.
Microsoft's answer to the iPod hasn't had a good run. The Zune's share of the mp3 player market peaked at 10%, slumping to 2% in 2009, according to Investor Place. Bloomberg reported that Microsoft would be killing off its music player due to "tepid demand" and cease releasing new models, though it would continue developing the Zune software. UPDATE: Microsoft announced on October 3 that it "will no longer be producing Zune players."
Microsoft's MSN TV (aka WebTV) was a service that allowed users to access the Internet via their televisions. The product, which may have been ahead of its time, was ultimately a flop, failing to attract more than 1 million subscribers. The Financial Times wrote of Microsoft's efforts, "Surfing the TV on a keyboard and web browser sounds about as enticing as pushing a rickety shopping cart across the plush carpet of a designer boutique."