Zune, we hardly knew ye.
With the announcement of the Xbox Music entertainment service on Monday at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference in Los Angeles, Microsoft dealt a killing blow to the Zune brand -- what was left of it, that is.
A rep from the Xbox team told The Huffington Post in an emailed statement that Xbox Music will become Microsoft's "definitive music service." The rep went on to write that "[c]urrent Zune customers will become Xbox Music customers and will have access to everything they love today, plus a whole lot more." We weren't able to learn whether this switch will happen automatically for users, but Microsoft has promised to issue more details soon.
Launched in November 2006, the Zune player was meant to be a serious challenger to Apple's iPod. However, early reviews were less than stellar: For example, Engadget was "underwhelmed" by the first Zune, while Ars Technica said the device suffered from "strange schizophrenia of spirit."
The Zune line was a commercial flop. In October 2011, Microsoft discontinued its struggling media player business to instead focus hardware efforts on new Windows Phone devices. The company did say that Xbox 360, smartphone and PC users would still be able to access a few branches of the Zune family tree, including the Zune music and media player software, Zune Pass streaming service and Zune Marketplace.
But the Zune name is over now.
A Q&A page on the Zune website briefly explains that current Zune Music users should expect to have their accounts switched to Xbox Music, which will be available on Xbox 360, Windows Phone, and tablets and PCs running the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system. The page also says that subscribers to the Zune Music Pass streaming service will see a switch to Xbox Music when Microsoft releases the service, which should happen in the second half of 2012.
The differences between the Zune services and Xbox Music don't appear to be major. Microsoft has more or less axed one unsuccessful brand name and attached a more popular brand (plus some new features) to the existing services.
Take a look at the promo videos (below) to see how Microsoft's new Xbox Music compares with the Zune services for Xbox, Windows Phone and PC.
XBOX MUSIC (2012):
ZUNE FOR XBOX, WINDOWS PHONE, PC (2011):
Flick through the gallery (below) to view some of Microsoft's biggest gadget flops:
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."