Microsoft Working on a Zune Phone?
Technologist Long Zheng's watchful eye caught a clue that points to the likely existence of an upcoming Zune phone, according to blog post he published this week.
A Zune software update (version 18.104.22.168) includes a USB device driver package that references hardware IDs for an as of yet unknown Microsoft Zune product. Zheng noted that USB body regulations forbid vendors from masking devices IDs, so the device must be from Microsoft. There are three variants of the ID that may point to different models, he added.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Microsoft will make its own device. I was in the "yes" camp over a year ago, because I believe that Microsoft will attempt to maintain parity with Apple's product mix. It acquired Sidekick creator Danger Inc., and tasked executive Roz Ho (former head of its Mac business unit) to absorb Danger into its Entertainment and Devices division.
It's true that Microsoft's Windows Mobile business model has been reliant on third parties, but that model hasn't given the platform much wind in its sails as evidenced by the OS's sinking market share. However, it isn't exactly backing off from supporting its IHV partners. It's also sticking to its story that it has no immediate plans to build a Zune phone.
Last year, it was reported that Microsoft was giving devices makers reference designs to use to build their own next generation Windows Mobile devices. It is also working on Zune-branded services, code-named "Pink," "Skybox," and "SkyMart," to standardize the user experience across devices.
My bet is that Microsoft is in the mobile device market for the long haul. The fact that Apple is now selling a substantial number of connected devices, which contributes solidly to its bottom line, is not escaping Microsoft. It will try many things.
The company realizes that people are accessing information and services from a growing number of devices, and has technology planned to accommodate that change both in the short (Silverlight) and long term (Midori OS).
We are going to have to wait and see what Microsoft is doing; it's a big company that has a lot of coals in the fire. Keep a close eye out on Mobile World Congress next month.