Zune Hardware is Dead; What about the Name Zune?

It's not official until someone at Microsoft says it's official, but Bloomberg's Dina Bass is reporting that Microsoft will "cease introducing new versions of the Zune music and video-player amid tepid demand, helping the company shift its focus to mobile phones, according to a person familiar with the decision."

Cease introducing new Zunes? Actually, that's not really a breaking development. The last meaningful addition to the Zune line was the Zune HD, released almost exactly 18 months ago. It was in some ways a nifty device, but like all Zunes before it, it felt like arrived about a year after it should have. And with consumer electronics, if you leave a product line fester for a year and a half, you're telling the world that you've lost interest.

Bloomberg says that Microsoft will continue selling current versions of the Zune, but the Zune HD seems to be the only model that's even semi-viable at this point. (The Zune site still links to buying options for earlier Zunes, but I have a hard time believing anyone is still buying earlier Zunes -- unless there's someone out there who'd rather pay $649 for a 120GB Zune than $249 for an iPod Classic of the same capacity.)

No, Zune hardware going away isn't news. But here's an interesting question which hasn't yet been answered: Is the Zune name sticking around for the Microsoft entertainment services available on Windows Phone 7 and elsewhere? The Bloomberg story says Microsoft will focus its Zune effort on services, but I'd guess it's not a given that they'll carry that name forever. They're quite good-Windows Phone 7 handsets are the only phones to come with music and movie services which are even vaguely competitive with the Apple iTunes universe -- and the Zune name, fairly or unfairly, is synonymous with "unsuccessful Microsoft attempt to compete with Apple."

A couple of years ago, I argued that Microsoft had another brand name with a great reputation that could be a logical replacement for poor battered old Zune: Xbox. Still seems like a good idea to me. And I can't figure out what the argument in favor of maintaining the Zune name is . . .

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