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Category: Zune

Microsoft: Zune hardware dead, apps still alive

Microsoft's first-generation Zune players

Microsoft's Zune was never much of a contender against Apple's iPod as far as portable music players go, and now, finally, the Zune hardware is dead.

However, the Zune brand and the music-buying service associated with that name isn't going anywhere, according to a statement posted to Microsoft's Zune.net:

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.

So there you have it. The Zune as hardware is finito, but the Zune lives on as an app, as a place to buy and consume music in Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.

2009's Zune HDNot mentioned in Microsoft's blurb -- the Zune on the Xbox home gaming console. Currently, the Zune is the Xbox 360's music-buying and -listening app.

The move to end production of Zune hardware was a long time coming as Microsoft hadn't updated its Zune player line since the release of the Zune HD in September 2009.

In March, reports began swirling that the Zune hardware was getting the ax, but at that time Microsoft neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.

But don't feel too sad for Bill Gates' iPod fighter. The Zune's influence on Microsoft has been a major one as the tech giant used the player's touchscreen software as an inspiration when it rebooted its mobile efforts with Windows Phone 7 last year.

Windows Phone 7 has, in turn, influenced the development of Windows 8 (for desktops, laptops and tablets) and even the ever-changing user interface of the Xbox 360. And so, the Zune can be given a bit of credit for contributing to the direction of the three of the company's most important products -- Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox.

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Microsoft reportedly axing its Zune music and video players; Zune software to live on

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Upper photo: Some of Microsofts original Zune portable music player devices, released in 2006. Credit: Microsoft / AFP/Getty Images

Lower photo: Microsoft's Zune HD, released in 2009. Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft reportedly axing its Zune music and video players; Zune software to live on

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Microsoft is going to discontinue its Zune music and video player, but Zune software will remain, according to a report.

The Zune music and video software is currently available on Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game system, Windows Phone 7 operating system, and Windows desktop software, and that will remain the case, according to a Bloomberg story.

J5lfknnc Due to tepid demand for Zune hardware, production of Zune-branded devices will cease, and once the stock of Zune players currently in stores sells out, that'll be the end of the Zune's shelf life, Bloomberg said.

Microsoft, for its part, isn't quite confirming or denying the reported plan to kill off the Zune standalone devices.

"We're absolutely committed to providing the best movies, music, and TV show experiences through Zune on Xbox, the PC, Windows Phone 7 and Zune devices," said Caitlin McCabe, a Microsoft spokeswoman in an e-mail. "We'll share more information about the evolution of the Zune entertainment service and Zune hardware as future plans develop."

Aside from Zune software, Microsoft offers a Zune pass subscription service, which allows users to stream an unlimted number of songs, and keep any 10 they want each month, to any Zune software compatible device -- the Xbox, Windows Phone and Windows computers -- for $15 per month. Microsoft also sells a yearlong Zune Pass for $149.90.

The first Zune player was released in late 2006 as Microsoft's answer to Apple's runaway smash iPod music player. Over the years, the Zune has seen its share of updates and even added features that many iPods lacked, such as radio reception and the ability to play high definition video to TVs.

But the Zune has failed to match the sales success of the iPod and the last new hardware release for the Zune came in September 2009 with the release of the Zune HD player.

Last year, Apple's iPod topped the market for portable music and video players with 77% of unit sales, while the Zune wasn't ranked in the top five, according to data from the NPD Group research firm.

Microsoft was beat out by not only Apple, but also SanDisk, which came in second with a 7% share of the market, Mach Speed with a 4% share, and Sony and Coby with 2% each of the market to round out the top 5.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Top photo: The 2009 Zune HD from Microsoft was released Sept. 15, 2009. Credit: Microsoft.

Bottom photo: Microsoft first-generation Zune released in late 2006 Credit: Douglas Evans/AFP/Getty Images

CES: Microsoft's Steve Ballmer urges people to ditch the keyboard [Corrected and Updated]

Steve Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at CeBit in Hanover, Germany, in 2008. Credit: Kay Nietfeld / European Pressphoto Agency

Take your hands off that keyboard!

That, in short, was one of several points made by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer during a keynote to kick off the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Ballmer, who speaks in exclamation points with his characteristically booming voice, showcased a slew of gadgets and devices that don't require keyboards. Among them: the Slate tablet from Hewlett-Packard featuring a multi-touch screen from N-Trig, which also provided the touch technology for computers from Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba.

The HP device, slated for release later this year, ran Amazon.com's Kindle digital book reader software during the demo. Ballmer also summoned a video on the Slate with a few taps of his finger.

Ballmer, along with Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, also announced that the company would start selling Natal, a voice and gesture recognition controller for its Xbox 360 game console, sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, in time for the holiday shopping season. Microsoft demonstrated Natal last year at the E3 game conference but did not specify when it would release it.

Altogether, the devices show Microsoft's vision for the future of computing, one that increasingly will rely on a host of natural user interfaces to let people abandon the keyboard in order to speak, point, touch and, eventually, think their commands.

Bach called it the ability to "use technology in a way that's natural to you."

As more consumers turn to smart phones, TVs and even cars to hop on the Internet, the computer has become a less crucial component of how people browse the Web, check e-mail or view online videos. As a result, Microsoft has been pursuing a "Three Screen" strategy to provide the operating system software for mobile devices and large-screen TVs, as well as PCs, where it dominates.

The trouble is, few people want to watch TV with a keyboard on their laps, and mobile devices are too small for a standard keyboard. Hence the need for other methods to convey commands. Anyone out there care to speak HTML?

-- Alex Pham in Las Vegas

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

[Corrected, 7:30 pm: The blog was written from a prepared speech and was posted prior to Ballmer's appearance on stage. It has also been updated to include additional details from the keynote.]

A tech gadget guide that tells you how to buy


Does it really matter that the LCD TV has a contrast ratio of 40,000:1 or that the digital camera has a 12-megapixel resolution?

David Colker gets to the bottom of these befuddling questions ahead of the holiday shopping season. He offers an in-depth gadget guide that doesn't make suggestions about what to buy but about how to buy.

--Peter Pae


Microsoft and Apple to battle it out in same Mission Viejo mall



It will soon be war at The Shops at Mission Viejo mall in southern Orange County.

That's where one of the two first Microsoft stores will be opening, according to a report by CNET News that was later confirmed by the software giant.The stores will be selling laptops, Xbox game consoles, games and the Zune music player, among other items.

The Mission Viejo mall already has a Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, Fragrance Hut and a little store called Apple.

Yes, the biggest rivalry in the electronics world will soon be under the same roof. But it's not sure when this will happen -- Microsoft will not say when its planned chain of stores will open. The other store that CNET said Microsoft would be opening will be in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Microsoft also has not disclosed what the stores will look like;however the company did acknowledge that sketches recently leaked to the Gizmodo site were real. The final look, however, has not been finalized, the Redmond, Wash.-based company said.

Let's just hope that Microsoft's Mission Viejo store is far from Apple's. Otherwise, it could be iPods and Zunes at 50 paces. 

-- David Colker

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