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Why this Zune owner is celebrating

11 January, 2009 (09:29) | zune news | By: Harvey Chute

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer made comments this week to the Financial Times, indicating that there is no Zune phone coming, and that Microsoft plans to extend Zune branding to other platforms.

Some have heralded this as the end of Zune - from Rolling Stone Magazine and Valley Insider to a litany of tech blogs.

In fact, Ballmer’s comments to FT are consistent with other recent signals from Microsoft, and are positive news for the Zune brand.

Extending your Zune music to other devices makes sense for you, me, and Microsoft. Why? The line of logic is simple:

1. Zune software, Zune Marketplace, and Zune music are available today to anybody with a reasonably up-to-date PC.

2. The line between PCs, notebooks, netbooks, little ‘clutch’ computers (like Sony’s Vaio Lifestyle), and other more portable devices is rapidly blurring. The higher end smartphones are approaching, and in some ways surpassing, the capabilities of the lower end of the PC lineup.

3. It is senseless and arbitrary to say that your Zune music should be able to play on your Windows PC, but should not be allowed to play on your Windows Mobile device.

So, supposing that we’re reading these signals from Microsoft correctly, why wouldn’t this be good for Zune? Why the overwrought reaction from so many bloggers and tech writers who are marking this as the ‘end of Zune’?

Certainly, some of the blog and forum posts are the usual reaction of skepticism to any model that deviates from the conventions of iTunes/iPod. (Microsoft’s Zune Pass music subscription model is also a prime target for this.)

But let’s go beyond the ‘It doesn’t make sense until Apple does it’ mentality. I think there are two legitimate concerns to consider:

1. Will Microsoft continue to invest in and innovate its Zune player line-up? The second generation players earned Microsoft high marks, with arguably the best UI in a portable player, and an intuitive touch pad interface on its series of flash and hard drive players. It would be a shame if Microsoft were to hold back on its venture into Zune hardware.

2. Can Microsoft successfully translate the Zune media experience to a diverse set of smartphones and other devices? The benefit of the closed ecosystem model is that few outside partners are involved. That changes when you have to deal with a variety of smartphone form factors - with their various shapes, screen specifications, and controls like touch screens, trackballs, and stylus pointers.

But, by far, my overriding reaction is this: the notion of extending Zune’s content and entertainment experience to millions of Windows Mobile / smartphone users makes obvious strategic sense. It leverages significant areas of strength for Microsoft. And it will be huge for Zune.

So, while some might be wringing their hands about the stories going around this week… as a Zune owner, I’m celebrating.

[Related article: It's Not the Hardware, Stupid]

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