To anyone who has looked at Microsoft's highly rated Zune HD portable media player and wished it were a phone, your prayers have been answered. Yesterday, at Microsoft's press event for MWC 2010, the long-rumored "Zune phone" was finally thrust into the spotlight and treated to approving nods by many in attendance.
To be fair, the Windows Phone 7 Series is more than just a Zune HD with a phone slapped in. We're finally looking at a portable device that melds some of Microsoft's most successful products, including Windows Mobile, Zune, Xbox, and Microsoft Office. But make no mistake, there's a whole lot of Zune in the Windows Phone mobile OS. Everything from the touch-screen keyboard to the "twist"-style user interface looks and behaves just like Microsoft's latest Zune HD portable media player.
As a longtime fan of the Zune player, software, and services, I have mixed feelings about the Zune's evolution into Microsoft's flagship smartphone OS (I felt the same sting when the iPod gave way to the iPhone). The standalone Zune media player is no longer the center of the Zune story, but rather, the prologue.
Mostly though, I'm relieved. I've always felt that one of the biggest stumbling blocks Microsoft has faced trying to market a portable media player geared around sharing and social music features was the fact that there weren't a whole lot of other Zune users out there to share with. If nothing else, the inclusion of Zune services on Microsoft's latest smartphone software will mean an explosion in the population of registered Zune users. The Social may finally become, well, socialized.
In fact, lost in the shuffle of all the Windows Phone 7 Series announcements is the fact (reported by ZDNet) that the Zune's music and video services will suddenly be available internationally once the supported phones are available around the 2010 winter holidays. Currently, aside from some limited international exposure of the Zune Video Marketplace for the Xbox 360, Microsoft's Zune software and music services are strictly confined to the United States. Microsoft's Cassey McGee wouldn't disclose exactly which countries will receive Zune services, but definitely indicated that the Zune music and video service will be available outside the U.S. "...in all countries where Windows 7 Phones will ship."
It still remains to be seen whether the international availability of Zune software and services will translate into Microsoft selling its Zune HD portable media player overseas. Unlike the parallel tracks Apple has established with the iPhone and the ever-popular iPod, Microsoft could choose to pull up its stake in portable media players, acknowledging (perhaps correctly) that the future of portable entertainment is entirely in phones.
If Microsoft decides to continue selling and developing the Zune HD hardware, it will be interesting to see how it answers the inevitable pleas from Zune HD users to update the product with Windows Phone 7 Series features, such as Xbox Live integration and broader mobile app support.