A Lament for a Fallen Friend (Or Something)

It’s starting to look more and more like I abandoned Zune at just the right time. More and more rumors are starting to come out that Microsoft has all but given up on the Zune platform. Most recently, Bloomberg reported that Microsoft was ceasing development on new versions of the Zune hardware. This wasn’t exactly shocking news (the most recent Zune, the Zune HD, was released over 18 months ago – an eternity in the world of consumer electronics), but it still seemed highly significant that a major media outlet was reporting this (it must be noted that Microsoft themselves have so far declined to comment). In addition, Paul Thurrott has stated recently that his sources within Microsoft tell him that the Zune brand will soon be discontinued, although the software services that use that name will continue under a different name.

So Zune is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Does it matter? I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I abandoned Zune before I knew that Zune’s death was imminent. I bought an iPod Touch intending to use it to supplement my Zune HD, and it ended up replacing it. But on the other hand, there are few consumer electronics brands out there that I have invested as much interest and emotion into as Zune.

I really do try not to be a fanboy. And I think I succeed for the most part. I own a Wii, a Playstation 3, and an Xbox 360, as well as a Nintendo DS and a PSP. I also own approximately the same number of games for each system. I have a Windows PC, but I use non-Microsoft software on it regularly (Chrome, iTunes, Firefox, etc). I would buy a Mac if I could afford it, but I’d probably install Windows on it even if I did. My point is that I don’t really get all that attached to particular devices or operating systems or whatever. But there was something special about the Zune.

When the original Zune first came out back in 2006, it got fairly positive reviews, but it also got a lot of flack for its bulky design and the fact that it really offered nothing that the iPods of the day didn’t. It’s only major distinguishing feature was built-in Wi-Fi, which was a great feature in theory, but for the first year, all it was used for was “squirting” songs to and from individual Zune devices, which had to be within 30 feet of each other. Pretty lame.

And yet, there was something about it. I hesitated for a long time, because it had so many flaws. But every time I tried out the demo unit at the local Target, I fell in love. The user interface (UI) that Microsoft had crafted for this device was perfect. At the time, I had a Creative Zen Sleek Photo. A fine device for listening to music with, but the actual process of scrolling through menus and selecting items was clumsy and frustrating. Using the Zune was like paradise in comparison. And so I finally decided that I had to have one.

All told, I ended up buying 5 different Zune devices over the course of its lifespan. (Never let it be said that I didn’t do my part to keep the Zune alive!) I owned one of every kind of Zune model that was released over the course of 4 years, and I had two original Zunes. So there is definitely an element of sadness to the news that Zune is meeting its demise.

But at the same time, it’s hard for me to care. When I got an iPod Touch last year, my only intention was to use it for the things that the Zune HD either couldn’t do, or didn’t do well. However, much to my surprise, I found that the iPod Touch did virtually everything better than the Zune HD. The first step in severing myself from the Zune ecosystem was cancelling the Zune Pass subscription that I’d had since November of 2007. But once I no longer had a Zune Pass, I realized that I no longer had any use for my Zunes. So I sold them.

To be perfectly honest, I do have some slight regrets, at least about selling the Zune HD. It was a nice little music player. But, what’s done is done. I’ve officially abandoned the Zune platform, and there’s no going back. Especially not now, since Microsoft is also abandoning it.

I knew when I signed on that this platform was probably not long for this world. Microsoft was going up against a massive juggernaut in Apple’s iTunes platform. Despite the confident-sounding rhetoric coming from Microsoft’s bigwigs, there was never really any chance that Zune was going to make much of a dent in Apple’s dominance of the market.

The ironic thing is that I lived in fear of Microsoft pulling the plug on Zune the whole time I was actively using Zune. But now that they really are pulling the plug, I don’t care, because I no longer have any Zunes.

Not that they’re pulling the plug entirely. As far as I can tell, all of the Zune services, such as the Zune Pass, the Zune software on PCs, the Zune player on Windows Phone 7, and Zune on Xbox will still continue to exist. However, it seems pretty likely that they will now be called something else. There have been rumors that Microsoft has been working on something called “Ventura”, which sounds like it might be a new version of the Zune service. I just hope they take the whole “Zune as a service” thing to its logical conclusion, and release a Zune app for iOS, so I could use a Zune Pass on my iPod Touch. That would be sweet.

Still though, the day that Zune finally dies will be a sad day for me. For at least a little while, I had more loyalty to Zune than I’ve had to any consumer electronics device/platform since the Super NES back in the early 90s. Zune was great while it lasted, and it’s a shame that it didn’t last very long. Anyway, I’m gonna go download some apps on my iPod Touch.

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