It seems like every few months we get another report decreeing the ‘death of Zune.’ Today is no different. When Yusuf Mehdi, the Chief Marketing Officer for Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Division, posted an entry on the Official Microsoft Blog entitled “Xbox Beyond the Box,” tech blogs immediately latched onto a few sentences which, they claim, officially confirm the death of the Zune (never mind the fact that we all know it would “come via a 15,000 word post on Building Windows 8”).
“Xbox will always mean games, but for tens of millions of people around the globe, it also means music, TV, movies and more.”
“This year, Xbox becomes the premium entertainment service for Microsoft. Whether on your PC, tablet, TV or phone, Xbox will be a gateway to the best in music and video, your favorite games and instant access to your friends.”
The thing is, Mehdi never actually said that ‘Zune is dead.’ He merely claimed that Xbox’s value as an entertainment brand will continue to grow. Zune is already available on Xbox 360 alongside a number of third-party music and video apps, so from a certain point of view, Microsoft merely plans to continue growing in this area, albeit on more platforms than just the Xbox console.
It’s important to remember that Zune is a service. There’s a distinct possibility that Microsoft will bring Zune under the Xbox banner, but it isn’t killing off the service entirely. We don’t know what the Redmond software giant plans to announce at E3 next week, but even a new name and a slew of new features won’t change the fact that it’s still the Zune service that many people, like me, have always known and loved.
Zune has left a strong impact on Microsoft as a whole. The Metro user interface, which was technically introduced in Windows Media Center, took off under the Zune banner. Now, the UI can be found on just about every Microsoft product imaginable, from Xbox to Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Even the Office suite and Microsoft’s online services have been influenced by Zune and Metro. No matter what the next-generation media service looks like, it will still be based on Zune’s DNA.
While the Zune name is a great one, bringing the service under the Xbox banner is a smart move, as Xbox is undeniably the stronger brand. In fact, it’s a Microsoft brand that is almost universally loved. Having the name Xbox behind the Zune service will allow Microsoft to bring more music labels and movie/TV studios on board. I once met a representative from a very well-known studio, and when I brought up the prospect of getting a certain TV show on the Zune Video Marketplace, I was shocked to hear that he thought Zune wasn’t around anymore. Branding Zune as an Xbox service should help Microsoft overcome hurdles like this, allowing the company to secure better deals and grow the content collection. It’s also interesting to note that the Video Marketplace originally started out on Xbox, before being transferred to Zune.
So does Microsoft plan to announce a new Xbox-branded entertainment service next week? Possibly. Many signs point to yes. But even if the service looks new, it’ll simply be the next iteration of Zune. There hasn’t been a major Zune update in years, so it’s inevitable that Microsoft will announce a long list of new features, capabilities, and maybe even platforms. Slap a new name on it too, and you have something that looks completely new. But deep down, it’s still Zune, developed by the same great people. Microsoft isn’t killing off Zune, it’s taking the service—not necessarily the name itself—to the next level.