Would you believe what people are writing about Zune's death?

Zune HD 32

Microsoft has tagged the Zune music player end of life, although the software will live on. Perhaps the kindest way to think of it is transformation: From caterpillar to butterfly. Zune will be freer now to roam among many devices. But many people posting blogs or news stories about the music player's demise are using it as opportunity to kick the corpse: Some Zune epitaphs are even nastier than I expected. For example, the Apple 2.0 blog turned Zune into a verb to describe future failed tablets.

While the first report originated with Bloomberg, many of the blogs cited Business Insider as the source. Betanews took the time to ask Microsoft about Zune plans. My colleague Tim Conneally emailed Microsoft's outside PR agency for comment; I called and left voicemail. We chose to post an originally sourced story, while also crediting Bloomberg. I posted late last night.

So what is the rabble saying about Zune?

"iPad copycats: Zuned to failure?" writes Philip Elmer-DeWitt for Fortune's Apple 2.0 blog. "A fair amount of journalistic grave-dancing followed Bloomberg's report Monday that Microsoft (MSFT) had decided to stop developing new versions of its Zune music and video player -- a report Microsoft did not deny," he writes. "You have to ask yourself: If Microsoft couldn't compete with the iPod, what chance do all those tablet makers rushing me-too products to market have against the iPad?"

What an odd question to ask. A company doesn't need to be No. 1 in a market to be successful. Samsung and Sony continue to introduce new portable media player models, despite iPod's success. Apple is example in the cell phone market, where iPhone isn't even No. 2 in unit shipments but commands higher margins (and therefore profits) than most of its competitors.

Also, Microsoft entered the music player market five years after Apple launched iPod, which had huge momentum. Granted iPad is off to a helluva good start, but it leads a still relatively small media tablet market. It's way to early to call a winner.

"Apple's iPod killed Microsoft's Zune" writes Daniel Ionescu for Macworld UK. As I explained yesterday, Microsoft killed Zune, not iPod. Microsoft didn't make the necessary commitment early on, such as massive marketing or global distribution, necessary for Zune to truly compete with iPod. More recently, Microsoft shifted its Zune software commitment to Xbox and Windows Phone 7.

"Is Zune finally, officially, for real dead this time?" asks Brian Barrett for Gizmodo. "It's getting to be one of the more recycled rumors in tech: Microsoft is done with Zune hardware, but Zune software will live on, maybe rebranded, maybe not," he writes. Barrett has a point. Microsoft hasn't officially announced Zune's death, just repeated a cryptic statement that suggests the portable media player is end of life.

"Zune… the death of a dying brand" writes Jon Ogg for 24/7 Wall St. "Steve Ballmer had once indicated that it was possible that Zune could take over the culture around the iPod in popularity," Ogg writes. "Well, how about that? It looks now as if Microsoft's only hope of derailing Apple in online music is to run ads about how listening to music with headphones can cause severe harm. We all know that won't work either." Ballmer boasting is merely his style.

"When has demand for Zunes done anything but ebb?" asks John Gruber at Daring Fireball in response to Bloomberg headline "Microsoft Said to Stop Releasing Zune as Demand Ebbs." Gruber is proficient taking sarcastic jabs like this one. Not to nitpick but: Sales can't ebb if there were the none he suggests.

"Report claims that Zune is dead ... and I'm not surprised" writes Adrian Kingsley-Hughes for ZDNET. He offers one of the few posts that nails some of the main reasons why Zune couldn't succeed:

If Zune is indeed dead, I'm not surprised. It was an odd device in many ways, born as a knee-jerk reaction to the dominance of the [iPod,] but by that I don't mean to say that it was a bad player, Just odd. The odd brown shell (which seemingly was the most popular) was an interesting color for Microsoft to choose (note that Apple never bought out a brown [iPod] …). The odd sharing feature built into the player was an interesting idea but demanded that your friends have Zunes too in order to make use of the feature (in other words, it was utterly useless to most users). Then there was the odd marketing strategy that meant Microsoft doesn't sell the Zune outside of the US and Canada. I still can't fathom out why Microsoft never took the hardware global.

Many of Microsoft's most successful brands are more popular internationally than domestically, which is another reason to ask why confine Zune to North America?

"iPod's mission accomplished: Zune is declared dead" writes Kelly Hodgkins for The Unofficial Apple Weblog. She smartly observes: "Despite the hardware's less than positive welcome, both the Zune user interface and the all-you-can-eat subscription service were popular among those using the platform. Microsoft recognized this and wisely ported the best of the Zune features to the media portion of Windows Phone 7." She's right, and it's the right thing to do. Smartphones already eclipse iPod and other devices in the category for portable media consumption and creation.

"Microsoft abandons Zune media players in defeat by Apple's iPod" writes Daniel Eran Dilger for Apple Insider. Microsoft hasn't conceded defeat but shifted Zune resources to software development, and that means Windows Phone 7 -- something Eran Dilger acknowledges.

Some of the best commentary on Zune comes from Betanews readers. Anthony Scott writes:

Zune is not dead, it is now called WP7. When ZuneHD was released, people screamed for a phone version of the device. Now they have it, there is no longer a need for media only players like the ZuneHD. There is nothing the ZuneHD did that is not available in WP7. People need to move on and realize this, as they should have six months ago when WP7 was released. Thinking this is news is ignorance, as people have chose to 'ignore' the information available.

"The question is whether MS is showing the commitment required for the Windows Phone," Paul Sorensen responds. "They're certainly throwing money at it (taking over Nokia for example) -- but the marketing so far seems to have shown the same lack of commitment/ability/understanding/something that they demonstrated trying to compete with the iPod."

Do you agree? Do you own Zune? Are you satisfied with Microsoft likely killing off Zune hardware? Please answer these questions -- or offer any other response -- in comments, or email joewilcox at gmail dot com.

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