The Zune as we know it is gone; long live the Zune HD

Microsoft Zune logo2-4-6-8, what will Microsoft eviscerate? The Zune lineup of 4, 8, 16, 80, and 120GB models. All of the current generation Zunes will be discontinued once the Zune HD drops on September 15. All that will be left are two Zune HD models priced at $220 and $290.

The Zune as we know it is going the way of the dodo, and its replacement is of course the Zune HD. "As you know, the new Zune HD device—featuring a touch OLED screen, HD Radio, HD video out capabilities, Internet browser and more—is available for preorder now and will be available at retail on September 15," a Microsoft spokesperson told Ars. "Additional flash Zune devices (Zune 4GB, 8GB and 16GB) and hard drive devices (80GB and 120GB) will continue to be available at retail until sold out, though we will not continue to manufacture those devices."

The spokesperson also touted Microsoft's upcoming Zune software and service and the arrival of Zune video on Xbox Live this autumn. The software giant intends to provide a "great entertainment experience through software and services across multiple screens and devices."

When Ars asked if the Zune 4.0 software would be available for the old Zunes, the Microsoft spokesperson said "yes" and also noted that more details about updates to the software will be revealed soon. In terms of firmware for the old Zunes, Ars was told that Microsoft "will also continue to provide updates for previous devices as they are needed for stability."

The SuperSite Blog was first to break the news, reporting that all of the current Zunes are being discontinued. The fate of the smaller Zunes was sealed when Microsoft officially detailed the Zune HD in May 2009. In August 2009, the Flash-based Zunes (Zune 4, Zune 8, and Zune 16) disappeared from the Zune Store and Zune Originals, leaving only the HDD-based Zune 80 and Zune 120. Naturally, suspicions were raised to sky-high levels. The store still looks as it did last month, but now we know that it's worse than just the Flash-based Zunes being discontinued; all Zunes will be gone once the stock runs out.

This is a very risky move on Microsoft's part. We learned in August 2009 that the 16GB version will be priced at $220 and the 32GB will go for $290. What if someone wants more than 32GB? Sure, there's a rumored 64GB version coming later, but some users want even more than that. What if someone wants a Zune but doesn't want to spend more than $200? What if they want a smaller device, both in size and capacity?

Recall that the original Zune 30GB is considered first generation, that the Zune 4, Zune 8, and Zune 80 are considered second generation, and that the Zune 16 and Zune 120 are considered third generation. When the Zune 30 was discontinued, some consumers were unhappy, but they couldn't get very vocal because there was a mere $20 difference between the Zune 16 and Zune 80. Discontinuing the Zune 30 made sense.

This time around, however, Microsoft's strategy is questionable. We all knew that hard drive-based media players would be phased out sooner or later, and it's completely possible that a 128GB version of the Zune HD, possibly a second-generation, will see the light of day eventually. The move is understandable on the right side of the spectrum. On the lower end though, it's not as clear as to what Microsoft is going for. A Zune HD that is smaller and cheaper than the 16GB simply won't cut it for the sake of the touchscreen and the accompanying apps. Also, Microsoft might simply think that 4GB and 8GB sizes will no longer be wanted in a few months (those who like to run with small MP3 players will of course disagree). Finally, it may be simply that Microsoft just doesn't want to keep supporting the Zune in its current form and that it sees the Zune HD as a much more profitable beast.

The Zune HD has a lot of potential, but Microsoft has significantly slimmed down the Zune's potential market—especially with its biggest competitor, Apple, selling audio players in sizes ranging from 4GB to 120GB. Microsoft believes it's making a precise surgical slice, but it may just be shooting itself in the foot by giving would-be Zune owners fewer choices.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Microsoft, Zune

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