Microsoft Zune business development manager Dave McLauchlan issued a non-committal response to rumors of the Zune being killed off. He urged "healthy skepticism" of the rumors but stopped short of promising that there would be would be future hardware. Windows Phone 7 was admitted as the effective Zune hardware for 2011, but he would only talk to Anything But iPod forum goers about support for the existing Zune HD.
"ALL consumer electronics products have a lifespan, and the Zune HD is 18mo old," he wrote. "We were completely frank about this year's Zune hardware being the WP7 phones, and we continue to both sell and fully support the Zune HD line of products. And as I've promised - we continue to bring new apps and games to the platform. More of those are in the works, I promise you... and when Microsoft announces news that is actually news, you'll hear it from us directly, and I'll be sure to pass it on immediately."
So far, the closest to hints of new hardware have come from an official statement, which promised more about the "evolution of the Zune entertainment service and Zune hardware as future plans develop."
McLauchlan's statements weren't significantly different from those in the rumor, which suggested Microsoft would keep the Zune HD on sale for awhile with support but would ultimately phase it out.
The exit, if accurate at all, would come as the entire MP3 player market was on the decline and at the end of weakening resolve from Microsoft. For the first two years of its life, the Zune was aggressively promoted and improved but gradually lost Microsoft's interest. The 2008 update was just a mild capacity boost, and while the Zune HD was a major overhaul, it too wasn't addressed in late 2010 and received less marketing attention than in the past.
Much of Apple's success with the iPod has been linked to both its high-profile marketing but also its aggressive upgrade cycle. Its MP3 players have been upgraded at least once a year and have usually seen major improvements each year.