updated 08:40 am EST, Fri February 13, 2009
Zune on Phones in 2009
Microsoft on Friday said it will bring features of its Zune music players to other hardware besides Zune players sometime this year. The revelation comes after company Media Center/Mediaroom head Enrique Rodriguez has acknowledged to CNET that Microsoft is splitting the Zune group into separate hardware and software divisions, with the software now being covered by Rodriguez's group while hardware goes to the Windows Mobile group's hardware section. He doesn't say which devices will get the features but argues the move is necessary to expand Microsoft's reach into media beyond just its own hardware.
"The goal is to make non-gaming entertainment a first-class citizen within Microsoft's business," Rodriguez says.
He also denies that the split has anything to do with the steep plunge in revenue for the Zune this past holiday and says the move is more about unifying Microsoft's efforts across multiple platforms. However, reports have surfaced that the first wave of job cuts at the Redmond, Washington-based company have focused on the Zune group as well as on Windows Mobile.
Most observers believe that the Zune port will be a part of Windows Mobile 6.5, which is already known to have a redesigned interface in some areas and should reach the first shipping devices sometime in September. Microsoft is also believed to have designed reference smartphones of its own that aren't intended for production but would serve as guides for developing Zune-like phones.
Rodriguez is adamant that Microsoft isn't backing out of Zune hardware itself and that new products are due in the fall which will serve as "hero" devices, representing the brand and carrying at least the initial wave of sales. He nonetheless expects the internally-developed hardware to eventually play less of a role.
"If you ask me how important is [the Zune player line] from a numbers perspective, today it's ultra-important," he explains. "If I do my job right, part of my job is to make it less important. Part of my job is to make sure the service comes into every device."