Zune is a discontinued brand of digital media products and services marketed by Microsoft. Zune included a line of portable media players, digital media player software for Windows PCs, a music subscription service known as a "Zune Music Pass", music and video streaming services for the Xbox 360 game console via the Zune Software, music, TV and movie sales, and desktop sync software for Windows Phone. Zune also provided music streaming for United Airlines inflight after a partnership in 2010.
The Zune hardware players were discontinued in October 2011. In June 2012, Microsoft announced plans to discontinue all "Zune" services; instead Microsoft would distribute its digital media content and services under the Xbox Music and Xbox Video brands available on its line of products including Windows 8 PCs and tablets, Xbox 360 game console, and Windows Phone smart phones. The www.zune.net domain now redirects to Xbox's website, but the software retains the Zune name. The Windows Phone App succeeded Zune Software as the desktop sync service for Windows Phone 8, as part of Microsoft's discontinuation of the Zune brand. However, Zune Software must still be used for Windows Phone 7 desktop sync, and is still available to download from the Windows Phone website for all Windows Phone 7 devices. In November 2015 Microsoft retired the Zune music download and streaming service. Remaining Zune subscribers would be switched over to Microsoft's Groove Music platform.
Zune music and devices were follow-on to Microsoft's MSN Music service. MSN Music was created in 2004 to compete with Apple's iTunes services. After only two years, Microsoft announced the closing of MSN Music in 2006 immediately before announcing the Zune service. In 2008, Microsoft shut down the MSN Music licensing servers only two years after promising users the servers would be available for five years.
The first-generation Zune device was created by Microsoft in close cooperation with Toshiba, which took the design of the Gigabeat S and redeveloped it under the name Toshiba 1089 as registered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) starting in 2006. Xbox 360 overseer J Allard ran the project, codenamed "Argo", staffed with Xbox and MSN Music Store developers who worked on "Alexandria", finalized as Zune Marketplace. Both products were later united under the Zune brand name in the U.S. market. While some features were praised, the initial Zune has been regarded with derision and jokes for its bulky size and brown color, with CNET regarding it at best as a "high-profile underdog alternative to Apple's iPod" where other Windows Media MP3 players from Creative, iRiver, and Samsung had not succeeded.
At midnight on December 31, 2008, many first generation Zune 30 models froze. Microsoft stated that the problem was caused by the internal clock driver written by Freescale and the way the device handles a leap year. It automatically fixed itself 24 hours later, but an intermediate "fix", for those who did not wish to wait, was to drain the device's battery and then recharge after 12 noon GMT on January 1, 2009.
The first generation and later Zune devices included a number of social features, including the ability to share songs with other Zune users wirelessly. Songs that had been transferred over wi-fi could then be played three times over three days.
The second-generation Zune 4, 8, and 80 devices, manufactured by Flextronics, introduced the touch-sensitive Zune Pad, which was shaped like a squircle. The 4 and 8 GB Zune devices use flash memory and are smaller in size than the 80 GB version, which uses a hard drive. The 30 GB Zune was not redesigned, although it received a software update that brought its interface in line with the second generation models. At the same time, the Zune 2.0 software was released for Windows PCs. This version of the software was completely re-written and featured a new user interface.
Zune devices feature games developed using XNA. An early version of XNA Game Studio 3.0, released in May 2008, allowed developers to work on games for Zune devices. This generation included a 120 GB model, one of the largest storage capacities ever released for a portable media player.
The third-generation Zune 16 and 120 devices were released in September 2008, coinciding with the release of the Zune Software 3.0 update. The only changes to this generation of devices were to the firmware, which was made available for all previous models, and the storage capacity. Included in this firmware update was the ability to tag and later purchase songs heard on FM radio, channels which can be customized to deliver suggested songs for the user, the games Hexic and Texas Hold' em, support for audiobooks from online stores such as Audible.com and others that support OverDrive media files, a clock, and changed quicklist functionality. The ability to purchase songs from Zune Marketplace on the device while connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi was also introduced. To help push this feature, Microsoft partnered with Wayport to allow Zune devices to access its network of over 10,000 wireless hotspots, including those at McDonald's restaurants.
Zune Pass customers in the United States could also now download 10 tracks to keep per month in addition to the existing subscription-dependent unlimited music downloads.
On the same day, the Zune 4.0 software was released to support the Zune HD. In addition, it became possible for Zune Pass subscribers to stream tracks through a computerâs web browser. Zune 4.0 also supports internet radio streams but this feature is disabled by default and can only be enabled by a third-party patch. This was the first firmware released for the Zune line which did not provide new features for older Zune models. These models were given a firmware update with version 3.2.
Microsoft released Zune 4.5 on April 5, 2010. This update introduced SmartDJ and codec features. A firmware update brought picks and an improved the TV-out experience to the Zune HD.
From Summer 2010, United Airlines started to offer Zune in-flight audio by means of 21 playlists that are very similar to the Zune Channels offered on the Zune Marketplace. Each channel offers up to 3 hours of unique programming ranging from classic rock, contemporary pop, opera, electronica, piano jazz, and others.
Discontinuation of Zune hardware
On March 15, 2011, Microsoft announced that no new Zune hardware players would be developed, although existing models would remain for sale. The Zune had failed to capture significant market share after five years against the Apple iPod, and a recent study by NPD Group indicated that the Zune did not make the list of the five best-selling portable music players in the U.S. The iPod has been more successful because of simplicity and had better ratings. It has also been suggested that there is a much larger trend that standalone music players were giving way to smartphones with personalized, app-driven music.
On October 3, 2011, Microsoft announced the discontinuation of all Zune hardware, encouraging users to transition to Windows Phone. Later, the announcement was removed and a Zune Support Team member tweeted that the page was added to the website in error. Finally, despite previous denials, the original announcement of the Zune hardware's discontinuation was restored to the Zune Support site.
On other Microsoft products
In Autumn 2009, movies and TV shows became available through streaming or download through Zune Video Marketplace on Xbox 360. On November 4, 2010, the music portion of the Zune Marketplace was brought to Xbox. This coincided with the launch of the Kinect and Kinect owners can navigate the application menus using hand gestures, without a controller. Users must have a Zune Pass subscription to play music in the application, and only Zune Pass content is available. Locally saved music must still be played through the Xbox's native media library.
Microsoft announced new versions of Zune once in a year prior to 2010. On March 2011, Bloomberg.com published an article claiming that Microsoft would stop introducing new versions of the Zune music and video player. The article has been widely quoted over the internet and by news agencies. However, a Microsoft representative for Zune business development denied this rumor saying that the Windows Phone platform introduction should be considered to be the annual Zune update for 2010.
Zune-branded media playback software is a feature of Windows Phone devices. These phones sync with the Zune software and are compatible with Zune Pass.
All Windows Phone devices include capacitive multi-touch screens, FM radios, Wi-Fi, and certain other features included on the Zune HD. The user interface of the Zune devices, particularly the Zune HD, served as the inspiration for the user interface of Windows Phone. Microsoft refers to the design language of this user interface as Metro.
On October 11, 2010, Microsoft released Zune software v4.7, which supports syncing of Windows Phone 7 devices with a Windows PC. Zune software was then succeeded as a desktop sync app by the Windows Phone App for Windows Phone 8.
The first Zune model, the Zune 30, was released in the United States on November 14, 2006, featuring a capacity of 30 gigabytes, FM radio, and a 3-inch screen. The Zune 30 was initially available in black, brown or white. Retail packages contained a pair of basic headphones, a carrying case, USB cord, and a software CD.
The Zune 80 was announced on October 2, 2007, along with the smaller Zune 4 and Zune 8 to compete with Apple's iPod nano line. These were to be known as the second generation of Zune devices. The Zune 80 featured a 3.2Â inch screen, while the Zune 4 and 8 come with an 1.8Â inch screen. Both come with a new touchpad-style input device ("squircle") and new software. Additional file support for H.264 and MPEG-4 formats was also included, whereas the older Zune 30 requires these formats to be transcoded to WMV prior to sync. The ability to sync wirelessly (automatically if connected to a power supply), podcast support, and an upgraded song-sharing licensing became available on all models. The new software also allowed a Zune device to communicate with other Zune devices to share pictures and songs. A free firmware update added the new software features to the original Zune 30, and was released on November 13, 2007. The Zune 80 came bundled with a USB connection cord and premium headphones. The Zune 4 and 8 come with a USB connection cord and basic headphones.
The Zune 30, the original Zune music player, has a 30 GB hard drive, 3Â inch screen, and a simple directional pad for menu navigation. The second generation of Zune devices includes the Zune 4, 8, 80 and 120. The Zune 4, and 8 are smaller in size and have 4Â GB, and 8Â GB of flash memory, respectively. The 80Â GB Zune acts as a replacement for the Zune 30: it is thinner and lighter than the original. All second generation Zunes have a Zune Pad instead of the original directional pad that was included on the Zune 30. Microsoft released an upgrade for all Zune models, including the Zune 30, to the second generation software/firmware.
On May 26, 2009 Microsoft announced the Zune HD, the first touch screen Zune. The Zune HD has HD Radio and the ability to display video in High Definition through a docking station (sold separately). The screen is multi-touch enabled and uses gestures such as swiping and pinching throughout the player. The device comes with 16Â GB, 32Â GB, and 64Â GB of flash memory. The screen is OLED, 3.3Â inches, and has a 480x272 16:9 resolution. Also included are WiFi, a custom Internet Explorer browser, and an accelerometer.
Zune devices featured preloaded audio and video content from various artists, including Wisin & Yandel, BT, The Thermals, Paul Oakenfold, and CSS. Special edition Zune devices featured their own unique set of content.
The standard Zune devices come with basic headphones and a proprietary USB data cable. The Zune 30 comes with these items as well as a carrying bag, and the Zune 80 model has upgraded "Zune Premium" headphones. Accessories sold separately include:
- Charging devices (car adapter, AC wall-socket adapters, external battery)
- I/O adapters (A/V composite, FM transmitters, headphones, USB data cable)
- Docks (charging, multimedia large speaker, vertical hands-free assist)
- Protection (glass screen protection, hardened/cushioning material case protection)
- Carrying cases (standard issue, armband type, and belt clip)
- Replacement parts and upgrades (battery, hard drive, LCD, etc.)
Among the firms that make Zune accessories are Microsoft, Altec Lansing, Belkin, Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO), Dual Electronics, Griffin Technology, Harman Kardon, JBL, Integrated Mobile Electronics, Jamo International, Klipsch Audio Technologies, Logitech, Monster Cable Products Inc., Speck, Targus, Kicker and VAF Research.
According to Microsoft, the most up-to-date firmware version is 4.5 (114) for the Zune HD, which replaces the original player firmware that ships on the device, 4.0 (356). In the case of the Zune 4, 8, 16, 30, 80, and 120 players, the most current player software version is 3.3, which provides compatibility with Zune 4.2. Version 3.3 was primarily a bug fix release and was released on January 26, 2010.
The operating system for the Zune devices is based on the Windows CE kernel for ARM architecture and uses a distribution similar to the Portable Media Center found on the Gigabeat S. Zune's native file compatible formats are:
- JPEG for images;
- WMV (Used by Zune Marketplace)
- MPEG-4 â" supported on all models except the Zune 30 device
- H.264 â" supported on all models except the Zune 30 device
- Avi video (Xvid) support is included on the Zune HD (firmware versions 4.5 and later).
- MP3 (used by Zune Marketplace)
- AAC (unprotected) not AAC (.m4a)
- WMA Pro (2-channel)
- WMA Standard (used by Zune Marketplace)
- WMA lossless
Any formats not compatible with an individual device are automatically transcoded into a compatible format.
The graphical user interface (GUI) (called the "twist interface" by Microsoft) has sections for music, videos, pictures, social, radio, podcasts, marketplace, games and settings. It is said to provide "two-dimensional navigation" for scrolling through items with its directional pad. In the music section, users can add songs to a quick playlist without reconnecting to the desktop software. In the picture section, the background can be customized using any image stored on the device (for viewing) as wallpaper. In the radio section, users can receive and play FM radio internally, with North American, Japanese, and European tuning ranges, and display Radio Data System information (usually artist and song) when available. When artist/song information are available, the device can search for the song in the Zune Marketplace for download or purchase. In the social section, users can broadcast the user's profile and recent activity to others nearby.
The first updates to the firmware added sharing features (send, community, list nearby Zune users) as described in FCC filings. Firmware 1.1 allowed the device to inherit sharing capabilities described by codename Pyxis. Early firmware releases patched software bugs. About a year later, the much anticipated 2.2 firmware release added support for DVR-MS (Media Center Recorded TV) files, lossless playback, added wireless syncing, and GUI interface improvements.
Zune supports the Windows Media DRM digital rights management system, which is not compatible with other DRM systems and is not part of the PlaysForSure platform or program. â Multimedia content is transferred through Media Transfer Protocol (MTP); however, its proprietary MTP extensions ("MTPZ") place an interoperability barrier between the Zune and previous MTP-based software.
The Zune software functions as management software for the device, a full media player application with a library, an interface to the Zune Marketplace, and as a media streaming server. Zune Software is used to sync with all devices with Zune functionality, including the Zune devices, Windows Phone 7, and Microsoft Kin. Zune devices work exclusively with the Zune software and Marketplace.
The Zune software organizes the media in its library and allows users to add to the library by ripping from CDs, syncing with a Zune device, and downloading from the Zune Marketplace. The Zune software also allows one to organize song metadata. It can automatically download album art and metadata tag data for content in the library.
On the PC, the Zune software streams files to other PCs, the Xbox 360, and other compatible devices. The Zune software also connects with the Zune social and keeps track of files swapped with other users.
The Zune software runs only on 32-bit Windows XP or 32-bit/64-bit, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is not supported.
Zune Software was succeeded by the Windows Phone App as a desktop sync service for Windows Phone 8. Windows Phone 7, Kin, and all previous Zune devices will still use the Zune software, which is still available for download on the Windows Phone website.
Zune Marketplace successor services
As of October 16, 2012, all Zune Marketplace products and services have been replaced by Xbox Music, Xbox Music Pass, Xbox Video, and Windows Phone Store.
The Zune Marketplace was an online store that offered music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, music videos, movie trailers and mobile applications. Content can be viewed or purchased on Windows PCs with the Zune software installed, Zune devices, the Xbox 360, the Microsoft Kin phones, or Windows Phone phones.
It offers a selection of 14 million songs and the Zune Pass music subscription service.
Zune Marketplace was originally only available in the United States. In October 2010, certain Zune Marketplace content became available in additional countries: the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. However, not all content was available in all countries; for example, podcasts and TV shows were not offered at all outside the United States.
Sales and marketing
Microsoft launched several campaigns to jump-start the Zune. It had a major campaign to promote Zune with "Music the way it wants to be" as a major theme and "Welcome to the social" as an advertisement tagline. Also, the company enlisted about 200 "Zune-masters" to advertise the device on American college campuses, to promote the item, and to run Zune-related events. In exchange, they received free merchandise, including a Zune.
Additionally, Microsoft launched an attempt at viral marketing with its comingzune site, complete with several videos in succession. Along with ZuneInsider, and several other ad hoc events, Microsoft hoped to generate buzz for the product outside of the normal marketing avenues, and market its product as a part of a social construct.
The choice of branding and distribution were part of the Zune as a decision of "two strategies in the market right now: cross-brand ecosystems... and singular brand ecosystems... The former is gaining in share and units sold, but the latter has enormous share and won't give that up easily."
Microsoft normally follows a platform (cross-brand) strategy, as exemplified by the PlaysForSure system. However, its Xbox division has gained some experience with the vertically integrated strategy in which it controls everything end-to-end from the hardware to the online store. With Apple dominating the audio market with its vertically integrated iPod system, the Xbox division won permission to try the same approach, separately from PlaysForSure and PlayReady.
Microsoft also wanted to go beyond Apple's efforts and promote the tagline "the social" and wireless sharing as key differentiators. Chris Stephenson, leader of Zune's marketing and manager of Global Marketing for the Entertainment Business, said, "we see a great opportunity to bring together technology and community to allow consumers to explore and discover music together." New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker agrees that the Zune's "community and togetherness seem like a reasonable counterpunch to iPod's supposed attraction as an individuality enabler that allows owners to wallow in their own tasteful personal soundtracks." But he also sees the Zune as having gained appeal as an individualistic statement against the omnipresent iPod: "The most salient feature of the Zune seems to be that it's not an iPod".
Microsoft also released a Zune theme for Windows XP that replaced the appearance of the operating system. This theme includes an orange Start button and black taskbar/Start menu.
Zune has also expanded its brand efforts by creating a Millennial-friendly website and campaign focused on emerging artist talent: Zune Arts
MySpace has added the feature to label music players on personal profiles to Zune-themed or a red Zune 8.
During its launch week, the original Zune, now Zune 30, was the second-most-sold portable media device with a 9% unit share in the United States: behind the market-leading iPod's 63%. For the first 6 months after launch, NPD Group figures show that the Zune 30 achieved approximately 10% market share in the Hard Drive-based MP3 market and 3% in the overall MP3 player market. According to Bloomberg Television 1.2 million Zune 30 players were sold between November 2006 and June 2007, surpassing a milestone. A price drop on Amazon.com during November 2007 temporarily boosted the brown Zune 30 to the top Sales Rank in electronics.
On May 6, 2008, Microsoft announced that it had sold just over 2 million Zunes. Roughly one million of those were sold since the second generation Zunes launched in November 2007.
On May 22, 2008, It was reported that GameStop "has decided to stop selling Microsoft's Zune players at its stores due to what it sees as insufficient demand from customers." A statement issued by Adam Sohn, Zune marketing manager said "We have a set of great partnerships...Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, and others."
In January 2009, Microsoft's quarterly earnings filing with the SEC indicated that Zune sales had fallen $100 million from 2007 to 2008 during the fourth quarter of the calendar year. The Wall Street Journal estimated that sales appear to have dropped from about $185 million during the holiday period in 2007 to just $85 million in 2008. This may be due to the company's decision not to substantially update the Zune hardware in the fall of 2008.
Zune market share decreased to 2% in the first half of 2009, according to the NPD Group.
Availability outside the U.S.
Microsoft released the Zune to Canadian consumers on June 13, 2008, marking the first time it was available outside the U.S. Microsoft has even made efforts to ban visitors outside the United States from Zune Originals. Users wishing to sign up for a Zune Tag can easily circumvent most problems by signing up for a US-based account.
The Zune 2.0â"3.* firmware does not support non-romanized fonts other than Cyrillic. East Asian characters used in Chinese and Japanese, for example, show up on the Zune device as mojibake instead of characters. Microsoft's Zune desktop software has no problem with Unicode. Users have improvised ways to downgrade the firmware on the Zune device to older version that support Asian characters (V1 Zunes can be hacked to display Asian font). This is, however, not recommended by anyone, as future firmware versions contain significant improvements and added codec support.
In 2012 Slate ran a reader poll inviting them to select a piece of defunct technology worthy of a reappraisal, where the Zune beat out Myspace, the PalmPilot, feature phones ("dumbphones") and older versions of Internet Explorer. Farhad Manjoo, the site's technology columnist, went to considerable lengths to acquire a Zune HD. "[It] wasn't as complete a failure as you may believe," he wrote. "If you purchased one over the iPod Touch back in 2009, you wouldn't have regretted it."
Had Microsoft brought the first Zune to market at the same time as the iPod, or even the Zune HD at the time of the iPod Touch, it might have been a serious competitor to those players. "By that point, iPod had become the world's de facto digital entertainment device," he recalled. "To beat it, Microsoft needed to offer something that would make Apple's device look pitifully old-fashioned. The Zune HD didn't do that. Its design marked it as being different from an iPod, but that was pretty much the only difference. There was no reason to buy the Zune unless you wanted to stand apart from the Apple cult. And there was a cost to standing apart from Apple: Because of its popularity, there were millions of apps and accessories for the iPod. As good as it was, the Zune HD couldnât match Appleâs sheer market power." Nevertheless, it was an effective enough product that Manjoo had started using it as his primary music player."
Like the Edsel, to which it has sometimes been likened, Manjoo said the Zune's failure may have led the way to eventual success with other products. The HD's user interface, he noted, was the first such Microsoft product to rely on text rather than icons, and it would form the basis for Windows Phone, Windows 8, Xbox and all of the company's web-based services. The Segoe typeface that is now used in all of them, as well as Microsoft's current logo, was first used on the Zune.
- Zune.net â" Redirects to a Q&A for Zune users titled Important changes are coming to Zune Marketplace
- Zune Insider â" Insider blog & podcast â" Dead link
- Zune Podcast Support â" An interview with Rob Greenlee, Podcast Programming Lead for the Zune about the second generation Zunes' support for podcasts. â" Dead link
- Zune Podcast Connected Show Interview â" An interview with Rob Greenlee. During the Interview we discuss his long career in Podcasting, his work in the Zune Podcast team, how to make podcasts successful and finally the ZuneHD
- Zune at DMOZ