The Gadgeteer’s ZuneHD Rumor Mill Roundup

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Beginning with the release of the first generation iPhone, every phone manufacturer and wireless carrier have thrown themselves into tailspins trying to catch up and be the first out of the gate with a true iPhone killer. No entity has taken this quest more seriously than Microsoft, trying to reinvigorate their ailing Windows Mobile OS. This past week, the internet has been on fire with rumors and supposed leaked artwork and product renderings of a possible dragon slayer. We try to sort it all out for you here.

I’m going to attempt to lay out all of these different pieces of the puzzle, collected from the far recesses of the Internet rumor mill, together in a way that may collectively make sense. Be warned however, that quite a bit of this is speculation, some of it from supposed credible “inside” sources, and some of it is my effort to put it all in a perspective that might be a logical approach for Microsoft to take at this point.

Project Pink

Briefly, Project Pink is Microsoft’s not so secretive codename for their initiative to bring convergence to Zune services and Windows Mobile. Roz Ho heads this Area 51 in Redmond. While Steve Ballmer, and previously Bill Gates have both said they have no intention of bringing  Microsoft branded mobile phones to market, rumblings of a contingent inside Microsoft pushing for that persist.

Windows Mobile 7 and Zune Services

Steve Ballmer has made no secret that the future of the Zune may be as a package of services or a platform running alongside or on top of Windows Mobile. What could this mean? It means that if you’re sporting a Windows Phone in the future, you could take your Zune profile and services with you. Much like the iPhone, take your apps, your movies, and your music with you on your hip. So, it’s not a far stretch to see that Microsoft is actively attempting to converge the Zune Services and Platform with/onto Windows Mobile. Both platforms run on the Windows CE engine, so it’s a short stretch.

The Rumor Mill Event Timeline

March 19th, 2009

Steve Ballmer states in an interview with Business Week editor Stephen Alder,“We’re going to keep going with Zune. It’s two things: Service and a device. The Zune service, that’s going to fan out its footprint. Hardware will continue to improve.”

This is further confirmation of winter 2008 stirrings that lack luster Zune hardware sales may spawn Zune Services as its own entity.

April 10th, 2009

Engadget posts a gallery of pictures that are supposed leaked marketing materials from Microsoft. This really gets the ball rolling. If these pictures are indeed from an upcoming marketing campaign, it tells us the hardware spec for the Zune has significantly changed and is evolving into a pure touch screen device.

April 11th, 2009

The discovery of ZuneHD.net  further fuels the fire. People love a picture, and a simple background with a Zune logo do the trick on this one.

April 12th, 2009

Zunited reports that the ZuneHD.net website is not owned by Microsoft, but by a Mr. Altman of California.

April 13th, 2009

The artist who hosted the images in which Engadget reported on, removes them from his site. Is this the discovery of a hoax or intervention by the black helicoptors from Redmond?

April 14th, 2009

Mat Rosoff, whose blog I read regularly, publishes a post  that points to several sources and events making a ZuneHD device very plausible.

April 15th, 2009

wmpoweruser.com publishes supposed pictures/renderings of the new ZuneHD device.

Neowin.net publishes supposed “confirmed” hardware specs for the device. I’ll regurgitate just a few of them here:

  • 3.6 inches OLED touchscreen
  • Nvidia Tegra chipset
  • HDMI out, Wi-Fi, USB
  • HD radio
  • Flash and HDD storage, 4GB to 120GB

What could it all mean?

Here’s where it get’s a little dicey. It’s on again, off again, but there’s a buzz for sure. The rest of this is my own speculation, blathering, and wishlist.

You have to go back a bit, and look at an initiave by Nvidia beginning, at least as far as I am aware, in 2007. Last year, Nvidia let loose the scoop on their Tegra hardware platform. This is an ultra low voltage mobile chipset geared to bring true 3d multimedia and gaming performance to mobile devices. Mobile phones, UMPC’s, MID’s, netbooks, handheld gaming consoles, and so on would greatly benefit from a chipset like this. It’s really quite amazing what theyr’e doing with Tegra. I’ve been watching this for some time because of its possibilities with mobile gaming and multimedia on par, at least to some degree,  with a desktop PC experience.

So if you mash all this up, throw it in a blender, and try to spread it out on a cookie sheet to make it somewhat digestable, what you could wind up with is the holy grail of mobility if Microsoft does this right. You could conceivebly integrate your Zune Services (music, video, and apps) which has a subscription feature, and your Windows Phone platform. Throw in some Tegra powered 1080p video with HDMI out, and you’ve got a portable multimedia powerhouse that you can plug into your HDTVwhen you get home.

Now, what if Microsoft decides to throw in a little Xbox Live integration? Perhaps Tegra would be powerful enough to run ported Xbox games you already own. On top of that think about the possiblity of all three services being pooled into one device. Then lump on the new Windows MyPhone services, Windows Live services with their integration into Spaces, Twitter, Facebook, etc., a cloud version of Office Mobile. Slap on a sliding QWERTY keyboard, and suddenly you’ve got a netbook in your front pocket that will play your Xbox games, get your email and phone calls, and let you watch movies and listen to all the music you can download. True convergance, that’s what the potential with all of this is. One identity in the coming cloud, and one device to run all of your services. And trust me, Steve Ballmer wants it to all be Microsoft driven.

Now that may sound like some evil plan to takeover the world, but every manufacturer is doing that, Apple with gaming on the iPhone, the new DSi (which I’m currently reviewing) and their newfound connectivity, the possible new PSP 2 (Can anyone say PSP phone?) All that has to happen is for carriers to shove radios in these new devices and you’ve got bona-fide competitors to the iPhone, and consumers need that.

Those are the posibilities, what I think will happen is that Microsoft will release a new ZuneHD hardware personal media player, and then release the platform to phone manufacturers. I don’t think they want to compete with hardware makers in the hyperactive phone manufacturing world. I think, that just like their desktop OS, and their Office suite, they want every manufacturer to license it, and every consumer to buy it.

Will the new ZuneHD posess all of the speculated hardware specs? I don’t know, I think only a few do at this point. Will Windows Mobile 7 have Zune services integrated in to it? Only a few know. But what I do know is that convergance is something that has been talked about for several decades now, and I think we may be just about on the new edge of it with some of this. And it’s an exciting time to be watching it all unfold. Just keep your fingers crossed that it’s not locked in to one carrier.

I know there is plenty more our readers can add to this and I hope the conversation gets started.

Footnote

Before we get the Apple vs. Microsoft argument going full flame here, note that I’m for both, I’m for competition and innovation. Without the original Palm’s there would be no Windows mobile, without Windows Mobile and Palm, there would be no iPhone, without the iPhone there would be no Pre. Without the Pre and iPhone, there woud be no talk of  a possible ZuneHD Phone. These innovations drive the other to evolve, and that’s what we’re all looking for. Right?

Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, Windows Phone

9 comments… add one

  • Terry April 16, 2009, 3:48 pm

    What chance could there be that this is an an iPhone killer when it isn’t a phone? Do you mean iPod?

  • David Flowers April 16, 2009, 4:46 pm

    @ Terry, I posted above “All that has to happen is for carriers to shove radios in these new devices and you’ve got bona-fide competitors to the iPhone, and consumers need that.”

    It could go either way right now, in my opinoin whether this is released as a phone or a pmp with zune platform released for other manufacturers.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Donna Martin April 16, 2009, 7:31 pm

    Who cares about having FM radio in any device including the car? Now if it had Sirius access. And the Zune? It was brown for a reason.

  • David Flowers April 16, 2009, 9:56 pm

    lol @ Donna’s brown comment, and I agree, I haven’t listened to FM in a solid 10 years or more, but it’s there in case there’s a ball game or something on I guess.

  • Blacknimbus April 16, 2009, 11:06 pm

    Amazing specs…but they’ll have to compete on price. And I’m hoping the browser does Flash.

    It doesn’t look like it will have BT, which is a pity.

  • David Flowers April 17, 2009, 7:46 am

    @nimbus, I agree, flash is a MUST! Microsoft should be ashamed they’ve let that go on as long as they have. I’m not worried about bluetooth if turns into a phone, it will be there.

  • David Flowers April 17, 2009, 8:01 am

    UPDATE: PocketGamer has an interesting take this morning stating:

    “Details on this new device are still pretty sketchy, but it’s sounding as though it’ll be compatible with Microsoft’s software development kit, XNA.

    To those of us who know nothing of coding, this essentially gives the ZuneHD the potential to play Xbox Live games, and with the rumour of a touchscreen also circulating, this could be the Xbox Portable Bill’s boys have been so avidly denying.

    It would seem like a wasted opportunity for Microsoft to release a new PMP that doesn’t give the iPhone at least a bit of competition, so fingers crossed the ZuneHD will live up to the rumours.”

    You can read the entire article here: http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Windows+Mobile/Zune/news.asp?c=12718

  • mark April 17, 2009, 2:43 pm

    @Donna. FM Access is actually nice if you’re at the gym. A lot of the TV broadcasts they show use a FM transmitter for the sound. Other than that? Mostly useless.

    If it is billed as an “iPhone or iPod killer” than it will be doomed to an early death, no matter now nice the features. Microsoft has to expand in their own way instead of just trying to be a “me to” iPod clone. It would make all sorts of sense for Microsoft to leverage the position they have with the xbox to sell portable games or media. Imagine buying guitar heroes and being able to download the songs from it to your zune? Or perhaps being able to build game characters offline, or grab your status for games while you’re on the road? Lots of interesting possibilities which Apple can’t offer because it doesn’t tie in to a game system.

  • David Flowers April 17, 2009, 3:21 pm

    @Mark, That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about, it’s more than the iPhone, it really could be a different beast. Nice comment, good point!

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