Microsoft is turning up the heat a bit as part of its holiday plans, and likely in an effort to make its digital player option a bit more of a contender. Firstly, Microsoft has dropped the prices on three Zune models – the 4 GB version is now $99, the 8 GB version drops to $139 and the 16 GB version has dropped $20 to $179. These price drops have already taken effect here in the US and Canada will enjoy the same retail drop on Friday. Beyond pricing, Microsoft has also updated Zune software to version 3.1. The update brings a variety of stability improvements along with three new games and the addition of multiplayer mode to an existing game. Will all this help increase the Zune’s popularity this holiday season? Well, even Zune Marketing Director Adam Sohn didn’t seem convinced. When discussing the matter in a recent interview he said the price cuts “ensure hopefully we have a good holiday season.” Hmm. “Ensure” and “hopefully” are surely not two words you want your spokesperson using in succession when discussing sales strategy. So definitely maybe check out the Zune this holiday season, folks.
The popular rumor floating around at the moment is that Microsoft intends to announce self-branded handsets powered by NVIDIA’s beefy Tegra architecture for next-gen phones and MIDs at the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in February of next year. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Redmond continues to vehemently deny having any interest in getting into the hardware end of its Windows Mobile racket — concealing the truth is a part of doing competitive business, after all — and turn our attention to the practical matter of whether this makes any sense whatsoever. First off, Windows Mobile’s strength lies in its incredibly deep and wide partner base, a base that includes visionary teams at HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and countless others. With Android and Symbian finally becoming viable opportunities for third-party manufacturers, Microsoft doesn’t want to do anything that’s going to hasten the revolt before it’s able to wrap up version 7 (or at the very least, 6.5) — and competing with your own licensees would be a bang-up way to do that. Granted, Microsoft did exactly that by introducing Zune following the PlaysForSure initiative, but let’s be honest: Windows Mobile and Zune don’t play in the same league. Zune’s a hobby, a side gig; WinMo’s a monster, a long-term cash cow that’s got to be treated with the same franchise tag as Windows itself.
Second off, Microsoft now has Danger to keep it busy — and Danger’s core competencies have a long way to go to stretch Tegra to its limits, so we don’t think we’ll be seeing any superphones out of those guys any time soon. The more likely scenario is that Microsoft will use its Danger acquisition to step up its consumer-friendly mobile media game, which jibes with talk of a Zune-like smartphone codenamed “Pink” that could be announced early next year sans Tegra. With Windows Mobile looking still looking every bit as stuffy as it did five years ago, the company’s flagship mobile platform is still at least one or two major generations out from morphing into a catch-all that can look equally at ease in the schoolbag or the enterprise — a coup RIM has managed to pull off, coincidentally — and in the meantime, Hiptop is arguably a better starting point with more street cred under its belt, especially considering that Hiptop and Zune are both closed platforms.
So let’s run with the assumptions that: a) Pink does exist, and b) it’s basically Danger’s baby. That game plan prevents Microsoft from rocking the WinMo licensee boat (or yacht, as the case may be) — and every indication is that traditional players are still going full-steam ahead with Windows Mobile 6.5, a platform that actually stands a fighting chance of putting Tegra through its paces (one need look no further than TouchFLO 3D for evidence of that). How does this play out, then? The same as always, we’d wager — Microsoft graciously takes the stage with hardware partners at MWC next year, co-announcing a handful of Tegra-powered phones underpinned by the next generation of Windows Mobile. Now get back to Windows 7, Xbox 720, and making decent mice, Microsoft. And let Danger do its thing, alright?