I'm Peter and this is the RoguePlanetoid Podcast where you will find insights about Microsoft or related platforms and technology, along with so much more whether you are beginner or an experienced professional or just interested in technology. Keep Current, Keep Coding!
Welcome to episode eight of the RoguePlanetoid Podcast about Zunepedia which was created two years ago in 2021 to help celebrate fifteen years since Microsoft first announced and released the original Zune device in 2006. Zunepedia is an unofficial photographic journey of the history of the Zune devices, hardware, services, and community that keeps it alive to this day. Zunepedia includes photos of the Zune hardware, images of the software and social elements of the Zune platform along with the Zune services on Xbox or Windows Phone and shows how Zune lives on in the collections of those in the community. You can download Zunepedia for free at zunepedia.com or check out the link in the show notes.
It would be on September 14th, 2006, when Microsoft first unveiled their plans for Zune as part of their connected entertainment vision and designed around the principles of sharing, discovery, and community. Microsoft delivered on this vision when, going against the competition at the time, released the first-generation Zune digital music player codenamed Keel on November 14th, 2006. This first-generation Zune featured an iconic and unusual colour choice of brown in a double-shot finish, also available in black or white and later red or pink along with a limited-edition Halo 3 inspired design based on the latest version of the popular Xbox game available at the time. This first-generation Zune had 30 gigabytes of storage for up to 7,500 songs or 100 hours of video which could be watched in landscape on the 320x240 resolution 7-centimetre or 3-inch display along with the ability to create playlists on the device or watch a picture slide show while listening to music. Zune digital music players could be synced from the dedicated Zune software with tracks ripped from CD or purchased from the Zune Marketplace which had a huge selection of music available. Zune fully embraced Microsoft's connected entertainment vision by allowing the sharing wirelessly between Zunes of homemade recordings, playlists, and pictures along with select full-length tracks - which could be played three times over three days by recipients.
On November 13th, 2007, almost exactly a year after the first-generation Zune was released Microsoft would release their second-generation digital music player codenamed Draco available in black or later in red and blue and had 80 gigabytes of storage for up to 20,000 songs or 250 hours of video which could be watched in portrait or landscape on the 320x240 resolution 8.1-centimetre or 3.2-inch display. This second generation of device was also later available with 120 gigabytes of storage for up to 30,000 songs or 375 hours of video along with a limited-edition Gears of War 2 inspired design based upon the latest version of the popular Xbox game available at the time. This second-generation of device also supported navigation with an innovative touch-based Zune pad and could play content from Windows Media Center, which was a digital video recorder and media player available on Windows at the time. It also featured a built-in FM tuner to listen to radio stations or you could get songs, albums, music videos, podcasts and more from the Zune Marketplace directly on the device along with continuing the ability to share wirelessly from Zune to Zune. This second generation of device also introduced a newly redesigned user-interface that was also made available on the first-generation of Zune devices.
November 13th, 2007, also saw the launch of a brand new ultra-portable Zune digital music player from Microsoft codenamed Scorpius available in Red, Green, Pink and Black with 4 gigabytes of storage for 1,000 songs or 12 hours of video. This new ultra-portable Zune was also available with 8 gigabytes of storage for 2,000 songs or 25 hours of video in Red, Green, Pink and Black along later in Blue plus a glossy black model with double the storage of 16 gigabytes was also made available. These ultra-portable Zune digital music players had a 320x240 resolution 4.6-centimetre or 1.9-inch screen that could be used vertically or horizontally, supported navigation with the innovate touch-based Zune pad and featured a built-in FM tuner to listen to radio stations along with continuing the ability to share content wirelessly or sync content from the newly redesigned Zune Software.
On the 15th of September 2009 Microsoft would launch an ultra-premium Zune digital music player the Zune HD codenamed Pavo available in Onyx Black with 16 gigabytes of storage for 4,000 songs, 48 hours of optimised video and 5 hours of high-definition video or in Platinum offering double the storage of 32 gigabytes. Zune HD was also available in Blue, Green, Red, Magenta, Purple, and Pink along with later supporting up to 64 gigabytes of storage. Zune HD allowed you to connect, update and get content wirelessly over WiFi, including the ability to stream songs directly and the ability to browse the web using the fully featured web browser which was based upon the mobile version of Internet Explorer available at the time. Zune HD supported navigation using multi-touch on the 480x272 resolution 8.3-centimetre or 3.3-inch OLED display using an innovate touch-based user interface. Zune HD could output 720p high-definition video using the optional A/V dock with HDMI and not only did it have an FM Tuner but also supported HD Radio, which is a digital radio broadcast technology used in North America, where content could be tagged for later purchase from the Zune Marketplace. Zune HD also continued the ability to share content between devices, along with being able to be synced via WiFi or the Zune Software.
The Zune digital music players such as the Zune 80 and 120, the ultra-portable Zune 4, 8 and 16 along with the ultra-premium Zune HD could also be purchased from Zune Originals directly from Microsoft. Zune Originals allowed unique customisation options with laser-engraved art or five lines of personal text. Designs available on Zune Originals included an Artists Series by artists such as Dalek, Motomichi, Emil Kozak, Kate Moross, Maya Hayuk and Daniel Jackson along with collections from Catalina Estrada for star signs from Aries to Pisces and Iosefatu Sua for the Chinese zodiac from Rat to Pig.
Microsoft also released accessories for the first-generation of Zune which included an A/V cable to listen to music through a home stereo or show off photos and videos on a television screen using composite connectors. There was also a sync cable to connect Zune to a computer, a car charger that plugs into a car's auxiliary power outlet and a car pack which along with the car charger included an FM tuner. Other accessories for the first-generation of Zune included a dock for syncing or charging with an A/V output and IR receiver, a Zune Wireless Remote to navigate music or adjust volume using the IR receiver on the dock, a gear bag to protect the Zune or other accessories and a travel pack that included the gear bag along with premium earphones, sync cable, AC adaptor and a dual connect remote that supported two sets of headphones. Additional accessories for the first-generation of Zune included premium headphones with a noise-isolating in-ear design and there was a Home A/V pack that included an AC adaptor, A/V cable, dock, sync cable and wireless remote. Microsoft also released accessories for the second-generation of Zune along with the ultra-portable models and the Zune HD and were also compatible with the first-generation Zune. These new accessories included newly designed premium earphones with improved wire management, an updated dock to charge a Zune while listening to music, updated Home A/V pack with dock, faceplates for each Zune device, wireless remote, A/V cable and HDMI cable. There was also an updated car pack with an FM transmitter to allow Zune to connect to a car stereo and there was a cable pack that included the sync cable and A/V cable.
Microsoft is well known for their software, and it was no surprise that the Zune Software was a key part of the ecosystem with the original software being used to sync content to the first-generation Zune digital music player and allowed for the creation of playlists along with managing music on the device and purchasing more from the Zune Marketplace. The second-generation of the Zune digital music player along with the ultra-portable models and the ultra-premium Zune HD were also joined by a new streamlined design for the Zune Software where music, pictures, videos, and podcasts took centre stage and made it easier to rip or burn CDs or sync new content to the Zune digital music players. This newly redesigned Zune Software made it easier to discover new content from the Zune Marketplace with a clean and modern design that wouldn't look out of place today and included MixView which was an innovative feature that allowed you to explore the related works of an artist or album visually to help discover new music.
Discovering new music and sharing music was a key part of Microsoft's connected entertainment vision and was helped by the introduction of the Zune Social, which was an online community that allowed people to share their taste in music and extended the connection beyond the digital music players from Zune-to-Zune to PC-to-PC and the web. Zune Cards were a key part of Zune Social and showed your musical preferences based on the music you played, and you could personalise your Zune Card with your own picture, custom backgrounds and more and these could be shared on the web or Zune-to-Zune along with being available in the Zune Software. Zune Social allowed you to add friends, get song recommendations and even post comments along with being able to sample a 30-second clip of any tracks you didn't already own. You could also browse Zune Cards and Zune Profile pages or check out your favourite artist's pages to find other listeners with similar tastes in music and if you liked what you heard you could buy it directly from the Zune Marketplace.
Xbox & Windows Phone
Zune was not only limited to the Zune digital music players and the Zune Software as the services expanded beyond those, as by May 2009, Zune would evolve to bring TV and Films to the Xbox 360 with the Video Marketplace along with Music including support for Zune Pass, which was a subscription service that allowed listeners to stream music for a monthly fee. Zune as the music and video platform was also made available in many more countries as unlike the Zune digital music players which were only made available in North America, these services were available in countries including the United Kingdom. In October 2010, Zune would also make an appearance on the then newly launched Windows Phone platform to power the Music & Video functionality, bringing the Zune brand to the smartphone which was also available in many more countries than North America.
Windows Phone would support the core Zune music and video features, as well as using the Zune Software to sync content, but it did not directly support the Zune Social features. Although anything listened to on a Windows Phone would still be shared on the Zune Social along with the related Zune Cards and you could view Zune Profiles on the web, Zune Cards could not be viewed on Windows Phone as they used Flash, a technology at the time used to create web-applications that was not compatible with Windows Phone. However, this is where I come in, with my skills as a software developer using Microsoft platforms! Before Windows Phone was released, I had created a simple web application that displayed Zune Cards written in Visual Basic.NET using Silverlight, a technology used to create web-applications from Microsoft. However, when Windows Phone was announced it was stated that it would use Silverlight as the application development platform, so I realised I could repurpose my application to display Zune Cards on Windows Phone especially as I'd seen from the previews available that the Zune Social was not part of the Music & Videos experience. Although there was one other thing which was that Windows Phone applications using Silverlight needed to be written in C# rather than Visual Basic.NET, so I made the switch and that's when I became a C# developer!
I was lucky enough to be accepted on the early-access programme for Windows Phone application developers and my application, called ZuneCardr, was to become one of the first one thousand apps to be made available on Windows Phone at launch then known as Windows Phone 7. I fully expected that Zune Cards would probably be added to the Windows Phone platform itself at some point by Microsoft, but that never happened, in fact it turned out my app would be the only way you could ever view Zune Cards on Windows Phone! I put a lot of effort into the application and thanks to investigating the Zune services as a developer and figuring how much of it worked, I was able to not only support the ability to view tracks and artists along with linking to them on the Zune service but also support the full playback of tracks for Zune Pass subscribers, far beyond the normal 30-second previews clips normally available as well as being able to view or add any Zune Card! ZuneCardr therefore was quite a popular app on Windows Phone and gained over 330,000 downloads and although the application is no longer available you can find the website for it at zunecardr.com or check out the link in the show notes.
Of course, talking of things that are no longer available, the Zune digital music players themselves were not to last, although while they were available, I was able to get myself a black Zune 80 and a Red Zune HD by importing them from North America. I got an exclusive glimpse of what was to happen to the Zune digital music players near the end of 2010 when Steve Ballmer, the then CEO of Microsoft, was at event in London for the launch Windows Phone and I asked him if Zune was ever coming to the UK and he replied “No” and added “It's all about the phone now” - that was actually the first time Microsoft had said anything about the Zune not being released outside North America. It would be due to strong competition and the rise of the smartphones that resulted in the Zune digital music players being discontinued in 2011. Zune as the brand for music and video from Microsoft would live on for a while on Xbox and Windows Phone but by 2012 this also ended with those services being rebranded as Xbox Music marking the end of the Zune brand from Microsoft. In 2015 Xbox Music itself would be rebranded as Groove Music but even this was then discontinued in 2018 which brought an end to around a decade of digital music services from Microsoft.
Zune did have some moments in the spotlight, it had a key role in the film Another Cinderella Story released in 2008 featuring Selena Gomez where a Zune was left behind rather than the traditional glass slipper. However, Zune arguably made its most famous appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 released in 2017 when Peter “Star Lord” Quill is handed one as “It's what everybody's listening to on Earth nowadays” along with Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 released in 2023 which also saw the relaunch of the Zune website for a short period to promote the film along with encouraging STEM including various projects for young people to take part in. For most people there's little trace of Zune, although much of the design language and typography used today in Microsoft applications and Windows came from Zune. However, for a few people like me Zune lives on, there's a dedicate community of Zune owners and enthusiasts such as those on Discord, some of which shared their collections as part of Zunepedia including rare devices, merchandise, posters and more along with others like Scott Hanselman from Microsoft who put together a video on how to get Zune digital music players working in 2023 check out the link in the show notes.
Of course, of Zunepedia itself, which I created and released in 2021, took advantage of many of the resources and images I had gathered along with fantastic contributions from the community and was able to put together in unique ways in Adobe Photoshop and then compiled together using Microsoft PowerPoint and then shared online for free. I'm a software developer not a designer but two years' later I'm still proud of the work I put into creating it and although I accepted donations, I donated every penny I made to The Cyber Helpline, which provides free, expert help for victims of cybercrime, digital fraud, and online harm. If you enjoyed Zunepedia, an unofficial photographic journey of the history of the Zune devices, hardware, services, and the community that keeps it alive to this day or listening to this episode then why not help support them too and donate by visiting thecyberhelpline.com or check out the link in the show notes.
Thanks for listening to the RoguePlanetoid Podcast where each episode you will find insights about Microsoft or related platforms and technology, along with so much more wherever you listen to your podcasts or at rogueplanetoid.com/podcasts for the RoguePlanetoid Podcast whether you are a beginner or an experienced professional or just interested in technology. Keep Current, Keep Coding!