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Microsoft stops offering customized Zunes

Zune OriginalsIt may come as a surprise to some that Microsoft is still selling its Zune media players—the “iPod killer” Zune HD is still available from the likes of Walmart and Best Buy—but Microsoft has shut down its Zune Originals service, which offered users to order up laser-etched designs and customized text on the cases. Zune Originals orders placed before 5pm PDT on July 1 will be fulfilled.

Although Microsoft has not formally announced there will be no more Zune hardware, even die-hard fans should give up hope of seeing new versions of the portable media players from the company. Microsoft has shifted its Zune focus to its Windows Phone platforms—which sport many media playback and marketplace capabilities of Zune players—as well as its Xbox 360 and Windows platforms. The Zune name will be a media and entertainment brand across Microsoft’s product line—at least until such time as Microsoft decides it needs to refocus and simplify brand messaging, at which point it may well decide “Zune” is no longer relevant.

Microsoft launched its Zune media players in late 2006 in an attempt to compete with Apple’s iPod/iTunes juggernaut. Microsoft eschewed its own PlaysForSure music ecosystem (which promised interoperability across device manufacturers) in favor of a vertically-controlled software-and-hardware platform like Apple’s. However, despite built-in limited music sharing (“welcome to the social”), the Zune failed to gain significant traction amongst consumers. Microsoft tried again with the Zune HD in 2009, an ambitious product relaunch that included an HD radio, games, and Internet capabilities—but by then the consumer market was already shifting away from dedicated media players and towards smartphones—a move Microsoft itself now notes, advocating customers interested in a Zune go for a Windows Phone instead. “See how Windows Phone isn’t just a phone, it’s also a great Zune music and video player!”