Zune Desktop features changed once again, App Marketplace not in sight

If you've launched your Zune Desktop lately, you've probably seen the pop-up message alerting you that features have changed. When you re-launch Zune you will find that there is no longer a Zune HD marketplace listing.

The only options available under the Zune Desktop Marketplace listing are Picks, Music, Videos and Podcasts. The option to view Apps, both Zune and the resurgent Windows Phone 7 apps, have vanished. We know that Microsoft is in the process of renovating the Zune services over to Xbox Music and this change could be part of that process.

Has the Windows Phone Marketplace returned to Zune Desktop?

Back at the end of May, Microsoft surprisingly turned off the Windows Phone Marketplace from Zune Desktop. The “update” wasn’t software based but instead just altered a configuration file on the user’s computer, causing the Marketplace to be hidden.

We ended up using a simple hack (more of that below) to bring ours back but now a user in our forum (“rockstarzzz”) is claiming that they’ve received another feature-change notification…

Synchronise full resolution Windows Phone photos with SkyDrive through Zune

Uploading photos from your Windows Phone to SkyDrive can be a pain, especially since full resolution photos are resized when sent to the cloud. This is presumably due to Microsoft taking measures to optimise transfer for those on tight data plans who may not be connected to a WiFi network. While perfectly understandable, it would make sense to have this option in the Windows Phone settings for the user to configure how they'd like their photos uploaded to their SkyDrive account.

For now there's a workaround of sorts. Unfortunately a Windows PC is required with Zune installed, sporting an active Internet connection, and of course the native SkyDrive client for Windows. Luckily, Microsoft has developed sturdy software enabling Windows users to access and synchronise their SkyDrive storage locally with a smart folder set on their machine. This is what we'll be using through Zune to automatically upload photos from the Windows Phone to the cloud.

Patents show Microsoft planned to enable users to plug Zune into headphones

The human race enjoys shoving plastic and metal into (or around) the ear, but a new patent shows just what Microsoft had in mind to make this more enjoyable for those who listen to music while on the go. Think headphones, think Zune, now think of both of those connected as one, slapped on top of your skull.

As one can see in the above image, the headphones enable the user to connect a Zune music player to the side, while the opposite connector is free for rechargeable battery packs, storage extensions, WiFi adapters, and more. The Zune device looks to be a fairly minute music player, presumably along the dimensions of the Apple iPod Nano.

According to the documentation, the headphones could also house controls to operate peripherals, not to mention an optional microphone and even USB ports. It's an interesting concept that allows the consumer to personalise the headphones to suit the individual needs.

The only downside is this patent was filled back in 2008 and we know that Zune hardware is no longer with us. Who knows, perhaps Microsoft also planned to include voice control - "Beam me up Ballmer!"

Source: Engadget, via: Being Manan

Zune and Xbox websites announce arrival of Xbox Music

Coming off a big presentation yesterday at E3 2012, Microsoft has updated both the Zune and XBox websites to introduce Xbox Music. Xbox Music will replace Zune as the Microsoft-branded music service. The Zune page comes in the form of a simple FAQ and offers very little information other than the fact that XBox Music will bring new ways to and share across Xbox, Windows and Windows Phone. The FAQ also ensures current Zune Pass subscribers that they will continue to have access to their subscriptions through the new service.

Over on Xbox's site, you will find a snazzy video that offers a quick glimpse of what's to come, a ubiquitous music service that works across platforms. In the video, a woman listening on a tablet, only to plunk down on the couch and bring her playlist up on her Xbox, clearly depicting the newly-touted Xbox Smartglass, announced yesterday at E3. There are also shots of social media features, like seeing what  friends are listening to, and discovering new music through Smart DJ.

All in all, if you have been using Zune, there isn't too much that is new here, with the exception of Xbox Smartglass, but it's a fun little pep rally of sorts.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft to unveil cross-platform Zune successor at E3 this year

Microsoft is set to unveil a sneaky preview of its upcoming service at this year's E3 that will replace Zune, according to unknown sources familiar with company plans. The new service, code named Woodstock, will add a few more nails to the Zune coffin and continue Microsoft's move from the Zune brand to either the Windows or Xbox umbrella. The sources also revealed that the service replacing Zune will support multiple platforms, including: Windows 8, Xbox, Android, and iOS. No word on what's planned for Windows Phone.

Much like the current music streaming service, Woodstock will feature browser playback. As well as not requiring any browser plugins, it is reported that the plan is to integrate the service into Facebook, enabling friends to build group playlists and share music. Similar matching functionality, much like iTunes Match, is also being tested that will allow users to identify existing music tracks on the service. It is expected to launch later in 2012. Unfortunately, no details surrounding pricing has arisen yet, but we'd expect it to compete with other services available on the market.

Source: The Verge; thanks everyone who tipped us!

Microsoft retiring Zune and Windows Live branding in Windows 8

Though they had a good run, it appears Microsoft's Zune and Windows Live brands are going the way of the Dodo.  The Windows 8 Consumer Preview shows that the Windows Live group of applications have been replaced by a pre-installed "Windows Communications" group. "Windows Live ID," the current all-in-one login for Microsoft services, will be replaced with the generic "Microsoft Account." [Edit: It's actually called "Microsoft Your Account", see below] The "Zune" name is also glaringly absent in the Windows Store and in relation to music and movie apps.  Zune Pass, however, still works.

The new multimedia branding in Windows 8 will be called "Xbox Live for Windows" and will include apps for music, movies and games.  Rumor is that Zune will officially be gone by the summer, and may even be replaced by a music service that resembles Spotify via Xbox Live.  Throw in the demise of the Zune desktop client for Windows Phone, and voila!, bye-bye Zune.

The overall simplification of Microsoft's branding goes like this:

  • Windows Live ID --> Microsoft Account
  • Windows Live Mail --> Mail
  • Windows Live Calendar --> Calendar
  • Windows Live Contacts --> People
  • Windows Live Photo Gallery --> Photos
  • Zune Music Player --> Music
  • Zune Video Player --> Videos

Source: TheVerge, Head to WithinWindows for more images of 'Your Account' as seen above

Microsoft in talks with record companies for new music service?

With the outlook on Zune (as a service) being fairly bleak, it's somewhat positive to hear rumours of Microsoft engaging with the record labels regarding a potential new music service - or an upgrade to the existing. While the Zune Pass service as a whole is pretty feature rich with download and offline playback functionality, it hasn't been actively adopted as the software giant had hoped, which is largely due to the company not pushing the service out hard enough and market competition.

Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox console all sport Zune access to a certain extent, but with Windows 8 just around the corner, plans for better multi-platform integration and a more useful (yet user-friendly) service would please many. According to the report over at CNET, HTC and Nokia are in talks with the software giant to partner in the deal. It's not known what the new service would bring to the table, but one would suspect a move towards the likes of Spotify, and possibly place the new music service under the Xbox LIVE branding.

It would be interesting to see an iTunes Match-like feature introduced where subscribers could upload their entire music collection, then stream it over the air to a Live ID associated PC, Xbox and Windows Phone. Microsoft is looking to have the new music service up and running this coming summer. Would you like to see anything altered/introduced? Let us know in the comments.

Source: CNET

Voice controlled music playback comes to Windows Phone with Speak To Play

The ability to play your music via voice command was something that Windows Mobile users were accustomed to back in 2006. To not have the ability to say "Play <insert artist>" on a Windows Phone in 2012 is a bit absurd but we'll assume that something had to be cut for those 500 new features in Mango.

However, an app is now available that fulfills this task: Speak To Play by developer Puno-Z. The app is a clean, minimalist design with a large microphone graphic that you "push to speak". From there you can tell it to play an artist, song, album, playlist or even genre.

In our usage with it tonight, we'll agree with those multiple five-star reviews in the Marketplace--it works very well. We had no issues with it recognizing what we wanted to do and it gets the job done. It's of course still not as nice as being able to run TellMe via the Search button "from anywhere" in the OS--having to launch an app and then push the button is still more task-intensive than we'd like. But until Microsoft blesses us with this function, Speak To Play is the next best thing.

The app fetches for $1.99 in the Marketplace with a free trial. That's a bit high in our mind but if you think you would use this feature a lot then it's probably worth it. You can of course trial it before you buy to make sure you're getting what you want. Pick it up here in the Marketplace. Thanks, Ben H., for the tip!

KeyboardP developing wireless media player voice control

KeyboardP, a Windows Phone enthusiast and developer, has been busy creating an awesome system where Windows users can control a media player (Zune in this case) by voice commands. By simply saying the artist and song title into a microphone, the developed software will initialise playback through Zune. Commands are also available including pause, play, next, etc. Check out the above video to see it in action.

We don't stop here however, as KeyboardP wanted a solution to being possibly out the room where the computer and/or microphone is located. Introducing PhoneZune, a Windows Phone app that will connect to your PC over WiFi and will act as a wireless microphone. Should you be in the kitchen while your music is playing for example, this will come in handy instead of rushing to the PC to choose a track. If that wasn't enough, you can also browse YouTube for music videos. Here's a quick list of the features:

  • Launch a song with your voice using any microphone (standard, webcam, Kinect, etc.)
  • Control the media player (Zune) with voice commands (play, pause, next, etc.)
  • You can use your Windows Phone to launch the song with PhoneZune.
  • Voice control YouTube to find music videos.

No word yet on when we will be seeing the software and app being made available, and this is merely a proof of concept.

Source: KeyboardP, via: 1800PocketPC

WiMP available for Windows Phone

Good news for those who reside in Denmark, Norway or Sweden, WiMP is available for Windows Phone and will allow you to stream music for a subscription fee - similar to Zune. Offline listening is available too, just in case you find yourself with little-to-no network connectivity. Signing up to the service will earn you a 30 days free trial to test WiMP out on your phone. Should you not be able to get Zune, this will be a worthy alternative.

You can download WiMP from the Marketplace for free, accompanied by a free 30 day trial.

Zune Pass now available in Australia

It was announced just a few weeks ago that Zune Pass was finally coming to Australia. Then we got wind of a few more details from WPDownUnder what exactly it would and wouldn't have to offer (e.g. no podcast support, lame).

The date to launch was November 16th, that day is upon us and according to Chris Walsh, it's now available.

So, to our Aussie friends--you down with the Zune Pass?

More details on Zune Pass for Australia

We touched on Microsoft announcing the news that Australia will be getting the Zune Pass on November 16th, but new details have come to light about what will (and wont be) present and included in the subscription. With the announcement being made by Microsoft, WPDownUnder contacted the software giant for clarification on features tied to the Zune Pass:

  • Artist biographies won't be present. Background are will be available but only for international artists, not local ones.
  • Individual tracks and album purchases will be made possible by MS points or an attached credit card.
  • Australia will not be getting Zune podcast support.
  • Zune Pass will work with Australians who own an Australia-only Live ID.
  • Australian Zune HD owners will not be able to view (or download) free apps and games on the app Marketplace.

With the Zune Pass Australian launch just around the corner, more information is likely to come to light in the coming days. WPDownUnder is set to interview a local Microsoft representative to hopefully extract more information surrounding the release of the Zune Pass.

Source: WPDownUnder

Zune Pass headed down under

After months of testing, Zune Pass is heading to Australia. Along with voice control for Kinect, Microsoft announced the release of the Zune Pass subscription service during a press event in Sydney.

The Zune Music Pass in Australia will run $11.99 a month and give subscribers unlimited listening capacity on their Zune software, Xbox console and Windows Phones. The Zune Pass will give Australian users access to around 11 million songs at launch.

The Zune Pass is slated for availability in the Australian market on November 16th.

via: Gizmodo.au

Zune HD dead again?

Okay. Remember the Zune HD? Well, it appears to be dead again.

We first saw it removed from the sales channel, then we were told that was a publishing mishap. We then saw it being removed from production on the support page.  This was again reported as a publishing error when @WP_DownUnder looked into things further.

Now the support page is back and again, we are being told by Microsoft that the Zune HD is no longer in production. The support page that re-appeared over the weekend is the same page we saw last week (that was reported to be a publishing error). 

Microsoft is still going to honor existing device warranties and support.  Which is a good thing.  It would have been nice if Microsoft would have added "Seriously. We're not fooling this time." on the support page but that might be asking too much.

So far no officials odds have been posted in Vegas on whether or not Microsoft will come out and say this was another publishing mishap. If so, they may want to re-evaluate who's hitting the "publish" button on their websites.

Source: Zune.net via: LiveSide

Rising from the ashes, the Zune HD still lives?

You've got to wonder if Mark Twain had the Zune HD in mind when he said, "The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated".  Yep, that's right.  It looks as if the Zune HD is still kicking.

Remember yesterday when we shared the Zune HD support page that said the devices were no longer in production? Where Microsoft would continue to honor warranties and support the devices but were focusing on the Windows Phone as their mobile music and video devices? Well that page is now gone.

You also have a tweet from @ZuneSupport stating that support page was added in error. Just as pulling the Zune HD from sales channels was a publishing mishap?

We still believe that Microsoft will end production of the Zune players. Microsoft may just need a bigger boat to pull the Zune HD off the market. Either that or get the Zune Team all on the same page the next time they report the unfortunate death of the Zune HD to avoid a trilogy.

via: @WP_DownUnder/WP Down Under

Kendrick Lamar and Windows Phone [Video]

Kendrick Lamar is a 24-year old musician from Compton, California, and the above video runs us through how Windows Phone aids him produce lyrics and melody ideas wherever he may be using Pocket Voice Recorder. Not only does he use the platform for creating music, but he opens up his album on Zune to listen to his tracks. 

Neat advertising and a cool story. 10 points and a brownie badge if you can spot the WPCentral app on the Marketplace in the video.

Source: YouTube (Microsoft), thanks David for the heads up!

Microsoft discontinues the Zune HD, part two

Earlier we reported that Zune players had been removed from the Zune.net sales channels. We then were informed by Michael Yeager, a Zune Team member, that such removal was a mistake due to a publishing mishap and that the Zune HD was still listed on Zune.net.

While the Zune HD is still listed and available for purchase (albeit through Walmart.com and out of stock), the Zune support page tells a different story. It clearly states that Microsoft will no longer be producing Zune players and Windows Phone will be the focus of Microsoft's mobile music and video strategy.

Microsoft isn't leaving current Zune owners hanging in the wind. Existing warranties will be honored, devices will continue to work with Zune services, and support sites will stay operational.  Which makes sense seeing that the Zune software is still going strong on the Windows Phone and Xbox Live consoles. 

While Walmart is out of stock, we did find Zune HD units at Amazon.com but BestBuy is only offering refurbs.  So if you want to get your hands on a Zune HD, you better hurry as the device has started it's journey into the sunset.

As we mentioned earlier, the Zune Player was good for what it was but it's time we move on to bigger and better things.

Thanks goes out to Theo and Cori for tipping us on this!