Why Microsoft should make the ZunePhone

The Zune phone rumor is rearing its nasty Steve Ballmer head again thanks to a CNBC report talking about a device codenamed, “Pink.” Instead of simply dismissing this old rumor again, it might have some truth to it as the mobile world has changed significantly since the last time a ZunePhone rumor circulated. The iPhone is the U.S.’s best selling mobile phone of all time, Google successfully launched the G1, and touchscreen phones are all the rage now. Could a ZunePhone actually make a splash?

Look at the mobile world now. Apple is clearly the rising star with its single, $199 device. The touchscreen phone is the de facto standard for every smartphone/touchscreen device and the App Store has shown company’s how to make a successful content distribution system. But the Zune has Microsoft’s backing and while Windows Mobile hasn’t broke free from its niche market, the Redmond-based company did develop a killer media player in the Zune.

The Zune hasn’t seen iPod-like success but most gadget feigns that give it a try find the Zune is, in fact, vastly superior to the iPod. The interface rocks, it has extra features like an FM Tuner and mesh network song sharing, which all shows that Microsoft really does know how to design a forward-thinking gadget. Plus, Microsoft now owns Danger, the company that developed the Sidekick.

Microsoft scooped up the mobile platform maker for $500M early this year and you had better believe that Redmond didn’t dip into the slush funds for nothing. The T-Mobile Sidekick is a killer device with tweens to hipsters still rock’n the slider and that market happens to be the key demo for a ZunePhone. Apple went after the geeks and freaks initially with the iPhone but quickly the masses found salvation in the device and that’s what Microsoft must do as well.

Skip Windows Mobile; it’s dead. The best WinMob phones skin the OS and hide it below the surface. If the ZunePhone is to succeed, the device cannot be powered by any current version of Windows Mobile and hopefully, that’s why Microsoft bought Danger. The original Sidekick had an innovative UI and that’s what Microsoft will need to compete against Apple and Google. 

Now that the Android-powered G1 is here, Google is also in the mobile world and licensing-out Android to manufacturers like Motorola and Nokia. The G1 might never hit mass appeal outside of the techno-geek arena but next-gen Andriod devices should have a wider appeal.

Microsoft has a challenge. The Zune is an amazing PMP and the world could benefit from another killer mobile phone, but whatever is made, the general populous and Mac Zealots alike will throw it into the ring with the iPhone. But just like the iPod and Zune battles, Apple has a significant advantage of coming to the market first and working all the kinks out over different generations. Microsoft’s first ZunePhone would be compared to Apple’s second – or third – iPhone; that’s just the way it is.

Hopefully this rumor turns out to be true and we do see a ZunePhone sometime soon. Don’t hold your breath though as similar rumors have appeared and gone away over the years with no results. If there were ZunePhone coming, where are all the obligatory blurry camera phone pics? Those simply must leak to the Internet prior to any launch.