Microsoft appears to be looking for new ways to tie Windows Mobile phones and Zune media players together, although a Zune phone remains unlikely.
Over the weekend, Microsoft developer "Mel" asked an open question on the Windows Mobile blog: "What are some ways the Zune player and a Windows Mobile device can work better together?"
Since then, over 50 commenters have suggested ways that Microsoft might converge the two devices. The most common idea is to essentially replace the Windows Media Player on Windows Mobile devices with Zune software.
"I proposed that WMP should be fazed out in favor of a combined WMP/Zune player which will synch with both Windows Media AND Zune, instead of having to have two separate apps with two different libraries for each device," wrote one commenter using the name Colin Walker.
Peter Henning, another commenter, also suggested making just one media player that works on both devices. "Currently you are just making our lives much more difficult with this parallel development and incompatibilities," he wrote.
A single media player would solve some of the problems that other users complained about in synching music between a Windows Mobile phone and a Zune. Another commenter going by the name Charlie Quidnunc noted that he has to create new playlists once he transfers music from Zune to his phone because Windows Media Player can't read Zune playlists.
Another complained that he can't transfer music that he downloaded under his Zune subscription plan to his Windows Mobile device because of DRM (digital rights management) restrictions.
Offering Zune software on Windows Mobile phones could be one simple way for Microsoft to converge the two, said Michael Gartenberg, a research director with Jupiter Research. "There are any number of ways that Microsoft could go about Zune integration. We might see a Zune application for Windows Mobile devices."
But what we most likely won't see is a Zune phone, despite many Zune phone rumors. "On one hand the Zune is a closed proprietary system not built around a partner ecosystem," Gartenberg noted. "On the other hand the phone business is built on a partner ecosystem." Microsoft develops the Windows Mobile software but hardware makers build the phones. By contrast, Microsoft develops the hardware and software for the Zune.
If Microsoft started making a Zune phone, it would compete with its phone hardware partners. "It's the same reason we don't see a Microsoft branded PC," he said.
On the Windows Mobile blog, "Mel" emphasized that wasn't looking for more suggestions of a Zune phone. "I'm not referring to an imaginary 'Zune phone,' and I'm certainly not hinting or speculating about a converged device," he wrote.
Building a better music playing experience into Windows Mobile will be important for Microsoft, which is increasingly trying to make Windows Mobile phones appeal to consumers and not just business users. "For the most part, Windows Mobile has ignored consumers," Gartenberg said.
Microsoft recently announced plans to buy Danger, the developer of mobile phone software that runs the youth-oriented Sidekick device from T-Mobile. Microsoft has also made some executive changes in the Windows Mobile group designed to better focus on consumers.