Mobile Tech

Microsoft Disowns Zune Phone Teaser Tweets

Twitter messages hinting at the possible emergence of a Zune phone — posted by a user who appeared to be a Microsoft insider — drew a considerable amount of attention recently, especially considering their timing. They came to light at around the same time Microsoft launched a new ad touting the benefits of its Zune Pass music service over its rival, Apple’s iTunes.

Microsoft, however, has disavowed the messages, or “tweets,” as fake.

The tweets in question urged readers not to buy the iPhone or Palm Pre and hinted that a new Microsoft product launch was in the works. They kicked off buzz, because both Apple’s next-generation iPhone and the Palm Pre are expected to debut in June. The emergence of yet another major smartphone would shake the market up even more. The messages also appeared to play into existing rumors about the direction of the Zune platform.

Microsoft, though, says it has no links to the account that posted the messages.

Coming in Disguise

The tweets came from an account — known by the moniker “Office the Movie” — that appeared to be attached to the “Office 2010 the Movie” Microsoft marketing team.

One post said that June 2009 will be an important month for Zune lovers. It was followed by another tweet saying there would be a new product launch and urging readers to hold off from buying an iPhone or Palm Pre.

Apple is expected to unveil its next-generation iPhone at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco next month, and there are reports that Palm may unveil its Pre at around the same time to steal some of the iPhone’s thunder. Palm has said it intends to launch its new phone in the first half of this year.

One fact perhaps shedding doubt on the tweets’ veracity: About half the messages had been posted from Tweetie, a Twitter client for the Apple iPhone.

Caught Out

Microsoft’s denial was plain and blunt: “This is not a Microsoft Twitter feed,” Microsoft spokesperson Kristin Oke told TechNewsWorld. “It is fake.”

Microsoft launched the real Office 2010 Movie Twitter account — known as “Office 2010 Movie” — today, Oke said.

The vendor has not made any official announcements about Zune recently, she added.

Madness in the Method?

The Twitter posts at first seemed credible, because rumors about Microsoft’s supposed work on a Zune phone have been making the rounds for some time.

Zune is Microsoft’s digital music and entertainment platform. It consists of a line of personal media players, an online store and an online music community.

Reports have been circulating that Microsoft has a project, code-named “Pink,” that will bring Zune features and functionality to its Windows Mobile software, a mobile operating system used by many device makers.

Other rumors have Microsoft creating its own Zune phone. However, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has ruled out the possibility of the software vendor making a handset.

Vitriol Helps

An ad campaign Microsoft recently launched against the iPod may have helped make people more willing to believe the fake Twitter posts.

That campaign runs an advertisement titled “Financial Planner.” It claims that filling up a 120 GB iPod with songs costs US$30,000 (the approximate cost of buying 30,000 songs on Apple’s iTunes service) and says a Zune Pass subscription plan costs only $15 a month.

“Microsoft is getting into this very competitive stance, which we haven’t seen for a while,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

The ad campaign escalates an increasingly vitriolic ad war between Apple and Microsoft, but it may backfire, Enderle warned. “One of the problems with disparaging a competitor is that there’s a question of whether you’re honest with what you’re saying,” he said.

Apples to Apples?

One cannot compare the iPod and its download plan to that of the Zune, Enderle said.

“The iPod is for people who like to hang onto their music, while the Zune model is for people who constantly want new music on their MP3 players,” he explained.

With Zune Pass, one can download an unlimited amount of songs but only keep 10 of them every month. The rest become unplayable once the subscription is canceled.

Apple has a stronger base with the iPod, Enderle said. “It’s been around for a long while, so folks have a bunch of money invested in it, and a lot of cars work with iPods.”

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