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Are Microsoft Stores Code for Zune Promotion?

Ian Paul at PCWorld had a great catch yesterday with pricing for the new Microsoft Zune HD media player appearing briefly on Amazon. Depending on the model, the price may be $70 to $100 less than a comparable Apple iTouch. Maybe the price was a mistake, but I'm thinking maybe not. And that got me wondering a bit more. Could the new Microsoft consumer stores, which I and others have roundly mocked sight unseen, largely be a platform to promote the Zune?

First looks at prototypes suggested that Microsoft had finally gotten it right:

Early looks at the new multi-touch Zune are getting a surprising number of raves, including an editor at Gizmodo saying that it looks better than the iPod Touch and, here's the real interesting note, has a better interface and works better. Microsoft trumping Apple in a consumer product show down? That's a new one to me. It also makes you wonder what might be up the sleeves in Redmond when it comes to new smartphone designs. Could Microsoft have something that could give the iPhone a run for its money and then some?
Let's add up what we know:
  • Microsoft will launch stores in the fall.
  • The opening time coincides with the beginning of the holiday buying season.
  • The Zune sounds like a strong competitor to the iTouch.
  • Microsoft is one of the big players in cell phone operating systems.
Where did the last one come from? From thinking that a Zune would be a great platform to build a strong smartphone, which Microsoft badly needs to stay relevant. So the stores become largely a way to showcase and promote the Zune, because the company can take the retail loss as part of a marketing campaign. It plans to drive Zune popularity, and then sometime next year the ZunePhone appears, going after the value market and offering all the business leverage that Microsoft can afford and Palm can't.

Image courtesy of Microsoft.

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