Zune phone coming at CES keynote?

Once upon a time, Zune phone rumors were as thick on the ground as Autumn leaves. But as the inevitable nothing happened, they died down and were replaced by the more interesting Windows 7 rumblings. But now Microsoft is in pole position to announce something like a Zune phone, having pretty much let the whole 7 cat out of the bag and lacking any really compelling major product developments other than the standard stuff. Could this coming January hold the surprise announcement everyone wants to hear?

When Ballmer gets up in front of the crowd at CES, what will he have to say? Doubtless he’ll be focusing on the future (no more Vista success stories, we hope), what Windows 7 has to offer, and then — we hope — revamping Microsoft’s whole position on the mobile platform. As I noted in my RedFly review, WinMo is a capable, popular operating system, but it is far from future-proof and it is increasingly playing catch-up. In other words, it’s like Vista. What’s to be done?

The supposed Zune phone would address the complicated interface, limited media capability in a time of device convergence, and completely rebrand Microsoft in the mobile market. The Zune interface is attractive, of course, but not really applicable to the mobile experience yet; however, I know people on the team and they are certainly capable of adapting the design ideas to a touchscreen-based, full-service mobile phone.

And what about the killer app? A mobile social network of friends and like-minded music lovers who can fire songs to each other over a nationwide network? How unbelievably awesome would that be?

“Message from James! ‘Check out this new Wolf and Cub song’ – Listen/Download/Buy”

Seriously, it’s not only possible but totally a good idea, and possibly necessary for a continued MS presence in the mobile world. I don’t think we’ll have a product before 9 months from now, but I certainly wouldn’t say a Zune phone announcement (or at least a hint) out of the question.