Like a kid discovering the joys of honey mustard as a condiment, it seems as if Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is dipping everything it eats in the Xbox name these days.
The Zune Music Pass is now marketed as the Xbox Music Pass. The Zune Video platform is now Xbox Video. Even the original Zune Music ecosystem is now being presented as Xbox Music to new customers -- even if an Xbox gaming console isn't even required.
The Zune Marketplace is still around, but it's being run through an Xbox.com subdomain.
"Xbox Music and Xbox Video are now Microsoft's music and video stores," visitors are told at the very top of the page.
Microsoft's move last week to beef up Xbox Music by making it available on iOS and Android devices is smart. Microsoft's own mobile operating system for tablets and smartphones is commanding just 4% of the global market. If the software giant wants to get noticed, it's going to have to get in front of the consumers who have already chosen Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) market-leading open source platform or Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) products. That's nearly everybody at this point.
Don't be surprised if the Xbox-less Xbox Music isn't the last thing Microsoft slaps with the Xbox label.
It's been two years since Microsoft stopped updating its Zune line of portable media players. Zune was a bold attempt to make a dent in Apple's iPod market, but it fell woefully short. The Zune name lingers, but only because the brand isn't on the same level of failure as Microsoft's Kin smartphone or Vista flavor of Windows.
Xbox, on the other hand, is a rare hot brand in Microsoft's arsenal. It remains the best-selling console in this country, and that will probably remain the case when the Xbox One hits gamers in two months.
The Xbox isn't just about video games anymore. Halo fans may argue otherwise, but Microsoft's console has evolved into a multimedia hub. A substantial chunk of the Xbox One presentation during June's E3 unveiling was dedicated to the new system's video-viewing features. Sure, the enhanced specs will make gameplay even better, but if its aim is spot-on, we're going to be seeing the Xbox One as the cornerstone of a family's home entertainment system.
In that sense, it's perfectly natural to see Zune branding give way to Xbox products. However, why should it stop there?
Microsoft is paying $7.2 billion to Nokia (NYSE: NOK) for its handset and services business. The move will corner the market on Windows Phone devices, since the handful of other manufacturers still weighing the decision to put out Windows Phone handsets will move on after the purchase is complete. Windows Phone will become more like Apple's iOS than the open-ended realm of Google's Android. Keeping all that in mind, would anyone be shocked if Microsoft puts out an Xbox Phone next year as a distinct product line from its Nokia's somewhat successful Lumia line of devices?
The Xbox Phone would bring all of the multimedia and gaming goodwill that Microsoft's been building into the Xbox brand together into making the device that the Zune -- or even the Kin -- should've evolved into anyway.
It doesn't have to stop there. If this month's Surface redo fall short -- and no one would be shocked if that happens -- do you really think we'll see Surface 3 next year? No. Say hello to the Xbox Tablet.
Why stop there? As PC sales continue to fall -- and it's mostly just hardcore computer users and PC gamers supporting the chunky desktops and rudderless laptops these days -- would it be a shock if Xbox PCs and perhaps even Xbox operating systems come into play?
OK, that last scenario may be pushing things too far. However, the growing reach of Xbox Music this month is tipping the hand of what the meandering tech titan is up to. The Xbox brand will continue to consume Microsoft's less successful initiatives.
Xbox is the new honey mustard. Dip away, folks. Dip away.
We're out of honey mustard -- try some sweet and sour, instead
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