Microsoft waves goodbye to the Zune Player

Microsoft has confirmed that its ill-fated foray into iPod-like media players has come to an end, with production of the Zune Player hardware coming to a halt.

When the devices disappeared from the company's website, many predicted that Microsoft was admitting defeat. A reappearance led others to draw the conclusion that the hardware was merely going through a refresh, but sadly for Zune fans that dream has been thoroughly crushed.

"We recently announced that, going forward, Windows Phone will be the focus of our mobile music and video strategy, and that we will no longer be producing Zune players," Microsoft has confirmed in a statement on the Zune website.

While the news shouldn't come as a surprise - Microsoft is going hell-for-leather in the direction of the does-everything smartphone in an attempt to address the risk that Apple's iPhone will act as a 'gateway device' for users to leave Windows and head to Mac OS X as a computing platform - it will come as a disappointment to those few who actually liked Microsoft's answer to the iPod.

But what will happen to those who have already invested in the hardware? "Absolutely nothing," the company claims. "Your device will continue to work with Zune services just as it does today, and we will continue to honor the warranties of all devices for both current owners and those who buy our very last devices. Customer service has been, and will remain a top priority for us."

The hardware might be dead, in other words, but the branding lives on: Zune will continue to be available as a product on Windows Phone devices, on the Xbox 360 console - where it is used to rent and buy films and music videos - and on Windows.

Microsoft's announcement comes at a time when interest in stand-alone personal media players is waning: when fully-featured smartphones and tablets can be had for under £200 - and in some cases under £100 - buying a dedicated media player seems unnecessary.

Even Apple, which helped popularise the concept with its record-breaking iPod range, is moving away from the market: its most recent iPod products are cut-down iPhones featuring touch-screens and app downloads, while its bargain-basement iPod Nano devices make up a tiny fraction of the company's sales.