Microsoft and Music – the story continues…

A while ago I wrote about Microsoft having an awful music strategy. The gist was generally that they had created lots of great services but nothing linked together and left users confused. Now with the release of Windows 8, the latest Xbox update and Xbox Music lets see what’s changed.

Xbox Music

Xbox Music is essentially a rebranding of Zune. Personally I likes the Zune products and calling everything Xbox to me just makes confusion, but it’s just a name so I’ll look past it.

In Microsofts press release for Xbox Music they talk about users currently using services like Last FM to discover music, Spotify to play subscription music anywhere and Amazon to buy music and store it in the cloud. Xbox Music is meant to combine all of these into 1 service. Sounds great! Even better Windows 8 will let you stream any song from the catalogue for free, which is fairly amazing.

There is still in Music Pass service at £8.99 which allows you to stream music to Xbox 360, and Windows Phone 7, plus sort of sync all your music across devices.

Sounds like there kind of ticking all the box’s of what I wanted to see, what about the software…

Well software on the Xbox 360 is basically what it was before except for the fact you now have playlists that sync with all your other devices. So if you make a playlist on your Windows 8 machine then it will be there on your Xbox. Other than that there’s still the limiting feature that you cant play music while playing a game and you can’t copy music from a CD into the Xbox Music app, there’s still a separate Music section on the Xbox for that. Without the Xbox Music pass you also still can’t sync you music from PC to Xbox. The playlist is there but the music either won’t play (if it’s not in the catalogue), will just play a 30 second preview or if you originally bought it from Microsoft will play the whole track.

As for the new Music app on Windows 8, it’s a start but far from perfect. The UI is nice and touch friendly but it’s harder to use than the old Zune player. Viewing your music lists everything in giant lists. The nice compact grid of albums organised by most recent that showed everything you were likely to want to play is gone, and to me this is a shame. Other features like being able to skip through a track or even click and artist and then an album are also gone. Now you must go into the full artist page including albums you don’t own, fair enough you can stream all this stuff, but I’d really just like to see my stuff. For some reason I think while creating the service that lets you stream any music Microsoft lost sight of the concept of a music collection. People like to collect music and in may ways you can learn a lot about a person by looking at what music is in their collection. But with the Music App your collection now seems to contain 30,000,000 tracks and is in no way personal.

A big big plus for Windows 8 though is Media Centre has gone (you can still get it but by default its gone). I like this as Media Centre was just another service creating confusion. It wasn’t a bad product but Microsoft needed to pick one solution and go with it, rather than leave users with many half complete options.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s ambition for 3 styles of music in one was a nice idea, but they’ve really only fulfilled 2 of them. The Radio service and subscription music. The one I’m most interested in (your own music) is still a mess, and it all seems to stem from the music subscription service dominating everything else. When they say you can get your music on your Xbox, what they really seem to be meaning is when you pay £8.99 a month you can get anything on your Xbox, therefore you have your music on your Xbox. But if your like me and spend closer to £20 a year on music rather than over £100, then £80 a year just to play music you already own is quite expensive!!!

The Future

One thing we still are yet to see is the new Music hub in Windows Phone 8. We know it will integrate with the Xbox Music Pass, but we don’t yeu know how we’re going to get our own music on the device. The new Music app in Windows 8 doesn’t suggest any way to add music to a device, and even if the icons just appeared like in Zune, there is no dragging and dropping of music to suggest you will drag music onto your phone. We can only hope that the solution they’ve come up with isn’t requiring you to spend £8.99 on a music pass and then only sync your playlists as with Xbox 360.

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