In a move to capitalize on its popular Xbox brand, Microsoft just took the lid off its Xbox Music service. Microsoft is positioning the new service as the answer for consumers who want to de-scatter their music found on various services and platforms.
A cloud-based service, Xbox Music promises consumers the freedom to stream custom-created playlists for free, subscribe to all the music they want or download-to-own their favorite songs. Xbox Music integrates music across tablets, PCs, phones and TV and offers 30 million songs in its catalog, which is on par with iTunes.
Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, called Xbox Music a milestone in simplifying digital music on every device on a global scale. Considering the fate of Microsoft's iPod competitor -- Zune -- is Mattrick merely selling the hype or is there something to his comments?
The Xbox Factor
Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said the new Xbox Music service is probably the most complete music service offering available to consumers, however its most important feature may be its brand.
"Microsoft's previous -- and still existing -- music service carries the unfortunate 'Zune' name, which most consumers associate with failure or at least a considerable lack of coolness," Sanfilippo told us.
"The Zune music service is a very good offering that has been largely ignored mostly because it's associated with the discontinued Zune hardware products. Xbox Music should be more successful at least partially because the Xbox brand itself is successful. The new service is only available on Microsoft platforms at first -- Windows 8, Xbox, Windows Phone 8 -- which will limit its customer base, but when it becomes available on iOS and Android devices, that base will grow."
Three Tiers of Service
Here's how it works: On Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and PCs, consumers get on-demand access to tens of millions of songs for free. Consumers only have to type an artist or song name and hit play to stream the music. Consumers can also create an unlimited number of playlists.
Consumers that want ad-free music can get an Xbox Music Pass for unlimited playback of any track in the subscription catalog. The cost: $9.99 a month. Xbox Music Pass also offers unlimited access to tens of thousands of music videos that can play through the Xbox 360. Finally, consumers can buy music right from the Xbox Music Store.
Next year, Microsoft will add cloud storage, which lets consumers store music acquired through other services in the cloud for access through Xbox Music. Microsoft also plans to add what it is calling "unique social features" in the coming year and make the service available on other platforms.