Friday, 31 May 2013

Xbox Music - 8 months after launch and still a beta product

Zune was Microsoft's little competitor to the iPod. Outside the USA virtually no one knew it even existed. This is because Microsoft took the decision not to sell it outside the USA. The latter versions of the Zune were actually pretty good MP3 players that were cheaper than the 'i' products but Microsoft were just a little too late to join the MP3 party. They also had a fairly dubious record of extensive software protection, dropping products suddenly and poor content provision.

They did actually a music store and a music streaming service called Zune Music Pass. However as the Zune never really sold outside the USA and this was the only device that was supported almost no one had heard about it either.



This Zune advert from a few years ago pokes fun at the cost of filling up your iPod legally from an online music store - not mentioning any specific names.

When Windowsphone 7 arrived the Zune devices were discontinued in the USA and you could now use the Windowsphone with a Zune Music Pass. In the UK this was pretty good value as a 12 month plan worked out around two pounds a month cheaper than Spotify or other streaming services.  The actual Zune software was not bad with good music discovery, social features, free music videos and a web based interface for times when you wanted to use your subscription on a friend's PC.

Yes Microsoft had produced a usable subscription service. Although only a small group of people had a  Windowsphone and could use the service. If it were made available to other mobile devices it could have gained real popularity.

When Xbox Music was announced there was a bit of buzz about the successor to Zune. I thought this was all branding and marketing. They had a mature music service already that a small rebranding and some cloud features combined with moving to other devices could be really successful.

Unfortunately for Windowsphone users, Microsoft had a different idea. Firstly they removed the Zune web interface, social features and the ability to view music videos as part of your music pass. This instantly devalued the existing subscriptions. The second task they managed to do was make the existing client not work with the new Windowsphone 8. Finally they pressed the self-destruct button and made sure that the digital rights management did not work with their latest devices meaning customers would have to download all their music again if they wanted to use it offline.

The new 'metro style' Xbox Music App was good eye candy but had few useful functions. The initial release didn't even play in the background when you swapped apps. For most people their music became instantly unmanageable. The cloud features failed to match music collections properly splitting collections across multiple titles, duplicating and then triplicating entries. It became a complete mess very quickly and the Microsoft community was full of complaints. Even podcast functionality was removed from outside the USA.

The astonishing thing is that the best sync tool is now a Windowsphone desktop sync app plus Apple iTunes. Microsoft support iTunes synchronisation!

Microsoft seem to have gone from having a good but unknown music service called Zune and have replaced it with a well publicised but less useful service called Xbox Music.

As for me,. I cancelled my Zune Music Pass subscription when it was clear that Xbox Music was a bit of a downgrade. Right now I am trying Spotify.