Today Microsoft launches Xbox Music on Xbox 360, the company's brand new all-in-one music service that will also be releasing for Windows 8 devices and PC on October 26.
Xbox Music brings together features that have defined other popular music services such as iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify, and houses them under one cross-platform service that lets users control and access their music wherever they are.
If this sounds like Microsoft is setting its crosshairs firmly on these various industry-leading services, that's because, as Xbox Music general manager Jerry Johnson explained to us during a preview session last week, this is precisely the company's intention.
"This is competitive with iTunes. This is competitive with Spotify. This is competitive with Pandora. And yes we see it as a better consumer experience."
Johnson elaborated by repeating one of Microsoft's primary mantras it established early on in Xbox Music's development.
"Music should not be work, and it's way to much work for consumers. The consumer shouldn't have to think about what the artist or a label decided to do around rights on five songs on an album. Stepping back and saying, 'How do people consume music? How do people want to consume music?' That was the focus of this."
"I'm happy. I think we've really done a solid job, especially for this launch window," Johnson continued. "I love working on services, because you're never done." This idea of a constantly evolving and improving experience is very much at the heart of what Johnson and his team envisioned from the start, and will continue to be so as the service and its user base grows.
As for the service itself, Xbox Music will ultimate include three tiers of access:
- A free ad-supported streaming offering ala Spotify for PCs and Windows 8 phones and tablets that lets users listen to any of the 30 million tracks in the Xbox Music library and make playlists that can carry over to other devices as well, but only if you're online.
- A subscription "Music Pass" that costs $9.99/month, or $99.99/year, that lets users access their music on Windows 8 devices, PC, and Xbox 360 without having to be online. This tier also includes a Smart DJ function that lets users select an artist and Xbox Music will program a station around that artist.
- A music store not unlike Apple's iTunes Store where users can buy music, add it to their libraries, and be able to access it via Xbox Music on all supported devices. Since Microsoft sees the 360 as primarily a destination for enjoying music you've already bought, you won't be able to buy music via your Xbox (at least not at launch).
Xbox Music also incorporates Microsoft's Smart Glass functionality which lets users access content shared between connected devices. So if you create a new playlist or start listening to a song on your tablet, you can "throw" them to your 360 with the touch of a button. You also get access to tons of biographical info, images, and recommended music based on the artist you are currently listening to.
While Xbox Music will only be available on Windows 8 supported devices at launch, Microsoft says it will soon be releasing an app similar to the My Xbox Live app it released late last year that will support iOS and Android, which will no doubt simultaneously resurrect the not so pleasant memories of Microsoft's lackluster Zune efforts while also burying those memories for good as Xbox Music attempts to redefine the digital music landscape for this generation and the next.