It’s called Xbox Music, but make no mistake — the frontman in this band is Windows 8.
Microsoft is taking another run at digital music with a new service called Xbox Music, unveiling the details tonight. Xbox Music will include free, ad-supported music streaming on Windows 8 PCs and tablets, starting with the Oct. 26 launch of the new operating system. That feature is similar to the approach taken by the popular Spotify music service.
Xbox Music also includes a $10/month Xbox Music Pass, which gets users ad-free streaming on Windows 8 machines, plus the ability to use the streaming service on the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 8 devices. Subscribers will be able to synchronize their playlists through the cloud to access their music on various machines.
The company will also offer an Xbox Music Store for paid music downloads, with 30 million tracks at launch.
One big catch: You’ll need to be an Xbox Live Gold member ($60/year) to access the streaming service on the Microsoft console, and subscribe to the $10/month Xbox Music service on top of that.
Microsoft says it will release Xbox Music apps for Windows 7, iOS and Android next year.
It’s the latest in a series of attempts by Microsoft to make a mark in digital music, but the company has learned a thing or two since the launch of the Zune service and device. Xbox Music is notable in part because it’s the furthest Microsoft has attempted to stretch the Xbox brand into pure entertainment, beyond its legacy in video games.
“Xbox Music on Windows will be the best place to start, and that’s going to be the best experience you’re going to get, but eventually you’re going to want to put that on a (competing) phone or on a tablet and take that with you, and that’s when we’re going to branch out to some of those other platforms,” said Scott Porter, a Microsoft principal program manager, giving a tour of the new service last week.
For now, Xbox Music is lacking significant social integration, with the company saying it will “add unique social features in the coming year that let you share your music experiences with friends and family.”
In addition, next year Microsoft plans to launch a “scan-and-match” service to help users bring their existing tracks into their Xbox Music Libraries. That’s similar to features offered by Apple and Amazon.
Features of the streaming service include the ability to play any song from a library of millions of tracks, following Spotify’s model, or the option to set up “Smart DJ” streams, similar to a Pandora approach. Microsoft will also limit free, ad-supported playback on Windows 8 after six months, similar to Spotify’s approach.