Microsoft, Deliver on This for Xbox Music & I’ll Stop Talking
Microsoft’s Xbox Music and Xbox Video Teams are in for the fight of their lives this year. To be clear, the company has said next to nothing about Xbox Music publicly, and the few times it has been mentioned it’s been by Microsoft executives dangling the carrot of new OneDrive streaming. It’s a rough time to be a guy like me, a guy who uses Xbox Music and still has ten months left on his subscription.
That isn’t to say that Microsoft hasn’t made progress. In the past year and a half we’ve seen the Connectors team ditch horribly bad ideas like the Windows 8 app that initially caused an uproar. The group has rolled out and continued to update an Xbox Music web client that is in some ways more robust than any other client. Certain members of the team have even come out of the shadows, reaching out to longtime fans, searching for any feedback they can find to plot a new course.
What Xbox Music needs, isn’t a new name or a complete overhaul. That’s been done already and we haven’t seen a lot of progress in the music space for Microsoft since. Instead, the company has to deliver on some core fixes and features and it has to do it at a steady cadence before the Windows 10 operating system makes it into the hands of users in final form. Here’s what a blockbuster year for Xbox Music would look like from where I’m sitting. Should these features arrive, I’ll happily stop encouraging users to look elsewhere for subscription music.
Upgraded iPhone and Android Apps for Mobile First, Cloud First World
“Full disclosure, I’ve had an Xbox Music or Zune Pass subscription my entire adult life.”
Xbox Music has existed on iPhone and Android now for months. I reviewed Xbox Music for Android this past fall and Xbox Music for iPhone earlier in 2014. You can go back and read those, but I can tell you what you should take away from them right now. They, Xbox Music for iPhone and Xbox Music for Android, absolutely stink. The iPhone version is the most stable. The Android version suffers form all sorts of freezing and stability issues. Neither allow users to sign up for Xbox Music Pass through the app. Neither offered free streaming when that was available. You can’t browse the Xbox Music Store unless you enjoy searching album by album and song by song. You can forget about curated playlists, gapless playback and bit-rate streaming control.
The road to redemption starts with a fix for this. We’ll get to Xbox Music on Windows in a second, but Xbox Music on other platforms sticks out like a sore thumb. In a world where Office is on the iPhone and viable, Xbox Music is an embarrassment and needs significant upgrades immediately.
Music is Not a Solitary Experience
The rest of the world seems to have found out what the Zune Team knew back in the day. Music isn’t a solitary experience. You listen to it with your friends and you learn about new music from other fans. In the old days – by old days I mean the Clinton Administration – you traded mix tapes with your friends to get a feel for new genres. In Zune, you could even send music over to your friends. For Xbox Music, we have Radio playlists and curated playlists that we have to remember to go to the Xbox Music website to check. It’s a travesty.
I understand that many users know what they’re going to listen to before they listen to it. I also know that millions more are looking for what’s trending, which songs are new, and what’s the most played thing in their friends list. Spotify capitalizes on this with a world-class cache of user created playlists. I’ll level with you folks. I’m completely lazy. I need a steady cache of new playlists by someone else to find new stuff.
Give us more social. In fact, don’t just give us more social, integrate it directly with Xbox Live. I want to be able to monitor what albums my friends are listening too and add my own playlists to my showcase. I want to be able to follow artists for the latest news just like I can with Xbox games on Xbox Live and how I used to be able to do with Zune.
Xbox Music on Windows
Maybe by now you’ve heard, Microsoft plans to merge the app ecosystem for its Windows 10 operating system. In the future, there won’t be a version of Xbox Music for phones and another for tablets and the Xbox One. There’ll be just one app, with an interface that changes for different devices, according to Microsoft.
In theory, this means less work for the Connectors Team as they try to juggle the different apps. That’s great, because while Xbox Music on Android and Xbox Music on Windows Phone are better than their Android and iPhone counterparts, they’re still in rough shape.
Metadata editing needs to happen and I don’t care if I have to turn of cloud syncing and cloud collection to do it. We need a Now Playing screen with up-to-date statistics form the service itself, just like we did with Zune. At the very least, I’ll take the shapes that used to appear in the first versions of Xbox Music. Build in a sound mixer if you cant. Add the settings for managing Xbox Music directly into the app instead of dumping people in Xbox.com. I wouldn’t say no to a dedicated forum area to foster community either.
Microsoft can keep pushing digital life scenarios all it wants, but when it comes to entertainment they are in rough shape. They blew about Zune in an effort to create a new service that they haven’t yet delivered on. It’s time to make this happen.