You’ll pardon if I offer up no music, this week, and just kind of…talk…

Recently, WP Central did an interview with some members from the Xbox Music team. While I applaud the interview for letting people understand what the mindset of the team is, there’s a couple of things that should be added to what was discussed.

First off, I understand the sentiments of Zune (I really do) and I understand that Zune had some very public faces: Matt Akers, Brian Seitz, Jessica Zahn, Rob Greenlee, Cesar Mendendez. We had some actual individuals we could look to, talk to, bounce ideas off of; these were people who had direct impacts on what happened with Zune and were very community-friendly in discussing what was happening with the service and where it was going.

For our love of Zune, we loved them. You could say we had a bit of an emotional investment in them because, at the time, we saw Zune as a little engine going up against the iPod juggernaut. You sent the tailor to go fight the giant, as it were.

Yet, behind Matt, Jessica, Rob, Brian, and those guys was this great team of people: programmers, engineers, testers, who were putting this thing we called Zune together. They banded together every day to make sure that the device, the software, the service, the music pass, all of it was working to give us the best experience for discovering and making music into a community. It ran great for a while, a few years

Now, here’s the twist: a majority of that team (that Zune team) works on Xbox Music.

Yes, they had to pretty much start over. Yes, Xbox Music came out of the gate like a horse with a broken leg. Yes, we simply wanted them to add some features to Zune and keep that going as Xbox Music. We noticed and wanted a lot of things, but ultimately what we got was a service that was more focused on the cloud being our bridge and less on our desktop PC being that bridge.

At the same time, we saw these public faces go away: Matt now works on start screen experiences. Jessica handles Xbox Fitness. Brian helps with Surface. Rob works with a new podcast company. We’ve watched the people we’ve grown attached to go away, and frankly no one had replaced them. We don’t know much about the Xbox Music team, outside of this YouTube video and whatever is put up on the Xbox Music User Voice site.

So now we have this disconnect. We wonder if this “new” team gets it? Do they understand music services? Do they not get that people use their phone more to listen to music? Are they actually doing stuff over there? What about these rapid release cycles that only seem to patch something and never really moves the app forward? What’s going on with these people?

I hope with the WP Central interview that you begin to understand they do get it.

I’ve always stated that music is a community thing and, as such, there should be some public faces of Xbox Music. I’m not one of them (although some of you would disagree with that). There needs to be some people who can take the place of Matt, Jessica, et. al. who can be accessible and communicate with us what’s happening inside that team. It would be nice if Xbox Music and Video could have a section of Xbox Wire to talk about what they’re up to. They should do more YouTube videos, they should have a social media presence, they should sometimes go on Major Nelson’s podcast (since they’re all part of Xbox).

So I get it, with Zune had a great little ecosystem that was led into battle by some distinct and accessible personalities. Today we have Xbox Music which looks like it’s being developed by a ghost writer. But some of those ghost writers were there with Zune, so they know. Trust me, they know.

The second piece of this deals with the rapid release cycle of Xbox Music. People think it’s great that this service is now updating every two weeks. Yet, you get some people who think every two weeks should be a blockbuster release and that’s not realistic. For all of the stuff that’s suggested on the User Voice there is time, programming, testing, and releasing involved. Sometimes the availability of one feature depends squarely upon getting another feature to act correctly. Some things take time.

Think about this: We’re used to Windows and Windows Phone having this yearly OS release. In that year these teams have a chance to really hone in some great features, program them, test them, break them, program them again, test them again, etc. Then they release this major OS update and everything is hunky dory. Except that when everything was baked into the OS. Now, with these apps separate they have a chance to be updated more quickly and be on par with everything else.

Pretty soon we’re coming up on Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 which is being touted as the coming out party for Xbox Music. It’s being said that this release will have Xbox Music the way people wanted it to be from day one, which leads to the question of “What was all of these other updates about!!?” If you think about the multi-year release setup for other services, what you’re seeing with these quick updates are the baby steps to that major release. Maybe what we’re seeing with these quick Xbox Music updates are the baby steps to what will be in WP 8.1 Update 1 (man, is there a shorter way to say that!?)

So, I hope that the Xbox Music that’s coming in this WP8.1 update is fantastic — for their sake. If it is then we finally have the baseline to build off of going forward. If this particular version of the service is stellar, then we can all shut up about its shortcomings and realize that with the rapid release stuff we could see more popular and wanted features making its way onto the service (anyone remember heart ratings?)

So it leads to this question I’ve seen debated: Is Xbox Music better than Zune? You have passionate people on both sides of this issue. I, personally agreed with Paul Thurrott’s assessment that Zune was great for the time it was there (when it was going against iPod/iPod Touch) and Xbox Music is great for the time we live in now (going up against cloud services). For me, I took the bold and insane step of putting all of my music in the cloud. You may call that crazy, but I’m acknowledging that this is where stuff is headed anyway. My PC is no longer the central depot for my devices. My PC (really a Surface Pro) is one of the devices connected to the real central depot which is OneDrive.

Now let’s be frank, OneDrive and Xbox Music are nowhere near working well with each other, but think about the day where you could store everything into OneDrive and even edit MP3s there, and all of this stuff. Then it never really matters what device you have, as long as it has an Xbox Music app to grab that stuff and make it available to you.

How many times have you been out with your Zune HD and thought there was a song you wished you could’ve had on the device. You had two options: You could use Zune Pass to go download it from the marketplace (assuming it’s available there) or you waited until you got home to sync it. Now imagine that same scenario when you have OneDrive housing everything and Xbox Music is able to talk to OneDrive. This aggravation of “Man, I wish I had that song sync’d right about now!” doesn’t exist in the grand scheme.

But of course, we don’t have that now, at least not with the music that isn’t available in the Xbox Music marketplace. So we make do, or we continue to use Zune. It’s this kind of bottleneck that keeps Zune users and Xbox Music users going a bit at each other like Hatfields and McCoys. It’ll be up to the Xbox Music team (maiden name: Zune) to bridge that gap that allows us to walk into each other’s territory and talk instead of shouting through megaphones and lobbying grenades.

I remember when Zune was social. Xbox Music not so much. That bridge needs to be built and it’s going to take software, services, communication, outreach, amongst other things to make that happen.

But it can happen, and I would bet it will happen. Give it time…

…ok, PLEASE give it time! 🙂

That’s all. See you next week.

One Comment on “The Newsic Mix: The Zune/Xbox Music Family Split”

  1. I agree 100%. I’ve made my frustrations about Xbox Music for Windows Phone, pretty clear on Twitter, but I do understand where they are trying to get to. Had the app simply worked better, even that would’ve been something.

    Overall, I’m excited to see where it goes, but the team didn’t do themselves any favors by releasing a half-baked app, that barely worked. It works much better now, but that was a painful few months.

    I don’t understand how they couldn’t have taken the Zune app code base and simply bolted on OneDrive synchronization. It already had a backend component for Marketplace, simply add another for OneDrive. Give us that until Xbox Music was really, truly, ready for prime time.

    In the end, it will all work out. Despite my love of Zune, I really want Xbox Music to work better than the Zune app ever did. I think that’s really what we all want, a completely awesome music experience.

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