You can’t fault Microsoft for not being persistent. After their Zune players failed to make a dent in Apple’s portable music dominance the Seattle based tech company is set to take another shot at the iTunes and iPod juggernaut. This time they’re focusing on the software and are offering a service that appears to be a mashup of iTunes, Winamp and streaming services like Spotify. The platform, dubbed XBox Music, will launch for the XBox on Tuesday and roll out to other devices in the Microsoft ecosystem after that.
At first glance there’s a lot to like–the streaming music component of the service will be free on PCs and tablets running Windows 8 and will also offer a ‘pay as you go’ music store. There’s is a catch–after six months the advertising supported ‘free’ option will be limited to a certain number of hours per month. Microsoft will also offer an unlimited streaming option for a monthly fee. The service will syncronise purchased music across devices and Microsoft is planning to add a cloud based storage system that will scan users’ music libraries and ‘unlock’ music they already own for use online (shades of MP3.com!). The rest of the app sounds like a music player similar to iTunes, with ‘smart DJs’ and recommendation services.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of problems that are already apparent. For one thing, it sounds like the service will be limited to Microsoft based products. That means there won’t be interoperatability with the overwhelming majority of mobile devices running Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS including iPhones and iPads. Another issue is that even in the glowing prose of pre-release press releases it doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary. In other words, there’s already plenty of ‘better mousetraps’ that work better across platforms. The aforementioned Spotify, for examples, is a breeze to use and works like a charm on my Windows based PC, Apple iPad and Android phone.
Working in Microsoft’s favor–at least in the short term–is their control of the desktop operating system. This means that they’ll have plenty of opportunities to shove the XBox Music platform down the throats of PC buyers. Assuming that initial reports are correct and that the service will be limited to Microsoft OS products it’s almost impossible to envision that XBox Music will be such a game changer that people will switch to the company’s mobile and tablet products.