Microsoft have been hinting for a while now that their Xbox Music service will be available from the browser, and now, after a period of silence, it has finally been released, and you can use it too, right here: Xbox Music
In order to use the Xbox Music service, you will need a Microsoft ID, be that Hotmail, Live, Outlook, or what ever you use for your Xbox account, all of these will work. You will also need to be an Xbox Music (or Zune) subscriber in order to use the service, but don’t worry if you’re not, Microsoft are giving away a 30 day trial so you can utilize the service to its fullest extent.
Interestingly, the Xbox Music site states that “Xbox Music is Pass is available on PC’s, Tablets, Xbox 360, Phones and on the Web”. There is no mention that the service is only available on Windows PC’s, Tablets, and Phones. Does this mean that there may be an iOS and Android app for the service? At time of writing, there are no app’s on either platform, however Microsoft are making their services across platforms more and more frequently, SkyDrive, SmartGlass, and recently, Office 365.
What Is Xbox Music?
If you have an Xbox, Windows 8 or RT computer/tablet or, Windows Phone 8 Device, then you will likely be pretty familiar with Xbox Music, as it’s the default music player for all of the aforementioned devices. If not, then let me explain.
Like most music players, the Xbox music application allows you to play music, create playlists, purchase music from the Xbox music store, or delete music so that it doesn’t show up in the Music application itself. Like iTunes, and Google Music there is also a store where you can purchase music, where it will show up in your collection, on all your devices synced with your Microsoft ID. If you add an album, then it will show up on your Windows 8 Phone, Windows 8 device, and your Xbox.
So how is it different from Google’s music service, which I recently wrote about? Well, er.. it isn’t. In fact, the design itself, (which is the upgraded version of Windows 8.1 rather than Windows 8) is not overly pretty, and isn’t particularly intuitive, but if you have a Windows device, well this is what you’ll pretty much be using. (Note: there are of course apps out there you can use in place of the Xbox Music app, I haven’t tried them myself, so cannot speak for their efficiency).
Sign up Process – In Pictures
When you click on the try it now button on the Xbox Music screen, you will be asked to either sign in, or sign up. I’m going to assume that you have a Microsoft ID, but do not have an Xbox Music subscription, and guide you through the sign up process.
First click on the try it free now link.
You’ll then be prompted to enter your Microsoft ID
Once signed in, you will be directed to choose which subscription you wish to sign up to; 30- Day free trial, 1 Month Music Pass (£8.99), a 12 Month Music Pass (£89.90) or to redeem a code, if you have one handy. In this instance we want to select the 30 day free trial.
Like Google Music, you are required to enter payment details of either a credit or debit card, you also have the option to pay with PayPal if you’d rather. You will of course not be charged for this ‘purchase’ and the balance will reflect that. Once you have added your card details, you’ll next be asked to confirm your purchase.
Once you have confirmed your purchase, you will be taken to a screen that tells you your renewal information. By default, the automatic renewal selection is on, so after 30 days you will be charged £8.99 for a monthly subscription. This can be turned off, and should be if you are not going to be subscribing on a permanent basis.
Once you have chosen whether or not to to automatically subscribe, you’ll be taken back to the previous screen, where you click the ‘Done’ button. This completes the sign up process and will take you to the Xbox Music home screen.
Using Xbox Music
Alrighty, so you have set up your Xbox Music subscription, and you’re ready to get going. If you are using Windows 8 on the desktop, then you will likely already have set up the Xbox Music app, and if all has gone to plan, most of your music will have been ‘matched in the cloud’ to Microsoft’s servers. This will then show up on your other Windows Devices and on the web version of Xbox Music. (For the purpose of this walk through, I have set up a new account, but my current existing account looks like the screenshot below)
The greatest thing about Xbox Music, providing Microsoft can match your music on their servers, is that it will automatically sync across all you devices. If you add more music to your computer running Windows 8, Xbox Music should automatically match it to the cloud, and it will sync across all your devices for cloud access. To test this, I used the search bar in the web browser to find an artist, in this case ‘Rise Against. Much like iTunes and Google Music, all the appropriate artist and album artwork is present, as are all the titles and metadata you would expect. To add an album to your collection, click on the album you want to add, click the ‘+’ button and select add to collection. Once added it will show in the collection tab.
Use the search field to search for your artist or album of choice.
Click on the artist, and their latest albums and top tracks are shown
Click on an album in order to view the entire albums contents.
To add to your collection, click on the ‘+’ button on the album or track you want to add, and you have the option of adding to now playing, your collection or a playlist, or create a new playlist.
Syncing Content and Creating Playlists
Having added two artists to the collection, I created a playlist in the browser and added the two artists to it and named it ‘Test Playlist’. Having now added two artists and created a playlist, I signed into my Surface RT (this will work with any Windows 8 or RT device) tapped on Xbox Music and behold, both artists were in my collection as was my ‘Test Playlist’. I tapped on play and the playlist began, without any issue and seamlessly.
Xbox Web Browser view of ‘Test Playlist’
Xbox Music App on Windows 8 showing ‘Test Playlist’
To test the backwards compatibility, I then set up another playlist dubbed ‘Different Playlist’ but I set it up on my Surface tablet. I used the search function in the Xbox Music app to find two artists, added them to my collection and then added them to the new playlist. I switched to the Xbox Music service in my web browser on my desktop….and nothing happened. I clicked on ‘Collection’ and the new artists appeared, but my new playlist had not, nor is there an obvious refresh button. Having clicked on settings, and every other button that’s available (which is not many, this service UI is certainly clean and sparse) I refreshed the browser itself, and my playlist then suddenly appeared. (NB: Whilst in the Xbox Music web browser, the ‘back button’ for the browser, actually controls your actions it the Xbox Music windows. So if your in an album view of an artist, pressing back will take you to the artist summary screen).
In hindsight this actually makes sense. The chances are that if you are making a playlist on a mobile/tablet device then you will be using the app, or the web browser, you’re not going to be switching between the two within a few seconds of using the on or the other. You’ll create a playlist, then use it on the device you created it on, until you either get home, or go out, where you would then use the playlist on the desktop or the mobile device, where you will re-sign in, and it will refresh itself.
NB: Remember, Xbox Music as a service, use’s data to stream music you have in the cloud. Be that individual songs, albums, or playlists. You can of course download music to your device whilst connected to WiFi, or if you’re carefree with your data usage, then be all means stream your content over your mobile data connection, although this quality will be down to your data connection.
For most people downloading via WiFi is the way to go, and Xbox Music gives you that option, by simply swiping up, or right clicking the mouse button whilst in the Windows 8 Xbox Music App.
Microsoft have never had a better chance to compete in the Music space, and now is that time. With syncing across Windows devices from your Xbox Music App in Windows 8, the Xbox Music app on the web, Windows Phone 8 and through your Xbox 360, and soon Xbox One, Microsoft have the opportunity to really compete with Apple and the Goliath that is iTunes, but unless the User Interface is vastly improved, and the sign up process streamlined, then Microsoft will swing, and in this instance, miss.
The sign up for the 30 day free trial seemed to take an age compared to Google’s one screen sign up. The Web Browser version, whilst cleaner than the Windows 8 Music app is slow, buggy, and just horrible to use. In fact, most large tech websites given hugely poor reviews for the Xbox Music app and for good reason.
If the UI can be cleaned up, the sign up process streamlined and Microsoft actually actively market the service, it could do very, very well. Admittedly the web version only went live today, and the Xbox Music app has been updated for the coming Windows 8.1 update this Winter, so it’s really just a waiting game, waiting with fingers crossed.