As a listener to TWiT’s Windows Weekly, I’ve heard Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte talk about Xbox Music Pass. Also called Xbox Music, it is a leasing agreement, where for a few dollars a month, you can stream, download/play (on up to 5 devices) unlimited music.
Because of how Microsoft has typically put arbitrary regional restrictions on apps and contents over the years, I assumed (Arrgh! and regulars know how I hate assumptions) that a sweet deal like this would not be available outside of the USA, or maybe the usual 7 countries. This morning, one of my colleagues came over and asked if I’d tried Xbox Music because he was loving it. I was … surprised.
I just checked Andrew Birch’s amazing feature availability matrix on Andrew Tech Help, and lo and behold, XBox Music is available in more (not all, not even most) countries than I expected.
My colleague has Xbox Music set up on his Windows Phone. It’s nice and seamless. The leasing agreement (you keep the music as long as your subscription is active) allows you to download to and play music on up to 5 devices (just like with Windows Store Apps). We went over to his PC so I could explore. OK, I expect to find mainstream stuff like Radiohead, David Bowie, or X-Craptor, but what about the stuff I listen to? It’s the stuff you don’t find on music shelves (actually there are none of those anymore), but would Microsoft have bothered to add my quirky music in addition to the usual Crappy Lee Jepson or James Farter? Yup, the albums were there. I’m impressed.
So, in Ireland, for €99 per year, you can have unlimited music listening, legally. New stuff and old (the stuff I searched for was released in late 80’s and mid 90’s). You can listen on your Windows Phone or via the (XBox) Music app in Windows 8. Searching is a fantastic experience in Windows 8 (for everything: settings, files, app content) so finding the music you want to listen to or try is superb.
There is a free 30 day trial. I’m told it restricts the number of hours you can listen until you start to pay. It looks like, if you start the trial it will automatically convert into a paid subscription unless you cancel.
Albums seem to be a thing of the past for most people. You can try a new artist or style of music with no financial commitment (better than laying down €22 for a CD in a “store”), pick and choose songs you like, download them to your Windows Phone to listen to on a plane (with no Internet connection), and create playlists. And it’s all legal. And €100 is a paltry annual amount.
Right now Xbox Music is available on Windows Phone 8, Xbox 360 (stream only and requires Xbox Live Gold), Windows 8 and Windows RT. Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 are not included, and XP is well out of mainstream support so it’ll never be included. Other services such as Spotify have great cross-platform support. They’ll have that advantage while Xbox Music doesn’t support Android and iOS. Allegedly, Microsoft will bring support to those two mobile device OSs sometime this year. Back in November, Brad Chacos on PCworld.com reported:
Android and iOS support will come "within 12 months
It’s good to see some of the “3 screens and a cloud” stuff appearing in the consumer space on Windows 8/RT, Xbox, and Windows Phone 8.
The People hub in WP8 is superb if the phone is your personal device (I still hate that it opts in social network contacts lists by default on my work device), and live tiles are better than dead icons. Those are innovations by Microsoft (sure, MSFT are being sued over Live Tiles so there is some question there [covering my a$$]) that we should be thankful for, and that might be contributing to the aging of iOS.
Handset hardware quality is infinitely better than it was in the last generation. The few of us in the office that have the HTC 8x love the hardware.
I still cannot forgive the arbitrary regional fencing of features. There is no licensing issue for podcasts. They are put out on the net via RSS feeds and shared via loads of catalogs. If Microsoft can share podcasts via the Marketplace in some countries then there is absolutely no reason not to do it in all countries. That sort of bollo% is what led me to assume (arrgh!) that Xbox Music (actual licensed content) wouldn’t be available here.