Microsoft has revamped its subscription music service with the launch of Xbox Music.
The tech giant today launched the streaming music service to the 66 million users of its popular game console, the Xbox 360. A wider launch on PCs, tablets and mobiles is due on October 26, when the new Windows 8 operating system will be released. The service comes pre-installed as the default music player on the operating system.
"Our aspirations for Xbox Music are big - to address the multiple ways that people are listening to music, then put those all in one easy-to-use and beautifully curated place," said Scott Porter, principal program manager for Xbox Music.
The service, which is powered by the Cloud, replaces the Zune Music Pass, which was all but killed off when Microsoft announced Xbox Music earlier this year at the E3 video game expo.
"It's the only operating system on a tablet that can do free streaming because of the rights we've secured," said Yusuf Mehdi, the vice-president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment business marketing and strategy.
The company confirmed that Xbox Music apps would be available on Windows Phone 8 and eventually on other platforms such as Android and Apple iOS.
This would put it not only in direct competition with music subscription services such as Spotify, Pandora and MOG but also those platforms' native music stores: Android's Google Play Store and Apple's iTunes Music Store.
Although this is widely seen as a step forward for the music industry, the appeal of subscription services is limited by the expense of most mobile data plans. Most cost more the more data you use, which can make streaming music on mobile data networks fairly expensive.
Xbox music will be available at three levels and prices. A free, advertising-supported version will allow users to stream music to their Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT tablets. An audio ad will interrupt playback every 15 minutes in the free version of the software. Streaming will be unlimited for the first six months, and a limit applied thereafter.
For $13 a month, users will get ad-free, unlimited offline playback of music on a PC, tablet, mobile and Xbox 360. It includes access to music videos on the Xbox 360.
A third "download to own" option, which tries to claim some of Apple's iTunes market share, allows users to buy tracks and albums via the Xbox Music Store.
"There are a lot of individual services that do a good job but today there isn't a service which can pull together the benefits of download-to-own, music subscription, or free streaming services," Mr Medhi said.
He added that Xbox Music might have the largest music catalogue of all the services, with 30 million songs. Apple said in a statement last month that its iTunes music store had more than 26 million songs.
Other features include a scan-and-match feature, similar to iTunes Match, which will allow users to add the music they own to the Xbox Music Cloud catalogue, including content bought through other music services such as iTunes.
A social music feature that lets users share their favourite music with friends is also in the works.
"Music is a deeply, emotionally connected topic for people everywhere. People's memories and special moments are always associated with music," Mr Mehdi said. "It's a powerful area because of that, and I'm excited that we're going to be able to bring that to life in our product."
- Sydney Morning Herald