Microsoft today confirmed that Xbox Music will be pre-loaded onto all Xbox Ones, though the initial paid service will require a day one patch and won't support SmartGlass or listening to music in the background.
Jerry Johnson, general manager of Xbox Music, also told Polygon that Xbox Music, Microsoft's answer to ubiquitous music, receives iOS and Android apps today, as well as free streaming on its website.
The service will also receive an overhaul on Windows 8 with the Oct. 17 release of Windows 8.1.
The slew of updates start to arrive as Microsoft's all-in-one music service nears its one year anniversary.
Xbox Music currently supports streaming on Windows 8 PC and tablets , Windows Phone 8 and Xbox 360, as well as Internet radio, an all-you-can listen Xbox Music Pass and download-to-own options. The service costs $9.99 a month or $99.99 for a year.
The moves to extend the service's reach to non-Windows devices was powered by an understanding that people weren't always willing to pay for a service that was tied so tightly to Microsoft.
"It's a great service if you have a console and you pay $9.99 a month," he said. "But if I didn't have the phone that lines up with that or I don't have Windows 8, it really diminished the value of that entire value prop around a paid subscription service, and we realize that.
"Likewise free streaming on the PC is great, but people aren't going to step up and pay for it unless they can take mobile with them on whatever device they choose."
Johnson said they shifted how they thought about music at the company and changed the way they developed for the service, speeding up and streamlining the process.
"We went from shipping three clients every six to eight months, to eight clients every two weeks," he said. "By changing the way we think about music and develop it, we're changing the product itself."
While Xbox Music's expansion beyond the PC and Windows Phone 8 is heartening, this initial push won't include robust support of the service.
Initially, the iOS and Android apps will only grant access to Xbox Music for people who pay for the pass. To those paying customers, the free apps will provide unlimited access to their playlists and collections only and will only support streaming. Though, Johnson said the new, faster development cycles means that will likely be expanding quickly. The next highest priority for those mobile apps, he said, is to support the ability to download music to your mobile device to listen to it offline.
The service is also adding free streaming through its redesigned website, though after six months the amount of time a person can listen to music for free will be capped at 10 hours a month.
On Oct. 17, the release of Windows 8.1 will bring with it an entirely overhauled Xbox Music app. That redesign, Johnson said, was powered by user feedback.
The number one complaint was that while the user interface looked nice, it made managing massive music libraries arduous.
"The number one piece of feedback we got was that it was a beautiful app, very visual, but not very good for managing collections of music," Johnson said. "When you have 3,000 songs and 800 artists and 1,400 albums it got arduous going through the tiles they had."
The slick design also had another major flaw: It was a pain getting to the point where you could actually play a song.
"The director of Windows design sarcastically congratulated us that he's never been in a music app that took six clicks to play one song," Johnson said.
The new design flattens out the user experience tremendously, making it easier to zip through massive music collections. It also adds the ability to play your music immediately, no matter where you are in your browsing.
Where once Xbox Music presented the music in big panels, the new design is built around a vertical grid control that can be drilled down into or lifted away from, allowing users to quickly move through a collection and pinpoint what they are looking for.
There are a few other neat changes that come with Windows 8.1. For instance, Bing search can now pull music results from Xbox Music and allow a user to play a song directly from a search.
And more features are coming to the service this fall. One of the most interesting is an upcoming free Web Playlist tool that can scan all of the artists mentioned in the text of a website and then use that to create a custom playlist for Xbox Music.
Those changes were driven by a new philosophical approach to Xbox Music design, Johnson said.
"You'll notice a continuity of UX across each of these, and the same feature sets," he said, "but you'll also notice each one is optimized for what you do on that device. [Windows 8.1] is about music management."
Xbox One's take on Xbox Music, like the iOS and Android apps, will only be available to subscribers and it will also require an Xbox Gold membership, essentially forcing customers to pay two subscriptions to access the one service.
"It does require Gold," Johnson said. "Every entertainment experience on the console, whether you are Netflix or Music, requires Gold."
Johnson added that there will not be any discounts for Gold members either, nor is it something they would consider because it would "complicate" things. If the service were to ever receive any sort of deal for Xbox One users, it would come as some sort of bundle with Gold, he said.
"The way we look at it right now is, ‘Would we ever consider bundling them together?'," he said. "That would be the way to approach it, it would never be to discount one. And right now there are no plans or anything to announce."
The Xbox Music app will come pre-loaded on all Xbox Ones as the only initial music service on the next-gen console, Johnson said.
"It will be a pre-loaded part of the dashboard," he said. "On the first use it will auto-update."
While the Xbox One's dashboard isn't finalized yet, he added, the Xbox Music app will be part of one of the main areas.
Initially the paid-only service will have limited use. Music won't, for instance, be able to play in the background while a person is playing a game. Instead, if someone wants to listen to songs from Xbox Music they will have to run it in snap mode, which takes up some of the side of the screen, and manually turn down a game's audio in the game's options.
The app will also not include any SmartGlass support for controlling music at launch, Johnson said.
"The focus for launch will be getting the player out," he said, "but then SmartGlass will come along."
Johnson said that the company has a lot of ideas about how they can expand the service on the Xbox One and that work they're already working on them internally.
The teams are looking at how, for instance, people at a party could use their mobile devices to change music playing on an Xbox One or participate in choosing what's being listened to.
"I think Xbox One is really focused on creating a high fidelity entertainment system in your home," Johnson said when asked why Xbox Music was coming to the console. "It's going to start with some of the best games that you can play on any platform and I think music will be right there. The beauty of having an Xbox One plugged into the best TV in your house and most likely the best stereo system in your home is also our ability to deliver a quality music experience to the house.
"Xbox Music in the living room is an entertainment system."
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