Microsoft is once again in search of a hit in digital music. The company has failed to impress music fans with its Zune music players and service. A strong music service has become a prerequisite for any serious player in the gadget business. Now, Microsoft is hoping that its new service will help it regain ground it has lost to competitors Apple and Google.
The company announced the release of a service called Xbox Music that offers access to a global catalog of about 30 million songs. Xbox Music will let consumers listen to any song free on computers and tablets running the latest version of its Windows software or on the Xbox console. Xbox Music has a $10-a-month ad-free service available that includes many features, like the ability to listen to music on the Xbox 360 game console and smartphones. Microsoft has not announced plans to limit how much music can be streamed.
Its aggressive push to persuade lots of people to use the service could arouse antitrust concerns about Microsoft using its Windows flagship operating system to gain toeholds in new markets. A major new version, called Windows 8, began shipping Oct. 26. Microsoft will package the software for Xbox Music with Windows 8. The company also has plans to release a new version of its Windows Phone operating system for mobile phones and a Microsoft-designed tablet device called Surface.
Xbox Music is joining a market thick with independent music services offering variations on the listening experience. Scott Porter, principal program manager for Xbox Music, said many music fans today rely on a variety of services and traditional sellers of songs to satisfy all of their musical needs. He said, “The dilemma is that music has become work. Our vision for Xbox Music is that it shouldn’t have to be work.” Xbox Music incorporates elements of many other services.
The success of Xbox Music will depend on whether the service itself is any good and whether it can enhance the appeal of Microsoft-powered gadgets. Richard Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research, said, “This is not going to matter if no one wants the devices. You need to have a killer device.”