Zune is going away. There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. So now all’s that’s left is left to do is ask, Will it’s successor Xbox music stack up? if it can’t beat Zune which it replaces, then it doesn’t stand much of a chance against iTunes and the other music services.
So it’s been a few days since the RTM of windows 8 was released. E3 has come and gone & there have been a few videos showing what’s coming as far as Zunes’ successor. Project Woodstock has been revealed along with a lot of other goodies for Xbox, Windows Phone and Windows 8. So I’ve decided to throw in my two cents on what information is available so far. That and combined with the Xbox Music app I’m going to compare it against what I feel has been the best desktop media manager as far as I’m concerned. If you know anything about me, then you know I’m not going to compare this against iTunes. I’m going to put Xbox Music up against the Zune desktop (codenamed Dorado).
So I’ve made my peace with Zune as a brand going away. It’s not like I had the Zune logo tattooed to me or something. But I loved the little brand that could. I’m still very loyal to it. For me to give it up and move onto this new thing, I need to get at least what I was getting in Zune and or better. Zune was pretty damn good. So Xbox music has to measure up.
Song Library: 15 million songs for Zune VS. 30 million songs for Xbox music! Xbox Music when launched will have double the amount of music that Zune’s library currently has which are around 15 million songs. So far, so good. Right out the gate Xbox Music is kicking Zunes ass. This isn’t iTunes 60 million songs. But at 30 million it makes it rarer that you would have to step out of the music app to find a song. As I’ll go into detail later on, it’s important that Microsoft not make you have to step out of their ecosystem. Because if you have to go to iTunes or Amazon for 1 song, you’re probably going to spend more time and money in that ecosystem than Microsoft’s. At 30 million you’re not going to be as regularly frustrated that there’s a song you want but can’t have it as part of your unlimited music pass. Point goes to Xbox Music.
UI! Xbox music has stayed true to Metro (I’m going to keep calling it that regardless of what Microsoft & some store chain in German says about it) UI guidelines. In the consumer preview the music app was pretty much unusable but now it’s linked to your Zune pass & it’s gotten a much needed upgrade. It’s a lot more usable now. But it’s going to take some getting used to. Picks for me & quick play is dearly missed. The beautiful parallax screen saver has changed and not for the better. Rather than give you artist photos in surreal colors, it gives you plain artist photos doing basic ken burns effects. Then going to what looks like the classic Zune mix view. This should never have been altered and I hope that it changes back. I’ve used Zune music on my PC and through my Xbox to entertain guest. This has always been impressive and elegant. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it more than applied here. I do hope they change this back. This is a tie. Point goes to Zune for being beautiful while functional but not touch friendly and point to Xbox music for being Slick and fun but missing aesthetics that drew people to Zune in the 1’st place.
Play features: If you like granular control, kiss it good bye in Xbox music. So far there is no Smart Playlist like there is in Zune. I can’t find Smart DJ. There’s no AutoPlaylist either. So specifying that a playlist be explicitly for music that I just downloaded and/or haven’t listened to yet. Or music that I’ve favorited and have listened to more than 10 times is not an option in Xbox music. In an upgrade you expect to get more things. Not loose them. For years I’ve been begging for crossfade and gapless playback in Zune. To lose what we already had, I’m going to put negatives for Xbox music since I expect it to be there by now. Point goes to Zune for functionality.
Discovery: Nothing beats the Zune desktop for discovering new music based on your taste. Picks for you is a brilliant idea. I hope that in the final version of Xbox music it is brought over. Because the only way to discover music in Xbox music is to search for it. Channels has been somewhat deprecated in Zune. It’s not what it used to be. In Xbox music it’s completely gone. So having a premade playlist for the gym that refreshes every now and then is something your going to have to go to spotify for. Back in the Zune forum days, I suggested that Microsoft go to nike, reebok, bally’s, MTV, Motor Trend and various other parties and have them make premium channels for them rather than get rid of them. I suggest Microsoft visit this idea.
Podcast: Microsoft see’s no value in podcast. Rob Greenlee at Microsoft has had to fight tooth and nail from all accounts to have podcast in Zune. There’s no official word about whether it will be in Xbox music. No podcast in the music app for Windows 8? Which makes sense. But where do I get my podcast? I need Microsoft to give me a reason not to open iTunes. Because while I may listen to Zune content and happily pay for it. I listen to podcast 90% of the day. Two of which I pay for. So I’m going to listen to podcast no matter what. I’m not going to use Stitcher because the discovery in that is nothing compared to Zune and iTunes. And Stitcher isn’t available on windows phone anyway. It’s really on Microsoft to keep me from having to leave their ecosystem. I really hate to open iTunes. It’s a bloated app that bogs down my computer. I only open it when I want a podcast and there’s only a iTunes link to get it and no RSS address. If there’s no way to add & discover new podcast the way I can in Zune today. Then I’m just going to get a iPod touch. Because if I’m going to get my podcast from iTunes, it’s more than likely I’m going to get something else from iTunes because their music and video library is a lot bigger than Microsoft’s offering.
Podcast Rant: As you can tell podcast are very important to me. I don’t know how much it cost to have Podcast support but Apple offers it and it’s not hurting them. One would think the more content, the better. But metro has apparently gone wild and in minimalistic madness, an important media option is up for debate. I can’t imagine it costing too much money to have it. So the problem is that Microsoft doesn’t see money to be made in supporting podcast. So here’s my free million dollar idea Microsoft. Make a podcast app for Xbox, Windows phone and Windows 8. This app will play podcast (both from and outside the marketplace) as normal except it acts like Hulu. Where there are commercial points that can’t be skipped. Podcasters can submit their podcast to the marketplace with commercial break points and Microsoft can put the ads in. The podcasters that create the content will get 70% and Microsoft can take 30%. The podcasters will promote Xbox music for free. Problem solved! Podcast are now worth supporting.
So far Xbox music is nice but it’s no Zune. I’m really wanting to love the Zunes’ heir apparent. But there are a lot of questions that simply haven’t been answered yet about Xbox Music.
· Will this be available for windows 7 pcs’? Windows 7 is about to become the new Windows XP. Not everyone is going to upgrade to windows 8. Are you left out in the cold if you haven’t upgraded to Windows 8? Is the old Zune desktop going to be the solution for stragglers?
· Social made an appearance in the E3 debut (look closely at the pic. to the left where it says friends). Why is it not here in the RTM build? Is it the same Zune social or is it also connected to facebook & or twitter? Zune is still better than iTunes Ping but it was never an option for use on windows phone sadly. Is it no longer an option on laptops & tablets too?
· Will podcast if they’re included in Xbox music be part of the same app or a separate app like Apple is doing? If podcast are included how will syncing to windows phone and Xbox work? Will I still be able to subscribe to podcast not available in the marketplace?
To sum it all up XBox music, as it stands right now is a piss poor replacement for Zune. There’s no Social element that Zune pioneered. No Cross fade & gapless playback. Parallax screen saver seems slow and unresponsive. I almost have to trick it into working. When it does work it seems to be just a cheap ken burns effect with no trippy colors like Zune has today. No picks for me or any music personation. No related artist. Where’s smart DJ? Where’s smart playlist? Where’s channels? Where’s the option to sync to my windows phone? Search my music by genre? Music videos? I know it’s not a video app but music videos? How do i Rate a song or album? Great UI but i plan on sticking with Zune for its functionality. I really thought that the Music purist fan base of Zune meant something to Microsoft as we are the ones that bought Zunes. Microsoft has done it yet again. Remember when we all thought that windows phone would be a better music experience than the Zune HD which was awesome? I miss my Zune HD every time I listen to music on my windows phone as it’s not only a lesser experience than the HD, It’s a lesser experience than an iPod save the tinny sound. lets hope the Zune Desktop app sticks around until Xbox music catches up? Xbox music is visually nice but functionally disappointing.
Side bar: Maybe you can help verify if I’m going crazy.
All around music play: This is less a commentary on Xbox music/Zune and more of a commentary on Windows 8 and Windows 7. Namely on Bluetooth connections. On a Mac I can easily turn Bluetooth on and off. It’s a bit of a clunky experience in Windows 7 but I can turn Bluetooth on and off. I can listen to my stereo Bluetooth headsets on my windows phone and jump to a friends mac or windows 7 with little effort. On windows 8, It’s a painful experience. After I sync my Rocket fish stereo Bluetooth headset to my Windows 8 PC, there’s a noticeable lag in audio when playing video for a few minutes. Stop and go music playing is also painful as windows 8 disconnects from my headset when this happens. So if I listen to a song. Then stop playing music but didn’t disconnect my headset from my pc. But then play a song a minute or two later, the playback hick ups. To the point where you feel something may be wrong with your headset or pc. Then when I jump off to my windows phone (seamless experience) and come back to my PC later on, I can’t listen to anything without uninstalling my headset from the PC and reinstalling it. With no guarantee that it will work. As of the latest build, I can’t sync any stereo Bluetooth headset to my Windows 8 pc. I hate wires! I never listen to music with a wired headset. Except with windows 8 because Bluetooth is broken. BTW, I know how to turn Bluetooth on and off on a Mac and Windows 7. How do I switch it off in Windows 8?