Gamers who use Microsoft Xbox 360 for music have three big reasons not to ditch it in favor of Rdio, Spotify, or another music subscription, because as of today, the Xbox Music service works on iOS and Android devices, as well as on the web at music.xbox.com. These apps aren’t as full-fledged as the versions for Xbox or Windows 8, where Xbox Music is the default music player, but they’re robust enough to keep gamers who like music on Microsoft’s platform.
This represents a change of heart on the part of Microsoft, which previously offered Xbox Music only for its own devices. Users on those platforms can still access all of the millions of on-demand songs there for free — unlimited for six months, and then with 10 free hours per month after that. In order to use the mobile apps, one must subscribe to Xbox Music Pass for $10/month. And anyone can now use Xbox Music on the web, for free, even if they’re on a Mac with a non-Microsoft browser.
Microsoft also redesigned Xbox Music from the ground up, after someone at the company pointed out that it took as many as six clicks or taps to play a song. The new interface looks great, and is much simpler to use, with an interface that’s closer to that of Spotify or iTunes, replacing the 3D-ish interface of the previous version.
This is the new Microsoft we’ve been hearing so much about. This notoriously silo-ed company, which has countless divisions, brought representatives from multiple Microsoft sectors together to work on the new Xbox Music. One result of this approach: If you use Xbox Music on a Windows tablet or touchscreen laptop, you can activate a split-screen mode that puts your music experience on the right side — great for controlling music without having to tab back over to the other window. Also, if you have Xbox Music installed on your computer, any search for artists on Bing will return play buttons, right there on the web page.
“There’s been a few changes in the company over past couple months, and part of the reorganization, we changed our philosophy from we launched Xbox Music, [which was] ‘How can we get other divisions to sell music?’” Xbox Music general manager Jerry Johnson told Evolver.fm in a Manhattan interview. “We turned this around to see how music can make all of Microsoft’s products better… We believe this is the start of a new thing at Microsoft, to have music run through it.”
Another key change at Microsoft: the Xbox Music division now holds internal hackathons that occupy ten percent of employees’ time. During those periods, employees are encouraged to build creative new features on top of Xbox Music. In fact, the feature that puts Xbox Music play buttons on Bing was build by an intern at one of these hackdays (using artist name extraction technology from The Echo Nest, publisher of Evolver.fm), and it’s now an integral part of the public version of the app.