It's easy to forget that there is more to the Xbox brand than games. Particularly since the launch of the Xbox One console, Microsoft has developed its gaming brand as one that gives users anything they need in home entertainment, including TV and movie apps. There has even been methods to build on the gaming experience on the Xbox One - from live streaming to an overdue screenshot feature is coming in 2015. However, there is one feature that seems to be often overlooked: Xbox Music.
Xbox Music first rolled out in October 2012, and became Microsoft's replacement for the failed Zune service and devices. Initially revealed at the company's E3 2012 press conference, Xbox Music launched on Xbox 360, Windows Phone and PCs with Windows 8. Xbox Music was set as a competitor to music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and touted as combining free streaming, radio, subscription services and music purchasing options all in one system.
Now, Microsoft's music streaming service is undergoing a drastic change. Microsoft has announced that free streaming from Xbox Music will stop on December 1, 2014. Revealed on the Xbox website, the tech giant stated in an FAQ that the ad-supported free streaming feature would be "discontinued in all countries where it is offered." Instead of offering the free service, Microsoft will now focus on the "music purchase and subscription" side of Xbox Music.
Users will still be able to buy an Xbox Music Pass, which grants users unlimited music streaming for $10 a month. Microsoft is pushing Xbox Music users towards this model, including an offer of a free 30-day trial for anyone who wants it. The Xbox Music Pass allows users to download music for offline use (although not on Xbox consoles) and create playlists that automatically sync across all Xbox Music devices.
If you're currently an Xbox Music user, Microsoft was also able to give a brief guide to how this announcement will affect you. If you have purchased and downloaded songs through Xbox Music, never fear: those songs will remain available on your PC, tablet or phone. It will also not affect any mp3s that have been added to an Xbox Music collection. If you have created a playlist, radio station, or collection, they will remain available for use. However, you will need to either purchase the music or upgrade to a Xbox Music Pass to access them.
So what caused this change to Xbox Music? There are a number of possibilities. It may well be that a lack of user base has made Xbox decide to keep the service in a premium model. Although Xbox Music did grow to become available on other formats, such as iOS and Android devices, home PC use was still limited to the Windows 8 OS. Given the larger reach of streaming services like Spotify and purchasing services like iTunes, perhaps Microsoft felt they could get more bang for their royalty buck by going exclusively premium.
What do you make of the news? Are you a regular user of Xbox Music affected by this free service closure? Or do you feel that there is better competition for a music streaming service? Let us know in the comments below.