Microsoft released Xbox Music apps for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android today in order to expand the cross platform capabilities of their music subscription service once known as Zune Pass. The service has been available on Windows, Windows 8, Xbox 360, Windows Phone and the old Zune players since forever, but now you can finally use it on iOS and Android devices as well. How does the experience compare though? Is it just as good or not quite?
Xbox Music for iOS and Android
The new Xbox Music apps for iOS and Android are practically identical to each other… and absolutely nothing like the Windows 8 and Windows Phone versions. On iOS and Android, you’ve got basically 4 options: Search for music, Playlists, Collection, and Settings. The Playlists and Collection sections sync with your Xbox Music Pass cloud collection and allow you to stream any of your music that was synced from there. There is no option to download anything for offline listening. The Settings section basically has one option to turn off the app’s ability to use cellular data connections to stream music (so you have to use WiFi) as well as a “sign out” option and a link to managing Xbox Music devices on the web.
The Search field is where you can type in any type of search term you want and find music to stream or save to any of your playlists. Since you’re required to have an Xbox Music Pass to use the app at all, you’ve got unlimited access to streaming whatever type of music you can find. Unfortunately you can’t purchase any of the music you’ll find here. Nor is there a “Smart DJ” or “Xbox Radio” section.
Xbox Music on Windows Phone & Windows 8
The Xbox Music Pass support on Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets is naturally far superior (though still not nearly as good as it was in the Zune days). On Windows 8 and Windows Phone, with Xbox Music Pass you can search for music and download full albums for offline listening (or stream them if you want). You’ve also got the fantastic “Smart DJ” support which is also known as “Xbox Radio”. This feature allows you to choose an artist or album and create a Smart DJ playlist based on that style. It’s similar to how Pandora works except it can draw from your offline music collection as well as the extensive library of music in the store. Both Windows Phone and Windows 8 Xbox Music apps also support purchasing MP3s of full albums or individual songs though only Windows Phone still supports the grandfathered Music Pass plan that gives you 10 free song credits per month.
The Windows Phone and Windows 8 Xbox Music apps are oddly very different from eachother as well as completely different from their Android and iOS counterparts. Windows Phone keeps the music store as part of the Windows Phone store which makes sense, while Windows 8 only allows purchasing of music within the “Music” app… the Windows 8 Store app is only for buying software. Both sync your collection of music with the Xbox Music cloud collection though which makes your entire music library available for downloading or streaming on all of the devices associated with your account (that is if Xbox Music is able to match your MP3s with songs available in the store).
All of these Xbox Music apps still have yet t0 bring back many of the great features that were available in Zune years ago. For example, the “picks for you” feature is still missing. This was a recommendations service that monitored your listening habits and suggested other artists and music that you might like. The social aspect where you could share your listening habits with friends and also see and download whatever they were listening to is still absent as well. It’s unfortunate that Microsoft lost so many great features, but at least now if you’ve got an Xbox Music Pass, you can stream your collection on Android and iOS devices.