Microsoft Hits the Restart Button With Xbox Music

Microsoft is officially unveiling all the details today about its new music subscription service that will work across a variety of devices.

Xbox Music will start rolling out tomorrow on the game console, replacing the Zune marketplace, and on Oct. 26 it will be baked into more devices as part of the Windows 8 launch.

Xbox Music will be familiar to consumers who use other streaming music services, like Spotify and Rdio. From the start, it will have access to more than 30 million songs globally and 18 million in the U.S. It’s launching in 15 countries.

A free ad-supported version will allow users to manage their entire music catalog from their PC and supplement it with an online catalog that is streamed over the Internet. Users will be able to skip from track to track, create playlists or listen to an album without restrictions (at least for the first six months). A premium version will cost $10 a month and will work across PCs, the game console and Windows 8 phones.

Both services will allow the user to purchase songs a la carte for about 99 cents each, or use the Smart DJ feature, which will let consumers discover new music based on their interests.

Xbox Music was first announced last June and, since then, a lot of the details have been spilled, but nonetheless, this represents an important launch for Microsoft. It is the first significant investment it has made in music since the launch of Zune five years ago, and this time it hopes it has come up with a winning formula, given the company’s intense interest in owning the home entertainment space. Digital music is something that Apple has so clearly dominated that others, like Amazon, can be fairly successful and still only make a small dent in its market share.

Next year, Microsoft will also launch apps for iOS and Android devices, which will require the premium version, but obviously will extend the potential consumer base beyond those who are only willing to own Windows devices.

In an interview, Scott Porter, Xbox Music’s principal program manager, said over time, “music became work, and we wanted to make it an enjoyable experience again.”

From a Windows 8 tablet, Porter showed me how you can easily play music after searching for an artist, or how you can create playlists without a lot of dragging and dropping. The free version, he estimated, would play advertisements every two to five hours, which is the standard created by other music servies. With the paid version, though, Porter said users will be able to stream or download songs, and back up their entire music collection to the cloud, which can then be accessed on the phone or other devices.

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