Conversation Piece: Microsoft + Music – An emotional roller coaster!

When I got my Microsoft MVP award, in 2008, it was for Zune – arguably, Microsoft’s biggest foray into the music services space. It had everything, I loved about music, as a medium: ways to discover new music and support artists, a community built around sharing and discussing music, and a way for you to show your love for the music that you listen to (Zune Social profiles).

Even the devices ended up on the sexy side – well, once you got past that brick of a first device. v2 and the Zune HD were wonderfully designed music players, that complimented the service very well.

In 2018, through several changes, fits, and starts, that’s all gone, and in its place is well…

First, let’s step back:

This is one of my favorite Zune ads (a close second would be the “Stacks” ad, using N.E.R.D. to sell Zune Pass). Zune had a startup flavor to it, it felt like it was a team that had gone rogue within Microsoft. They were the scrappy skateboard kids to Microsoft’s stuffy corporate shirts.

I loved them for that.

Then things began to fall apart. iPod was already a major thing, and Zune could never catch up to them. Sure, Zune had great things going for it (and I would argue that A LOT of what Zune did then, is considered baseline needs in music services, today) but it was never going to take down the Goliath that is Apple iPod and iTunes.

So, Zune started to slow down. After waffling about whether or not Zune was really going away, Microsoft decided to introduce Zune with a new coat of paint… at E3, of all places.

The strategy here seemed sound, enough: Xbox was becoming Microsoft’s biggest consumer success, so why not tie all entertainment to this brand. There was Xbox Video and Xbox Music. Looking back at it, it probably should’ve stayed with this labeling. Playstation Video and Playstation Music are still a thing, so maybe this branding was let go way too soon.

During the days of Xbox Music we were given one of the coolest pieces of innovation: OneDrive integration. Now, when you put music into a folder in OneDrive, Xbox Music could stream it. That, combined with Xbox Music Pass, meant you could have all of today’s popular music and your exclusive, special stuff in one place. 

But people became confused by the naming. The biggest question, I got as an MVP, was whether you needed an Xbox to take advantage of something called Xbox Music. 

And so, Xbox Music – as a name – didn’t sustain, and in yet another major shift to the service, we were given Groove Music.

By this point, from Zune to Groove, lots about Microsoft’s approach to music servicing had changed. There was no more community component (the biggest piece of Zune, something that was non-existent in Xbox Music), instead of tying it to Xbox (as part of a grouped entertainment strategy) it was tied to Windows, as part of a group of included apps (Xbox Video became Movies & TV), and it was going to carve its own path, and not so much *compete* with the likes of iTunes, anymore.

So, through all of that, where’s Groove now?

Well, Microsoft last year discontinued the Groove Pass music subscription service piece of it. I remember when Zune first introduced this, and people scoffed at the idea of paying monthly for music. Now people pay monthly for Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL, Amazon Music, you name it. Yet, Microsoft couldn’t keep up with the costs associated with keeping the service intact.

Groove also implored people to migrate all of their content over to Spotify. That’s great for Spotify, because now they have their hooks into the music services for both Xbox and Playstation – nice work, if you can get it.

Groove, the app, is now a shell of what it was, and what it could’ve potentially become. There’s still the OneDrive integration, which is great, but that’s pretty much it. I’m struggling to figure out how I could sell anyone on the idea of using Groove for anything.

I will go on record and say that Groove Music continues to have the prettiest now playing screen of any music service allowed on the TV:

But, really, why is Groove still around? For that matter, why can you still download and install Zune 4.8? Why is Windows Media Player still a thing? Either fully retire some of these things or roll them into one thing.

Frankly, I say retire all of it, and go full-steam into the Spotify partnership. Spotify is doing well for itself. Like I stated, it’s the backend service for Playstation Music, and they also partnered with Hulu to offer a dual subscription for people.

Make Spotify the music service piece of the included apps, maybe offer Spotify Premium as part of a premium Xbox Live or Office 365 package, work with their programmers to get the OneDrive integration working over there, and (for goodness sake) help them do something about their now playing screen on Xbox.

Right now, my one-two punch for music is Apple Music and iHeartRadio. When I’m feeling somewhat nostalgic, I’ll open Groove, but that nostalgia doesn’t remain that long.

My ears have moved on. What say you?

P.S. If you would like to know what music services are currently available, for Xbox One, click here (and scroll to the bottom).

Author: Marques Lyons

We should all view today as another chance to better tomorrow. Microsoft Xbox MVP. Fitbit user. Wokeish. Music connoisseur. Disney enthusiast. UC Irvine alum.

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