By Dina Bass
Microsoft's Internet music service will roll out starting Tuesday on Xbox and next week on computers with Windows 8, as the company looks to compete against Pandora Media and Spotify.
Xbox Music will offer free, unlimited advertising-supported streaming of music on computers and tablets. For those seeking access on the Xbox gaming console and mobile phones, the service costs $9.99 a month, said Scott Porter, principal program manager for the product.
Customers who prefer to buy music, rather than just playing it online, can also purchase albums and tracks. By offering music streaming and downloads, the world's largest software maker is betting it can attract users from Apple's iTunes and Amazon.com's music store, as well as listeners of streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody International.
"This gives Microsoft a strong music story which they've lacked for years and extends the Xbox brand to media and entertainment," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at market research firm Gartner Inc. "A free streaming service with ads every 15 or 20 minutes is pretty compelling. This is will put a lot of pressure on the Spotify's, the Rdio's and Pandora's."
The application will also be available on new handsets with Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 software, coming in November. Mobile apps for Apple's iOS and Google Inc.'s Android are planned for next year, Porter said.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft had already added television and sports content to its Xbox Live service in a bid to push into the consumer entertainment market.
Xbox Music features touch controls and the tile design of Windows 8. It will also be the default music service on the operating system. Customers who want to use the streaming service without ads on PCs and tablets will also have to pay $9.99 a month.
When a customer creates a playlist or downloads music on one device such as a PC, the account is automatically updated if they access it using a phone, tablet or Xbox because the data is stored in the cloud. That's an advance over Xbox Music's predecessor the Zune music service, Porter said.
Initially Xbox Music will lack some of the social features seen in a service like Spotify, which tells users what music their friends are listening to. While those will come next year, Porter said, Microsoft is also mulling how to make those features useful without "spamming" your friends with constant notifications about a user's listening choices.
The service will have a worldwide catalog of 30 million tracks, and in the U.S. there will be 18 million tracks available.