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 Friday, January 17, 2014

Update:

Thanks to this post I learned something useful that addresses some of my concerns. Specifically that there is an “Xbox Music” app in the Windows Phone store that you can download for free. Rather than updating the built-in music app in the phone, they created a new one and nobody told me :)

This new Xbox Music app is pretty much comparable to the Windows 8 app, including the following:

  1. You can view music in the cloud, on the device, or both
  2. Playlists sync between WP8 and Win8

This addresses several of my complaints (around lack of playlists and playing every song twice).

It still doesn’t explain why the Xbox Music app on Win8 often mutes when it isn’t in the foreground (but sometimes works as expected). Nor does it alleviate the lack of music videos on the Xbox One compared to the 360.

But at least I can now use my phone to listen to music while at cardio rehab, and that was my single biggest desire.

Original:

I really like (or used to like) the Zune client and zune.net service, which were sort of renamed Xbox Music.

And even after the rename and changes the Xbox Music service is pretty good in some ways.

But there are some key things that are just plain broken – to the point I’m thinking about dropping the service. These are my complaints:

  1. On the Xbox 360 the Xbox Music app had something called “Smart VJ” that played music videos; this is gone on the Xbox One, thus eliminating the primary reason I used Xbox Music on the actual Xbox (there’s no VEVO app for Xbox One either, so basically no music videos available at all – good thing I still have my 360!)
  2. On Windows Phone 7 I could sync my music to the phone; on WP8 I can copy my music to the phone via the file system, but all my “cloud music” shows as duplicated on the phone, so I hear almost every song twice (or if there’s no data signal every other song errors out when the phone tries to play it) – basically the experience makes the phone virtually useless for music (some more info about the broken cloud music feature is here: http://winsupersite.com/article/windows-phone-8/windows-phone-8-tip-xbox-cloud-collection-144703)
  3. I have to create playlists for my phone on my phone, which is tedious at best, especially compared to creating a playlist on a computer; this problem didn’t exist in WP7 And thanks to the nasty cloud collection behavior, creating a playlist automatically is kind of useless for when I want to listen offline (like on an airplane, or when I’m at physical therapy in the basement of the hospital where there’s no cell service)
  4. There’s no “Smart DJ” feature on Windows 8 if you are offline – even if you have a couple thousand songs physically on your computer; the lowly Zune HD device didn’t have this problem, but my super-powerful and much more modern Surface Pro can’t pick its own music when offline?
  5. About half the time the Xbox Music app on Windows 8 mutes the sound when the app is in the background – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – seems pretty buggy to me

Basically, compared to the original Zune and zune.net behaviors the Xbox Music clients and service are a major step backwards.

Is anyone using some online/offline music service or player that does work on Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8? Something that:

  1. Creates smart playlists using music that’s on the device
  2. Doesn’t duplicate music that’s on the phone and is in the cloud (so doesn’t play every song twice)
  3. Doesn’t attempt to play cloud-based music while offline
  4. When online does give streaming access to a huge song library
  5. Plays music on Windows 8 without muting when the app is in the background (Pandora is broken like this, and Xbox Music is unreliable in this regard)
  6. Allows me to download otherwise-streaming music for a playlist if I want that music offline (one of the things Xbox Music does well)

I know I might be an outlier, wanting to listen to music when I have no data service (or when I don’t want to burn my cell data plan down). And maybe I should just get an iPod and be done with it – but then I’d have to install iTunes on my computer, and last time I did that I was far from satisfied either…

Windows 8 | WP8 | Xbox | Zune
Friday, January 17, 2014 10:06:33 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [5]  | 
 Friday, February 08, 2013

The strangest thing happened this evening.

My wife’s best friend is visiting and we’re watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report on the Xbox using Hulu Plus – catching up on our backlog of funny.

All of a sudden the TV goes blank, and then a picture appears on the screen. A picture from the friend’s phone.

WTF!?!

So we stopped watching the shows and figured out what was going on (sort of).

She has a Samsung phone – one of the ones that is a “rip off” of the iPhone, so it is a pretty nice smart phone. And her phone is on our wifi.

When looking at a picture on her phone there’s a button at the top of the screen that, when tapped, sends the photo to the Xbox. It literally takes over the Xbox and shows the picture. And you can pan through pictures on the phone and they each appear on the Xbox (TV) – the images streaming from the phone to the Xbox.

On one hand this is pretty cool, and I wonder why my Windows Phone can’t do this?

On the other hand, it is a little scary to think that she was just playing around with her phone and was able (albeit accidentally) to hijack my Xbox.

Talk about a connected world!

Friday, February 08, 2013 11:21:54 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
 Friday, December 10, 2010

Apparently music subscription services are struggling to gain traction

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/more-itunes-alternatives-can-a-subscription-music-service-ever-succeed/2770?tag=nl.e539

I can understand that, because I was an anti-digital-music person for a long time. My thought was that I had no reason to pay for a music subscription when radio was free.

Of course radio isn’t free, and over time (as I’ve gotten older?) I find the DJ dialog and commercials on radio to be increasingly annoying. To the point that radio costs way too much – there’s less music than drivel and I just can’t take it.

The other alternative is to buy CDs, rip them and create your own collection. That way you “own” the music. And certainly compared to buying digital MP3s it is better to buy the CD. I’ve “purchased” digital music several times over the years, and several times I’ve had the originating company go out of business and so the DRM locked me out of my “purchase”. And I’ve had hard drive failures, and so lost my “purchase”.

Sure, a CD can get scratched, but if you buy a CD, rip it and then only use the digital copy, you always have the pristine master source, even in the case of hard drive failure.

However, a CD costs around $12, and zune.net costs $15/mo. So I can buy around 12-13 CDs each year, or I can spend the same money to have access to a few hundred thousand songs. Even over my entire lifetime, at 12 CDs per year I’ll never get a collection the size I have access to via zune.net.

So radio is out (because it just sucks), and buying CDs isn’t really cost-effective.

But there are streaming services like pandora and last.fm and others. They are free, or at least cheaper than zune.net, so why not use them?

I used to use pandora, but it started getting pretty flaky with its song selections. Lately I’ve been using last.fm because they came with my xbox gold subscription (and zune.net didn’t until recently). I like last.fm, they do a good job and they stream to my xbox and my Windows Phone 7.

However, streaming services don’t work when I’m on an airplane, in a hotel (you never get good bandwidth in a hotel), in northern Minnesota camping or fishing, etc. Basically they are for city people who don’t travel, not for people like me who travel and/or spend a lot of time in rural areas.

So how does zune.net differ from things like radio, CDs or streaming services?

For about $15/mo you get this:

  1. Access to several hundred thousand songs via streaming
  2. 10 free purchases (DRM free) each month (basically I get to “buy” for free almost an entire album every month)
  3. Smart DJ, which does what pandora and last.fm do: creating a themed “radio station” drawing music from my personal library plus the entire zune library (those hundreds of thousands of songs)
  4. The ability to sync Smart DJ playlists to my zune device or Windows Phone – so that music is available when I’m entirely offline

So think about this. For just over the price of a CD I get (more or less) a CD’s worth of music I actually own each month. I figure that’s $10 of the $15 covered each month right there.

But more importantly, for my other $5/mo I get unlimited streaming just like pandora or last.fm – and in a form that works when I’m entirely offline like on an airplane or sitting on a lakeshore in far northern Minnesota where there’s no cell coverage, much less Internet.

(it is this pure offline feature that even iTunes doesn’t have – and why zune.net is (for me) the ultimate solution)

In the end, yes, I understand the arguments against paying a subscription fee for music. But when compared to the alternatives, it has become clear to me that none of those arguments really hold water. The zune.net service is pretty much the perfect way to consume music.

Windows Phone | WP7 | Xbox | Zune
Friday, December 10, 2010 10:59:08 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
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