This blog post is part of a series of guest posts we’re publishing this week from different people in groups across Microsoft who helped us build Windows 8.1. – Brandon
Hey all, Alex Garden here. I’m the general manager for Xbox MVR, which stands for Music, Video and Reading. The Windows team invited me to highlight the work our team has put into Windows 8.1, specifically the awesome enhancements we’ve made and are continuing to make with Xbox Music & Video. Our team has a long history of working with Windows to deliver amazing entertainment experiences. For Windows 8, we were one of the first app developers to help validate and refine the platform for music and video apps. For Windows 8.1, we’re taking all we’ve learned, adding some new tricks and releasing our best products yet. While there are many awesome new video features our teams created together like playing TV and movies from Windows 8.1 to Xbox One, and Xbox 360, improved video downloading, and movie hero search, I am going to focus on how together we have transformed music for Windows 8.1.
Our team has completely re-imagined and rebuilt Xbox Music for Windows 8.1. After shipping the initial version of Xbox Music for Windows 8, we collected a ton of useful feedback from our customers on what was working for them, and where we needed to do better.
Many of our customers appreciated the Xbox Music service features like ad-supported free streaming, custom internet radio stations and the ability to take their music and playlists to different devices. At the same time, we didn’t hit the mark for ease of use and simplicity. By putting our streaming and internet radio features up front, we unintentionally made it tougher for customers to access their own collections. And once they got to their collections, many customers told us they wanted a better way to manage and curate the collection of MP3’s they have been building for many years.
We knew what customers had come to expect from a music service and we knew we had great cues on which to build on top. We created an entirely new user interface that blends the magic of modern design elements with the utility you have come to love in Windows.
As you can see, we have condensed what were 3 layers of the app into a simple, single page with clear callouts of our major app features – collection, streaming radio, the store and playlists. Moving between the features is as simple as clicking the title. In addition, playback controls are always visible on screen making it simple to pause the song you are listening to or skipping to the next one. We’ve tested this design with a lot of customers and out of the gate it is much more understandable and comfortable to use.
While it was an option before, now customers will launch straight into their collection by default. With platform improvements of Windows 8.1, we were able to build the rich album and artist views our customers were used to. Gone are the dull grey spreadsheet views, replaced by more beautiful grid view of album and artist art. Playlists are always visible in the left hand nav bar, making it simple to craft or kick off that perfect mix of music.
We set out to be a Windows showcase app, which means we designed and built the Music app to look great and be usable when in 50/50 or snapped mode. The app hides columns when a customer puts it into 50/50, and collapses the left nav bar to buttons as a customer scales down the window. Our improved snapped view is clearer and easier to use when a customer scales it down to minimum size. These investments allowed us to offer an amazing experience in portrait mode, which will undoubtedly be appreciated by our customers using the new, smaller form factor Windows 8.1 tablets.
Key to making this all happen was strong collaboration. To realize this new vision, we partnered closely with the Windows team throughout the development cycle on several important fronts.
A great music app is just as much about managing your personal collection of songs as it is about playing them back. We worked with Windows and the Mail app team to extend the modern design language to support these productivity-like scenarios. In particular, we worked to make sure it was easy to navigate between different areas of functionality, ensure large lists of content were intuitive to use, and complex commanding for collection management could be made simple. As a result, the new Music app has a greater information density, on-canvas commands and simplified navigation model.
In addition to being the default music player for consumers, we helped ensure the Windows platform is flexible enough to meet the needs of other entertainment app developers. We worked with Windows to add platform support for several features our customers told us they needed. For instance, new to Windows 8.1 is the ability to have music on an SD card show up in your music library, as well as the ability to manage the Music Library folders from within an app. These types of improvements make Windows better for all types of media apps.
The relationship between the teams was incredibly positive. We greatly benefitted from the design and engineering feedback from the Windows team, making our app simpler to use, better performing, and a great showcase of what’s unique and new with Windows 8.1. Windows benefitted by learning from our customers to improve both the user experience and platform for media scenarios.
Is it October 18th yet?! My team and I can’t wait for the release of Windows 8.1 and to unleash an all-in-one music service that can truly lead the industry. Check it out for yourself and let us know what you think. Explore the music store to see what’s hot. Discover new favorites with custom radio stations. Rock out while you surf the Web, get some work done or sling an upset bird around your screen. Play a song from the results page of a Bing search or pair your favorite playlist to a SkyDrive slideshow. Let music be your connector to all your Windows experiences.
Alex GardenGeneral ManagerXbox MVR
I'm excited to see Xbox music getting improved, but the full screen now playing view was my favorite thing about the app, and now its gone :-( Please bring it back - it was the one thing about the service that nobody else could do, and it was my Surface's favorite pastime at parties....
Ok, I have found 1 thing I absolutely LOVE about the new Xbox music 8.1 with my Xbox music pass. If I am on a web page in Internet Explorer that has a lot of music listed; festival pages, billboard chart etc... I can go to the charm bar and click the share icon and share to Music, and it creates a playlist in Xbox music of every song in the store by the artists listed on the web page. WOW. This is really sweet.
I would be a little nicer if I could explore new music better from within the store but the is not only an acceptable replacement it means my playlists can come from any web page in the world!
I have to go make more playlists now...
Oh...bye the way this may only be a handicap for people like me who have XBOX Music pass and actually want to use it mainly to play music from the store since that is how we have to browse the XBOX collection of music. If I was just using it to play music from my collection I can see how the improvements in that area would please people, but I just care about the music I have available to play in the store.
That which seams to have been taken away with the update is so blinding I do not, at this point, care about the improvements. What I liked doing in the old music app store was going into "Top Artists" or "Top Songs" to browse. They seem to have been removed and all that is left is a "Top Albums" section that is limited to 200 albums in the "All" section. Seriously? I want to quickly and easily browse and play all current popular music to add to my collection and this feels like a huge handicap for my listening style. This makes it much harder for me to randomly browse all of the titles in the Xbox library. I am very disappointed. I need MORE choices of how to browse and play music not LESS.
Why on earth should I send all my music to the Microsoft cloud instead of listening it from my nas? No way to use network shares, are you kidding? Winrt seems to be more open than apple, but all applications are so crippled and restricted to Microsoft that they are more useless than anything.
Xbox music: deleted / Xbox video: deleted ...
Dear Xbox Executives Who Approved Deprecation of Zune Software and Chose Not to Rebrand It: You should be fired. Yesterday. No joke.
Let me add my voice to the chorus of disapproving comments about how Xbox Music is a massive downgrade from Zune syncing to our old windows phones. Don't take it from us, JUST READ YOUR OWN FAQ on how to sync to WP8 devices:
I dare you to read every single word and understand it. And USE it every day and not tear your eyeballs out.
I nearly returned my Lumia 920 because I had expected to consolidate to one device and get rid of my trusty brown Zune. Alas, I love my Zune experience so much I couldn't get rid of the brown Zune because my Lumia could not replace it due to this stupid Xbox Music experience. Which is great on a tablet, btw, but on a desktop and for WP users, IT SUCKS EGG.
Now, compare that to my own FAQ on how to sync a windows phone 7 or zune device to Zune software and how to view, manage and play all the media on your PC:
1. Launch Zune pc software
2. Connect your device via USB cable to your PC
3. Watch the magic happen. If this is the first sync, go through Settings and customize to your liking.
That's it. My mom figured this out, btw. It's better than the iTunes experience. You think my mom could figure out the official FAQ? I can't even figure it out nor is there enough patience in the world to get the hang of it, and I used to work for MS as a product manager and consider myself fairly technical.
Seriously, you're all fired. Go away already and let those passionate about this experience to run the show.
First, I want to say thanks for your hard work in making improvements Xbox Music. It's better, but...
You really need to improve the ability to search and sort our collections and be able to build playlists from the sort. It's a database, isn't it? I like the new graphics but this isn't 1975 - I'm not in my friend's bedroom browsing the albums and choosing who to listen to by the album art.
I hate to sound like a broken record (pun intended!), but Zune was better! I don't want to workout or go running with my phone, it's too big. I would love to use my Zune but can't download new music to it. Do I have to load iTunes (ugh)? I bet I can still download music to the iPods I bought before Zune and they'll work!
Keep working on it. Please. I speak glowingly about the Surface and Windows 8 to my friends and even push the benefits of an Xbox Music pass, but cringe if they ask details about managing the music collection.
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perfect example of awful support of the world of mice/desktops...playlists on the left, and I have many. Songs are playing on the right. Then I search for a song I know I have, the results list displays in the right window. now, I simply want to add that song from the right results list to one of the playlists I can see on the left?! drag and drop has more or less ceased to exist in windows 8..ok fine I will click the little + sign on the song, to add to playlist..a new window pops up and now I have to scroll all the way through the list of playlists to find the playlist I want....which is still visible in the left window, taunting me. awful. I get needing to support touch but I think it could be done without experiences like this. at least give the new playlist window a way to sort or sort as I type features...but really just give me back drag and drop
Another Zune-was-"it" advocate here, so won't repeat what many wrote well and clear below, even when I feel strongly about it, as they do too.
One point I would like to repeat-rant about is about the difficulty Xbox Music gives to simply list all the music that exists on the computer itself. No external drives, no server, no cloud. Local storage, containing several folders of Music, all included in the (desktop-mode access only) Libraries music files, are just not being picked up by the app. Zune, still installed on my desktop side, just lists it all, out of the box (pun?).
The Xbox Music app don't listen to the computer, same as Microsoft seems to (not) do to its Zune fan base.
Afraid I have to echo many of the comments here. The emphasis on *your* music is certainly an improvement over the original which basically was a storefront, but there is just so much still degraded from Zune. There's been so much time and features lost, it's one thing if this was your first integrated music player/storefront, but you *had it already* - Zune took a while to get the software up to snuff, but you finally did it.
As a WP8 user coming from WP7.5 as well, it's doubly frustrating. A platform upgrade should not result in a significantly downgraded experience, and music on Windows Phone is just an exercise in frustration, especially considering the byzantine process of just getting your music on the phone (and the desktop Sync app is atrocious).
The interface for Xbox Music has improved in 8.1, but for mouse and keyboard users you're still treated like a second class citizen compared to your tablet counterparts (you know, those 3 people). When I'm trying to match up song titles for cloud storage (frequently not even possible considering the desert that is the Xbox Music database), why are the song titles and the list cut off due to the small window available to make these changes, when I have so much more space on my monitor to see everything in full? Why is there no drag and drop? Where's the attractive artist Now Playing full-screen that Xbox Music in 8.0 and Zune provided? Why when I click Properties to find out where on the disk a file is located, it just dumps me into the top folder hierarchy of my music collection - how does that help me find the file? Editing of metadata? Any way to use my own album art instead of the usually mismatched guesses from the Xbox music database?
Folks, if the Zune app was re-branded with Xbox and maintained/updated, there would be little cause for complaint. A tablet-focused app like this would be acceptable on that type of device.
But that of course isn't happening. Zune is now being deprecated, so how many years do we have to wait for Xbox music to catch up in interface and functionality to a several-year old product? It's just bizarre how much re-engineering now has to occur to basically recreate a product that looked and operated like a much more polished future version of this. I just don't get the reasoning here - if there is any.
Another thing I've been wondering: when will the WP8 version of Xbox Music get improvements? With even semi-large collections, the app is extremely laggy comparing between my old Lumia 900 with Zune and my Lumia 920 with Xbox Music. I could have the same ~10Gb of music, and the Zune app on the Lumia 900 just flies through everything, smooth as ever. The Xbox Music app on my Lumia 920 on the other hand...lags on pretty much every tap.
The worst - Lumia 520 with a 64Gb SDXC (UHS-1) card that's filled with music...literally takes 5 seconds minimum to get anywhere. Don't even think to press on "Play All"...that leaves you with an unusable device for a good 5 minutes. There clearly something wrong with the app - I've no doubts Zune would have handled this situation FAR better.
Honestly, it's definitely getting better - and the aesthetics are fine now. I'm actually finding myself wanting to use it, but only for listening to music.
Unfortunately, it still doesn't compare to Zune...I still can't believe you guys just scrapped everything from Zune. What a waste. Where are the auto-playlists...? Syncing to WP8 phones? Wireless Syncing? How about the age-old Liking/Disliking songs? Seriously - these are things that should have been there right from the start.
You guys are focusing way too much on aesthetics, especially when you already had Zune which was already borderline perfect. Not to mention, you ignore users' real requests and decide to keep going on without implementing things that were already there in your older music players. It's ridiculous, and seems like you just enjoy wasting time.
The least you could do is let us sync music with Windows Phone 8 devices...or better yet, enable syncing with Zune while you work on this little side project. Having a separate app just to sync things to our phones makes absolutely no sense - who in the world thought that was a good idea?
I just really hope these long-requested functionalities come soon. I'm sure we all like what you're doing with the looks of it all - but that's not just not what we're asking for. Function before form, c'mon!
It is a huge improvement, the app is now usable with a mouse. Win 8.1 as a whole has made the right-click useful again, though it could be even better. I know your tired of hearing it but, I will say it anyway, the Zune app was "it". I understand if you needed a new UI but to ignore the base features Zune had for the day 1 release of Win8 was just foolish or bad decision making.
I feel the xbox music developers are ignoring the base line user scenarios. Or there are some tests are way to narrow. I want to easily organize and play my music on my hard drive. basic stuff. The streaming blah blah is cool but that is way secondary for me and especially for my kids, and my wife who is non-technical but loves music.
The most "technical" thing I am trying to do is use music on a large external USB hard drive. I have music that I can see on the hard drive but the music app never "sees" it. I can even right click a song and choose to play in the music app...which works but it is never something I can add to a playlist. Is it some sort of indexing issue with the music app? the music is a sub folder of a parent folder that is part of the "library". some of the music in the various sub folders shows up, but much does not. is it an indexing issue? if so is there a way to tell the app to index everything NOW. I get the feeling it does bits and pieces. maybe if I leave the computer on for 2 days it will index everything.
I assume there will a round of mini updates now for the 8.1 app and maybe it will incrementally get better.
Still got tons of issues. The biggest for me are the lack of support for NAS / Non-Windows file servers, and the way VoIP is handled.
It seems MS understand that people are moving towards low-capacity devices, but in the same swoop are happy to ignore consumer's solutions to it. They surely can't expect home users to shell out for Windows Server (and be able to manage it) for the sake of on-server indexing! There is no feasible way for average consumers to be expected to locally cache their entire library for the sake of indexing. I honestly don't see why indexing is such a requirement given that WMP has been able to play fine with non-indexed network locations for years!
As for VoIP- the WinRT audio system automatically assumes I want to almost mute my audio simply because I make or receive a call. Apparently MS didn't consider the use-case scenario involving a separate headset and amplifier with independent volume controls. At the very least they should offer a setting to decide what happens when making or receiving calls- oh wait, they do offer such a setting, however with it being under the desktop all WinRT applications ignore it! Come on guys, sort it out!
Where are the album reviews? Where are the liner notes? ITunes has that feature. How come I can only see about 50 albums when I browse a genre of music? When I'm looking for music, say Jazz, I don't see all the Jazz albums available in Xbox music. You could do that in Zune. Software is still a little slow and clunky.
I'm still not able to use this app or I'm not finding what I'm looking for:
1. How do I download songs using my Zune/Xbox Pass?
2. Does this music player recognize Windows Phone or do I need to change apps to send music and playlists to my phone?
Great work! Huge improvements to the app and very nice modern UI.
Thank you for the attempted improvements to the Windows 8 music experience. But I must tell you, the features and functionality that Zune and the Zune desktop software had put the new Music application to shame.
* Smart Playlists - how can a modern day music application NOT have this?!?! I think we'd have to go back 10 years to a time when auto/smart playlists were first introduced.
* Social aspect - seeing friend's favorite artists, seeing my own play count for my favorite artists, etc. had so much potential. That whole social thing was already hooked into my Xbox friends list.
* Wireless sync - you had this working in Zune before anyone else. Now iPhone has something like this, but WP8 doesn't. Customers who upgraded from WP7 have given up so many cool features - it's sad.
I understand that the Zune desktop software in it's current state isn't touch-friendly, but it seems that a touch-friendly UI could have been created to access the existing Zune's catalog, playlists, metadata, likes, dislikes, album art, etc.
From a Zune customer's standpoint, you didn't simply re-brand Zune to Xbox Music like you originally said (Zune is becoming Xbox Music). You disowned your Zune child, and thought your second child would be better liked than the first. That's bad parenting.
The real problem at Microsoft is Metro. Metro has constrained them so much, or they have constrained their self to Metro so much with this dumb rectangular square UI and have caused them to screw up all their UI to fit this silly paradigm.
So...I don't know anyone who doesn't organize their personal music collection is a grid-like/spreadsheet manner. I want to be able to have my collection in a grid where I can see and sort by artist name, bmp, album, date, bmp, etc. So if you say that you doing away with the grid-like/spreadsheet view...it just doesn't make any sense to me. No one wants to horizontally scroll through square metro blocks looking for what to play next. Don't even suggest searching as a way to overcome this, because most times, ppl don't even know what they want to play next, so having all their music listed in a grid view is very very very important.
Really, this was the worst thing that happened with Windows product cycle.
I don't understand why, but still getting worse since the Zune shutdown.
We, users, lost a lot of usability(ex.the terrible search inside the app), and I have see a lot of users complaining about the usability and functions of the App, but looks like Xbox Music team still don't listen the users.
I really love Windows 8.1, but this App is terrible ... I prefer to use the web player since last change in Windows 8.1 and I really thinking to change to another music subscription platform if this App don't really get some decent usability and performance improvements.
This new app is like Windows Vista: you are investing a lot of effort to try to deliver things that user does not want, and remove things that we love. The best thing to do is build a new App from the ground!
As a former Zune/WP7 user, Xbox Music and WP8 Music have been the greatest disappointments Microsoft has delivered in a long time. Looking at the screenshots provided above, it would appear XBM still pales in comparison. I don't know what customers you have talked to, but it is clear that the team does not listen to the comments on the uservoice sites that support always directs us to.
Seriously, just give us back features we already had and stop writing about how any of this is an actual improvement.
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It's XBOX Music... please bring back the Zune "Achievements", social, and other things we lost. They seem even more appropriate to *XBOX* Music than they did for Zune.
There are still way too many features (gapless playback, achievements, etc.) that were present in Zune and Zune Software that are still missing from Xbox Music apps (phone, Win8, etc.). Anyone remember and love "Smart Playlists"?
There's a rich vein to mine there, functionality and features that was already there. Being able to rack up achievements was "fun", as well as allowing you to easily find other people who love the same bands/musicians you love, and then discover music by seeing what ELSE they loved. It was pretty awesome, and it's sad it's all just gone.
More and better meta-data editing, tagging, 5-star ratings, better organization and sorting (why can't I get "Album order by Artist" which is pretty much the default display organization for other platforms), easier ability to create new playlists on the fly and manage existing playlists (and have them sync across devices), better podcast management (this is a real deal-breaker for a LOT of people)...
And when it comes to matching, I'm always stunned at what rather mainstream albums are missing from the Xbox Music collection. I really wish you could fill those holes, or allow people to direct you to try and fill holes... and give better feedback when a given album or song cannot be matched (right now "nothing happens", so you have no real reason why your rather mainstream album isn't available in the cloud).
And speaking of that last issue, being able to upload unmatched tracks/albums/artists to SkyDrive and stream them from the cloud just like any other Xbox Music with Xbox Music Pass... would be awesome. When's that coming?
in the app, click choose where we look and add your network location. I don't remember if you see any warnings or not, since it's been a while.
then right click anywhere and you should see "open file" at the bottom.
when I click on that, all of my folders are displayed, but I don't remember if I had to do anything else, as I said it's been a while and I don't use the app.
ad I also have no idea why I have to click to select a song, and then go to the bottom right hand corner of my screen and select open. why doesn't a double click play the song?
Now that you've worked on xbox music could you work on the desktop programs such as media player that have been in need of a new update years ago?
I have one question. Why is the Music app's tile orange? It's ridiculous. Please change the tile and splash screen to xbox green, like it should be.
Seconding (or thirding) the ability to use music stored on a NAS. I have a lot of music that I don't want to have duplicated on my PC just so it can be indexed and added to a library. This seems counter to the idea that all data should be stored in the cloud and not locally on a single PC.
I'm with Gary, not being able to play music from a NAS in inexcusable.
Gary what "hoops" did you have to jump through to play music from a server? I've yet been able to so switched to Media Monkey's "modern" app.
No doubt that Xbox Music one of the biggest disappointments of the Windows 8 cycle. I remember installing it with great anticipation and having my hopes immediately dashed. I will certainly give it another chance in Windows 8.1, but what is still working against you is that you have not introduced a device that competes with Apple TV 2. I use Apple TV 2 to stream my music from my Windows PC to my home theater system, and now that I have it, I occasionally rent movies on it. That cost me $99 and it is the essence of simplicity to set up and use. Clearly, Microsoft could take the gaming guts out of Xbox and sell a home entertainment device for much less than the cost of the Xbox game console to pick up the low end. That's what it's going to take to pry iTunes out of my hands.
Nice is all i can say. From XBxmusic in 8.0 to XBx music 8.1 what a difference. Cant wait for the 18th to update my machines.. I did see some features that were removed or features that can be tweaked IMO:
1: Why get rid of Bio page , was awesome feature. Nice to read about artist while playing
2.When "Now playing" " is active , it takes up 1/2 the screen and artist are sometime not even seen, just top of heads. Make it like zune, "Now Playing" will disappear after 10-15 seconds leaving artist background in full and then reappear with any mouse or keyboard movement. Enable or disable this feature
3.Bring back live tile on WP8. Was nice to see last artist played on tile, instead of constant geen tile.
Overall Awesome update
Thanx for an awesome application.
Important: 1. Please do *not* mess w/ my carefully curated metadata/tags; turn off the update info by default. 2. Use my embedded hi resolution album art, I don't want to see your 200px mismatched folder.jpg foolishness, ever. 3. Allow creation of 'date added' based playlists (w/in 1 day, 7 days, 30 days etc.) so I can always quickly find and play my new music. 4. Allow those date added playlists to be wirelessly synced to my Nokia 920 along with the appropriate songs. 5. Do some load testing to handle extra large local music collections, I'm talking about 160K songs. 6. Search 'in app' in your collection should be as quick or quicker than searching from the OS level for files.
That looks great and i think with my new surface i'll really enjoy xbox music. I propose your next challenge is Xbox Music/Video on Windows Phone. As 'Kit' mentioned, the unsatisfying ability to manage podcasts is bad.
A good solution would be if we could add URLs to the Podcast directory in 'Music' on the phone.
We should also have the ability to listen to xbox music ad-based streaming radio. And please change that gray background.
The service is really nice and I've been using the new Music app on Windows 8.1 Preview for some time now, but I can't stand the low resolution images of the artists on the live tiles. Fix that please, it ruins the beauty of the experience on Windows and Windows Phone. Seriously.
I think it's pretty useless, myself. can't even play the music on my server without jumping through hoops. some ridiculous error about the location cannot be index? come on. media player has been around for over a decade and it works just fine.
all you want is for people like me to spend more money to listen to music that we already own.
not a chance, media player is fine.
Please open up podcast for international markets, it is a shame that we can't wireless download it without going through the hoops or third party applications.
.will user in countries that don't have xbox music be receiving the same kind of functionality from this app?