by Alastair Stevenson - v3.co.uk - 15 Oct 2012
Microsoft has unveiled another new service aimed at wresting market share from Apple, this time in the digital media space, with Xbox Music pitched as a clear challenge to Apple's iTunes store.
Microsoft unveiled Xbox Music on Monday, mere weeks before the release of its first own-brand tablet, the Surface, also seen as an attempt by the firm to battle against Apple's roaring success in the tablet space.
Microsoft's Xbox Music service will include a free streaming music service that will offer users free on-demand access to tens of millions of songs.
Customers will also be able to pay £8.99 per month for an Xbox Music Pass which grants ad-free access to the entire subscription catalogue, a pound less than the same offering from Swedish firm Spotify.
Traditionally, Microsoft has struggled to capture the digital media market from competitors, with its Zune service made up of significantly less users than iTunes.
This is mainly due to the low market share of tablet and smartphone devices running Microsoft's operating systems.
Despite these past failures, analysts were fairly optimistic about Xbox Music's ability to help boost sales of the flagship Windows RT Surface tablet.
"Windows 8/RT, which includes Surface, requires a compelling music service," Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told V3.
"By creating an unlimited streaming service for Windows 8, Microsoft not only shows that there's differentiation, but also value in that differentiation."
Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom said Microsoft fans would also be keen to use a tool from the firm for their music services, rather than a rival's platform.
"For those who do go the whole Microsoft hog (PC, tablet, phone), iTunes won't be their tool of choice anyway, so the Xbox set of tools will be the core for them," he told V3.
Beyond this, though, Longbottom questioned Xbox Music's ability to compete with Apple's existing iTunes service, particularly as many people already have so much invested in the platform.
"With iTunes having been around for so long, unless there is some means of moving a person's music over, it means that users are likely to stick with iTunes," Longbottom argued.
"Microsoft has got its work cut out in trying to get people to dump Apple kit and go for its Windows family."
Xbox Music will initially be released on the Xbox 360 games console on Tuesday, before later being rolled out on to the company's Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 operating systems when they're released later this year.
The service also features its own music store and a scan-and-match feature similar to Apple's iTunes Match.