With Microsoft stepping back from the integrated experiences approach it previously pioneered, Windows Phone 8.1 will now offer standalone apps instead of hubs in some cases. Case in point, the Music + Videos hub, which has been split up into at least three separate apps: Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Podcasts. We looked at the latter yesterday, so let's see how the Xbox entertainment apps are faring this time around.
A couple of quick notes up front:
Check out Windows Phone 8.1 Preview: Podcasts for a look at the pre-release version of that app.
Xbox Music 1.5 and Xbox Video 1.5 are already shipping today for Windows Phone 8. If you've not checked them out yet, you should do so. The apps we see in Windows Phone 8.1—which are currently listed as being version Xbox Music 2.2 and Xbox Video 2.5—are of course updated versions of the apps you can get today. But there aren't many changes, at least not in this developer preview, especially from a functional standpoint.
Here's what's happening.
No Xbox branding. While the apps themselves still have prominent "Xbox Music" and "Xbox Video" headings, outside the apps things are different: They now appear as Music and Video, respectively, not Xbox Music and Xbox Video, respectively, on the Start screen and in Apps.
Same basic layouts. Like the Podcasts app, Xbox Music and Xbox Video both feature simple, two level UIs with an opening panoram and then pivot-based (app tabs) content UIs. The Xbox Music app has three panels in its opening panorama: Now Playing, Collection and Get Music, while Xbox Video has four: Spotlight, Collection, New TV and New Movies.
Here's the Music app's Top Albums pivot in Get Music.
Same content playback experiences. The onscreen playback controls in both apps are likewise identical to their predecessors.
Share. Like Podcasts, Music and Video both support Share.
Potential side-benefit. It remains to be seen how Microsoft will handle cross-app Microsoft account sign-ins with Windows Phone 8.1. One of the benefits of the integrated experiences in previous versions of Windows Phone is that you're automatically signed in to all these apps and hubs. But a potential side-benefit of the new approach is that you're not. So yes, it's a pain to sign in the first time, but you could potentially mix and match and use, say, one Microsoft account for your Xbox Games and other—which you share in your family—for Xbox Music and thus an Xbox Music Pass subscription. This is not definitely happening, but that's how it works now with the standalone Xbox Music and Xbox Video app today. Hey, I can dream.
If you're used to the Music + Videos hub, these new standalone apps are a bit of a change, but with a familiar Metro look and feel. But if you've been following along with the development of the standalone Xbox Music and Video apps, the transition should be pretty seamless. Overall, I'd say this is a welcome and correct change.