One of the oddities I've discovered in preparing the second edition of "Paul Thurrott's Xbox Music" is that the Windows Phone 8 experience was by far the least full-featured of any of the platforms supported by the service. But with the release of a standalone Xbox Music app for Windows Phone 8 today, Microsoft's mobile platform jumps from last to first, and Windows Phone users can now enjoy the best smart phone experience for Xbox Music anywhere.
I had expected Microsoft to make this change eventually, but I wasn't expecting Xbox Music to ship on Windows Phone 8 this quickly. This will impact the creation of the book—see An Early Look at "Paul Thurrott's Xbox Music" 2.0 for a recent update—but I couldn't be happier. With this release, Xbox Music on Windows Phone is much more consistent with the other mobile Xbox Music experiences—Windows 8.1, iOS/Android, and the Web version too—and is a huge improvement over the lackluster Music + Videos experience that Microsoft bundles with Windows Phone 8.
The issue isn't so much that Music + Videos is "bad" but rather that it hasn't kept up with the quickly advancing Xbox Music platform. By making Xbox Music available as a separate app, Microsoft can now provide Windows Phone users with a full-featured Xbox Music experience that can at last keep up with the platform itself.
As with the iOS and Android versions of the app, however, you'll need an Xbox Music Pass to use the Xbox Music app. I feel that anyone who is serious about Xbox Music will want/need this subscription, but at least be aware of the requirement.
From a user experience perspective, Xbox Music looks and works much like the newly-released Xbox Video app and provides a similar experience to Xbox Music for Windows 8.1, Web, iOS and Android. But it uses native Windows Phone 8 user interface controls, with a main view that pivots between a Collection list, a Store pane ("Get Music") and Now Playing. It's a nice UI.
More to the point, it's also a full-featured app. You get the expected Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, Playlists, and Radio views, and you can search both your collection and the Store. You can segregate the view easily between music that is in your collection (in the cloud) and just on the device.
But the big deal is that it all works now. You can actually add music to your collection from the Store, a feature missing in Music + Videos.
Of course, by segregating Xbox Music from the other audio/video capabilities in Music + Videos, you're losing integration with podcasts, audiobooks and other music services, and Windows Phone partisans will note that Microsoft here is somewhat backstepping from integrated experiences to standalone apps. This is a fair observation. But as with the move to Windows Phone apps that mimic the look/feel of those apps on other platforms—like Facebook, Untappd and many others—and eschew Windows Phone-specific features, I think the good outweighs the bad. That is, Windows Phone offered a terrible (and perhaps as important, inconsistent) Xbox Music experience. Until today. This app is an important addition.
I'll be spending a lot more time with this app, as you'd expect and will of course include it in the coming Paul Thurrott's Xbox Music 2.0 release. As with Xbox Video, I'm happy to have this app.