It’s been clear for some time now that UIs have been moving towards a more simplified, graphically-based approach. Microsoft has done surprisingly well in the last couple of years to adjust to this new market focus, beginning with its moderately successful Windows Phone 7 mobile OS.
Soon, Microsoft will not only be launching its re-visioned Windows 8, but a rebuilt mobile OS in Windows Phone 8 and a new, unified, cross-platform ecosystem for all of its major products, including PCs, tablets, smartphones and even the Xbox 360 and its eventual successor, whatever that turns out to be.
In the past week or so, Microsoft has started churning out TV ads for the Microsoft Surface and Windows 8 separately (the upcoming Surface is the RT version, not the Windows 8 version that will be released later this year). Social media support for the Surface has begun in full force on both Facebook and Twitter, and Xbox Music officially replaced Zune Pass, putting an end to a great product that had been slowly dying for some time now.
Here’s a more detailed look at what’s happened so far in no particular order:
Windows 8 Commercial and Advertised Launch Date
Microsoft released its first TV commercial for Windows 8 with the tagline “Windows reimagined”. The ad presents a more ‘hip’ vibe than Microsoft users may be accustomed to, but that’s all part of the new look.
The advertisement finishes with a date: the 26th of October, which is when Windows 8 is set to launch.
Windows 8 Pre-orders Begin
New versions of Windows have always come at a price, literally. The cost of upgrading from one Windows OS to the next has always been high enough to give most users pause, or the inclination to think of reasons to put off making the upgrade for as long as possible. Thankfully, Microsoft has seen the light and Windows 8 is significantly cheaper than its predecessors.
It’s still not as cheap as recent OSX updates, but we’re certainly not complaining.
Microsoft Surface Commercials
The flagship Windows 8 and Windows RT tablet, the Microsoft Surface, began its social media campaign with both Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as a now international graffiti campaign. It also now has a new TV commercial that continues the jubilant theme seen in the earlier Windows 8 ad. It’s a far cry from the original Microsoft Surface ad we saw back when it was announced, which goes for more of a cold, sleek kind of impression.
The Surface also features in an advertisement for the new series of popular TV show: The Walking Dead.
The Launch of Xbox Music
Xbox Music is a revamped version of Microsoft’s varyingly popular Zune service. We’ve mentioned more than once how much of a fan we are of subscription-based services with specific regards to Zune Pass and, while we’re sad to see Zune go, it looks like Xbox Music will offer an even better experience.
Xbox Music will be available on Xbox, Windows 8 PCs, Windows 8 tablets and WP8 smartphones. It already boasts over 30 million tracks and will initially launch in 22 countries, with new regions opening up every year.
One of the reasons for our love of Zune Pass is that it was one of the first major products that offered music as a subscription-based service, rather than charging for every single download. Users could pay around $12 per month (prices varied depending on region and when you signed up) for unlimited access to the Zune Marketplace’s music content. Unlike many of its at-launch competitors, the Zune Pass content could be downloaded on to a computer, meaning that users didn’t have to stream every time they threw on some tunes.
Eventually Zune Pass made its way to Windows Phone 7 and, with the added portability of smartphone support, became a fully-fledged and well-rounded subscription service.
One thing Zune Pass was always lacking was 3rd party support. An unfortunate reality of the service was that it was not available on Android or iOS devices. While this will remain true with Xbox Music initially, Microsoft has indicated that support for other devices will be coming later this year.
Xbox Music seeks to mirror Zune Pass in terms of subscription-based content, but is a feature of the new cross-platform Microsoft ecosystem. As such it will have a greater potential user base right off the bat, allowing for not only a larger library of content, but also the introduction of new social features.
We’ve already seen the social media side of subscription music services work with products like Spotify, so hopefully Microsoft will be able to enter the game late and still grab a piece of the pie. We’re not 100% sure that this will work, given the almost non-existent state of Windows Live, but the introduction of the console user base may be just the boost Microsoft needs.
The Rebirth of Xbox
Xbox has always been the name of Microsoft’s gaming console range. Non-console gamers rarely had cause to encounter the name “Xbox”, unless they were Windows Phone 7 owners and visited the WP7 gaming marketplace.
That’s all going to change as Xbox spreads its wings and becomes the title for Microsoft’s cross-platform product focus. Xbox branded games, movies and music services will all appear across Microsoft’s PC, tablet, smartphone and console lines.
Despite outside concerns that consumers will be confused by suddenly seeing Xbox branded services on their devices, Microsoft doesn’t foresee any problems. We’d have to agree with the sceptics, however. Microsoft’s marketing department definitely has its job cut out for it if it’s to educate all future Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 users than “Xbox” doesn’t refer to the gaming console any more, but to an overarching service available to anyone with a compatible MS operating system.
Of course, the Xbox-branded services will also work on Xbox 360 consoles themselves. This in itself is a pretty major step for Microsoft. While other consoles have also embraced a more media-centric approach in recent years, Microsoft sounds like it’s really stepping in to the ring this time around and bringing the Xbox 360 in to the greater MS family for good.
This is the largest scale integration of gaming consoles in to a cross-platform ecosystem that we’ve ever seen. The Xbox 360 is one of Microsoft’s biggest triumphs, as it raced to the top of the market with only one prior generation under its belt against veteran giants like PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft has essentially had this massively successful media device in operation for years without fully tapping the well of potential customers with whom they already regularly interact and support.
It’s obviously still completely up in the air just how successful all of this will be, but we definitely think that Microsoft at least has the right idea with these new products. Cross-platform integration is definitely looking to be the way of the future as more and more of our once-separate products begin to take on more techno-oriented features.
Soon we may start to see the lines between gaming console, PC, tablet, TV and smartphone begin to erode with more companies adopting an approach where all of its products work together to provide a unified experience.
Apple has already seen success with this kind of approach with iCloud. Now it’s Microsoft’s turn to see if they can up the ante.