NEWS - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Xbox 360 To Be Living Room iPod?

Robbie Bach, senior vice president at Microsoft and the man responsible for leading the Xbox 360 to launch later this year, has been asked by the Microsoft top brass to examine new strategies in the arena of music - leading to speculation that the 360 will lead the company's digital music charge. Bach will retain his role as the figurehead of the new console, but the move signals an intention from within Microsoft to place the Xbox 360 at the forefront of its assault on Apple's digital music empire. The Wall Street Journal has called the move the first step in a "mission to make Microsoft's new Xbox a hub for handling digital music." Microsoft has already announced that the Xbox 360 will act as a 'hub' for your home entertainment by connecting to other devices (like a Windows Media Centre PC or portable devices like digital music players and, funnily enough, Sony's PSP) and storing video, music or photo files on the 20GB hard drive. In fact, at Microsoft's pre-E3 press conference a diagram of an Xbox 360 connected to Apple's iPod was shown. A statement of intent, perhaps? And Bach's new involvement with Microsoft's music sector confirms that the 360 will be an important part of the music puzzle. This was emphasized by a Microsoft spokesperson who confirmed to US press: "I think given the Xbox business, and how music plays into it, it was a natural thing to have Robbie [Bach] think of that." Microsoft has found itself lagging behind Apple's domination of the digital music industry (the iPod and iTunes creator has an 82% market share), even though it has attempted to align itself with other content providers by offering them access to Windows compatible technology. And later this year Microsoft plans to launch its first subscription downloadable music service, in a similar vein to Napster. Advanced community features including playlist-sharing are promised, and it's even rumored that the service will allow you to reformat iTunes files so they play on non-Apple devices - like, for instance, your Xbox 360. Given that the 360 will find its way into many more living rooms than expensive Media Centre PCs, it would make sense for Microsoft to bundle any subscription music service with the console. And since the 360 will come with a removable 20GB hard drive as standard, that could open the door for the long-rumored 'xPod' - a portable music player that would connect to your PC or 360 and rival the iPod. Unfortunately, Microsoft was unavailable for comment at the time of press. But it's certainly interesting times for Xbox 360 and its multimedia functionality.


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