The Phone Companion app in Windows 10 refers to Xbox Music as Groove Music (and to Xbox Music Pass as Groove Music Pass). But a small startup already makes a Groove music player on iOS and Windows. Is Microsoft rebranding Xbox Music? Buying the app? Or … is it something far more dramatic?
Right now, it’s a mystery. But with the understanding that Microsoft could clear this up instantly with a quick tweet or, God forbid, a blog post, here’s what we can see for ourselves right now.
On the Music page of the new Phone Companion app in Windows 10, Microsoft refers to Xbox Music as Groove Music, and to Xbox Music Pass as Groove Music Pass. As you can see in the shot below, “you can use the Groove Music app to listen to your entire collection on your PC or phone”, and “for access to millions of songs, unlimited streaming on all your devices, and no ads, check out Groove Music Pass.” The linked text “Groove Music Pass” takes you to the Xbox Music Pass page on Xbox.com.
So that seems straightforward: Microsoft is killing the Xbox Music (and, presumably, the Xbox Video) branding. Which makes sense because, despite Microsoft’s best efforts, no one ever really accepted Xbox as a general entertainment brand anyway. And Microsoft owns the name Groove: it acquired Groove years ago and rolled it into Office. In fact, the product we used to call Groove is now called OneDrive for Business. So the name is apparently open for reuse (like Surface was previously).
But here’s the thing.
We know, too, that Microsoft is updating the Xbox Music apps on Android and iOS to support OneDrive music compatibility, and that the current versions of these apps are terrible, and quite limited compared to Xbox Music on Windows and Windows Phone in particular (not to mention the web, or even Xbox). But there is already a Groove music app on iOS (and, curiously, on Windows, but not Android). This app is made by a small company called Zikera.
So. Did Microsoft buy Zikera, just as it has purchased many other small Android/iOS app makers?
The knee jerk guess is, yes, of course they did. But that doesn’t make much sense to me: Groove (the app) is about “revamping your typical listening experience beyond songs, albums, and playlists.” It looks at the music that is already on your device and then creates radio-like stations comprised of deep tracks from your favorite artists.
Microsoft already owned a radio station app, MixRadio, which came to it as part of its purchase of Nokia’s software and services businesses last year. I argued at the time—and still feel—that MixRadio was a crucial piece of the music service puzzle, and did/does things that Xbox Music simply doesn’t do. (One might argue that it’s a better service than Xbox Music, but let’s not totally go off the rails here.) If Microsoft would sell MixRadio, why would it then buy something kind of similar afterwards?
Actually, let’s take that question a step further into pure conjecture.
If Microsoft would sell MixRadio, why even bother with Xbox Music/Xbox Music Pass? The most popular music services—Spotify, Apple Music—are built around radio stations, and this is the one thing Xbox Music doesn’t really have. (Don’t be confused by the “Radio” feature. It’s not the same thing.) What if—and, yes, I know this is crazy—Microsoft is dumping Xbox Music? What if it is selling it … to Zikera?
This doesn’t actually make any sense, I know. But why would Microsoft even keep Xbox Music? It’s not like it generates any revenues or has any real community of users. Microsoft’s heart is not in this market at all. Compare the dedication you see in Spotify or Apple Music with Xbox Music. It’s not even close.
Honestly, the most likely outcome here is that Microsoft owns the name Groove and will push forward with this branding on its services. And that the Groove app owned by Zikera will need to change its name.
But it’s fun to speculate.
By the way, when you search for Groove in the Windows 10 Store app, look what comes up first: