Tag Archives: Xbox Live

Microsoft Introduces Work & Play Bundle: Office 365, Xbox Music Pass, Xbox LIVE Gold, Skype Unlimited World for $199

Microsoft has introduced a unique blend of “dual use” products in a single subscription, called Work & Play Bundle. This is a subscription to four of its popular subscriptions services, combined into a single bundle.

The products included are:

  • Office 365 Home (which includes 1TB of OneDrive space today, which is soon going to become unlimited storage, for 5 users)
  • Skype Unlimited World and Skype WiFi
  • Xbox LIVE Gold
  • Xbox Music Pass

As you can see, this is not a “consumer” bundle, nor is it a “business” bundle. In keeping with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s mantra, this is a product made for someone who wants to access productivity tools like Office and OneDrive as well as fun stuff like Xbox gaming and listening to unlimited music on demand. Of course, Skype calling applies naturally to both work and play scenarios.

Of course, being a bundle, the selling point is that the combined price of $199/year is better than buying all those subscriptions individually. Also, if you already subscribe to one or more of these products, adding this bundle will simply extend the subscription to those products by a year. Finally, in terms of actual delivery, each product is delivered as a $50 redemption code so potentially, you could give the stuff you don’t care about to friends and others.

This bundle shows that Microsoft is pushing even harder in the direction of making all their services into a recurring revenue model business. There have long been wishes for Xbox LIVE Gold to include the Xbox Music Pass and now we can see that Microsoft is making it a little bit easier to digest by combining these popular services together.

One thing to note, as is stated in the footnote on the site, the Xbox Music Pass is only for streaming on Xbox and the web. I wonder why they made that restriction, implying it won’t be available on mobile devices or Windows modern Music app.

At $199 per year, it is not a slam dunk choice for consumers to jump to, but there is a lot of value in the bundle if you use even three of the four services included here. Are you interested in this bundle? Would you consider buying it?

Good News: Xbox LIVE Gold Can Be Refunded after June If You Don’t Need It

As announced recently, the entertainment and communication apps on Xbox will not need the Xbox LIVE Gold subscription after an update rolls out in June 2014. That’s good news because more customers will be able to enjoy those apps without having to fork out an extra $60 a year.

But what happens if you already paid the Xbox LIVE Gold subscription fees, which are usually paid on an annual basis? Well, per a recent FAQ on Xbox support site, good news awaits. After the June update rolls out, you can contact Xbox support and request a refund.

Will I be able to cancel my Gold membership?

Yes. Once the Xbox One and Xbox 360 system updates become available in June, Xbox Live Gold members who purchased a paid membership before that day can cancel and receive a pro-rata refund of any unused remaining days between the date of cancellation and the date their paid Gold membership ends. Cancellation and pro-rata refund requests must be made by August 31, 2014 and require six to eight weeks for processing. Free or trial Gold memberships are not eligible for a refund. To request your pro-rata refund, please click http://support.xbox.com/contact-us after the system updates become available in June.

So, it is good news for consumers not just that Microsoft is lifting the requirement of Xbox LIVE Gold but also that they taking care of those who bought the subscription prior to this change.

As a reminder, here’s what the new structure will look like:

Xbox features with and without Gold membership
Xbox features with and without Gold membership

Are you a casual gamer or a non-gamer like me? Are you planning to cancel your Gold subscription once this feature rolls out? I have a concern that my refund won’t go through because I bought Gold via a prepaid card I bought from Amazon.com. Fingers crossed, though. :-)

Xbox One Will Be Sold Without Kinect and Entertainment Apps Now Free to All

Microsoft made a bold decision to sell their new console, Xbox One, bundled with the new Kinect hardware. It was a bold decision because its rival Sony decided to make their motion sensing accessory optional with their own new console Playstation 4. As a somewhat direct result, Xbox One was $100 more expensive at retail compared to the Playstation 4.

Directly or indirectly related to the sales price, Microsoft took a beating against Sony when it came to sales in the months since both consoles launched. Despite having more exclusive games and content, the Xbox One was unable to beat the Playstation 4. Then came the most anticipated exclusive game for the Xbox One, Titanfall. Despite selling reasonably well as a game, it was unable to push Xbox console sales to a point which made Xbox a clear “winner”.

Here’s Xbox’s Yusuf Mehdi and Phil Spencer with the news:

Maybe that was the turning point for Microsoft officials to think about ways to juice the unit sales. A couple of direct cost cuts were announced on the Xbox Wire blog on May 13:

  • As of June 9, Kinect will not be bundled with the Xbox One, and the sale price of the console-only SKU will be $399 (the bundled price was $499 at launch, although there have been several promotions since then to make effective price lower).
  • Also as of June, Xbox LIVE Gold membership will not be required in order to enjoy all the entertainment apps that are part of the Xbox platform. Until now, in order to use Netflix on the Xbox, you not only paid Netflix for their service, you also had to pay Microsoft an annual fee of $60 in order to “unlock” that and all other entertainment and communication apps. The latter is no longer required to access services like Netflix, Hulu, NFL and utilities such as Skype and OneDrive.

The Kinect hardware will be available as a standalone SKU in the Fall in case someone wants to add it to the Xbox One after purchasing the console.

So, who would pay for the Gold membership if all the entertainment and communication features of the Xbox are now unlocked for everyone? Well, the blog post notes all the benefits of the Gold subscription:

  • Free games with the Games With Gold program: This is a continuation of the program launched for Xbox 360 and will now be applicable to Xbox One games.
  • Exclusive discounts with the Deals With Gold program: Promised savings for Gold members up to 50-75%.
  • Online multiplayer: Like now, if you want to play online multiplayer games you will need Gold.
  • Home Gold: Share the Gold membership with everyone in the household.
  • Smart Match: Algorithmic matching of players to make multiplayer less one-sided.
  • Parties and Party Chat: Enable viewing party and chat alongside parties.
  • Game DVR Cloud Storage: Your game recordings stay in the Microsoft cloud without storage limits. This feature will be a Gold-exclusive.
  • Xbox Fitness: A great “game” that tracks your fitness and provides guidance and follow ups.

Some may argue that the entertainment unlocking was long overdue and I am one of those doing so. I could not understand how Microsoft was able to get away with it, but am happy to see they have changed their ways, regardless of the reason to do so. However, in order to be a true entertainment option for most, the Xbox needs a “lite” version for those who like the entertainment options that Xbox provides and don’t care about the gaming aspects of the console. Could this and the unbundling of the Kinect hardware be a precursor to a potential XTV? Let’s hope so.

As for the Kinect, I don’t understand the move at all. One of the biggest deals for game and app makers with the Kinect bundled is that they are assured of the Kinect being present so there is no fragmentation (well, besides Xbox 360 vs Xbox One but that’s separate). Now with Kinect becoming optional, game makers have to take that extra step to handle Kinect’s presence as well as absence and adjust the interaction models accordingly. With development resources tight, I suspect most developers will go for the lowest common denominator and program with the assumption that Kinect is absent and only add voice and gesture controls as a bonus rather than making them the core interactions. That’s a pity.

It does look like Microsoft has made it a priority, much like their situation in Windows Phone and Windows 8.x tablets, to increase the installed base of the devices before thinking about “the right thing” or “the best thing”. I somewhat understand the point of view. It is no longer the huge tanker that needed years to change course. They hear the feedback, prioritize it internally, and make the changes necessary.

Xbox features with and without Gold membership
Xbox features with and without Gold membership

As a consumer, I am happy that I have a choice of buying the console with or without Kinect and am extremely delighted to have all those apps without an annual fee.

Are you more willing to buy the console now that it is $100 cheaper? Does Kinect with its voice controls appeal to you? Do you use Xbox One to control your cable box? Let me know in the comments!

#XboxReveal: Next Xbox Coming on May 21

As was rumored, Microsoft announced an event on their campus scheduled for May 21, where they promise to talk about the next generation of the Xbox. Larry Hyrb, more popularly known as Xbox LIVE’s Major Nelson, announced the event on his blog.

#XboxReveal

Timing-wise, it works out very well for Microsoft. They can reveal the console and its capabilities along with the story of how it ties into the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, especially around Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 in May. This reveal is then followed up 19 days later by the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) where Microsoft traditionally has had a major presence and a big keynote. This is where they show off the games that would accompany the launch, which is widely expected to by this Holiday season.

Finally, at the end of June comes //build, Microsoft’s developer conference where they could tell a deeper story to the rest of the developers (besides the launch partners, which are expected to be big game developer houses) and put the developer pieces together for not just game developers but perhaps all developers. If the rumors are true and the next Xbox is really “Windows 8 Inside”, there could be a lot of possibilities for all kinds of applications to be made available on the large screen. Combined with the power of the next version of Kinect, developers would have a great way to take their code from a Windows Phone 8 app or a Windows 8 app and tweak it for use on a large screen with gestures, voice and indirect touch via SmartGlass.

As for the #XboxReveal event itself, some of the media has been invited to the Xbox campus, but Microsoft is also live streaming the event on xbox.com, on Xbox LIVE on the console itself and on SpikeTV in the US and Canada. The event is on Tuesday, May 21st at 1pmET/10amPT/1700GMT.

As for the rumors, there have been a ton of them already about the specs of the console and the architecture. Much like Sony’s PS4, the Xbox is believed to be running on AMD architecture. Additionally, a more precise version of Kinect is expected to be on-board. There were initially rumors of an entertainment-only version of the console, to align with Apple TV, Roku and others, but recent updates suggest that it may have been postponed for now.

Among the unknowns of course are what the console looks like (there have been no leaks of the renders), the pricing and of course whether the current Xbox 360 would be kept in the market and if so, at what price.

I am excited about this, but not so much for the gaming on next generation hardware. I am more interested in the non-gaming parts of the next Xbox. How about you?

Microsoft Updates Xbox Live App for iOS

Last year, Microsoft released an Xbox Live app for iOS device owners. Now, Microsoft has updated its iOS app that takes the app to version 1.5. The app now allows users to control content on your Xbox from your iPhone or iPod touch. Previously, the app allowed users to access Xbox Live achievements, connect with friends, and change your 3D avatar. Now it lets users “connect, control and discover content” from their iOS devices via a number of new features.

A full list of features can be found below:

What’s New in Version 1.5

iPhone:

  • Use your iPhone with your Xbox to connect, control and discover content on your console. Connect your iPhone for access to a quick list of your most recent console activity. Control your content with play, pause, fast forward and rewind media controls. Find fresh entertainment to play in the new Discover section.
  • Improved Authentication to make it more stable

iPad:

  • Improved Authentication to make it more stable
  • iPad high-resolution images

HBO Go On Xbox 360 Finally Available for Comcast Subscribers

Late last month, HBO Go, MLB.TV, and Comcast Xfinity apps were launched on Xbox LIVE, making a wide array of additional TV content available on the platform to those with the appropriate subscriptions. However, on launch day, Comcast (and Time Warner) subscribers were unable to access the HBO Go content. While there’s no word on whether or not Time Warner users will ever be able to use HBO Go, the @Xbox account did tweet today that HBO Go is now available for Comcast Xfinity subscribers.

Now, one unfortunate thing about using the HBO Go app instead of the Xfinity app to view HBO content is that doing so will count towards your monthly broadband usage. The Xfinity app on the other hand is treated as another set-top box (without any accompanying fees, of course), and thus does not count towards data usage.

Both the Xfinity TV and HBO Go apps offer Kinect integrations. In the Xfinity app, you can use either voice control or your arms to navigate through the app. And in the HBO Go app, you can use your voicew to search through the catalogue of shows.

So, what are you waiting for? You can now watch Game of Thrones using either the Xfinity app or the HBO Go app, so get to watching!

Here’s How Microsoft Is Simplifying The Windows Brand

Microsoft has often been mocked for their naming convention. The company’s brands have a reputation for being confusing. While the jokes might have merit, Microsoft having multiple SKUs for their software make business sense. As the launch of Windows 8 nears, information of how Microsoft plans to simplify their products and have a better marketing campaign is surfacing.

The Windows Versions

Microsoft’s audience isn’t limited to those who crack the jokes, there’s a wider and more complex market to cater to, add to that different geographic locations and their laws–for Microsoft, it’s a complicated mess that requires a lot of thought.

Windows 7 and Windows Vista had 6 versions main SKUs:

  • Starter
  • Home Basic
  • Home Premium
  • Business (Vista) aka Professional (Windows 7)
  • Enterprise
  • Ultimate

If my information is correct, Windows Vista Starter was limited to emerging markets, while the rest were sold in the US. This was slightly changed for Windows 7; Starter was only available as pre-bundled on OEM machines whereas Home Basic was specifically for emerging markets.

According to documents accessed by Stephen Chapman at ZDNet, Microsoft will be simplifying the available Windows 8 SKUs. Chapman links to HP documentation where he only 3 Windows 8 SKUs were listed:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Professional
  • Windows 8 Enterprise

We know that Windows 8 will have an ARM version but that, like Windows 7 Starter, will be available pre-bundled on OEM tablet devices. Microsoft has no plans to sell Windows 8 ARM (WOA) as an off the shelf product. The three SKUs will be available in 32 and 64 bit versions.

The 3 versions make a lot of sense. Having just 1 version for the consumer and two for the enterprise is a solution Microsoft should’ve tried with Windows 7. For those who remember, there was an uproar on the Internet when Microsoft’s intended to restrict number of apps that can run at the same time on Windows 7 starter, was 3. This was however changed. There was no need of a Windows 7 Starter edition since there was little different compared to Windows 7 Home Basic.

For what it’s worth, it’s an excellent decision to completely remove any possible confusion for the end consumer by having a single SKU. That said, I won’t be surprised to see some variants to meet the legal requirements, like in Europe.

The Windows Live and Zune brand

One of Microsoft’s best and most subtle moves of late has been their slow and steady death of the Zune brand. Windows Phone 7 was called as the next Zune music player, the devices were slowly killed, and then company officials stopped using the name Zune. It was obvious, Zune’s on its way out. The problem however was that Zune is Microsoft’s music and entertainment brand as well as the sync client for Windows Phone 7. According to leaked information, Windows Phone 8 won’t require Zune for syncing. Tom Warren writing for The Verge reiterated that the Zune offering will be rolled into Xbox LIVE. According to Tom Warren, with Windows 8, Microsoft will be killing the Windows Live brand. Tom says the following products will take over:

  1. Microsoft Account (Windows Live ID)
  2. Mail (Windows Live Mail)
  3. Calendar (Windows Live Calendar)
  4. People (Windows Live Contacts)
  5. Photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery)
  6. Music (Zune Music Player)
  7. Video (Zune Video Player)
Except the first, the other six are the feature-names for Windows Phone 7. (Consistency, finally!)

CNET ran an exclusive story by Greg Sandoval that Microsoft is discussing a new Spotify-like subscription service with the labels. (As of now, Microsoft has Zune Pass.) Going by the adage that there’s no smoke without fire, Zune Pass is probably on its way out too. This is a good thing.

EA To Bring Need for Speed Hot Pursuit To Windows Phone 7

Towards the end of 2011, I went on a rant against EA and their support for Windows Phone 7. It was around the time when Microsoft and their partners announced a new range of Windows Phone 7 handsets. A year ago with the first wave of devices, EA announced 4 titles for the platform. I continue to be a fan of the Need for Speed series and while I may not be as hardcore today as I was, I enjoy the game a lot more than any other racing game I’ve tried. Need for Speed Undercover was among my first purchases when I got my Samsung Focus and I still play it from time to time. Today, on the official Windows Phone blog, Microsoft shared details about 4 new games headed to Windows Phone 7 in February, the first title in their list?—Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

Tim McDowd, writing for Microsoft says the game will have 24 tracks (day & night) and 48 career events, doesn’t sound like a lot but I am not complaining. I expect the game to be priced at around $6 ($5.99 or $6.99) like most popular Xbox LIVE titles. McDowd shared just one teaser screenshot from the game:

Along with NFS HP, first person shooter fans should be excited about Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell availability on the platform. Toy Soliders: Boot Camp and BulletAsylum are the other two games.

Microsoft Releases Xbox LIVE app for iOS

Oh boy, what do we have here? Good news for iOS devices owners who also own a Xbox. First it was OneNote for iOS, now they have released an official Xbox LIVE app (free) in Apple’s App Store. This release comes just a day after the launch of a new Dashboard update to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console.

Xbox Live iOS

The new app brings a Windows 8 feel to it, which is nice, but it just doesn’t feel like an iOS app in my opinion. Xbox LIVE for iOS brings some of the functionality found on the Xbox 360 consoles besides gameplay. The app allows users to access friends lists, game data, and messages through three main menus: “Home,” “Social” and “Games.”  In addition, the user interface is a blend of iOS swipe functionality with the tiled UI from Windows Phone 7. Icons and UI animations fade in and out like Windows Phone and is smooth with transitions.

Read and send messages to friends
Manage your friends list, invite new friends
Read and Edit your full LIVE profile (name, bio, motto)
Change your avatar features/items with the avatar closet
View and compare your achievement progress with friends

Microsoft’s new app is also optimized for the iPad, and uses a similar layout. The iPad app shows more content and detail. While Google releases crappy WebView apps for iOS, Microsoft releases polished apps for iOS. Just sayin’…

LOVEFiLM to Bring Streaming Movies and TV shows to Xbox LIVE

LOVEFiLM, Europe’s largest subscription service for streaming movies and TV shows over the Internet and sending DVDs by post, launches on Xbox LIVE tomorrow. This would allow millions of Xbox users instant access to the movies they want to watch. LOVEFiLM is an Amazon company.

lovefilm

Xbox LIVE members will be able to instantly watch thousands of movies via LOVEFiLM Instant the movie streaming service including exclusive content. LOVEFiLM Instant is already available via a huge range of devices including PCs, iPad, Internet-connected TV sets, Blu-ray players, tablets, and games consoles.

It is an exciting day for LOVEFiLM customers and an auspicious day for the TV entertainment industry as a whole. Launching LOVEFiLM Instant on Xbox 360 and Kinect means bringing the service to a million more living rooms a huge achievement.

– Simon Calver, CEO, LOVEFiLM

With Netflix launching in the UK next year (no announcement whether it would be available on the Xbox as yet), and BBC coming to Xbox LIVE next year, LOVEFiLM’s inclusion as an integrated film service provider for Xbox LIVE is well timed. LOVEFiLM is all set for its ambition to bring the service to as many homes as possible. Also, Kinect for Xbox 360 will transform the way people use LOVEFiLM Instant. With Kinect, people can effortlessly control the service using voice commands and gestures to search and enhance movie-watching experience. The LOVEFiLM app comes with a free 30 day trial and after that will require a subscription.