Zune Music Marketplace Expansions: Why I Think They’re Still Coming Soon!August 24, 2011
Update: Turns out I ended up being correct. Zune Music Pass coming to Australia November 16th 2011!
Today, Microsoft released the final version of the Zune 4.8 software, which allows phones that are running Windows Phone 7.5 to communicate with the Zune PC Software (Zune 4.7 can only communicate with Windows Phone 7.0 handsets). During the announcement, Microsoft put up a fairly pathetic table (very undetailed) and announced some new markets that the software (and some of Zune’s associated services) would be expanding to. The service expansion today only included the Zune Video Rental section of the marketplace and that only expanded to 5 countries (Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway and Sweden). The next question is, will the Zune Music Marketplace (and associated Zune Music Pass & Podcast Marketplace) be expanding soon and if it does expand, which countries will it expand to? For a brief period of time during the Zune 4.8 beta, the Music Marketplace was enabled in Canada and Australia and the Podcast Marketplace was enabled in Canada, Australia, Ireland, UK & New Zealand. These disappeared a few weeks ago and still aren’t present in the final version of the software. I’m not sure exactly how the software detects feature availability, but as far as I know, it isn’t hard coded into the software, but rather the software checks Microsoft servers for the information to enable and disable features as appropriate, which means Microsoft can enable and disable pieces of the Zune Software to each region from their end without making us download new builds of the software. Clever really!
So I’ve decided to have a poke around the final version of the Zune 4.8 PC and see what I can find. What I’ve found isn’t huge (I can’t hack software, I’m no Rafael Rivera or Chris Walsh) but I know enough to find interesting things here and there by simply changing the settings on my computer and seeing what impact that has on the Zune Software. So here’s what I’ve found.
There’s a small bug in the Zune 4.8 Software, that if you’re in a country which has the Windows Phone App Marketplace available AND you don’t have any music in your Zune Collection (aka a blank My Music folder on your PC), even if your region doesn’t have access to the Zune Music Marketplace, you get a message saying “You Have No Music In Your Collection” and a link which says “Find Music At Zune Music Marketplace”. I think Microsoft meant for this link only to appear for countries where the Music Marketplace was actually available, but with most software, bugs creep through and that’s a part of life (the same bug didn’t make it through for Podcasts or Videos though). Here’s a screenshot of that message and link (taken while regional settings were set to Australia).
So if you click that link, you get sent to the Music Marketplace, well it attempts to send you there. You get a display like this one, where the browse section of the left navigation is displayed (but clicking the links does nothing) and the genres sections, but without any genres listed. I set my computer’s regional settings to New Zealand and took this screenshot.
That’s how it appears for almost every country you try it on. The 2 exceptions that I could find were Australia and Canada, the SAME two countries that did get the Music Marketplace during the beta before it disappeared again. When you set your regional settings to Australia and perform the same trick as before, you get slightly more information than you do for most countries. In addition to the browse section, you get a full list of genres listed under the genres heading (all these links work too) and you get a listing of the top songs and top albums. You can even manage to get to an artists page (with metadata and everything) and get to the screen with track listings. You can even listen to previews. I set my computer’s regional settings back to Australia while taking this screenshot.
For completeness sake, I’ll show what it should look like if you actually do have the Music Marketplace enabled properly (which is currently the case in the US, UK, France, Italy, Spain & Germany). I set my computer’s regional settings to the United States while taking this screenshot.
In addition to this, Windows Phone 7.5 includes a feature called Bing Music Search (sometimes called Bing Audio) which works in a very similar fashion to Shazam: It listens to a portion of music and tries to match it to a name and artist. The Bing Music Search links very closely with the Zune Music Marketplace (which is what it uses to find the name and artist of music it scans), when you find a track, there’s a Marketplace button which will take you to that track in the Zune Music Marketplace. This feature is going to be released in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US. All of those countries currently have the Zune Music Marketplace except Canada and Australia. If Microsoft didn’t enable the Zune Music Marketplace for Australia and Canada and left that feature in, they’d have a broken Marketplace button appear each time someone did a search and I personally don’t think Microsoft would do that. So all this information makes me continue my assertion that Australia and Canada WILL be getting the Zune Music Marketplace sooner rather than later. Additional questions such as will Australia, Canada and Germany get the Zune Music Pass are ones that I don’t have any answer for and all I can do is HOPE that they will. The other question you may be asking is, will the Zune Podcasts Marketplace be expanding too? I also don’t know the answer to this, but if what was discovered during the beta was correct (and the beta is looking like a pretty accurate source), then the Podcasts Marketplace may expand to Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK.
Finally, I was looking around in the Registry Editor and found a key called Features under the Zune key in the Current User root of the registry. This appears to be the place where Microsoft tells the Zune Software what features to enable for which countries. I tried to add Australia (AU) to the Music value and start the Zune Software, but Zune must check for new information each time the software loads and replaces the keys with what they want you to see prompting that message saying that the Feature Availability for Zune has changed and to restart for changes. I didn’t restart and I could actually see the Music pivot reappear (like it did during the beta, when I use that trick to make it appear in the final version of the software, it doesn’t actually make the pivot reappear) and display the same Marketplace that Australia currently sees using my trick, but the settings revert to how Microsoft wants them on the next load of the Zune Software. I’ll post the screenshot of this registry key for your interest, but there’s not much to see here really.
So that’s my afternoon of playing around with the Zune 4.8 software. There’s actually not a lot of new UI options in this version of the software. Something makes me think that Zune 5.0 might be here sooner than we think, I suspect Matt Akers has a surprise for us at some point 😉 . I hope that you see my logic and see why I think the Zune Music Marketplace expansions are still coming for us in the near future, even if they didn’t appear today alongside the Zune 4.8 release and Video Marketplace Expansions. Microsoft certainly has the technical capabilities to simply flick a switch and we’d get it the next time we loaded our Zune Clients (and the next time we load the Marketplace Hub on our phones too, since I think it also checks a server to see what to display in there too). Feel free to leave any feedback or thoughts in the comments.
PS: As a free plug to myself, I updated the Windows Phone ‘Mango’ 7.5 Feature Availablity Matrix Today (after loading the final version of the Zune 4.8 Software AND loading WP7.5 Build 7720 onto my phone, thanks XDA-Developers and yes commenters I know that it’s not complete until the manufacturers drivers appear, which is why I’ll be restoring to NoDo when Telstra approves the update). Check out the near final version of the chart here.