11/15/13: Google streams into Apple territory

Brad Hill
November 15, 2013 - 12:05pm

Long rumored and finally accomplished: Google dropped its tortuously-named Google Play Music All Access app into the iOS store today, extending its subscription service to Apple mobile-device users. (The launch was announced by Google here.)

Pointless, you say, because Apple device users are loyal to iTunes? And furthermore because iTunes Radio, less than two months old, is a huge boulder crashing into the streaming music pond?

Those are good points. But the launch of iTunes Radio is a good reason, by itself, for Google to establish a competing benchmark in Apple’s operating system. Beyond that, distribution of streaming service is guided by the principle of ubiquity -- be everywhere. If it doesn’t hurt to be there, be there.

Inside the app, you’ll find mostly identical features and layout as in the Android version, but with iOS 7 beautification. It is beautiful beautification, as in all the other music apps which have updated, and Google would do well to note its pleasing effect and upgrade Android’s aesthetics.

In our quick (for today) but intense examination, the iOS app lacks one major feature, which is sharing. We could not easily find a way to publicize our listens or favorites within a paid account. The apparent omission is all the more puzzling because Google Plus is available in the Apple store.

Some settings are different also, comparing Apple to Android; the Apple version is less informative and controllable. It lacks the Android EQ module, the user’s billing date, and download/streaming setting such as restricting bandwidth-consuming activity to WiFi.

Overall, the two app experiences are similar enough to make any Android user feel instantly at home with an Apple phone.

Will Apple reciprocate with an Android version of iTunes and iTunes Radio? If you’re not laughing out loud right now, you didn’t hear the cynicism of the question. Apple creates ferociously closed systems, and besides that governing principle, iTunes Radio is woven into the iTunes Store as a support system and purchase funnel. That brings up one other missing piece in Google’s iOS app: the Buy button, which in Android goes to the Google Play store. Google is evidently willing to separate streaming from buying, but Apple probably is not.

Brad Hill
November 15, 2013 - 12:05pm

We noticed the new Hunger Games soundtrack album as a streaming playlist in iTunes Radio, which supported our repeated observation that “album release” no longer has much meaning.

In the years when radio was the only mass-market music discovery venue, and the only hitmaker, pre-release singles effectively promoted albums, sometimes weeks before album availability. Streaming puts a new slant on album promotion. We noted that in the cases of Justin Timberlake and Eminem, iTunes Radio streaming previews effectively released the albums in a viable listening format before the CD and album download were available. In both cases, those albums shot to the top spot in Apple’s iTunes album-sales chart. More correlation (Billboard) of the strategy’s effectiveness lies in the fact that the Timberlake product headlined the best album sales week of the year, and Eminem’s spearheaded the second-best week.

Coincidentally, as we were listening to a Songza playlist, a track from the Hunger Games album popped in. That opened our eyes to the fact that the iTunes Radio promo is not an exclusive deal. And Rolling Stone notes that some of the artists included in the album compilation have (pre)-released tracks or snippets. It’s natural that a multi-artist album would demonstrate a more ragged introduction than one band with verticalized management. But the overall point is that Internet radio, plus other leakage points, make album release dates increasingly meaningless lines in the sand when the tide is rolling in. (We love a good metaphor.) 

At this writing, the Hunger Games album is perched at the top of the iTunes pre-order chart, and is placed at #22 in the total album-sales list. The album’s formal release date (which, again, is becoming more a marketing slogan than an actual availability milestone) is next Tuesday.

Brad Hill
November 15, 2013 - 12:05pm

Streaming music service Songza updated its personalization features in a new iOS app which dropped into the Apple app store this week. Users can now see a list of their thumbs-up song votes, and play them as a playlist.

That might not seem like a big deal, but it is for Songza addicts. The update notes indicate that this feature was much requested, which is understandable. Songza does have a star system for marking favorites, but it applies to songza “concierge” playlists, not tracks. Most services that use thumb-up and thumb-down votes use those indicators to personalize the song recommendations over time, so the platform gets smarter about your taste. Songza does that, too … but now also gives the user a collection of favorite songs for on-demand playing.

On another note, Songza has reportedly inked a partnership with Songkick, the tour-info service. Songkick recently built a concert scheduling app for the Spotify system, and is making inroads to furnish live-concert info that enhances Internet radio listening.

Brad Hill
November 15, 2013 - 12:05pm

Not to trivialize business issues for musicians, but the “Spotify debate” rages on which increasing repetition. Some of the publicized outbursts against Spotify result from musicians being asked about it by journalists.

The latest high-profile musician to take a club to the music service’s business model is Beck, who was granting an interview to an Argentinian publication during a tour of South America. “Streaming is inevitable,” Beck stipulates, and regards the royalty payouts unsustainable. As with other musicians who have issued objections of streaming as a music-consumption model, Beck views Spotify in snapshot mode. He does not consider a level of global scaling across many platforms that might raise musician revenues to higher levels, despite acknowledging that streaming is moving into the scene unstoppably.

Interestingly, Beck is distressed by the audio quality of Spotify streams, and presumably most other platforms. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that complaint, but audiophiles generally fight a losing battle in this regard. (Starting with similar complaints about CDs.) Access and convenience are core consumer values. When millions of people are satisfied with listening to compressed music through cheap earbuds attached to a phone, the audiophile’s burden is heavy.