Android

Pandora releases Android tablet app

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 12:30pm

Pandora is making some fanfare over the release of a new Android tablet app, which re-packages Android version 5 for the bigger screen. Version 5 exists for Android phone and Apple phones, with the same essential features as the tablet version, but in a compressed form.

We like music services in tablets -- Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, iHeart, and many others get lots of tablet time in the RAIN editorial office. We’re not sanguine about the mainstream future of mobile listening on tablets, especially in the car where the convenience of smartphones rules the cockpit. But tablets give app developers enough room to create multiple overlying swipe screens, which comprise the great navigation advantage of larger devices.

The release gives Pandora an opportunity to brag about version-5 features:

  • Informational artist pages with Music Genome characteristics. Those Genome aspects, while just a fraction of a complex music analysis, give an indication of why Pandora selected the music for you to hear.
  • A timeline profile which tracks your actions in the app -- e.g. thumbing up and down, creating new stations, and social actions. We especially love the ability to leave a comment on one’s own feed, to been by all followers.
  • A social feed, similar to spotify’s which reveals what your Pandora friends are listening to.

We notice that although Pandora displays album art of tracks previously played by the current station, you cannot backskip to those tracks, as you can do in the new Rhapsody Android app. (See the RAIN review here.)

Pandora makes a beautifully designed product in our view. The web app has been elegant for years, undimmed through many revisions. Synchronization across all devices works nicely, and the version-5 features are implemented everywhere. We do note that a heavy visual ad load plagues reduces the pleasure of phone access, where the small screen doesn’t give ads any room for discrete placement (and perhaps encourages subscribing to the ad-free version).

REVIEW: New Rhapsody features in Android

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

It is a busy month for Rhapsody, the godparent of music services. During October the Internet jukebox launched new “radio” features that enabled artist-centric listening (trailing some other services by a few years, but still), closed an important partnership with international telecom giant Telefonica, and started giving free service to CD buyers at Best Buy.

September wasn’t so buoyant. First came rumors of a leadership shakeup, then came the actual shakeup, accompanied by a broad swath of layoffs.

Back to October. Rhapsody continues its strong month by giving its Android app users an updated experience that adds these key features:

  • EQ 
  • A sleep timer 
  • Enhanced programming 
  • WiFi-only downloads
  • Log of recent searches
  • Backskipping in Stations mode 

The on-board equalizer (EQ) is welcome, especially in mobile listening through earphones of varying quality. Most bargain earbuds don’t have the sonic capacity to bring EQ’ing fully to life (we’re looking at you, Apple), but for those very deficits it helps to punch the highs and lows. And with the advent of WiFi speakers in the home, massaging the sound in the app is a forward-looking feature.

As it happens, Rhapsody is looking backward and forward. The computer desktop app (yes, there is one, and while it’s no Spotify in most regards, it is a robust and reliable piece of software) has had a lovely pop-out EQ widget for over two years -- and it’s better than the new Android EQ. The desktop EQ has twice as many frequency bands: ten instead of five for mobile. And wow, does it sound better in side-by-side listening over the same speaker system.

We were hoping that the Android EQ would flip into a ten-band equalizer when in landscape mode, which would have inspired us to inaugurate a Cool Feature of the Month award. We twirled the phone around like a cheerleader’s baton, but sadly, no frequency-band enhancement was forthcoming.

The selection of EQ presets is reduced in the Android version, too, compared to the desktop. This seems like an unnecessary deprivation, especially when our favorite (“Presence Lift”) has been cruelly struck from the menu. We shouldn’t believe that Rhapsody is targeting our sensibilities particularly, but the evidence tempts our paranoid instincts.

A new sleep timer is nicely functional, and a welcome convenience to anyone who drifts off to music. (Provided they think ahead.) It shows up in the menu only when you’re in the Now Playing screen, and offers shut-off times of 15, 30, 56, 60, and 120 minutes.

Rhapsody is stepping into the “360 programming” trend with exclusive articles and videos. they are loaded into the Featured section, where new items are collected as Posts, as in a blog. That’s attractive packaging -- it seems up-to-date and timely. Band spotlights comprise the most interesting items. New house-built playlists are promoted there, too. Lou Reed-inspired tracks were all over the place during our testing, and some historical surveys (e.g. The Velvet Underground’s Legacy, and Hits You Never Heard Of, part 11).

It seems as if Rhapsody is allowing its editors to indulge their idiosyncratic passions. One article compared two recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with audio samples -- our Baroque brains loved it, but we’re the first to admit that this particular feature lives way down on the long tail.

Finally, there is the introduction of backskipping in Radio mode. You can go backward to revisit a track that already played. With this feature, Rhapsody dishes out a major piece of interactive candy, and waves goodbye to Spotify in the rear-view mirror. Rdio is back there in the dust, too, along with iTunes Radio. Backskipping is not a unique innovation -- the arduously named Google Play Music All Access has it, too, with a beautiful graphic interface. But competing skip-to-skip with a big-media service is a perfect way for Rhapsody to start overcoming its arthritic image as the streaming grandparent.

All in all, an ambitious, even gleeful update during a tumultuous autumn for Rhapsody. And it appears that Android users are getting the juiciest bits first these days.

Earbits Android app combines your music with indie "royalty-free" tracks it recommends for your tastes

Friday, May 3, 2013 - 11:50am

Earbits has come out with a new Android mobile app that combines your music collection with music from independent artists (which Earbits gets royalty-free) it thinks you'll like.

The company explains that the new app "intelligently blends users’ songs into its 350 channels of commercial-free music... Consumers can play Earbits curated channels or songs on their mobile devices, switching seamlessly between their music and Earbits' catalog."

Hypebot reports that in exchange for the free use of artists' music, "Earbits supports artists' promotional efforts by gathering emails, rewarding listeners [with what they call "Groovies"] for social engagement such as Facebook shares and providing artists with as much data as possible." Earbits allows artists to pay in exchange for further promotional emphasis.

Read more in Hypebot here.

Mobile app combines 13 million song online library with listener's local tracks to create custom streams

Friday, March 22, 2013 - 1:05pm

Thought this looked cool: an Android mobile app called Magic Radio that creates custom streams of music that combines 7Digital's 13 million-song library with the listener's local collection and playlists.

The app, made by a company called Double Twist, uses music intelligence from The Echo Nest to create the streams, which can be further customized by the user. Note that when music from the listener's local collection is part of the stream, there's savings in both data usage/bandwidth, and royalty obligation (since the user already possesses a copy of the music, it isn't being "publicly performed.")

The service is $4/month, and Double Twist is offering a free 7-day trial. There's a video demo here. Read more in Hypebot here.

Stitcher adds Topic Search to iOS app, rehauls Android app

Monday, February 11, 2013 - 12:15pm

With a new update to its iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch app, Stitcher has launched its new "Topic Search" feature, which allows users to discover and search "trending topics" across more than 15-thousand talk radio shows and podcasts.

The Stitcher app delivers personalized news, sports, talk, and non-music entertainment audio on-demand, directly to mobile devices.

"Listeners will now be able to easily discover topic based audio at their fingertips, across a vast range of sources and episodes," said Noah Shanok, CEO of Stitcher. "We see this as part of our mission to further the evolution of radio by making it more relevant and accessible than ever."

Stitcher has also given its Android app a complete redesign, with better Google integration and content discovery.

Read more on the app updates in Stitcher's press release here and in PCMag.com here.

"Gen Y young enough to value mobile, old enough to afford it," says eMarketer

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 1:15pm

Millenials (or "Gen Y") -- 24- to 32-year-olds -- are the leading U.S. age demo using mobile devices, reports eMarketer (from Forrester research). The group has the highest ownership rate of mobile phones (97%) and smartphones (72%).

This age group is also the only generation more likely to own an iPhone than less-expensive handsets. In the study, there was no stronger manufacturer/age demo correlation.

A separate study from Flurry shows a similar age group (25-34) has the greatest percentage of those who use smartphone apps (33%) and tablet apps (26%).

"Members of Generation Y are young enough to value smartphones but old enough to be able to buy them, suggesting that they will be smartphone power users for years to come," explains eMarketer.

Pandora was the only webcaster to rank in the Top 10 Mobile Properties of 2012. It was the #6 top U.S. Android app in 2012, as ranked by the number of monthly average unique users, says eMarketer. It's 10.7 million put it ahead of Twitter (the fastest-growing Android app), but was just more than one-third #5 YouTube's 32.2 million. Google Search was 2012's top Android app.

Pandora ranked #9 (9.6 million average uniques per month in 2012) on the iPhone, slightly behind Twitter.

Read more from eMarketer on Generation Y and smartphones here; and more on the top Android and iPhone apps here.

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