Apple

Pandora gets you coming and going

Monday, December 9, 2013 - 12:20pm

In and out of sleep, that is.

Pandora updated its iOS app for Apple devices, adding a wake-up alarm. The app already had a timer feature that encouraged falling asleep to Pandora radio with a timed shut-off. Now users can fall asleep to Pandora, wake up to Pandora, and fortify the “hours listening” metrics Pandora publishes every month.

Pandora is biting into two competing categories with the new wake-up feature. First, obviously, clock radios and the radio stations embedded in most of them. Second, Apple’s wake-up alarm built into all iOS devices.

That built-in iOS alarm is easily controlled by Siri, which is an Apple advantage. It is a simple use-case to poke Siri in the ribs, sleepily mutter “Set the alarm for 6:00am,” slam the phone down on the nightstand, and drop directly into delta sleep. Voice control would make Pandora’s alarm a killer feature. We tried to make Siri recognize Pandora’s alarm, but she grew annoyed, and suggested setting a “reminder to call mom.” OK, we acknowledge our negligence in that area, but still wish for a voice-controlled Pandora alarm clock.

We tested the alarm by setting it one minute into the future. Oddly, Pandora warned us to plug into a power source, as if our half-full battery was gasping its last breath. Never mind that -- the alarm worked fine, gently arousing us from a 60-second reverie with a selected custom station.

You can stop the alarm or snooze it for a preset amount of time. We respectfully request an “OK” function which turns off the alarm but keeps the music playing.

The real threat of Google Music on Apple devices

Monday, November 18, 2013 - 11:55am

Last week’s drop of Google’s All Access music subscription app into Apple’s app store was a milestone moment in both the music-service wars and the larger tech-ecosystem land grab. We had fun with our “Google invades Apple” headline, and every media site covering the convergence of music and Internet hit the same note.

The invasion metaphor is apt, more than just for its imagery of two tech/media giants engaged in business warfare. Google’s Play Music All Access, awkwardly-named thought it might be, offers a more complete music platform than Apple does -- and likewise for Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora, and Rdio. The competitive thrust is more feature-specific than merely inserting the Google brand into the music choices of iPhone and iPod users. Its features connect with the three major ways that people connect with Internet-delivered music as a 21st-century type of radio.

Three Types of Listening

There are three types of app listening. By “app listening” we mean listening that happens through a desktop program, a web browser, or a mobile app. There are three cornerstones of app listening:

  • Radio: Broadcasters understandably bristle at the re-definition of “radio,” which used to denote a technology, not a behavior. Now, “radio” commonly means lean-back app listening that simulates the traditional passive radio experience. Pandora is the poster child for “Internet radio,” but Pandora is more interactive than thousands of Internet pureplay stations which don’t offer any customization.
  • Jukebox: The “celestial jukebox” is lean-forward listening in which access to music replaces ownership of music. Spotify, Rhapsody, and Radio are leading examples of app services that provide access to huge song catalogs on demand, with suites of features that personalize the jukebox around the user’s taste.
  • Cloud storage: Even with the rise of Internet radio and the celestial jukebox, people own personal music collections in digital file formats. Amazon, Apple, and others provide apps that allow uploading those files to the cloud, from which they can be accessed from any connected device.

Integrating these three modes of listening is not easy, or common. How do personal collections (the ownership model) fit into subscription services (the access model), and how do those users integrate the existing value of their collections with the new value of music access?

It’s Called “All Access” for a Reason

That is the key issue addressed by Google Play Music All Access, and a key selling point of its subscription service. All Access provides the usual access features -- jukeboxing, playlisting, favoriting, downloading for offline listening. At the same time, All Access (living up to its name) is a cloud storage service which invites users to upload 20,000 tracks. Those collections are integrated into the jukebox service, and intelligence derived from scanning the owned music helps personalize the music Google suggests to the user.

Apple has a cloud service, too, and of course iTunes is the world’s biggest music store, still a champion of the ownership model, widely predicted to be waning. The two-month-old iTunes Radio service provides lean-back radio-style listening, a second rung of the app-listening ladder. But Apple does not have a celestial jukebox function for random access and full listening of songs and albums.

That missing piece is the opening through which Google has driven its All Access platform, and why the invasion is meaningful. Google provides both models -- access to an owned collection on the same platform which accesses the celestial jukebox, and plays radio-style streams.

Google craftily makes it easy to convert an iTunes collection to Google’s cloud. Doing so gives Apple users a full, three-point app-listening experience on iPhones and iPods. Google provides the purchasing dimension too, through Google Play song-buying, which emulates the synergy of Apple’s iTunes Radio and iTunes Store linkage.

It’s not only iTunes that could be hurt by Google. Spotify, Rdio, and Rhapsody lack cloud integration of personal collections. Google sits in the iOS store as the complete problem-solver -- in that light, the awkward “All Access” name is justified. The extra value it brings signifies why Google invaded Apple. Time will tell how disruptive the invasion will be.

TuneIn reaches milestone: 100,000 radio stations

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

Aggregation platform TuneIn announced today that its portfolio of streaming radio stations has reached 100,000 -- “the most radio stations ever in one place,” according to the press release.

TuneIn is taking the long-tail approach to radio stations, adding broadcasts of German soccer leagues and a wide spectrum of international broadcasters. The service is not afraid of innovative programming, recently getting attention for setting up a 24-hour This American Life stream, featuring a non-interactive flow from that public radio show’s 18-year archive.

TuneIn currently reports a user base of 40-million active listeners, and distributes its brand to 50 automobile models for in-car listening. It might not be natural to think of TuneIn as fitting into the streaming music competition, but for all the talk about Apples’ 20-million listeners, and Pandora’s 73-million actives, TuneIn’s high-profile position as a radio and progamming aggregator is grabbing share and reach.

RAIN Hotspots: Week of Oct. 21-25

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 11:45am

Here are the top five, most-read articles this week, published at any time. 

Sirius XM apparently drops stations, infuriates users: RAIN noticed that Sirius XM’s Facebook page was exploding with comments from outrages users, over missing stations in the satellite broadcaster’s channel lineup. We never got a response to several requests for comment from Sirius XM. [READ]

Sirius XM will reportedly drop Clear Channel stations soon: Related to the above, from which many readers clicked over for background information. Sirius XM remains in the news, having announced slightly higher subscription prices for 2014. [READ]

Apple announces 20-million iTunes Radio users; fuzzy math abounds: The Apple-vs.-Pandora media tornado got moving when Cupertino announced latest audience metrics for iTunes Radio. Problems arise when you compare apples to oranges. (See what we did there?) [READ]

INTERVIEW: Jim Lucchese, CEO, The Echo Nest: Readers settled into Part 1 of our conversation with the head of a powerful unseen force in music services. [READ] (Part 2 is here.) 

Microsoft’s new Web Playlist dismantles traditional “station” listening: Readers are interested in a unique new feature in Xbox Music that unleashes the hidden musical quality of web pages. [READ]

Apple announces 20-million iTunes Radio users; fuzzy math abounds

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 11:35am

After launching on September 18, simultaneous with the release of iOS 7 and baked into that mobile operating system, iTunes Radio has attracted 20-million users. Apple announced this milestone in a live product event on Tuesday.

Many media outlets are positioning the datum as a comparison with Pandora’s latest audience metrics report, which claimed 72.7-million active users in September. But quick conclusions of impending doom for Pandora, while not without speculative value, often disregard audience measurement realities.

The crucial distinction is between unique users and active users. Pandora does not disclose how it determines a threshold for active usage. But in all traffic and audience statistics, some level of repeat visitation is needed to turn a unique visitor into an active user. By the same token, Apple is not disclosing how many of the 20-million uniques are repeaters.

All repeat visitors are unique within the time period of their activity. But not all uniques are active with more than one visit. There is no industry standard for measuring loyalty, or a level of brand stickiness indicated by active usage. Slightly more than one month after launch, iTunes Radio might and might not have enough history for Apple to develop an internet metric of active usage.

One thing is clear: Apple is not announcing “active usage,” and comparing the “uniqeu” metrics with Pandora’s “active” metric is fuzzy math.

Pandora is 8th most-used smartphone app (comScore)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 7:10am

As noted in Audio4cast, Pandora landed in 8th place in comScore’s measurement of top smartphone app usage for August. This metrics category is different from smartphone audience via the phone’s browser. Some top-15 media properties (like Gmail) might have their app ranking cannibalized by browser use, and others (like Twitter) by a multiplicity of popular apps that are lower on the list.

But Pandora’s ranking is fairly pure, as the service doesn't work in a mobile browser, and there are no alternatives to the official Pandora app. On comScore's browser-plus-app usage list, which is invaded by web-based behemoths like Yahoo!, Amazon, and AOL, Pandora holds its own in 9th place.

P’s reach is measured at 43.3 percent of the app audience, which is a remarkable testimony not only to Pandora’s footprint, but to Internet radio generally, if you consider Pandora as a proxy for the medium and the consumer model it represents. If you took away ecosystem-branded apps that enjoy a built-in smartphone advantage (Google Search, for example), Pandora would rise to third, after Facebook (75.7%) and YouTube (52.8%).

Social, video, and music are the chief app-based pureplays -- with each wedging into the others’ territories to some extent.

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