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Google invades Apple

Friday, 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.

Google adds the famous “I’m feeling lucky” button to its music service

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 10:25am

Trademark features live long lives. “I’m Feeling Lucky” appeared with the earliest versions of Google Search, giving users a fun roulette experience in search results. In those days, in the dawn of modern web-search intelligence, the “feeling lucky” feature conveyed a fun sense of shining a flashlight into the web’s enormous haystack, searching for a needle.

Google quickly built its reputation on smart and useful results -- no luck necessary. But to this day, the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button remains firmly installed below the keyword search box on Google’s home page. It is a brand identifier.

Now Google has imported the luck experience to its All Access subscription music service, with “I’m feeling lucky radio.” Based on the user’s listening history, the feature doesn’t differ in principle from personalized recommendations found in most jukebox services. It’s the capriciously blind quality which sets it apart, just as in the web search engine. You don’t get a glimpse of the playlist. The function provides a quick, no-thought, lean-back experience when you’re not in the mood to make choices.

RAIN’s test of the feature, which appeared on an update of Google Play’s Android app, has been erratic. At first, the button rotated through locally stored tracks. We turned it off and gave it an hour to settle into its new home. Trying again, it played a radio stream, as the feature promises. We feel reasonably lucky … but, being customization fiends, we’ll abandon the lucky button and resume personal choices before long.

Internet radio distribution news: Google Music and iTunes Radio

Monday, October 7, 2013 - 10:15am

Crossing ecosystem boundaries can be as difficult as traveling across national borders.

Google Music (both the download store and the All Access streaming-music app) is soon venturing into hostile fanboy territory by distributing its service to Apple mobile users. Engadget reports that Google will produce an iOS app later this month. It will be interesting to track uptake. One clear loyalty point in Apple’s ecosystem is the iTunes network of buying, streaming, and listening. But ubiquity is a good strategy as users cross boundaries more than media brands want them to. People who like Android phones, for example, but prefer Apple’s iPad for a tablet experience, want to carry their music with them across devices.

Will Apple reciprocate with an app in the Android storeSorry, that wasn’t a serious question.

But Apple is venturing geographically, if you believe sightings of a job listing for an iTunes Radio music programmer in Canada. The listing (which has disappeared after first sighting) calls for a cross-genre music expert with knowledge of the local music scene. No matter when it happens, Apple’s global expansion of iTunes Radio is only a matter of time.

Music download sales decrease as streaming music gains

Friday, October 4, 2013 - 10:30am

Digital single-track sales are down over the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period in 2012. The decline has accelerated quarter-over-quarter, with the July-Aug-Sep period showing a 6-percent skid, according to Billboard. Digital album sales have fared better this year, gaining 2.6% over 2012, although the third quarter showed a similar summertime dip as single-track sales.

Download doldrums match the consumer trend toward Internet radio as an important venue for music discovery and the “access model” of ownership. Recent audience metrics reports from Triton and Pandora indicate that webcasting and Internet radio adoption is gradually and steadily climbing upward. As mobile listening crosses multiple devices, environments, and dayparts, access to cloud-based music jukeboxes takes the place of unit purchases and local storage. 

Apple and Google hedge their bets by operating on both sides of the fence, offering digital albums and tracks for sale, as well as customized listening to enormous catalogs of music. As a third leg of the stool, both services also provide cloud storage of owned music files -- a hybrid of the ownership and access models.

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