Google Play Music All Access

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.

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.

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