One week later, how's Apple's podcast app working? Not great, says Ars Technica

Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 12:25pm

Podcasts iOS appLast week, Apple launched its own dedicated iOS podcasts app. Observers hoped the move -- bringing podcasts out of relative obscurity buried in the "Music" app -- would "increase the importance of podcasts" (RAIN coverage here).

After a week of usage, Ars Technica writer Iljitsch van Beijnum has posted his thoughts on the app, which he sees as "surprisingly immature." Besides random crashes and other glitches, core functionality -- like removing podcast episodes -- doesn't work.

And rather than putting podcasts in the spotlight, van Beijnum fears "lots of people aren't going to discover podcasts organically" now that podcasts are not a default feature of iOS (rather, they've been moved into a separate, optional app).

That said, "we have reason to hope that an update could turn this into a great app," writes van Beijnum. He goes on to list a number of needed tweaks and features -- including iCloud support.

You can find the full Ars Technica article here.

Amazon, Apple may accelerate smartphone and tablet adoption with new rumored devices

Friday, July 6, 2012 - 11:20am

Mobile devicesNew devices rumored to be coming soon from Amazon and Apple may aim to put smartphones and tablets in the hands of new consumers, like those who have so far stuck with "dumbphones." That means more people potentially accessing apps and streaming web radio.

Amazon is rumored to be building its own smartphone. Not so far-fetched, considering it already offers the Kindle Fire -- an Android tablet device (RAIN coverage here).

GigaOM predicts the goal of a smartphone from Amazon "would be to go after the 50% of people who don't have a smartphone." Indeed, "a survey earlier this year found that consumers were more interested in a phone from Amazon than they were in one from Facebook," points out All Things Digital (here). 

"If Amazon can give consumers a dirt cheap but very capable smartphone, it could attract a number of users at launch and set it up for better success as it puts out more capable phones down the road," comments GigaOM (here).

Meanwhile, a myriad of publications report that Apple will soon launch a smaller (7" screen), cheaper (around $200) iPad. Such a move would not only hurt competitors like Google -- which unveiled its own relatively small tablet recent, more here -- but also get more consumers using tablets.


"As you drop the price point and size, you are opening up consumers you weren't addressing before," said Brian White, an analyst with Topeka Capital Markets. "Having something you can hold in one hand seems to matter to some people and may matter in emerging markets," said Frank Gillett, a Forrester Research analyst.

In June, a study found that around a third of U.S. Internet users owned a tablet (more here). A recent Gartner survey found that 40% of mobile users listen to music on their devices (more here).

Ramsey says podcast app a wake-up call for radio to "develop sensible and effective podcasting strategies"

Friday, June 22, 2012 - 11:50am

iPhone podcastsApple may offer a stand-alone podcasts app in iOS 6, the next version of its operating system for iPhones and iPads. Would such an app put broadcast radio "in the bulls-eye"?

"People familiar with Apple’s plans tell me that when its new iOS 6 software becomes widely available this fall, podcasts will have their own app, where users will be able to discover, download and play them on mobile devices," writes Peter Kafka in All Things Digital (here). Currently, the native Music app on Apple's mobile devices includes a section for podcasts

"This would increase the importance of podcasts," comments CultofMac (here), which expects the new app to include voice-control options courtesy of Siri -- perfect for listening while driving (an environment Apple is actively pushing Siri into, RAIN coverage here).

"During your daily commute, you’ll listen to 'talk radio.' But instead of desperate groups of un-funny idiots trying to imitate Howard Stern or put-you-to-sleep NPR type shows, you’ll hear the podcasts you’ve selected from the thousands available," continues CultofMac, predicting the "big losers" will include broadcast radio.

"Right or wrong?" asks Mark Ramsey (here). Though he thinks it's too early to tell (after all, this Apple-built podcast app is still rumor), he does point out that "those quarter-hours in the car will have to come from somewhere."

Ramsey argues this is a warning call for broadcasters to "develop sensible and effective podcasting strategies... and by that I mean a strategy that gives folks what they want, the way they want it, and when they want it." In sum, there may be an opportunity opening for radio stations that do podcasting right -- Ramsey points to public radio in particular -- to be a part of "a brightly showcased default app built into the OS on every [Apple] mobile device."

Songza becomes most popular free music app in Apple App Store, taking Pandora's #1 spot

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 11:30am

Songza for iPhoneWeb music service Songza has reportedly become the most popular free music app for Apple mobile devices, bumping Pandora out of the top spot. It has seen 1.15 million downloads since June 7, when Songza updated its iPhone app and released a new app for iPads.

"It looks like Internet radio service Songza is this summer's next big thing in digital music," comments Billboard. GigaOM calls the service "mobile's newest star." TechCrunch writes, "This is a testament to how startups can disrupt crowded spaces as long as the core idea is solving the problem differently."

New York-based Songza "aims to help people find the perfect playlist for what they're doing at the moment - whether it's unwinding after a hectic week, reading the morning newspaper or hosting a cocktail party," writes Reuters.

"We're trying to make the world's greatest collection of amazing playlists and long-form listening experiences", said Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza. "The idea is [to] get people to just three playlists really quickly that they're going to love and are going to be perfect for whatever situation they're in and whatever type of music they love," explained co-founder Peter Asbill. 

You can find more coverage about what exact Songza is in RAIN here.

"People seem to enjoy Songza because it's different than other Internet radio services. It offers playlists based on moods and interests, not artists and albums," writes Billboard.

Plus, as the AP reports, Songza does not run audio ads. That adds extra pressure in the "struggle to survive in a business saddled with high royalty rates for artists." 

Billboard also offers a dose of reality: "Let's keep Songza in perspective, shall we? iHeartRadio reached 10 million users in ten months. TuneIn claims to have 30 million users. Pandora has over 53 million active users. And history has taught us that next big things don't always work out."

You can find more coverage from the AP here, Reuters here, GigaOM here, Billboard here and TechCrunch here.

New personalizable web radio service the "central feature" of Spotify's iPhone, iPad apps

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 11:00am

Spotify Radio on iPhones

A coming update to Spotify's iPhone and iPad apps will include customizable streaming radio, available even to free users (previously Spotify's mobile app was completely off-limits to free users). Observers say the move makes Spotify "more directly competitive with online radio leader Pandora," as Billboard writes.

The new streaming radio service -- now "the central feature of the mobile app," according to Spotify product manager Donovan Sung -- lets users create stations from songs, playlists, albums, artists or their friends' musical tastes. Users can save tracks for on-demand listening later and customize the stream with thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons.

Spotify quoteInterestingly -- reportedly unlike Spotify's earlier radio product (more here) -- the new radio streams are "DMCA compliant," reports All Things Digital, meaning "Spotify doesn't need permission from music owners in order to roll it out. It also means the streams are "cheaper to operate" for Spotify, writes Bloomberg, "because royalty rates are lower" than direct deals. The streams also include advertising (like Spotify's free desktop offering).

The iOS update will arrive "in the next few days," Spotify told Engadget. An Android version may be coming later this year.

"We feel like the radio experience of just hitting play, leaning back and not controlling exactly what plays is core to a great music experience,” Charlie Hellman, Spotify VP of product, told Bloomberg.

We first caught wind of Spotify's plans to create a Pandora-like Internet radio service in April (RAIN coverage here).  On-demand competitor Rdio is also reportedly working on a Pandora-like web radio offering (RAIN coverage here).

Peter Kafka argues in All Things Digital that this is bad news for Pandora. "A lot of people confuse Spotify’s streaming music service with Pandora’s streaming music service. Now they’re going to be a lot more confused." That's "a problem for Pandora."

He continues, "Spotify now has a chance to expose many more people to its product, in the hopes of eventually converting some of them to paid subscribers. And Pandora, which has consistently argued that it hasn’t seen any impact from Spotify’s U.S. launch last summer, may no longer be able to say that."

You can find more coverage from All Things Digital here, Bloomberg here, Engadget here, The Verge here, Boy Genius Report here and Billboard here.

KCRW launches music discovery "Music Mine" app on Spotify

Monday, June 18, 2012 - 11:15am

The acclaimed L.A.-area noncommercial KCRW (often lauded for its ahead-of-the-curve embrace of digital technology) has ported its Music Mine iPad app to Spotify's app platform.

We reported in December (here) that on-demand music subscription service Spotify now allows partners to build applications that use Spotify's music resources through the partner's (e.g. Pitchfork, Rolling Stone magazine, Billboard) interface. In September, RAIN reported (here) the station released its free Music Mine app for the iPad, "to give listeners a way to sample and discover new music handpicked by its staff."

Evolver.fm now reports the launch of the KCRW Music Mine on Spotify. "KCRW Music Mine is as simple as they come, but it’s effective, if you like KCRW’s taste in music, and the included artists change daily to correspond with KCRW’s on-air playlists, which keeps the whole thing current," notes Eliot Van Buskirk.

Read more in Evolver.fm here

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