Saturday, 12 May 2012

Better Than Piracy, Episode II

My biggest issue with the contents industry is its inability to provide its contents 21st century style. In this age of the Internet they still insist on shoving geographically contained and carefully timed plastic discs down our throats. In contrast, the solutions offered by the piracy “industry” are way better: they’re easy to find, easy to acquire, and they have no silly limitations on them.
Many consider iTunes the first adequate answer to this contradiction; I don’t. In my opinion, the iTunes product is vastly inferior to the piracy option. I consider Amazon to be the first to show us how things should be done: with its Kindle, the process of finding your book of choice, buying it, and then getting it to your ebook reader is so seamless and easy it is well worth the admission price. I have my gripes with Amazon and its DRM, but I’m appreciative of it showing the world how contents delivery can be done right while making money.
Now I am in a position to report Amazon’s feat has been replicated in the music industry. Us Australians finally have a product on our hands that surpasses the experience of the pirated product!

It took the acquisition of an iPad to make me stop waiting for Spotify to climb down from its Mount Olympus and grace us with their presence in Australia. Up till now I used to listen to Spotify extensively via VPN and an American account; due to Apple’s walled garden I could not achieve the same on the iPad (Spotify's app is unavailable to Aussie iTunes account holders). Yet the iPad’s advantage of being instantly on and so easy to use pushed me to seek a mobile solution, and those only come with paid services; Spotify’s current inability to accept Aussie credit card payments as well as the absence of its app from the Australian iTunes disqualified it. I went with Rdio instead: of all the Aussie music streaming alternatives (which also include solutions from Songl and JB Hi Fi), Rdio gave me the impression of offering the closest thing to Spotify as far as options and breadth of musical contents are concerned.
Having used Rdio for a few days now (I’m using it as I type), I can sum up the experience with one word: great!
Highlights include:
  • Support for all known platforms: There’s Mac and Windows applications, but Rdio will run out of any browser. Then there’s support for all the mobile platforms, even Blackberry.
  • The experience of picking music up on the iPad (or iPhone, for that matter) and then having the music play on my hi fi wirelessly (courtsy of my Apple Airport Express) is simply divine.
  • Mobile use: Listening to Rdio through our smartphones’ 3G connection is too expensive an affair to be worthwhile; it’s also a big time battery drainer. However, one does not need to resort to that: you can easily choose to sync music to your smartphone through your wifi and then listen to it offline.
It’s that last bullet point that turns Rdio, as well as its competitors, into killer apps. True better than piracy solutions! Want to listen to a song? Just pick it off the list and listen to it wherever you are! No need for iTunes to come in your way, no need to maintain large collections of MP3 files on your hard drive. It’s all managed up the clouds, it’s a huge library that contains most of the music you’ll ever want, and it all comes down seamlessly to your smartphone whenever you wish it to do so. As I said, great!
There are blemishes in this picture perfect scenario, though. They’re mostly to do with cost.
Rdio charges $13 a month for its services, which I would say is on the higher end of reasonableness but still reasonable. The first catch is that if you choose to subscribe through an iOS device, Rdio would ask you to fork out $20 a month. Rdio’s help on Twitter alerted me that this is due to Apple’s 30% surcharge on everything; makes sense. All you need to do in order to circumvent that is subscribe through Rdio’s own website.
It is the comparison to the USA that is hurting Rdio. For a start, why don’t we get a free option, the way Spotify has, to listen to music with ads? Second, why are Aussies charged $13 a month when Americans are charged $10? Currently, and for a while now, the two currencies are roughly equal with a bit of an advantage for the Aussie dollar. Rdio’s Twitter put the blame on exchange rates but I don’t buy it. I certainly don’t accept a 30% exchange rate surcharge: surely Rdio can do better than my own exchange rate, which stands at the low single digit domain. It is a clear case of that good old Australia tax most technology companies like to impose on us (and I’m looking at you, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Lenovo and the rest of the gang!).
Functionality wise, Rdio's most glaring disadvantage when compared to the Spotify juggernaut seems its lack of radio like features. I was unable to find an option that would allow me to listen to similar artists/songs to the one I am currently listening to. [Correction added on 14/5/12: Radio like facilities do exist but not for all artists (Gotye is an example for an artist without one). When I asked for Bjork's radio, I got one song by Bjork followed by several straight songs from Madonna of all people; I wouldn't call that a working "similar artists" radio option.] Neither was I able to instruct Rdio to play some jazz for me, a request that triggers numerous offers with Spotify.
Still: this is the best we have at the moment. With a free week to taste the Rdio experience with, I highly recommend it.

No comments: