The Anti-Spotify Music App

The music app you should be using. posted on

The catalog for Rdio isn’t as vast or deep as Spotify’s. It’s missing some stuff I want to listen to, like Maserati’s new album. But it’s my preferred subscription music service — true for most of the other tech writers I hang out with as well — because the product and experience is vastly better than Spotify’s, and it’s the social music service, integrating what your friends are listening to in a way that feels totally organic. And those are things I care about even more than a few missing cuts. Today there’s a new version of Rdio for iPhone and Android, a complete redesign that’s faster and cleaner still — making it even more antithetical to Spotify’s overwhelming approach to app design and experience.

By “clean,” I don’t just mean the new Rdio app is uncluttered — its predominant color palette is so white that it almost sparkles, and the crisp fonts have little weight or heft to them. The sensation is a little bit like peppermint chewing gum. The app’s architecture should feel familiar to anybody’s who’s used other iOS apps though, since it uses the near-ubiquitous sliding panel interface seen in Facebook’s app and others to reduce the interface for most of the app’s higher-level functions down to a single side panel. I’d say it’s a design choice that’s beginning to feel a little too conventional for iOS apps, perhaps, except that it does make navigation incredibly quick and direct, particularly for accessing playlists, syncing and going to offline mode, which were previously buried under a series of menus in Rdio.

There aren’t really many new features, which is mostly fine, except that I think the service still badly needs a private listening mode so anyone can listen to any music, no matter how terrible, without shame. It’s an odd omission, in a sense, since otherwise Rdio gets social better than anybody else in the space. And privacy — the right kind of privacy — is a huge part of social.

As glorious as the redesign may be, though, one wonders how long Rdio can survive in the business, as one of the smaller fishes in the toxic sea that is the music industry. Other, lesser music services have already fallen. Rdio doesn’t really talk about how many users it has, but AppData estimates just 140,000 monthly active users connected to Facebook, while it estimates that Spotify has over 24 million. A Topsy search of Twitter shows just 22,000 tweets about Rdio in the last month, compared with over a million for Spotify, which had around 15 million active users as of August. Rdio’s also paying artists to bring in new subscribers, a seemingly strange practice in an environment where Pandora loses money on tens of millions of dollars in revenue and Spotify’s losses mount to $60 million on revenues of nearly a quarter billion dollars in 2011, precisely because of how much streaming services pay record labels (and less so, artists). So it doesn’t look very good for Rdio.

I hope it lives, and this new app is precisely one of the reasons why. But increasingly I think the only way that might happen is if Microsoft follows through on vague rumors that it’s in talks to buy the service (Microsoft bought Skype, and Rdio is founded by some of the same dudes, so it wouldn’t be crazy). In the meantime, while the going’s still good, you can give it a whirl here.

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