Thursday, January 30, 2014

Google All Play Music

After the disappointment with Beats Music service last week, I took another look at the state of subscription based music services.  Not much has changed.  The world is still waiting to see what Amazon and Apple will do to address this market.  In the meantime, the usual players are still... well, playing.
And, just a reminder, we're not talking about radio services like Pandora (a very different category).
So, let's look at the players.
For some reason, I never hit it off with Rhapsody, who is now the grandaddy of this space.  Instead, I always considered it to be a three way race between rdio, Spotify, and the now about-to-be-defunct Mog.  Other candidates are Microsoft's Zune service and Sony's Music Unlimited.
But when looking at the features, usability,  and the variety of devices on which the service runs, it pretty much comes down to rdio, Spotify, and Google.  Unfortunately rdio's fantastic interface is nullified by their truly subpar sound quality.  Their attempt at double-speaking their way around this issue on the user forum isn't helping them either.

I had taken a quick look at Google's music service when it first launched.  I wasn't to impressed.  Like many of their products, it seemed to be "by engineers, for engineers" (though that is not always a bad thing).  No, it seemed like their music service suffered from over simplification.  It's like they are honoring Steve Jobs' relentless focus on simplicity without giving equal weight to intuitive usability.
That said, I took another look at Google's service this week and I am blown away by how complete an offering it is.  No surprise that they have nailed the search function as well as the categorization of music.  So far their "I'm feeling lucky" station and their custom radio stations have been on the money.  There are apps for iOS now too.  Plus it has a music manager which uploads my personal collection of music and mixes it seamlessly with their subscription offerings.  This alone is a killer feature  No more is my music fractured between what I can stream and what I own.  I just type the name and hit play.  It is one of those features which makes you wonder why we would put up with it any other way.
So far the music selection seems good too (but, of course, my own tracks fill in some of the gaps).
So what is missing from the service?  For one thing, I can't find a way to fine tune the radio stations.  Like say I only want to hear songs from a specific artist.  It lacks the ability to indicate how far I want to stray from the seed.  The only social aspect is through Google+, but that's is probably okay.  Finally, the service lacks scrobbling to  Fortunately there are plugins for the browser and alternate apps on the devices that allow you to send your scrobbles to

I am really surprised by the terrific music service that Google has built so quickly.  Since they've come this far this fast, I can't wait to see what they do in the next six months.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The New Beats Music Service

I thought I would document my initial impressions with the new beatsmusic service.  As a big music fan and semi-audiophile, I've bounced between most of the major music services.  For instance, I love rdio.  It feels friendly and alive, but the sound quality is terrible compared to the others.  I usually drive my stereo systems from my laptop or iOS devices and sound quality really matters.

Mog was cool.  Never had a huge following, but had good sound quality and you could tell they cared about music.  Spotify is certainly the most famous.  They have upped their bitrates (mostly to 320kbps) and have some exclusives (Led Zeppelin) plus their own internal app store.

This year brings us some new music subscription services.  Pono should be coming soon.  They will balance high sound quality with a proprietary format.  We'll see how that goes.

That brings us to  This is the company that makes the headphones (disclaimer: I have never tried them myself) and the company who bought MOG.  I had pretty high hopes and maybe that is part of the problem.  While the service sports some great ideas, especially for someone who doesn't want to think about exactly which tracks to listen to at a given moment, overall the service feels very unfinished.  The web interface is clearly an afterthought.  It lacks functionality found in the mobile app (can't create a playlist?) and is sluggish.  I understand that a company might want to build mobile first, but that's no excuse for releasing an unfinished product on the web.  They should have waited until it was ready.  And, on the topic of mobile first, where is the iPad app.  Are you kidding?  It's 2014 and you want me to hit that freaking 2x button?

If you want to 'publish' a track to your social network, the interface is slick.  If you want to 'share' your music with a follower or specific friend?  You are out of luck they don't know what "share" means.  This is disappointing.  And for a service based so heavily on curation and a tuned, personalize listening experience there is a surprising lack of fine tuning options.  Other than a few bubbles indicating genres and artists during sign up, the user is limited in how to set a baseline for music selection.  Then, when tracks are playing, you can only 'love' or 'hate'.  Seems like love should be for your very favorite tracks while some kind of thumbs up/thumbs down, like/dislike would be useful.  Also, here's a tip: if I hit "hate" on a track, stop playing the track.  Sheesh.

Of course, for me, this is all moot as without the ability to scrobble my tracks to, the entire service is a non-starter.  I am not alone in this based upon a quick read of their discussion forum.

Bottom line: some great ideas with shoddy execution.  Despite all of the talk and waiting for this service, it seems half-baked.  From a technology standpoint, it is ready for beta at best.  It will be interesting to see where this service goes.  Most of the issues I've listed should be pretty quick fixes.  I will keep and eye on this one.  While I might sound pretty negative here, it's mostly disappointment based on my expectations for the service and the clunkiness of the initial experience.  I really believe they have a few good ideas.  If they can execute on them, it could be an interesting service.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Myths Are Not False

Sometimes you will be asked a question, the wording of which, tells you that the person asking the question doesn't understand the fundamental questions of the topic.  A computer salesmen being asked by a customer how many windows he will need for his new computer.  This indicates to the salesman that the customer doesn't understand that Windows is an operating system and, perhaps unintuitively, a non-count noun.  Someone could ask when the weather ends.  Ummm...the weather never ends.  A particular storm or weather system might end, but never the weather.

Defining your terminology before engaging in a deep discussion (and certainly before an argument or debate) is critical.

We see this when someone clinging to an unsupported belief claims that "science was wrong."  Fundamental misunderstanding of science?  Science is always our current best explanation for natural phenomena.  It, like the weather, is never finished.  As better tools are invented, our findings get more accurate and often uncover new questions to be answered.  Science is a process.  So, you might ask, how can an ongoing process that makes no claim to absolutely right or to have a final answer be wrong?  It can't.  The person making the statement suffers from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concepts involved.  The best they could say would be that a particular, point-in-time measurement or hypothesis was later proven incorrect.

Which brings us to myth.  I have heard many people dismiss myth because it is "false".  Uh oh.  Myths are stories about a similar, often idealized, world to our own where ideas about the meaning of life can be tested.  The best myths, like any great story, not only entertain but also guide us through our mortal walk of life.  Why are we here?  What does it mean to live a good life?  What is the good?  How can we open jars of peanut butter and carefully lace our shoes knowing that we are mortal and will, on some not too distant day, cease to be?  Myths provide models from which we can select elements of the person we want to be and the journey we want to take.

It makes no sense to attempt the assignment of truth values (true or false) to a story.  Is a novel false?  It is a work of art, a product of the imagination which makes no claims to journalistic accuracy.  What would it even mean for a novel to be true or false?  The same applies for myths.  They are neither true nor false.  This confusion could arise if a person started believing some myths as true.  This would create confusion in that person's mind and they might expect other myths to believable as true statements concerning our physical universe.  How they would select which myths to believe as accurate statements about our physical universe and which to reject as mere stories, I have no idea.  It is a category mistake from top to bottom and they would be better served by understand the definition of myth, to appreciate their beauty, their timelessness, and their wisdom.

Perhaps, if more people begin to understand that myths aren't false, they will start paying more attention to these thought experiments.  One can be entertained while being shown possible ways to live a meaningful life.  Whether you use myths or not, the jar of peanut butter needs to be opened and your shoes need laces.  And someday you will die.  How will you live until then?