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Streaming Music Revisited: 3 years later, here’s what’s changed for Spotify and Rdio

Three years ago streaming music was just starting to take off and I wrote a lengthily article comparing the two most popular services, Rdio and Spotify. Last time I was on a journey to find out which service was better for me.

I know this is a cop out but I don’t actually know which service is better for me.  Spotify’s use of my tracks and playlists gives it more functionality but Rdio’s desktop and mobile applications are more user friendly.

At the end of the day, using iTunes and my iPod app is better than Rdio or Spotify.  I don’t have access to everything but it’s easier to use the things I want to listen to or already have. I know I spend more than 120 dollars a year on music but not much more, so the it’s more beneficial for me to spend the money on the music I want.

I drilled Spotify’s mobile offering for being ugly and useless without internet connection. While both music collections were lacking, Spotify earned points for incorporating my existing library. So what now? As the streaming landscape has changed I felt it was time to give you an update.

It obviously doesn’t matter what is better for me. It’s very obvious that people like using streaming services and that Spotify is the winner right now, at least in mindshare. They plugged themselves into Facebook and if you want, every single song you play can be sent to your Facebook feed. They’ve also plugged themselves into Tumblr, so if you want to make a music post you search and stream every track in their library (even if it’s just a glorified remote control for the Spotify desktop application).

Whenever i see someone sharing music on Twitter it’s always a Spotify link. I don’t recall the last time I saw Rdio, and I’ve never seen Google Play, or Beats music links. I think this has been aided by Spotify moving to an ad model as well as a paid subscription model. But just because it’s “winning” doesn’t mean it’s the best service.

[click on images to see higher res images in their own window]

MUSIC

I searched the services far and wide, for deep cuts, and mainstream hits. Overall I’d say that Rdio and Spotify are equally matched. I spot checked them both and I was hard pressed to find something that was missing. And the stuff that was missing, was missing from both services, like the Beatles, but this just highlights Spotify’s greatest strength – the ability to seamlessly incorporate music you’ve already purchased. 

As someone who has been curating a digital music library since 2002 it’s hard to just leap into a service that ignores everything I already own. Especially bands like the Beatles (where I keep 3 copies of each album stored locally on my computer).

Both kind of trail on some high profile new releases. The recent Black Keys album for example, was released on May 9th and doesn’t appear in Spotify or Rdio’s library at the time of this writing. 

DESKTOP

Spotify has made tremendous leaps in design and functionality since I wrote about them last. Their desktop app looks better, and functions better since they recently rolled out a “Your Music” section. Now you can add music to your own collection so when you’re browsing, you can just look at the music you’d like to call your own, rather than the entirety of Spotify’s enormous library.

Rdio always had a “Collection” view. It was their biggest differentiator three years ago (and actually, biggest differentiator until a couple of months ago). It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why, but their implementation of collection just feels better. It has a little to do with layout. Spotify has some insane obsession with lists that seam to go on forever. They’re happy to show you what you want, but it’s almost like, it must be in list form.

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Both allow you to “follow artists”. It’s a weird functionality that notifies you if an artist you follow releases new music. Rdio’s desktop gives it you a very quick and easy way to send music to be stored locally on your phone. It’s super helpful to enable that right from the desktop.

A pretty big downside is that there’s neither desktop application has a mini player. Especially since Apple recently made the iTunes mini player so much more useful by adding search, “add to queue,” and “play next.” When I use iTunes it’s almost always in that mini player.

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Taking 5: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - a terrible subtitle for a movie that doesn’t need one

The full title of Batman v Superman was just revealedBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s… it’s not good. Worse, it’s unnecessary. And after thinking about it for a few munutes, I felt like I had to write something. 

Let’s be very clear, I am excited to see Batman v Superman. I think Affleck is a really good choice for Batman and while I don’t really like Snyder’s movies I thought Man of Steel was OK and I’d like to see where he takes the franchise.

I also tend to criticize things that I love and care about. I wouldn’t waste my time otherwise. So let’s fly backwards around the earth a few times and go back to 2011.

2011’s Captain America movie had a subtitle. It was the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to receive one, and it’s the only movie in Phase One to have one. The full title, if you forgot, was Captain America: The First Avenger.

I used to read Captain America comics (up until he died in 2007… spoiler). Yes he was an Avenger, the leader of the Avengers for a while, but up until Marvel started making movies he was always second tier. Spider-Man, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, and The Hulk, have always been the top tier for Marvel. They are the most popular, and have been for decades.  As much as I loved Iron Man he was always second tier. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and a hand full of X-men make up Marvel’s second tier.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful second tier of superheroes, but you can’t compare the popularity of Captain America to Spider-Man. Spider-Man is leaps and bounds (pun intended) more popular.

There’s a reason why X-men, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Fantastic Four movies were (licensed and) made before Marvel started making movies on their own. Those were the most popular characters, and therefor the easiest to get made. Unfortunately since Marvel licensed those characters they are unable to bring many of them into the fold of the MCU. So they had to turn to their second tier characters and make them more visible (again this was pretty easy, since their second tier is full of very good characters). 

By the time Captain America was released we had already seen the release of 2 Iron Man films, a Hulk (in the cinematic universe), and Thor. I think those characters are easier sells. Hulk is top tier after all and Iron Man, (well, aside from Robert Downy Jr crushing it,) the character has a dark side and is very human despite being a billionaire, genius, philanthropist. At this point everyone knew an Avengers movie was coming, it had been teased on the backs of four films already. But why would we, as an audience, want to see Captain America? What does a guy fighting Nazi’s have to do with The Avengers?

In this case, the subtitle “The First Avenger" was necessary. It told the audience, who probably only knew Cap on the surface, that his story was important to The Avengers (the movie and the team). It said, “he’s the first Avenger of many upcoming Avengers, and if you don’t see this movie you’re going to be lost.”

It’s a bit of a stretch, but it worked. Captain America was my least favorite of the MCU Phase 1 and I bet you could have seen the rest of Phase 1 and skipped Captain America and been fine. But the subtitle, as bad as it is, was necessary for Marvel to push their second tier hero out to the masses. 

That brings us to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Batman. Superman. They are the two most popular, most recognizable superheroes of all time. DC has already put their names side by side in the title, and they’ve linked their logos together. You know what this movie doesn’t need? A subtitle. And to make things worse, it’s a pretty terrible subtitle.

Granted, I’ve been paying attention so I know this movie will set up/lead into the Justice League movie. And I know DC is shooting them back to back so they’ll release in 2016 and 2017. But a subtitle like Dawn of Justice only works when setting up for something bigger / more popular than the first film.

The Avengers as a team are more popular than Captain America as a hero. But Batman and Superman, on their own, are more popular than the whole of the Justice League. DC doesn’t need the Justice League to sell people on a Batman and/or Superman movie the way Marvel needed The Avengers to sell people on Captain America.

There’s a reason why Batman and Superman are still around and popular after almost 90 years. They have the staying power and adaptability very few pop culture icons have gained. The Justice League may be made up of several heroes, but without Batman or Superman that movie doesn’t get made.

But here we are. A Man of Steel sequel that gives the Dark Knight top billing and a subtitle that weakens the actual title. We’ve got two more years of this, so glad we’re getting the rough stuff out of the way. See you guys at the theatre in 2016.

REVIEW: Star Wars: Turn To The Dark Side - Episode 3.1 

I wanted to to talk about Star Wars 3.1. At the time I’m writing this it’s still up on the internet  If you have any interest in watching an edit of the prequels, you should do so ASAP. [UPDATE: it’s been pulled] It’s worth mentioning that this cut is loosely based on Topher Grace’s cut of the film that has made the rounds among his friends, but this is not his cut. His film is 1:25 long and this one is 2:47. 

Since Attack of the Clones came out in 2002 I’ve been reading posts on message boards, and in some cases writing them myself, about the benefits of combining Star Wars movies. I thought then, and still think that you can tell the story of The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones in one movie. (The Phantom Menace, for example, comes to a screeching halt in the middle and we’re shown 15 minutes of Nascar. The podrace is the very first thing I would remove if I were to retell that movie.)

While I think you can tell the story in one film, what I don’t think you can do, is take the existing footage and combine it to make one complete film. That point was proven as I watched Turn To The Dark Side.

After a pan down from the stars this edit launches right into the final lightsaber duel at the end of The Phantom Menace. It completely removes the rest of the battle, as if this fight is happening on its own. It’s an ok opening that suggests we’re going to be thrown into a lot of action… unfortunately that isn’t really the case.

That fight scene is the most of Menace that we see. While I know people love to hate on The Phantom Menace there are some useable bits that make the latter part of the film make more sense. The editor tried (and mostly succeeds) in covering the events of The Phantom Menace in the opening crawl.

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One interesting plot point he changed was that someone was out killing the leaders of star systems. It’s a perfectly fine reason to dispatch two Jedi and allows the film to jump into that duel. Unfortunately without knowing who these two people are, or what they’re doing, there is no weight to Qui-Gon Jinn’s death.

Why should we care about either of these characters during this fight? A lightsaber duel is different than other kinds of fighting in Star Wars. They are made more important as the weight of the story presses down on them. A lightsaber duel effects the characters in ways that a gunfight wouldn’t because the adversaries are so much closer. Luke gets extremely emotional during both fights with Darth Vader. First because he thinks he murdered his father, than because he threatened his sister. It’s never about the fate of the galaxy, Opening on this duel makes it meaningless.

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After the duel Obi-Wan Kenobi is granted Anakin as his apprentice and we fast forward 10 years (with an ugly “Ten years later” text on screen… more on that later) and we learn that Padme is still concerned about who is out to kill her. Are we to believe that she’s been hunted for 10 years and no one has done anything about it? That the galaxy has been “on the brink of civil war” for that long?

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Taking 5: Xbox One and Backwards Compatibility

Earlier this month Xbox partner development lead Frank Savage let it slip that there are some plans for the Xbox One to get some backwards compatability. From Joystiq:

"There are [plans], but we’re not done thinking them through yet, unfortunately," said Savage, as reported by Kotaku Australia. “It turns out to be hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff on the X86 stuff. So there’s nothing to announce, but I would love to see it myself.”

So here’s the thing. I don’t really want (or expect) 60 dollar retail Xbox 360 games playable on my Xbox One. As… fanboy(?)  as it sounds, I do have a perfectly good Xbox 360 sitting right next to my Xbox One, and if I really have the need to play Halo 4 or The Club I can very easily turn it on. Actually, I was playing the BioShock Infinite DLC over the weekend.

What I DO want, and what I think would be really important to people, is if XBLA games were backwards compatible. XBLA games are a great way to augment the library on new hardware. I (like many people I know) purchased a lot of XBLA games. Most of which are highly repayable, and really helped define the last console generation.

I’ve actually been putting some really solid time into Geometry Wars 2 (it’s basically a perfect game. The game modes, the music, and the visual aesthetic compliment each other so well, no other game I’ve played is this well put together). It’s a great way to wind down after a 14 hour day on set (as my day job I’m a commercial producer) or after a couple of really intense games of Titanfall.

I guess what I’m saying is even if it’s “hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff” and doing so uses a lot of computing power, it shouldn’t affect most XBLA titles. So I hope we see some backwards compatibility on Xbox One and I hope I can migrate some of those titles over.

-Creighton

Updated Multitasking Screen In iOS 7

When iOS 7 launched this fall one of the biggest oooh and aaah moments was when people saw the new multitasking screen. In practice, it’s not very much different than the old one (that just popped up on the bottom), but users could now see their apps in their paused status. It looked pretty cool, but it didn’t really add that much more functionality.

More and more, I find myself in an app and wanting to jump into one of the apps in my doc, (honestly, it’s usually Chrome or Mail).

Scenario: I’ll take a picture with ProCamera. The moment passes and I want to search something. I could swear that I was just in Chrome so I double tap the home screen to swipe left. Turns out, I haven’t been on Chrome in a while so I end up swiping a bit one way, then I go back the other way, all the way back to my home screen and launch Chrome from my dock.

Is part of this a personal problem? Absolutely. I can’t remember which apps I was just using. But including the dock on the multitasking screen only adds functionality. Easily move the preview icons to the top of the screen, instead of the bottom, and add the dock.

It turns the double tap into a launcher. It also makes the dock even more important. Suddenly your dock apps become the apps you want to launch quickly, from any screen not just from any home screen. I know I would move Tweetbot there in place of Music. Music has just been there for so long that it’s muscle memory.

Using the multitasking screen to launch dock apps would be faster than springing out to a home screen and then jumping back into an app. 

As it stands now, I can double tap my home button see a couple of recently used applications. Adding the dock isn’t really that much of a stretch.

-Creighton

Taking 5: Nintendo

Earlier this month Nintendo drastically cut its sales forecasts for the fiscal year after they missed their targets during Christmas. This sent everyone with an internet connection into a tizzy suggesting that Nintendo could make buckets of money releasing iOS and Android games and that they should pull a Sega and exit the hardware market (Kotaku wraps it up nicely, thanks Kotaku).

Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata addressed this by saying, “It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Nintendo needs to be Nintendo. They need to make great hardware and make great games for that hardware.

So, while people are yelling for Nintendo to abandon their hardware business they’re not seeing that Nintendo has 10.1 billion dollars in the bank. That’s enough money to allow them to coast for decades.

It’s undeniable that Nintendo doesn’t have the marketshare or the mindshare they had at the start of the last generation. Their new console didn’t grab the hearts of the everyman the way the Wii did, but there is still a way for Nintendo to continue to be Nintendo and, perhaps, return to the top.

I have a four point plan:

1) Nintendo needs to pull a Microsoft and start paying developers to develop for their platform. It’s exactly what Microsoft is doing on Windows Phone, and slowly, it’s working.

Nintendo should be actively pursuing indy developers and spurring games creation for their devices. Have ‘dev days.’ Pay for companies of all sizes to release their titles on your platform. Create tools that make it easier to develop. Start earning back that developer trust.

2) Abandon the Wii U. Make it a “hobby” if you want (the way Apple made the Apple TV a hobby for a few years). Sony and Microsoft are using off the shelf parts for their new consoles. Use the same ones. Release modern hardware and price it the same as the PS4. Yes, you’re going to get called out for releasing a “me too” box. But you need to do that. If you can put an Wii / Wii U emulator (or really, all the hardware the way Sony installed an entire PS2 in the PS3 at launch) that’s a bonus. We’re expecting this console cycle to last 8-10 years again, so even if this was released in 2015 it would still sell for six years.

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The Internet and The Mobile Web

The internet is divided and it has been for some time. Even though it’s now 2014, there are still two very distinct internets. There’s the regular web we all know on computers. The internet we see in Chrome, or Safari, or Internet Explorer. And there’s the mobile web. And it’s really unfortunate that these two things can be so different. That there even is such a thing as the “regular” internet. That I have to differentiate. That anyone differentiates.

I would like to say that it’s one group of people causing the problems, but it’s everyone and most of it makes no sense. We keep hearing the same thing repeated over and over “the mobile web is the web.” Just a few weeks ago Google chairman Eric Schmidt said,”the trend has been mobile was winning; it’s now won. There are more tablets and phones sold than personal computers. People are moving to this new architecture very fast.”

Yet Google’s own products do not show parity on the web and on mobile, within apps or on mobile sites. If you visit m.youtube.com it is impossible to find an embed code. You click the share button, but the options are just for links. The YouTube app yields the same results. I can share on Google +, Twitter, Facebook, Email, but can’t find an embed code if I want to share it anywhere else.

The share options on a computer are much more robust and I have the option to get the embed code, if I so choose.

Not that getting an embed code would help me on Tumblr. On Tumblr’s iOS app you don’t even have the option to embed a video, even if you could find an embed code. You can only upload a video directly to Tumblr. I’m sorry Tumblr, but no one wants to use your video player. 

Hulu is another odd bird. I pay for Hulu Plus (I don’t have cable and I like watching TV shows on my Xbox). Yet, sometimes when I want to watch a show it tells me that it’s “web only.” Huh? So Hulu doesn’t think an Xbox is the web. I can get Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and most importantly Hulu, but it’s not the web. And I need to use a laptop to access the content I’m paying for. 

Never mind that sometimes videos are just not playable on mobile devices. Once US Weekly once told me to read one of their articles on a computer. 

I do wish I was kidding. Nice to know that 524 people liked it though. 

And just this week NHL.com wouldn’t let me watch highlights on my computer, but I was allowed to watch them on the NHL’s GameCenter iOS app. The pop over wasn’t asking me to log in it wanted me to upgrade to the next tier. I already I pay for the lowest level of GameCenter so I can listen to the radio broadcasts of Ranger games on my phone - a feature that’s completely free at NHL.com.

These are just a few of the issues that form the great divide that is the internet and the mobile web. Mobile citizens are still deemed second class, even when the Chairman of the largest internet company declared mobile has won.

As a user, and often times as someone paying to see content, it’s incredibly frustrating when there is any kind of disparity. Why I can watch a NHL highlight on my phone and not on my computer is absolutely bonkers. And it makes me want to murder.

I don’t really know how to fix this problem going forward. The only thing I can think of is for any developers to read this and implement any functionality in on your website or on the desktop version of your application, put it in your app, and vice versa.  Because as long as the little things like a lack of embed codes exists the New York Times will double bill you to see certain parts of their content digitally.

Quick note: I’ve tried to write this article a few times, in 2011 and again in early 2013, but stopped because I felt like it was too long. It pains me that 3 years later it’s still an issue.

-Creighton

Taking 5: iOS 7 Music App And Wasted Space

When Apple updated iOS from 6 to 7 worlds like “modern” and “minimalist” were thrown around in every article I read, despite the fact that the way I use the phone is largely the same. I, personally, care more about usability than looks. Function over fashion.

The new style of iOS 7 doesn’t really inhibit my every day. It’s usually fine, and in many ways makes my life easier. But one implementation inhibits my day to day, the music app. 

Listening to music on my phone is very important to me. It was one of the main reasons I couldn’t commit to the Lumia 1020. As I’ve used iOS 7 I can’t help but notice the tremendous amount of wasted space in Music.

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I usually sort my music by artist. In iOS 6 you can see 10 artists on a single page. In iOS 7 you only see 4. And there is a tremendous amount of space above and below the name of artist. I understand that Apple wanted to include more data, like album and song count, but even if you included that info, there is still a tremendous amount of wasted space.

You can almost fit the artist, album and song count three times in the designated area for one artist. 

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I’m seeing less than half the number of artists I used to see. That means more scrolling, and less time listening to music. 

Album view isn’t much better. In iOS 6 you got album art, the name of the album and the artist. You also got 9 albums per screen. On iOS 7, still 4, still half the information in iOS 6.

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Look, I don’t ask for much. And I actually do appreciate the additional data provided in Album and Artist view, but there is still a tremendous amount of wasted space. Shrink those albums down to the size they were on iOS 6, and really maximize the information you can present.

-Creighton

(Sorry for the lack of a full Album list. It was very difficult to get the screenshots of iOS 6 on a 4inch iPhone/iPod touch. Thank you to Katherine and Alex who sent me screenshots of from their iOS 6, devices.)

TWO WEEKS WITH THE LUMIA 1020

Recently I ran an experiment. I would try Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 1020 for 14 days. If I hated it, I could return it (for a 30 dollar restocking fee at an ATT store). If I was able to accomplish work and life I’d keep it.

I chose a specific 14 days (August 24 - Sept 6) because it overlapped with a shoot day that I already did most of the prep for, and a weekend trip to a city I’m not familiar with (Boston).

I’ve been intrigued by Windows Phone, and specifically the Lumia line, since it launched. And when the 1020 launched with it’s 41 megapixel camera, I kind of fell in love. It’s always tough switching operating systems (I’ve been on iOS since 2007) so I’ve been hesitant to make a 2 year (who am I kidding I buy a new phone every year) 1 year commitment. 

FIRST DAYS

I started this experiment far more enthusiastic than skeptical. I have been sold pretty hard on the idea of Windows 8 and Windows Phone. I get what they’re trying to do, and I want to be part of it. I am way into the idea of ditching my iPhone, and using something new. 

I spent much of the first two days downloading apps. I’d use the phone, realize something was missing, download an app. I would say half the time there was an official app for something I wanted, and half the time there was some bootlegged app that (actually) works just as well. There was a lot of “I’ll pull that up on dropbox, oh I need a dropbox app.” And then I’d try a couple before settling on one.

It took some time to understand the UI language and decide on a home screen layout that worked best. At first I didn’t have any people on my home screen, but discovered how much faster keeping your most texted, emailed, called contacts on your home screen is. It’s something I wish my iPhone had. At a glance it can tell you who has contacted you. You can see in the picture that Matt has sent me two messages and Steve has sent me one. I don’t know if they are texts or emails or a combination, but knowing who is trying to get in touch with me, can be valuable.

Taking 5: Vine / Instagram Video

Yesterday Facebook announced Instagram Video. And while I’ve only insta’d one gram, and I’ve only vine’d two Vines, I was really excited about it.

I was intrigued by Vine when it launched in January. But after trying several times to use it I had to put it away. It didn’t really click with me, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t hesitate to shoot a quick video. But I understand its impact. Vine ushered in a wave of gif and video apps that use hold-to-record, something that looks good on paper, but in practice it makes the phone harder to hold and leads directly to shakier video. It also used the whole screen as the record button, breaking ‘tap to focus,’ a fundamental paradigm of iOS… but I digress.

It was obvious to me that Vine wasn’t going to get better on its own. At the rate that Vine was gaining traction it was going to take a company as big as Facebook to create some real competition, and drive innovation. So when the rumors started earlier this week about video being added to Instagram, I started to get excited.

Having now used both, I’m a little bummed. I think Instagram video is better than Vine, but only marginally. It’s really just Vine 2.0. You can delete a clip if you don’t like it. It has tap to focus, and you press (and hold) somewhere else to record. It feels more like a camera (and, as you know, I’m an expert in iPhone cameras). You can add filters. And, yes, videos are longer (15 seconds in stead of 6 but that doesn’t matter to me).

It’s basically everything I would change in Vine, if someone approached me saying “here’s our app, help us clean up some things.” There isn’t really anything new that Instagram is bringing to the table.

Here’s my hangup. What I think makes Instagram great, and the thing that I think made it catch on, is sharing. Instagram allows you to take a photo, that you’ve taken anywhere, and and quickly share it across multiple platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Instagram itself. It is the one app you can use to get your 1:1 photo everywhere. It made it easy to fire off some photos and then share them quickly. Sharing was the secret sauce to Instagram, not it’s ability to take a picture.

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