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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.

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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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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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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

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

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.

iOS 7 - Fears and Feature Requests

It’s been two years since I put my thoughts together about improvements for my mobile operating of choice. Apple’s WWDC keynote is Monday and we are going to get our first look at Jony Ive’s vision of iOS. But as I said a few weeks ago on Twitter, I am a little fearful that all we are going to get is a design overhaul.

Look we all know that Jony Ive is a very talented designer. He can keep himself laser focused on a vision and execute. Absolutely. But my fear is that all we’re going to get is a redesign. Yes, iOS does feel a little dated, especially compared to Windows Phone, but cleaning up some features and adding others is actually more important to me than a design overhaul.

My fear is that due to the limited time Ive has had with the OS (roughly 7 months) we’re just going to get something shiny that doesn’t increase functionality and productivity. And really, that’s what I need out of an OS and my applications. A smarter, faster OS that makes me more productive is where I’m going to be most happy.

I’m not saying that we aren’t going to get both. I’m just worried that there wasn’t enough time to have both. A pretty OS with the same features is kind of meh, to me.

Ok, all that said. I’ve got a list of 7 feature requests for iOS 7. Here goes:

Xbox One

Ok, here it is. I’ve been struggling to put words on paper about the Xbox One. I find I meander, I pull references, figures and I get off track.

I don’t want to talk about my cord cutting, or the history of streaming boxes, and I really don’t want to talk about how Microsoft has been after the living room for years or that Media Center PCs have been around for decades - that’s not the point. It’s this:

Microsoft has made a really compelling set top box.

It’s not a gaming console, it’s also a gaming console. It’s kind of the thing that people have been using in scifi for, what feels like, forever. Saying “xbox, [command]” into an empty room is actually something out of Star Trek. And we’ll have it, seemingly, very functional and standard on every box is great. Pulling up a another task on your TV while browser window while you’re watching a movie is actually science fiction. 

So, while the Xbox One reveal might be Microsoft graduating the from gaming console to full on set top home computer, I’m ok with that. I’m a nerd. That’s something I want.

PlayStation 4: Putting The Gamer At The Center

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Obviously the biggest news from Sony’s PS4 announcement was that they never actually showed their new console. Fine. But what about what they did show.  Now that we’re more than 18 hours removed from the conference, and I’ve watched it again, I think I can wade through all the noise. Ready? Ok.

First, I don’t care how many developers Sony had on stage or which games they were showing off. The console isn’t out yet, so we have absolutely no idea what the games will look like, or what the hardware is actually capable of (yes we have specs but specs don’t mean anything).

We don’t know what it will look like, but we know what it will feel like.

Right at the top of the show, not 5 minutes in, Andrew House said:

"The living room is no longer the center of the playstation ecosystem, the gamer is.… With mobility and the ability to share content and experiences becoming an increasingly important part of the gaming experience, connectivity between devices and the ease with which they connect has been essential to meeting the demands of today’s casual or core gamer."

While we didn’t see what the box looks like, Sony did show us a new controller. They’re calling it the DualShock 4 and it looks like a DualShock 3 with an added touchpad along the top.

But forget the touchpad for a second, the most interesting part of the new controller is a share button. Yes, nestled right in between the D-pad and the touchpad is a button labeled ‘share.’ The share button can capture the video on your screen and broadcast what you’re doing to your friends. They’ve baked in live streaming capabilities via UStream.

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They also alluded to the PS4 hooking into existing social networks to enhance your experience. I can imagine something like starting a live broadcast and tweeting the link. Or making a Facebook post of a video you’ve recorded.

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Why Don’t We Remake Books?

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I watched The Firm the other day. I hadn’t seen it and something just compelled me to watch it. When I searched for it on Amazon Instant two results came up. The first was the one directed by Sidney Pollack starring Tom Cruise that came out in 1993. The other was something from 2012. I obviously wanted to watch the 1993 version.

As the opening credits rolled they read “based upon the book by John Grisham” and I struck with a nagging thought – this movie was remade and updated for the 2012 version, but the book was never changed.

Why don’t we remake books?

It’s an interesting question for which I don’t really have an answer. We remake every other form of entertainment but for some reason we don’t remake books. What do I mean when I say “remake”? Great question. It means different things in each form of entertainment.

Movies are notorious for remakes. We see them all the time, and I’ve talked about this before, but remakes are almost as old as movies themselves. Rebooting a franchise might be considered a remake, that’s a case by case thing. The film industry thrives on remaking movies and it’s hard to imagine a world without remakes.

We call remakes of songs “cover songs” or “covers.” I don’t know how song remakes got their own word, but at some point it happened. Some covers become so popular that they surpass the original recordings popularity (Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Knocking on Heavens Door,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Along The Watch Tower” come to mind immediately but I grew up on classic rock). Just like in film I can’t really imagine a world without covers. (It’s worth noting that there are some great Tumblrs dedicated to cover songs. My favorite is Copy Cats.)

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New.Myspace, New.Problems

Those of you who have been following me for a while (or know me personally) know that Myspace is one of my favorite things to talk about. I have said before that I would drop everything to be the CEO of that company, and I’m only half kidding when I say that.

When Myspace released a video of their redesigned site I was elated. Watching (fictional person) David create an account and then scroll through pictures and friends, share music, connect with musicians… It seemed to echo many of the thoughts I had for the service; take the template for Myspace Music, and grow it. Make Myspace a place for artists. The New Myspace brings us closer to a social network for artists than any other site has before. And it does it with style. Myspace is damn pretty.

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I have been using New Myspace almost two months. I think it’s pretty good. The site just opened to the public so I thought it would be worth putting some thoughts on down on text

As far as the gist of the site, the flow and basic day to day use, New Myspace makes more sense to me than Facebook. I would go as far as saying that New Myspace actually makes Facebook feel a little outdated, especially when you consider that we we live in a world of Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

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