Music streaming service Rdio has just rolled out what it says is the biggest upgrade to its app since it launched nearly five years ago.
While it’s now considered one of the top four or five choices for streaming fans, Rdio missed the jump on Spotify to become the first genuinely huge on-demand service, while Pandora stitched up the internet radio side of things.
But despite having less users, Rdio, depending on who you listen to, is more often lauded ahead of its rivals for its ease of use and integration between app and online. It’s music catalogue is now topping out at an impressive 30 million tracks, and it’s kept the price of its premium service at the standard $12 month for mobiles.
Earlier this year, it scored a small coup by being named as the default dashboard service for Tesla’s cars. Around the same time, it stitched up a deal with Shazam that allows full playback of Shazammed tracks (as opposed to previews) through its player.
While they’re not keen to share information on current users, time spent on app, ratios of paid users to free users – in fact, just about anything – Rdio could tell us its current user base is twice as big both in Australia and globally than this time last year.
What it doesn’t have is a decent radio service. In the past year, it’s rolled out a basic service called YouFM which is a single station that plays a non-stop reel of tracks based on what you’ve already downloaded mixed with what you’ve liked on social media. There’s been an option to tune into your friends’ FM stations, but it’s been a pretty low-key one.
Over at on-demand service Spotify and online radio services such as Pandora and iTunes Radio, users have been enjoying the same feature, plus one that delivers genre stations and stations based on what popular artists are listening to; since 2011 in Spotify’s case.
Rdio have spent well over a year working on catching up with online radio and it’s in this space – along with some fairly unobtrusive, yet useful social features – that it hopes the redesign will help it gobble up more new users.
Rdio now hosts more than 30 million songs in its catalogue, but is really keen for users to start accessing them via stations. Playlists will always remain an option but Rdio’s global senior VP of product, Chris Becherer, told Business Insider that stations offer greater variety and discovery options.
Rdio’s calling the theme of the new update “Stations First” and it’s available on iOS and Android starting tonight.
“We introduced stations last year but spent the time since learning and testing and tuning,” Becherer said. “Thursday we’re taking the big step of putting stations at the forefront of the Rdio experience, for two reasons.
“One, there isn’t a service right now that pairs station listening with on-demand listening in a really clean and elegant way. In the internet radio camp, services like Pandora, iTunes Radio only let you listen to radio stations. On-demand, it’s all about albums and playlists… Rdio has traditionally been in that camp.
“We see that as two sides of the same coin – there’s going to some time in your life when you’re driving or cooking dinner when you want to turn on the radio. There’s going to be other times when a new album’s just dropped and you want to listen to that the way the artist intended, and most users over time will have an app for both.
“But listening to these services is an investment in your time – as you listen more, the service learns more about you, gets smarter, starts to recommend different things. You build up a social graph on the service and everything gets better over time. If you’re duplicating that investment over multiple services – and our research says most people are, they’re listening to iTunes Radio for one thing and Spotify for another – you’re really cheating yourself out of getting the most out of any one service.
“So for the first time we’re pairing a first-class lean-back radio experience with a first-class lean-forward on-demand experience.”
Becherer said the other point at which rolling out a stations feature became viable centred around free music. Due to lower licensing costs and partnerships with broadcast radio companies around the world serving ads for it, Rdio is now in a position to offer a sustainable model of global free radio.
It’s had a limited free radio experience in Australia for a few months, partnering with NOVA FM and News Corp, and Becherer says now’s the time to take it global.
The rollout to 20 countries is under way. Here’s what you can expect to see:
The new app home page
Rdio is burying the current default option which shows albums on Heavy Rotation across the app. Becherer said that option was “not working” for users, who were confused about what was driving the recommendations.
The idea was to create a new feed which gives users better context as to why they were getting recommended particular albums and artists. It starts off pretty simple:
You might just want to keep listening to what you were grooving to last time. So just tap Keep Listening button to pick up where you left off:
Scrolling down (or up, whichever you prefer)
The next thing you’ll see is what your friends are listening to lately. Obviously it depends on how many friends you’re linked with, but Rdio reckons it’s the best way to discover new music. Keep in mind Rdio updates its catalogue once a week, on Tuesdays.
If you’re not ready to commit
Comments might help you decide. They’re only from people you follow, so you’re more likely to engage with them than be annoyed. Music arguments are the best arguments anyway, and you can easily unfollow anyone offensive.
Build your station
This is the biggest addition to the new Rdio. YouFM was rolled out to desktop users a few months ago, which is basically a radio channel featuring a mix of all your tracks. Now it’s a much more expanded feature in the app.
New users will get their station by entering their three favourite artists.
The Rdio gets to work compiling a list of other stations you might like based on and continually updating according to what you’ve been listening to.
All the stations
And it’s not just your personal station on offer. Rdio has its own in-house team building custom “mood” stations (relax, drive time, work, house party etc). Or you could be offered friends’ stations, or stations based entirely on what your favourite artists are listening to.
You can tell its a station because the thumb looks like an LP with an artist in the middle:
They’ve really put a lot of work into building a lot of stations. This is just a snap of what you’ll see under “Alternative”:
Expand your horizons a little
This is where stations get a bit nifty. There’s already a handy preview pane showing what you can expect from a station. But move the slider to “Adventurous” and the selection widens to include more artists that are related, but perhaps not ones you’d considered.
Or use the Recommendations page
All the selections are based on what you’ve been listening to – pretty standard fare these days. But they change as your habits change, and are also based on what your friends are listening to at the time.
There’s been a major home page update, too
It’s much, much cleaner and easily accessed by tapping the three bars at the top left of any screen.
If you’re familiar with Rdio and wondering why you can’t see Heavy Rotation and Top Charts, they’re now combined under Trending. Your Collection is now called Favourites.
The Player page is much cleaner too
With all the usual buttons, but Rdio also has a great Chromecast app, so you can play all your music through your TV. It’s also supported by Roku and Sonos.
And also has a remote option!
This is neat too – if you open the app on another device at the same time, you can control playback with Remote Control Mode. So if you’re listening to Rdio on the web, you can use Rdio on your phone as a remote control, and vice versa.
Press and hold
If you really like what you’re listening, press and hold your thumb on a piece of music. You’ll get this list of options:
It’s a much easier way of adding to your collection – and sharing – than searching for the three dots in the bottom right corner.
So will you make the switch?
Confession – I’ve been an Rdio fan since almost the day it was born. It was buggy for a while, but I dealt with that because the interface was simple, worked great on a desktop touchscreen and was the first streaming service I’d used that smoothly coordinated my library between desktop and app, instantly.
I flirted with Grooveshark for a while, and liked it, but it got into trouble with copyright issues and fell off my radar, although it’s back again and looking great.
By the time I’d tried Spotify, I’d seen it all before. It’s a great service, supports some great extensions and boasts CD quality sound, but the Facebook side of it was too intrusive.
I’ll stick with Rdio – the refresh is pretty much spot-on. It’s thrown a huge new feature in with expanded stations, and managed to squeeze it in while somehow making its already clean lines even more user-friendly across the whole service. It probably won’t steal any Spotify users, and it might grab a few Pandora fans. It will definitely give streaming debutantes a much tougher choice.
And let’s not forget Beats. Apple has a great ace up its sleeve here to combine the best features of iTunes and iTunes Radio into one great streaming service and you can almost bet on it becoming the third big player in the on-demand/internet radio crossover field.
Put simply, it’s a great time to be loving music.
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