At the risk of sounding like I came from a clichéd middle class upbringing in the suburbs (disclosure: I did), one of my favourite bands of all time is Cake.
Fifteen years ago, I made the mistake of buying one of Cake’s best albums “Fashion Nugget” at Walmart. Cake’s lyrics are mostly clean, but occasionally the lead singer likes to drop in an F-bomb or two. Back then, Walmart used to only sell albums with naughty words bleeped out, so my copy of “Fashion Nugget” was too PG even for my 13-year-old ears. But because you can’t return an opened CD, I was stuck with a $US12 album that I didn’t want.
Let’s fast forward to today. I haven’t bought a CD since 2004. I have a bunch of music stored on an external hard drive, but that hard drive has been sitting unused in a cupboard in my entertainment center for the last two years or so. Instead, I started using Spotify almost as soon as it became available in the U.S. I’m sure many of you can tell a similar story.
On paper, Spotify was perfect for my music habits. I don’t feel compelled to “own” music like I used to, and I’m more than happy to pay $US10 a month to get any song whenever I want it.
But over time, Spotify’s quirks started getting to me. It’s search function just wasn’t good. Often, I’d search for an album and get several results that looked the same. And if I wanted to listen to “Fashion Nugget,” it was impossible to tell which result was the squeaky-clean, Walmartified version and which was the naughty version I wanted to listen to.
I began to have other problems with Spotify too. A few months ago, the tab for finding new releases disappeared in favour of the Discover section, which pulls in music you might want to listen to based on what your Facebook friends are listening to, what you have saved in your playlists, and a bunch of other factors. It’s a nice feature, but it wasn’t good or useful enough for me as a replacement for the new music section.
Finally, there was the app’s design. Spotify’s iPhone app made it confusing and clunky to add tracks to a playlist, or even download a full album. It simply wasn’t as user friendly as I wanted it to be. The desktop app was pretty awful too. It’s basically a clone of the clunky old iTunes app.
(Spotify declined to comment when I reached out.)
So, a few weeks ago I turned to rdio, a service that works almost exactly like Spotify. You still pay $US10 per month for unlimited access to about 20 million songs. A lot of my techie friends had already made the switch and had encouraged me to do so.
It only took a few minutes with rdio’s iPhone app to convince me to cancel my Spotify account. I haven’t looked back since. Rdio is that much better. And it solves just about every gripe I had with Spotify.
First of all, rdio’s iPhone app is gorgeous. In terms of design language, it felt a lot like Apple’s redesigned iOS 7 operating system months before iOS 7 even launched to the public. It’s simply pretty to look at, and a lot more functional than Spotify’s app. For example, you can quickly sync full albums to your phone by tapping and holding down on the search result for a few seconds.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so. I spoke with Chris Becherer, rdio’s VP of product last week and he said the company received a ton of positive feedback about the app’s design since iOS 7’s unveiling. And Becherer knows the value of top-notch design. He used to work on Apple’s iOS team on apps like Passbook, iMessage, and FaceTime.
“Our founder is a very design-forward guy,” Becherer said. “When iOS 7 was first previewed in June, a few people picked up that our app already looked like it. That’s sort of where the design headwinds have been blowing for some time.”
Rdio’s Web/desktop app (they’re nearly identical) is a lot better than Spotify’s. Instead of mimicking the old iTunes interface like Spotify does, rdio designed the product to make it super simple to jump into the music you want to listen to thanks to the “Heavy Rotation” section you see at launch.
And like the mobile app, it’s very pretty:
Search is better too. Albums with explicit lyrics are clearly labelled “explicit,” so you know exactly what you’re getting.
I’m 28 years old, and I don’t need a music service treating me like I’m seven. Becherer said rdio’s search algorithm takes a lot of factors into account, but it usually bubbles up the most popular tracks to the top of your results.
For example, if you start typing “Arcade,” you’ll get a bunch of results for the band Arcade Fire at the top.
Finally, rdio has a great section that updates every Tuesday with new music. Unless there’s some sort of special release deal with a particular album or single, you’ll find all new releases from the major labels right there. You can’t get that on Spotify.
In short, rdio has just about the same selection of music as Spotify for the same price. But what sets it apart is the ability to easily find what you want to listen to in a beautiful interface.
That’s all the reason you need to switch.