Beats Music, the streaming music service from the Dr. Dre-fronted headphone company, arrived this morning on iOS, Android and web. The long-anticipated streaming product is the result of Beats’ acquisition of MOG last year, and you can see that company’s DNA all over the new version. But the question is really how Beats competes with other similar offerings from others including Rdio and Spotify, especially now that MOG has confirmed its being shut down by its parent company April 15.
Beats Music starts you off with a bit of an orientation process, to try to get to grips with some of your musical tastes out of the gate. On the one hand, this should provide a recommendation engine advantage over services like Rdio where new users are left to their own devices in terms of forming a beginning musical genome from which to cull content. On the other, despite an attempt to make the interface feel somewhat fun, it’s a fairly annoying onboarding process when you’re just trying to get to the music. Plus, I didn’t find it all that intuitive or even really accurate in terms of artists it offered up to choose my preferences from.
Still, once you’re in, Beats is able to offer up album and streaming station suggestions immediately thanks to that process, and that’s a little less daunting than being greeted with a blank slate, and a little more personalized than just seeing top lists of what others are listening to.
Besides the customized content shown off in the “Just For You” section, you also get “The Sentence,” which is a (suspiciously) Songza-like playlist generator where you slot in up to four terms to get music appropriate to the mood; “Highlights,” which is the generic promoted content surfaced for all users; and “Find It,” which lets you search for specific playlists via Genres, Activities and Curators. You can also just search for artists, albums and songs using the menu on the sidebar to go the them direct, but the focus here is clearly on playlists and radio-style discovery.
Playlists I tried out where decent, though not as uncannily accurate as the stations I’ve grown used to on Rdio – but then again I’ve had far more time building a musical profile of my tastes at Rdio. With The Sentence, I got more interesting results, but the phrase building is fairly nonsensical, and is based on set choices for each category, whereas you’d expect that in altering one term the other choices might adapt or change accordingly.
With any music, you can choose to store it for offline use on the mobile client. On the web, there’s no offline storage, but everything else operates in basically the same manner. One of the first things I tried was streaming to both locations at once, but after about 20 minutes the iPhone app stopped playback, notifying me that it was because Beats Music was being streamed by my account elsewhere. That’s hardly a big strike against it, since its competitors do the same thing.
Overall, Beats Music seems like a promising entry into the market at first glance, with a strong library and a decent user interface. It aggressively foregrounds the discovery services and auto-generated playlists, however, and that seems like a weakness based on its estimation of my own tastes based on the imperfect initial survey. It does make me wonder if I’ll put in the time required to find out if it gets more accurate with time, but the rest of the product is solidly conceived.
Beats Music will cost $9.99 per month (and it’s U.S.-only for now), but it’s available for a free 7-day trial for all new users, with no credit card or anything required at sign-up. It doesn’t seem like it has the brains to necessarily kill either Spotify or Rdio at this point, but Beats has a powerful marketing engine behind it, and a hardware business that’s ripe for service promotions and free giveaways in combination with the streaming music offering, so that could sway things in its direction.