A couple of years ago, Beats
Music would have been revolutionary. Not only does it
have a mobile app and
Web interface with a catalog of millions of songs on demand, it also offers some features
that the early streaming
did not provide. This well funded and high profile music service boasts likely the largest
campaign that any music service has ever had the luxury of benefiting from and is
spearheaded by music legends
Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Yet, this isn’t two years ago and in 2014, does Beats have what it
takes to win customers and
become a leader in the music streaming space? Time will tell if they can steal customers
away from competitors and
others to subscribe to a paid service for the first time. In the meantime, after a few
days of use, let’s look at a few
things that Beats has going for it and some strikes against it.
First, the good news.
*Gorgeous user interface: This is the case for both the mobile apps and the web
portal. The design is fresh,
vibrant, sleek and modern looking. I really like the dark color palettes used with lots of
black that is punctuated with
red, magenta and violet. The fonts, size of text and all layout considerations make
everything easy to read, pleasing
the eye and a major upgrade over the now very dated looks of competitors like Spotify.
*Beats Learns What You Like: When starting up the app the first time, you are
presented with some big
floating bubbles of different genres of music that you enjoy and then are tasked with
picking a handful of artists that
you like. Then, your suggestions of “Just For You” are presented and these recommendations
will get better over time
as you like or dis-like tracks.
*Curated Lists: This is supposed to be one of the major selling points of Beats. A
staff of curators drill
down into sub-genres of music and build playlists that really work and therefore you won’t
be subject to awkward
selections that you’ll sometimes get with other services. In addition to Beats staff,
there are lists curated by
musicians, radio stations, websites and celebrities. So firing up Rolling Stone’s list of
“500 Greatest Songs of All
Time” or Pitchfork’s “Top 20 Songs of 2013” gives easy access to these types of cultivated
lists without having to
create your own playlists. Similarly, there are Songza styled playlists centered around
“Activities” like “celebrating”,
“chilling out” or “cooking.”
*High Bit Rate and Huge Catalog: As most services have done, Beats tracks are
320kbps while streaming
and you can pick which bit rate to cache for offline use (with the ability to pick a lower
bitrate if you have to be
careful of your mobile data usage). Beats sports 20 million tracks with a broad catalog of
artists that is likely pretty
much the same as Rdio or Spotify.
*“The Sentence”: This is a cool feature that Beats is really advertising a lot. It
allows a Mad Libs style
sentence creation which produces a custom playlist. Thus, “I’m on a rooftop and feel like
starting a riot with my inner
child to sounds of the ‘70s” kicks back “Gimme Shelter” by Grand Funk, “Hello There” by
Cheap Trick and “Saturday
Night Special” by Skynyrd, among others.
*Family Plan: This is a killer feature and one that many people are eagerly waiting
for on other services.
However, at the moment, this is only available for AT&T customers, but it allows for the
sharing of one plan among
five separate users for a nominal increase of only $5/mo. over the base rate of $10/mo.
This feature alone might
fetch Beats a bunch of additional users.
*Essentials: I like this feature too. Beats signifies which albums are “Essential”
when searching for artists.
This feature is curated by humans and not an algorithm of most played or most recently
released. Thus, if someone
is new to the Grateful Dead, they’ll be gently pointed towards “American Beauty” and
“Workingman’s Dead” and can
save “In The Dark” and “Go To Heaven” for later.
While there is plenty to like about Beats, unfortunately it is not all rainbows and
lollipops for the new service, despite
the heaps of praise that it is seemingly getting from most media sources. Frankly, at this
point, the drawbacks so
grossly outweigh the pros, that I can’t imagine this service appealing to too many people.
Of course, Beats just rolled
out and is bound to improve. Yet, the other services also continue to improve and have a
huge head start. Can Beats
catch up? We’ll see, but here are some of the shortcomings and drawbacks of the service:
*Buggy and Very “Beta”: Beats likely will not admit it, but the roll-out has been a
disaster. With an
enormous marketing push and advertising, you’d think they would have been ready for the
big roll-out. It was
difficult to get the app to work at all and it remains extremely lethargic and laggy with
lots of broken features and
constant crashes. I wanted to use the app for the week, but became so frustrated trying to
use it that it became a
challenge to stay focused enough to continue. It’s also frustrating that the Android app
does not work over Wi-Fi at
all and that you must use mobile data. Beats e-mailed that they are working on fixes and
have temporarily disabled
new sign-ups. Not a solid start and I’ve yet to see any improvements.
*No Play Queue: This is a non-starter for me. I expect any music app that I use to
have a play queue that I
can add songs to while playing, reorder playback sequence or delete songs from on the fly.
I don’t always want to
create a playlist, listen to an album straight through or continue having to pick songs as
each one ends. MOG, which
Beats bought of course, had a play queue and in 2014 I just can’t imagine this basic
functionality has been omitted.
*Limited Feature Set On The Web: Again, this seems like a relatively important
feature of a subscription
music service. It is great to have a music service that can be accessed across all
devices: tablet, mobile and desktop.
The desktop part of the equation is a failure. There is no way to cache music for offline
use, like Spotify, and
anything that resembles your library or “collection” is totally missing. Basic
functionality like “Search” is also crippled
and this seems like a total after-thought. Since I mentioned “tablet,” it is also worth
pointing out that there is no iPad
app yet, which is also a big omission.
*No “Radio” Feature: Again, while there are playlists created for different
activities and recommendations
tailored for you, there is no radio feature which allows streaming of Pandora style
stations. This was one of the better
features of MOG and something that many users have come to expect as a bare minimum
necessity. It should be
noted, however, that the “sentence” feature sort of acts like a radio feature but it’s
really not the same as having
artist radio or genre radio stations.
*Difficult to Use and Navigate: Having a beautiful interface is nice and Beats’s
interface is very nice.
However, more critical is having an interface that works and is intuitive. Sadly, this is
not the case with Beats. It is
difficult to find things, features are buried and frankly it simply wasn’t designed so
much as a music player as it was
a music discovery engine.
There’s no doubt that Beats will improve over time and hopefully address some of the
shortcomings. The $10/month
plan is equal to what Spotify and Rdio charge for their unlimited streaming plans, but
they offer more functionality
and a better user experience across tablet, desktop and mobile. The $15/month for five
users offered to AT&T
customers is a steal if you have several family members with separate subscriptions and
want to save money.
Unfortunately, there is no free tier of service, so after an initial trial period of 7
days expires, will the many people
who were disappointed in Beats be inclined to drop ten bucks and give it a whirl again?
I’ll be in no rush, that’s for
Written By: Parker Harrington