Poor Samsung launched their latest punt at digital music success just as Spotify was stealing all the media oxygen with its acquisition of the Echo Nest. Samsung’s latest venture, curiously called ‘Milk Music’, is another attempt from the smartphone giant to carve out some mindshare and consumer traction in the digital music space. Like all but one smartphone manufacturer – you know, that one from Cupertino – Samsung does not have the best of track records when it comes to digital music, having recently culled its previous Hub service. Milk is a Pandora-like mobile radio app and while it certainly suffers from ‘me-too syndrome’ it is not actually a terrible strategic fit.
With 200 stations and a catalogue of 13 million tracks, Milk Music has some muscle but it is hard not to see it as a thinly veiled attempt to ‘do an iTunes Radio’. However there is not necessarily that much wrong in doing exactly that. iTunes Radio is a very neat service that is well geared towards the mainstream, less engaged music fan. That is exactly Samsung’s addressable audience. Samsung has been at the vanguard of the mainstreaming of smartphone adoption, so much so that many of its devices are smartphones with dumb users. Milk Music is however limited to the Galaxy range of handsets, which will to some degree filter its audience towards Samsung’s more engaged users.
No smartphone manufacturer has been able to make music work like Apple has. In fact no smartphone manufacturer has been able to make content and services as a whole work like Apple has. Apple’s ecosystem is a fascist state compared to Android’s federated democracy, but at least the trains ran on time in Mussolini’s Italy. That absolute control of the user experience enables Apple to deliver on the single most important part of digital music product strategy: the service-to-device journey. It just happens, and seamlessly so. So many other phone companies have failed to understand the importance of this ineffable magic.
Samsung might be able to get it right with Milk Music, but because they are part of the federated states of Android, they will also have to tolerate a bunch of pre-installed incursions from fellow Android states, not least Google’s Play Store. Apple meanwhile ensures there is just one place for music on its devices.
Samsung desperately wants to make music work and to its credit continues to throw money at trying to fix the problem. Free radio might just be the best first step. Especially considering that just 1% of Android consumers state they intend to start paying for a music subscription service and that a quarter of them say they have no need to pay for music because they get so much for free. Milk Music might be feeding that free music habit, but it could also be the foundation for something bigger and better. In the meantime, if you can’t beat them…