Tag Archives: google
Alexander Chen is turning into Google’s resident composer. In his latest experiment, he uses the controversial-but-buzzed-about Google Glass wearable tech as a video source for making music. Layering together a series of loops of his solo viola playing, he weaves a contemplative, modal composition. It’s a sort of overdubbed chamber ensemble in video. (The spare, parallel writing is to me reminiscent of a Copland string quartet.)
There’s nothing here that couldn’t be done with a head-mounted camera, but perhaps that’s the lesson. In our camera sensor-filled lives, a big part of the design statement Glass makes is the vision of a point-of-view video, seeing the world digitally as if through our own eyes. And there’s something a bit intimate about seeing the instrument, as his kid wanders around the room.
FL Studio on iOS is one of the nicer, more full-featured production suites out there. And iOS users now get Universal support (so yo don’t have to buy iPhone and iPad apps separately), iPhone 5 display support, Audiobus input and output, multitrack recording, Dropbox import and export and enhanced zipped-up exports of whole projects, and waveform editing – wow.
But a bigger surprise is Android support. There’s not complete feature parity support yet, but that’s coming (and most of the functionality is there.) Generally, Image Line claims you can run on any 2.3 or later device.
Given how many different kind of devices can fall under the label “Android,” just what do you get?
Well, any display screen will work, but they directly support “1280×800, 800×480, 960×640 and 480×320″ – covering the most typical sizes.
And latency is really a matter of the capabilities of your individual device. Sonoma Wire Works were at Musikmesse (and NAMM) touting their own low-latency engine solution, but that would require adoption from OEMs. And generally speaking, OEMs haven’t adopted even Google’s own, limited low-latency solution (currently available only on Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, and Nexus 10, not even Google’s own recent Nexus 7).
My guess is that latency will still be a frustration. I’d recommend a multi-core device – FL Studio is specifically optimized for multi-core – and one of the resolutions above, plus a low-latency Nexus if you can find one. Otherwise, you should at least get what Image-Line calls their “battery-friendly” performance, and latency reasonable enough for working on production and arrangement if not live performance.
I still recommend iOS for this kind of work, but choice is good and healthy, so this is nice to see! I have a Samsung tablet, so I’ll test it on that. And on either platform, FL Studio Mobile is clearly an app to beat.
Don’t like any of this tablet/phone business? Well, FL Studio is coming to Windows touchscreens, too, as reported by Synthtopia. Watch:
So finally Twitter leveraged its We Are Hunted acquisition and today launched the much expected, if not necessarily much anticipated, Twitter #music. I say ‘not necessarily much anticipated’ not so much because Twitter isn’t a big deal in the digital music ecosystem (it is) but more because few expected Twitter to do anything particularly groundbreaking here.
Making Twitter’s Music Experience 3 Dimensional
Twitter #music is a neat integration of Twitter music content, such as artists’ Twitter accounts and tweets, integrated with iTunes previews streams and (for Rdio and Spotify users) full audio playback. All of which undoubtedly brings genuine additional value and turns the Twitter music experience from something pretty superficial and two dimensional into a three dimensional music experience. But in doing so (some nice UI and discovery algorithms aside) Twitter is essentially just doing a Facebook. It is leveraging its audience’s behavior as a navigational front end for existing music services.
This is of course a good thing, pulling together the disparate social, graphic and audio elements of the digital music landscape into a cohesive whole. But it is also so much less than what Twitter, Facebook and Google+ could and should do.
What Twitter, Facebook and Google+ Could and Should Do
Between them Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have a cumulative 2 billion registered users and 1.5 billion cumulative active users. In short, just about every online and mobile music fan. These three social powerhouses between them also provide homes to the majority of artists online. This sort of power, influence and reach is staggering. And yet so far all that the three have seen fit to do is plug into other music services.
Now that might be the most sensible core plank of their respective digital music strategies, but there is also so much more that they could do that would complement, and add to the core digital music services currently in market.
- Google+ could create a standard ‘plug and play’ portfolio of creative tools such as remix, karaoke and live jamming apps that artists and fans could plug into hangouts and profiles
- Twitter could allow fans to follow the journey of a song from its original tweet right through to how it got to them
- Facebook could create a virtual jukebox app that would use Gracenote database look-ups to create service-agnostic playlist and digital collection data from users streamed music that would auto-port to any other music service via Facebook
These are all of course tactics, not strategies, but collectively they add up to something much bigger. The strategy of the social powerhouses has to be: bring new, unique value that genuinely moves the needle. Simply creating another suite of discovery tools is not enough. Twitter #music adds audio to the visual music discovery journey and in doing do runs the risk of making much of the discovery journey the destination. Which is great from a user perspective, but much less so for artists and labels unless some robust additional commercial models are added. The harsh reality is that if you give a social user too much value in the social context, the opportunity for converting engagement into transaction is reduced.
The digital music market needs social’s big three to start ramping up their respective music games. Twitter #music is a cute first step, but not the end game.
Subscriptions are still only a small share of the music market but their time is coming. That time is long over due (I and my former Jupiter colleagues David Card and Aram Sinnreich first started making the case for subscriptions back in 2000) and a slew of big players are getting ready to play ball now that subscription look ready for primetime. But they will find it far from plain sailing.
Spotify, Deezer, Rhapsody, Muve, Rdio, WiMP etc. have done much get the market moving and although there are still major challenges ahead (e.g. 9.99 not being a mass market price point) a host of new entrants are poised to make their moves. The much mooted / touted (delete as appropriate) Daisy is one of the more eagerly anticipated ones (see my take here) but focus has recently turned to potential moves from big players like Amazon and Google, while Apple’s arrival in the subscription market is becoming Godot-esque.
All of these companies bring fantastic assets to the subscription market –scale being the most important – but they will all find the subscription transition difficult. However good their technology assets, however big their marketing spend, however big their customer base, none of these companies have subscriptions running through the DNA of their products nor, most importantly, their customers. Here are the key challenges each will face:
- Apple: Apple was the music industry’s digital beachhead but now Apple has a problem. Downloads were a transition strategy with one foot in the digital future and one foot in the analogue past. Apple has built a paid content customer base founded on ownership, a la carte transactions and downloads. Meanwhile it tiers its hardware pricing by hard-drive capacity. In some ways this latter point matters most: in the streaming era consumers download less which means there is less need for higher capacity devices, which in turn means that demand for the higher priced, higher capacity devices tails off. Apple can use subscriptions to address this issue by creating bundles e.g. iPad Gold, a $200 price premium with device-lifetime access to an iTunes music, video and Apps subscription. This sort of tactic will be crucial for Apple because the concept of digital content subscriptions is alien to the vast majority of its 400 million iTunes customers. If anyone can make subscriptions work, it is Apple – and I believe they will – but currently its customer base, hardware pricing and content offerings (iMatch and movie rentals excepted) are simply not the right foundations for building a subscription service on. A lot needs to change before Apple and its customers are ready for subscriptions.
- Amazon: Amazon’s content-device strategy is the mirror opposite of Apple’s: Amazon is selling devices to help sell content. Amazon needs to be a key player in the music and video business because these low price point items are the bottom rung on the purchase ladder that Amazon hooks new customers in with. Subscriptions though, are high consideration items. Amazon is hoping it can nudge customers up to monthly subscriptions in the same way it can nudge customers from a CD to a laptop. But it isn’t the same transition. Most Amazon customers have a lot of one-night stands with the retailer rather than a relationship: it is where they go to get stuff, not to immerse themselves in experiences. Of course Amazon is trying to change that – particularly with video – but it requires a fundamental change in the relationship with its customers. As with Apple, a device / subscription bundle strategy will deliver best near-term results.
- Google: Google has the most diverse set of assets at its disposal. In YouTube it has the most successful streaming music service on the planet and in Google Play it has, well, not the most successful digital content store on the planet. Launching a subscription service on YouTube is an obvious option and the sheer scale of YouTube means that even with highly modest conversion rate it can easily become a major player very quickly. But the fact that YouTube is free is core to why it is so popular, so the vast majority of its users have little interest in paying fees. Thus Google will have to ‘think different’ to make subscriptions work on YouTube. But where Google could really make the subscription play work is, well, on Play. Not Play by itself though but instead as a tightly integrated subscription – device ecosystem with Motorola. A while ago I wrote that Google ‘needs to do an Apple with Motorola’. It still does, but it should do so in a manner fit for the cloud era by hard bundling a Play subscription service into Motorola handsets. (You should be spotting the theme by now).
- Samsung / HTC / Nokia et al. By this stage any readers from a non-Apple and non-Motorola handset business might be beginning to wonder how on earth their companies are going able to squeeze themselves into the subscription equation. It is a very good question. Most mobile handset companies are at a crucial juncture, they now face the same problem as ISPs did in the mid-2000’s: unless something changes mobile handset companies are going to become ‘dumb devices’ just as ISPs ‘became dumb pipes’. Nokia recognized this earlier than most but got the solution wrong – or at least the implementation – with Ovi and is slowly clawing its way back. But all of them have a huge task ahead them if they are to avoid becoming helpless observers as other companies build robust digital businesses on the back of their hardware. If they can harness the carrier billing relationship then they have a truly unique asset for building a music subscription market, but that is much, much easier said then done (remember Comes With Music?).
All of these business have the potential to be successful subscription businesses but none of them will find it an easy transition and none of them are guaranteed success. Not only will they have to transform their products, pricing and customer bases, but they will also have to develop entirely new business practices. To some degree or another, all of these companies have to make the transition from being retail businesses to being subscription businesses. Being in the subscription business is all about managing churn. It doesn’t matter how good a job you do of acquiring customers if you can’t keep hold of them. These are the skillsets that Rhapsody has been quietly perfecting for years and that Spotify is quickly learning. A successful subscription business can appear like a duck, slow moving above the water line, but feet moving furiously fast below.
The Churn Killer: Device Subscription Bundles
Any business that is new to subscriptions – whatever they may say to the contrary and whatever talent they might hire in – is going to be learning the ropes. Which is another reason why hard-bundling subscriptions with hardware makes so much sense for these new entrants. Besides the consumer benefits of turning an ethereal subscription into a tangible product, they allow the providers to plan for 12 to 24 months worth of customer life time value rather than worrying about subscribers churning out after just a month or two.
Even though downloads and CDs will still dominate global music revenues by the end of 2013, it is going to be a big year for subscriptions. Whether the new entrants can help turn that into a big decade remains to be seen.
Mobile apps can stake a pretty solid claim to being the single most important shift in consumer product behaviour in the last 5 years. Sure the devices themselves are pivotally important, but were it not for the apps consumers install on them, they would just be better versions of the feature phones and early smartphones from half a decade earlier. Apps have transformed consumers’ expectations of what digital experiences should be, and not just on connected devices. But Apps have also transformed product strategy, in two key ways:
- Apps have replaced product strategy with feature strategy
- Apps have created a renaissance in the consumer software market
Apps have replaced product strategy with feature strategy
Though there are a good number of apps which can be genuinely held up as fully fledged products (Google Maps, Angry Birds, WhatsApp etc.) many are in fact product features rather than products. Shazam for example is a fantastic feature, so fantastic that it should be as ubiquitous in music products as a volume button, but it is nonetheless a feature not a product. Don’t mistake this for a derogatory critique: indeed feature strategy is virtually the core DNA of the app model. After all apps rely upon the core product of the smartphone or tablet itself to do much of the hard work.
Apps co-exist with the core functionality of the device in order to layer extra features on top. Instagram uses a phone’s camera and web functionality, Layar uses the camera and GPS and so forth. In short, apps add features and functionality to hardware products. That does not make them inherently any less valuable for doing so, but it does make them dramatically different from pre-App products. Even the majority of utility apps, such as those that track rail and flight schedules, or the weather are at heart browser bookmarks on steroids. Games are perhaps the only app category which in the main can be considered as self-contained products.
This shift from product strategy to feature strategy has slashed the time it takes for products to get to market and has dramatically reduced development overhead, but it is a model riven with risk. Consumers and the device ecosystem companies are winners, but many app developers are exposed. On the one hand they have the insecurity associated with platform dependency, on the other they know that if their features are that good that they will likely be integrated into the device’s core OS or into the featureset of another app with broader functionality. Sometimes those scenarios will be achieved via favourable commercial avenues (such as an acquisition or licensing) but sometimes it will just be flat out plagiarism.
The lesson for app developers is clear: if your app is a feature and it is good, then you need to plan for how to turn it into a product, else plan for what to do when your app has become someone else’s feature.
Apps have created a renaissance in the consumer software market
It is sometimes easy to lose sight of just what apps are: software. In the PC age software was for most people one of three things:
- Microsoft Windows and Office
- An anti-virus tool
- A bunch of free-trial bloatware shortcuts preinstalled on their desk top pre point of sale
Mainstream PC behaviour was defined by Microsoft functionality and browser based activity. Sure, software from the likes of Real Networks and Adobe supported much of those browser based experiences, but they were to the consumer effectively extensions of the core OS rather than software products themselves. A premium consumer software market did exist but never broke through to mainstream. Consumers didn’t know where to look for software, whether it would install properly, whether it would work on their PC, and then on top of all this they were faced with having to provide credit card details to small companies they knew nothing about.
Mobile apps changed all of that. App stores simultaneously fixed the discovery, billing, installation and compatibility issues in one fair swoop. Apps have enabled the consumer software market to finally reach its true opportunity. Just in the same way that the iPod allowed digital music to fulfil its potential.
Apps continue to transform consumer behaviour and expectations
So where will feature strategy and the reinvigorated consumer software business take us? What is clear is that consumers are getting exposed to a wider array of digital experiences and are evolving more sophisticated digital behaviours due to apps. Apps are also enabling consumers to do things more effectively and efficiently, and are empowering them with more information to make better decisions, whether that be getting the best flight price or choosing the best local plumber. They are also making consumers expect a lot more from a device’s ecosystem than just the devices. How often do you see a phone company advertise its handsets with the screen turned off? It is the apps that count. For now, however good Nokia might be able to make its smartphones it knows that its app catalogue and ecosystem struggles to hold a candle to Apple’s App store and ecosystem (the same of course applies to all other handset manufacturers).
Apps have become velvet handcuffs for connected device owners
But what happens if/when consumers start to shift at scale between ecosystems? For example, say Apple finds swathes of its iPhone and iPad customers switching to competitors in the future, what sort of backlash will occur when consumers find they have to expensively reassemble their app collections to reconstruct the features they grew used to on their Apple devices? Perhaps a smart handset manufacturer would consider investing in an app amnesty, giving new customers the equivalents of their iOS apps for free on their new handsets.
For now though, Apple’s market leading app catalogue behaves like velvet handcuffs on its customers and gives it a product strategy grace period, in which it could get away with having a sub-par product generation, with customers staying loyal because of not wanting to lose their App collections. But not even the strength of Apple’s app catalogue would not enable them to keep hold of disaffected customers much longer than that. After all, apps are features, not the product itself.