by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, April 1, 2017
If you don’t use streaming music, this essay might be meaningless. But if you love music you should be into streaming music. The trouble is streaming music is in its infancy and is going through some annoying growing pains. For most people spending $9.99 a month for a massive library of music is the best bargain on planet Earth. And even with all its faults I gladly pay for streaming music. Right now I’m subscribing to two services (I’ll explain why later).
Once you start using streaming music, you realize it has the tremendous potential for being a music listening utopia. Anything that keeps your music listening experience from being perfect is as annoying as a skip while playing your favorite song on an LP.
Right now it’s possible to think of a song and play it within moments. This is where the problems arise.
- How quickly can you play a song – once you find the song playing is almost instant.
- The music you want isn’t available – right now I’m 95% happy. This is the best part of streaming music and why it’s worth $9.99/month.
- Finding the music you want – menu navigation depends on the device you use.
- How the music is organized – also varies from device to device
- Creating and organizing playlists – again device dependent
- Menu consistency between devices – see last three items
- Managing your virtual library – needs work
- Meta-data about the music – I want much more
I’ve been through several streaming music services, but for the last few years, I’ve used Spotify. I was euphoric with Spotify on the Roku, which is connected to by big TV, receiver, and floor standing speakers. It’s a fantastic way to listen to streaming music. Spotify on the Roku was the best system I could find for playing what I wanted with the least fuss.
Then months ago Spotify started acting up on the Roku. The problem was playlists. Other people also complained about the problem on the Spotify Community forums. I kept hoping they’d fix the problems. When they didn’t, I bought an Amazon Fire TV hoping Spotify worked better on it. It didn’t. It worked very different but had some plus features. Overall it was a step down from my streaming music nirvana on the Roku.
This week playlists just disappeared from the Roku app. On the forums, Spotify claimed they were working with Roku. Damn, damn, damn. Spotify on the Roku was a killer app for me.
Now I have some theories. If you look at my list of aggravations above you might notice a consistent issue. It’s the menu for Spotify working differently on different devices. Basically, the problem is you have millions of songs at your fingertips but picking them out is problematic, especially when the method is different on each device.
My guess is Spotify has put most of its programming dollars into creating great apps for iOS and Android smartphones. That’s how most people listen to music today. Thus writing programs for the Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, WebOS, and other streaming TV boxes is a pain in the ass, plus costly. At their forum, Spotify pushes using smartphones as controllers for playing Spotify on TV/stereo systems via Fire TV and Chromecast. And this could be the direction other device makers are heading too. Roku lets you use your smartphone as a smart remote. But I’m not sure I like this direction, but I might.
Smartphones have way more programming potential than streaming TV boxes. Plus the high-resolution touchscreen with a virtual keyboard is faster for looking up songs. Phasing out the playlist feature on Roku might be Spotify’s way of pushing users to use their smartphones. One advantage of using the smartphone for a controller is I can access my den stereo from any room in the house.
I can accept this in the long run as long as the music streams through my Ethernet to a TV streaming box that’s connected to my receiver by an HDMI cable. I hope it is not playing on the phone and being redirected to the Fire TV box. I want maximum fidelity.
One reason why I never tried Tidal music is that it didn’t have a Roku app. This makes me wonder if the Tidal app for iOS will stream to my Fire TV or AirPlay to my receiver, and would I hear the higher fidelity of their CD quality streams? To complicate matters, Spotify has reported it’s considering a CD quality streaming tier.
Because of my problems with Spotify on Roku I bought a Fire TV and signed up for Amazon Music. I wrote about that at “Spotify vs. Amazon Music” where I explained the advantages of Amazon music. But switching streaming music services is a pain. I’ve done it many times. The more you commit to playlists the harder it gets.
Using the Spotify app for Fire TV is very different from the Roku app. It’s far more visual, which has its appeals, but lacks many of the detail features the Roku app. Like being able to add songs to a playlist. Those features are on the Spotify for iOS app. The iOS app also has more features that are not on the Roku app. This leads me to believe the Fire TV app is actually a visual supplement to the Spotify smartphone app.
Spotify, if you want us to move to our smartphones as the standard interface for controlling your music library, you should just tell us straight out. I’m currently pissed at you because you’ve ruined the Spotify for Roku app, something I’ve used for years. You should have put explanations in the Roku app, so we knew right away what’s going on.
Even without the playlist feature looking up albums is much nicer on the Roku than the Fire TV. But finding albums is even nicer on my phone. If that’s where you’re going just tell us. Come out and say the iOS/Android apps will be the standard UI for playing Spotify. If you can’t create the standard UI for Roku or Fire TV just say so. Don’t let us think its broke and you can’t fix it, or even appear to blame Roku.
Spotify is my current winner because the iOS Spotify app streams through my Fire TV box and I much prefer its UI. Amazon Music app on iOS downloads files to the phone and then streams it to my Denon receiver. That means playing songs aren’t instant because of the download time. It’s a shame that Amazon Music doesn’t remotely control the Amazon Music app on the Amazon Fire TV like Spotify. That has worked out very well. The phone UI is far superior to using a TV remote.
Also, Spotify wins on the UI front because it lists albums by reverse release year order. I wish they would list by both release year and recorded year because most albums get released over and over again. Spotify lists by the latest release date. I would prefer the recorded year because a 1970 album rereleased in 2009 will be much higher on the list making it appear like a newer album if you didn’t know its history. And that’s what happens when I’m trying out artists I don’t know. I’m currently checking out jazz guys who started in the 1950s. Most of their old albums are rereleases or compilations, so it’s hard to know their time order of creation. I usually go to Wikipedia to check on original release dates.