Earlier today, music streaming service Rdio launched a major update of its mobile app for iPhone and iPad, a much-needed redesign for an app that was starting to show its age.
The mobile app has finally caught up with the aesthetic direction of the desktop version. Gone are the gradients and subtle noise of the previous iteration, replaced by the clean minimalism which has dominated Rdio’s desktop interface since the June 2012 redesign. The consistent design makes the Rdio ecosystem feel a lot less dissonant than it has for the past six months.
Structurally, the most notable change is the absence of the icon/grid navigation from previous iterations. Navigation is now available by swiping right, which exposes a left-hand menu in the style of Facebook, Path, etc. This is a major improvement over the previous version, which required users to navigate back to the app’s main screen every time they wanted to do something different. The new persistent menu requires less interaction per action, a much more sophisticated economization of design.
One astute commenter elsewhere noticed the similarities between Rdio 2.0 and the-interface-formerly-known-as-Metro. While I don’t think this is intentional — sometimes, a flat interface is just a flat interface — it does make an interesting connection. The interface is more in line with Microsoft’s recent design direction than Apple’s, and there have been rumblings of a potential Microsoft buyout of Rdio.
The app’s performance improvements are immediately noticeable — it doesn’t show any lag (a consistent problem with its predecessor), and is downright speedy. It provides plenty of user feedback, so even when it’s thinking, it’s clear that it isn’t hanging. Even in places where speed couldn’t be much improved, the difference in perception is huge.
The queue is also drastically better, and now syncs between desktop and mobile, providing a more seamless experience.
Rdio 2.0 finally provides the oft-requested remote control feature. Let’s say I’m hosting a party and running the music through my computer, but I don’t want my computer exposed for everyone to use. Now, I can control the music selection from my pocket, using the mobile app to set the playlist and using the desktop app to connect to speakers. This is an effective solution for those without AirPlay or a similar wireless music setup.
Unfortunately, the remote control isn’t quite bulletproof. I usually leave my phone locked to preserve battery. When I wake it up, it takes a moment to switch from 3G to wi-fi, and if I try to use the app as a remote during that brief moment, both the desktop and mobile apps get confused. Both apps pause (each saying that the music is playing from a separate location), and the mobile app seems to lose track of which playlist it was playing. This isn’t a catastrophic error, but it is annoying, especially since it occurs during such a common usage pattern.
The search feature could be more robust. The search bar is available from anywhere in the app by swiping right, but it always searches the entire Rdio catalog. It would be very useful to search for songs from within playlists, albums, and the user’s collection. I’d love to be able to jump to a particular song in a playlist without leaving the playlist, for instance. The absence of this feature isn’t a major shortcoming, but it could be easily fixed.
Rdio and Spotify have been the dominant players in the music streaming space for several years now and, while Spotify has gained enormous traction due to its partnership with Facebook, Rdio remains the superior competitor when it comes to both visual and functional design.
Rdio has been stepping up its game with consistent improvements, a massive ad campaign (including a massive billboard in Times Square), and promotions that incentivize musicians to draw their fans into the service. The question is, will it be enough to stem the tide of Spotify?
As a general rule of marketing, the company that is seen as first-to-market in a category will have around 50% market share. The second will have around 25%, the third 12.5%, and so on. Even though Rdio preceded Spotify in the US, its launch was quiet enough that Spotify is perceived as being first-in-category. Will Rdio’s superior quality be enough to regain lost ground? I’m hopeful, but doubtful.
Realistically, if we concede the first-to-market advantage to Spotify, there are two directions for Rdio: it will either cater more directly to a particular niche (it seems to have a lot of users in the tech sector specifically), or it will be bought by Microsoft and become the Xbox music player of choice. Unless it can find another way to differentiate itself against Spotify, I don’t see another option.
The fact remains, the iOS app redesign was a much-needed and welcome change, and signals Rdio’s intention to remain competitive in a field that may well be consolidating. Here’s hoping for a bright future for the best streaming service out there.