Striking the right note

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on April 12, 2017

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Google’s focus on low-cost high quality online music can find takers

Indians generally don’t stream. They store. Why? Because consumers are frugal here. They feel streaming, re-streaming movies or music is a waste — of time, money, data and so on. Little wonder then that the streaming industry is a suitably fledgling one in this price-sensitive market. In 2015, shows an estimate, nearly three crore people streamed music in this billion-plus-populace market. But not anymore, it seems. Broadband is exploding, thanks to new, daring ISPs and falling data tariffs and copyright battles are prompting many users to download legit, high quality music. And the industry hopes about 30 crore people would stream music in India by 2020.

Enter the Big G

It’s in this backdrop that one must look at and listen to the recently launched Google Play Music online service and see how it fares against rivals such as Apple Music, Gaana, Saavn and Jio Music. To start with, Google Music is a low-cost, high quality affair as it offers an introductory tariff of ₹89 a month (₹99 after the first month). Of course, there is a free-trial period of 30 days as well (Apple has a 90-day trial time).

The interface looks surprisingly cluttered and confusing. You’ll need some fine-tuning to get used to the homepage and the library. But savvy users may have felt the same when they started negotiating Apple Music.

Google allows you to stream in high quality — 320kbps, tad better than Apple Music’s 256 kbps. For the audio puritans, this may seem a happy plus. You can adjust audio quality in the settings. And what’s cool-er is that you can cast the music to a Chromecast-enabled TVs or similar devices

The collection of music is quite good, even though it’s not complete. Regional languages, especially Malayalam, Tamil, which we have tested, are well represented. Even some rare vintage tracks are available for streaming. That said, this is a job in-progress, and finding your favourite tracks is a pain; Google needs to really wring its algos here to make it hassle-free.

Synching AI

One feels Google could have employed more artificial intelligence (AI) into developing this online music store. Music ‘curation’ could have had tad more intelligence because ‘suggestions’ based on tracks you are listening to seems to be in need of improvement. One can hope the algorithms will get perfected as we move on.

Also missing is a cloud-enabled seamless synching faculty for the same account across multi-devices. Interestingly, Google Music is linked to YouTube and your searches instantly fetch video results from YouTube as well. But the videos cannot be played when your screen is off. That’s one annoying issue YouTube should sort out, not just for making Google Music better, but for its own sake. We didn’t find a lyric button in the dropdown menu along with the tracks. This is an important tool in a third-world market. Hope Google will add that in one of the updates. Several music player software, especially the ones in the Linux environment, nowadays offer this facility and Google can easily sew it into the service.

In sum, Google Music enters India at a time when the streaming infrastructure is getting robust and it can surely benefit from this. If it can improvise and enhance its repertoire and pour in more AI into the service and keep it cost-effective, Google Music can soon strike the right chord with music buff in India. So, as they say, watch this space.

Published on April 12, 2017

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