First and Second Impressions of Google Music All Access

Earlier this week I posted my first impressions of Google Music All Access to Facebook. Now that I’ve spent a little over a week with it, I’ll share some more impressions.

First Impressions (from day one)

  1. Missing the usual suspects in music. For me this includes: Beatles, Eagles, Peter Gabriel, Led Zep, AC/DC, Metallica, Zwan, John Lennon, Kinks and Def Leppard. Strangely, they do have Pink Floyd.
  2. Killer feature: I simply uploaded the above along with a couple of select albums and tracks and now I have EVERYTHING I want on EVERY device streamed back to me. Sa-weet!
  3. The web interface isn’t great for managing a large music library, building big playlists, etc. Plus, there are a couple of bad UI choices that they made.
  4. I think I’ll miss the social part of Spotify. I’m going on faith that Google will eventually build something like it. Crossing my fingers that it won’t be all built into Google Ghost Town, I mean Google+. I will mostly miss seeing what other people are listening to and listening along.
  5. They made a big deal about their music discovery capabilities. I’m not really seeing that. They have a lot of music, but it is no easier to find than anywhere else.
  6. What the heck, Google? Where’s the API? “Who cares?” you ask. Well, we all should because we need an API for a number of things like: a) Integration with Sonos or Squeezebox. b) Easy ways to transfer your playlists. c) Other cool stuff developer-types will come up with.

That said, I do think I’m going to cancel my Spotify account, but it isn’t as easy a choice as I’d like.

First Impressions (elaborated – day 10)

  1. Google has some things Spotify does not have. Notably for me are some favorite soundtracks. It lacks some things that Spotify has like some smaller and indie artists. It also has a very poor selection of television theme songs.
  2. The killer feature is still the killer feature. I love that I have everything I want everywhere I go on every device.
  3. The web interface continues to be lacking for more reasons than before.
  4. I really, really do miss the Spotify social stuff. I don’t care for automated discovery. I love discovering music through people that I know. Earlier this week I reached out to friends on Facebook to find bands like Mumford & Sons and Avett Brothers. Sure Google/Spotify can tell me who they consider “related artists” and they do okay there, but I can’t tell them that I think Trampled by Turtles is a little too bluegrass-y and have them factor that into the recommendations. My cousins Kimberley and Karina can. On Spotify, I’d create a collaborative playlist and we’d all curate it together to “trade” artist recommendations.
  5. Apart from the social stuff in Spotify, it feels like the music discovery stuff is about the same in both Spotify and GMAA. Though Spotify does have some apps that others have built that are supposed to help. That said, I just don’t care for music discovery that isn’t curated by someone I trust. Sadly, the “Explore” tab in GMAA shows me the same thing today as the first day I got it, even though I’ve listened to a lot more and added a lot more to my library. It appears to be gleaming recommendations from the music I’ve uploaded and not from the music I listen to or have added from their catalog. I’m guessing this will change soon enough, but it’s an oversight.
  6. No API?!? This is a big problem that is compounded by Google arriving a little late to this game. I’ll explain below.

Second Impressions (from day 10)

Web Interface

Google has done so much with the web and have pushed the browser far beyond what any of us would have dreamed. As a web app, GMAA is amazing. But comparing it side-by-side with a native app, it is clumsy. Here are some of the reasons:

  • No media keys. My keyboard has these great media keys. So, when my wife comes in to talk to me or I get a phone call or whatever, I just hit the pause button on my keyboard and Spotify dutifully pauses the music. GMAA doesn’t.
  • Reloads! Everything is AJAX these days, Jerry. GMAA is using a lot of AJAX, but not everywhere they should. Watch this video and you’ll see how as I add albums to my library the pane reloads and I have to repeat the same scrolling and paging actions over and over.
  • Originally, they made a choice to have the main pane auto-scroll when you place your mouse near the top or bottom of the pane. It makes some actions harder. There’s a reason that isn’t default behavior on all apps. It appears that today they have removed that.
  • Last but not least for the web interface is something simple and maybe my “fault”. It is too easy to navigate away from a web page, or close a tab. I’m not in the habit of leaving tabs open and running all day. I tend to be pretty tidy with my browser tabs and so I find I close the browser often.

Play Queue

This is a big disappointment. I fundamentally feel like I don’t have enough control over my play queue. Let’s say that I have been adding things to my play queue for  a while and I have 100 things in there. Now, let’s say I accidentally double-click on a track somewhere. Now my queue changes completely. Or worse yet, let’s say I close my browser; when I re-open, the queue will be empty.

There’s a real opportunity for Google here. They own the cloud; they should use it. I would love it if my queue was mine everywhere I went. I would love to get up from my desk where I was playing music via the browser and move to my phone and have the queue pick up where it left off. From there, its a single step to shared listening experiences and the like.

Streaming

I’ve had a few issues along the way with streaming a song where it will play a little of the song and then skip to the next one. Just an inconvenience, but an indication that this isn’t quite ready for prime time.

Transferring Playlists

This is one of the major issues with changing from any one music service to another. I have curated a number of playlists on iTunes and now in Spotify. How do I get those over to GMAA? Without an API, I can’t even develop something to help.

I have the same issue of “favorites”. In iTunes, I have religiously rated every single track I have (over 10,000) from 1 to 5 stars. In Spotify I have starred thousands of tracks. I’d love to get those ratings somehow transferred to GMAA.

Smart Playlists

iTunes Smart Playlists have solved a music problem that has faced me from the day I fell in love with listening to the radio in middle school–hearing the same music over and over. Most of my smart playlists are a variation on the theme: “Play tracks that meet some criteria that I haven’t heard in X days”. This pattern makes it so that I get a constant fresh set of music. It allows me to rotate through my own library and be “surprised” by music I’ve owned for 15 years. Playlists change constantly.

The issue of what music to listen to is somehow amplified by having an enormous catalog like GMAA or Spotify. It is hard to decide where to go next when practically all music that exists is available to you.

Another opportunity that Google could fulfill better than anyone would be “Playlist Fill”. They could easily look at my playlists and compare them to others like them and say “hey, other people who have playlists like yours also include these 5 tracks”.

More web-like

I can’t believe I’m putting this on the list for GMAA, but I’m finding that it is one of my big complaints after coming from Spotify. The native Spotify application behaves very “web-like” meaning that any time you click on an artist, it takes you to the artist’s page. Any click on an album, takes you to the album. It is a very simple and clean experience. To do the same on GMAA, you have to click the ellipsis and choose “Go to Artist”.

While we’re on things that are surprisingly less than “Google-like” let’s talk a bit about search. The search is great. Better than any search on any other music service I’ve used. It does a much better job of finding an artist when I fat-finger or type the name wrong. However, when I wanted to find a song with a specific word in the title, there’s no way to do that. I find every song from a popular album with that word in the album title. I’m hoping that eventually Google will bake in the shortcuts they have in other searches. I’d like to be able to type “song: whiskey” and see only songs titles with “whiskey” in them and no albums, artists or any other “noise”.

Summary

Am I still moving to GMAA. I think so, but not quite so excitedly. I’ll probably move because I have confidence that Google will fix many of these issues. I expect them to continue to innovate. I think if they were first to market with this service, it would be a different experience, but they were not.

There’s one more issue here. That’s the first-to-market problem. At this point, Spotify seems to be hitting its stride. People are using it, either paid or free. They are sharing tracks with me. They are following each other. Google+ might be light years ahead of Facebook, but they lack one important thing: people don’t use it. This has potential to be the same. Google may have gotten in too late. If Spotify added the ability for me to upload music to the cloud which they would stream back to me in the next few weeks, I might not move…ever.


3 Comments

  • Reply Travis |

    Great review man.

    I made the switch myself when it was announced. While I agree with many of your points that you mention in your “second review after day 10″ section, I can’t say that I am quite as annoyed as you seem to be. Maybe annoyed isn’t the right word, maybe frustrated or disappointed.

    Anyway, Google’s recent development and design pace over the past 6 months has blown my mind. I don’t have any doubt that Google will catch up and fill in the gaps you have mentioned based on this new fervor.

    I am looking forward to the day when I switch over to a droid phone this fall/winter to gain more access to All Access. By then my hope is that they will have addressed the play queue issue. I also hope that they will have created a Sonos app as I want to get a speaker or two at some point this year. Right now, no dice which is pretty crucial. I think it has something to do with the API issue that you pointed out.

    I also think that there will begin to be a shift on Google+. Since deciding to use All Access, I have been switching to use Google+ more frequently. I don’t see it happening tomorrow or next month, but I do believe that it will happen. There is so much more to be gained by using Google+ from a business and blogging standpoint.

  • Reply Renaud |

    So agree with all of that. GMAA is still better than Spotify and Deezer but not yet the perfect solution.
    I hope they will soon enhance the social features because right now i use Spotify to discover new artists that i listen on GMAA :/

So, what do you think ?