My ‘Apple Music’ Wish List

In the next few weeks Apple is set to announce a slew of updates to iOS and OS X. Most rumors indicate that we’ll see a lot of small improvements with every corner of the Apple ecosystem, but I’m looking most forward to the impending announcement of the new Apple / Beats product that should rival Spotify, Beats, and Google Music.

How I listen to music

First, I thought I’d talk for a moment about how I enjoy music as I think that will flavor my wish list. I’m a subscriber to Spotify and iTunes Match, using both about equally depending on context and they both do a lot of things really well and miss out on some others. I enjoy music in one of 4 main places: during my roughly 1 hour commute to and from work from my iPhone, during my workday at my desk on my Mac, while running on my iPhone (and one day my Apple Watch!) and at home, typically played throughout the house on multiple speakers via Airplay & my Mac. It’s important to me to be able to use a remote app on either my phone or my watch to control music while around the house.

The way I listen to music is typically one of three “modes”: discovery, (re)discovery, and ‘hits’.

At a high level, discovery for me means using something like Spotify or iTunes Radio to find new music based on things I already listen to. I do this at work a lot of the time – I’ll pick a Radio station or playlist and find some new artists this way.

Rediscovery is using the Smart Playlist feature in iTunes to serve up my favorites that I might not have listened to in a while. I’m kind of obsessive about metadata and Smart Playlists in iTunes, and this pays off when I can call up a playlist based on some pretty specific criteria.

Smart playlist
Yes, I realize how insane this is.

‘Hits’ means either using Spotify/iTunes Radio or Smart Playlists to serve up music I know I’m a fan of. This is great for running or driving around. Again, I make use of Smart Playlists to play a specific curated playlist.

The perfect iTunes+Beats concept

With Apple buying Beats last year, the writing was on the wall for a streaming service making its way into iTunes. Simply put, I want to have iTunes as my one-stop shop for music discovery, re-discovery and personal curation. I want to be able to solve the ‘what do I listen to’ problem that I currently have with Spotify, and have the ability to combine music I own with music I discover. Jumping between ecosystems places a mental burden on me to remember where a certain album or song lives.

So, how do we get to this magical land?

Conceptually, steal what Google Music does

Conceptually this service should work like Google Music, where users can upload/match their own music but also subscribe to a streaming service to supplement their ‘owned’ music with ‘streaming’ music. This should be transparent to the end user once tracks are matched. In fact, the reasons I don’t use Google Music are mainly the lack of a good Remote system not named Sonos and the lack of a desktop application to speak of. They nailed the music management part of the streaming puzzle.

However, Apple Music needs to take that concept but retain some of their core features.

Don’t ruin what makes iTunes great (smart playlists, metadata, remote)

The core of what I want already exists within iTunes, and I hope that Apple doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater as they did with a refresh of their iWork apps. Smart Playlists are the backbone of what makes iTunes great and help me deal with a fairly large library of music. I realize that adding a streaming service and a match service together isn’t easy but Google’s approach to me is great. Take that, add the ability to make smart playlists based on some basic metadata, and you’re cooking. I personally only rely on metadata like last played date, date added, play counts, and ratings to create most of my smart playlists and if they are lost at the expense of adding a streaming service, I might as well use Spotify or even Google Music.

Further, retain iTunes Radio and give users the option to add songs to their library or purchase them outright. Serve up recommendations similar to how Beats currently works, offering albums or curated playlists to aid in discovery. The important thing is to still make my music – regardless of if I got it from the new streaming service or it’s music that I own – the focal point instead of pushing playlists and other ‘features’ on me the way that Spotify is moving these days.

Fix what makes iTunes awful (slow Match updating, bloated apps)

iTunes Match is conceptually a very great service but it rarely works as flawlessly as I’d hope. The update times are hard to predict so things like play counts, metadata changes or new music additions take time to filter down to every device. I realize this is potentially a very complicated issue and know it’s super difficult to solve, but I’d love to see some speed/reliability improvements here above all else.

Ditch ‘The Sentence’ feature from Beats. Let iTunes Radio take the place of this poorly thought out feature.

Better ‘New Music Tuesday’ section

I like the way that a few services handle ‘New Music Tuesday’ but nobody does it perfectly. Rdio comes the closest, offering up a list of all of the new albums available, and even notifying you in the menubar of the application if any artist you have in your collection has a new album out. I feel that sort of automation combined with the curation angle that Apple and Beats both take, breaking out genres and featuring the top new music, would go a long way to helping users not only find new popular music but also keep up with the artists that they already love. If rumors are true, allowing users to follow artists seems like this could be Apple adding in the automated notification feature. However, I hope they go on step further and allow you to be notified if any artist in your library has a new album/song out.

Add toggle within iOS app for offline only tracks

Something that has bugged me for a while is the way Music on the iPhone works – you have to leave the Music application and go to system settings just to toggle whether the app shows all of your music or only the music you had downloaded to your device. All of the other major players do this really well, and fortunately Apple has already added this in the iOS 8.4 beta. There is a toggle to show all of your music or only downloaded music.


Handoff support

Pretty simple – I’d like to be able to get home after my commute and hand off what I’m listening to over to iTunes to seamlessly continue rocking out. If I’m listening to a playlist or an album, that should be able to be easily continued on iTunes, my iOS device, or even my watch if possible.

Just work well

That’s all! Simple, right? Most of the things I’m asking for aren’t rocket science, it’s just an issue with all of the competitors doing most of the things I want, but not all of them. Apple has the ability to knock one out of the park next month and finally build the perfect system for the way I listen to music. I hope they can make it happen.

Bulletin Shutting Down

Sad but it had to happen. We were too late to the RSS ‘gold rush’ after the Google Reader announcement. I’m still proud of what Michael and I were able to build but there are so many great alternatives that are backed by an infinitely larger userbase than Bulletin’s.

I have some ideas rattling around for a possible re-launch of the service one day, but nothing is planned at this time.

getbulletin: will be shutting down in early 2016. New registrations have been closed, and existing accounts have been put into complimentary mode. No additional subscriptions will be collected.

Thanks to all of our customers for your support these few years.
– Michael & Daniel

Back to the iPhone 6

So, my two month experiment with the iPhone 6 Plus has come to an end.

As it turns out, I use my phone one handed way more than I thought, and the Plus made that way too difficult. Further, I kept waiting for that moment where the phone didn’t feel like I was carrying a small book in my pocket, but it never happened. I constantly was running into situations where I needed to use the phone with one hand and found it nearly impossible to do so without doing some serious finger gymnastics.

I’m not sure if it’s just me but I also feel like some of the software is much buggier on the 6 Plus. That could be chalked up to iOS devs at Apple possibly not using / testing the Plus as much as the 6, or just a bad luck of the draw for me. I got lots of random Springboard reboots, a buggier camera, slower scrolling (this could be attributed to the extra number of pixels the Plus has to push with the same RAM as the 6), and odd behaviors with rotation. Nothing major but enough to be another reason to ‘trade down’ to the 6 again.

I’m definitely going to miss the battery life, which really is the biggest gain in going to the Plus from the normal iPhone 6. It was pretty rare for me to end my day under 50% battery life – now I’ll have to be a little more careful, but in practice I don’t think it will be much of an issue. It’s pretty rare I’m away from a charger long enough to really make something like 20% battery life worth the tradeoff.

One funny side effect is that the 4.7 inch iPhone feels downright cozy in my hands now. Feels good to be back.

Time to upgrade …?

My home iMac is getting comically slow and I think it’s time to either sell it before the hard drive dies or pay the price to upgrade to SSD. I’ve been considering a handful of options to get a machine that doesn’t take 10 minute to fully start up and they break out in the following series of flawed options. Before I get to those, let me break down what I actually do on my Mac these days, because it’s not a ton.

  • Acts as a ‘poor man’s NAS’, serving up music for use with Airplay around the house and streaming movies that I have ripped to our Apple TVs.
  • Web development and light Photoshop / Sketch work
  • Novice iOS development
  • Family photo management
  • iMovie use a few times a year
  • Playing 5+ year old games from time to time
  • Web surfing, banking, social media … standard consumery stuff

Nothing too taxing, really. I tend to keep a computer for 4-5 years though, so I want something that will last but not cost an arm and a leg. With that said, here are the options I’m looking at currently:

Buy a 13 inch MacBook Air (approx $1700)

I actually have a MacBook Air at work (current gen, i7, 8gb RAM) and it’s a great machine and does everything that I need it to. However, nothing is perfect.

Whatever I buy, I’ll need to stick with for the next 4-5 years. Do I really want to go retina-less with a new computer? Honestly, if the air had a retina display I’d pull the trigger here and be done with it. Also, buying a laptop as a ‘desktop replacement’ means a desk full of cluttered wires, dongles and such. Additionally, to get anything close to the 27" of real estate I’m used to will require the purchase of another monitor. Dual displays are a crappy soultion in my mind.

Buy a 13 inch MacBook Pro (approx $2200)

A MacBook Pro has almost all of the pros and cons that the Air have, but the added benefit of an even faster machine, a retina display, and the new trackpad. Still, these features come with a price tag of about $600. The biggest con here is definitely the price, as otherwise it is the most ‘future ready’ machine of the options I’m thinking about. I just don’t use my home computer very much these days.

Buy a top of the line Mac Mini (approx $1600 + monitor)

This makes the list of options simply because it checks the “always on, home server” angle that I like about my iMac. Nearly every review I’ve read of the new Mac Minis seem to think it’s basically one elaborate joke from the folks in Cupertino, as the benchmarks perform worse than a 2+ year old Mac Mini for a lot of tests. I’d still have to buy a new monitor, which means any of the ‘new computer’ options will require a new monitor. However, this specific option would require it on day one. Good monitors in the 24-27" range typically will set you back around $300-500, so this ‘cheap’ computer is no longer very cheap.

All that said, I like the idea of a small, quiet, power efficient machine that will probably be more than enough for what I do (web development and basic computing tasks) for quite some time. And it doesn’t clutter / complicate things the way a laptop does.

Replace the old hard drive in my iMac with a SSD (approx $500)

This Samsung 850 EVO drive gets good reviews and is stupid cheap right now. Now, swapping out a drive on an iMac isn’t easy, so I’d need to get this OWC kit to do it, but I’m still upgrading for under $400, and that should last me for quite some time as long as the screen or any other crucial part doesn’t fail me.

The 2011 iMacs have a SATA II controller, not a SATA III controller, which means even upgrading to one of these fancy new drives will only net half the speed promised. Throw in the lack of more modern bluetooth versions and this option isn’t perfect either, given the cost. It’s now or never to sell this thing if I want to do it now.

So, where does that leave us?

Not really sure, honestly. I feel like the MacBook Air is a fine computer today, but it’s saddled with already ‘older’ tech that won’t age very well. The Pro is definitely more future ready but it comes at a price that I’m not sure I really want to pay. The Mac Mini is unfortunately hobbled and would require an immediate investment in a monitor, which drives up the actual cost of the machine. And upgrading my iMac is a band-aid that could very well be $500+ down the tubes when something else dies on it in the next year or so.

I might just do nothing and buy a new computer when the iMac blows up.

Switching to the 6 plus

I wasn’t aware that a lot of prominent bloggers were apparently going through the same experience that I was.

I decided some time ago that while I really like the 6, I wanted to try the 6 plus to see if the larger screen and battery life improvement were worth the trade off of a larger screen. So far, they mostly are. It took me about 2 days to not constantly feel the phone in my pocket but ever since the only real issue has been those few occasions where I’m unable to use the phone one-handed.

The battery life claims people make are for real – I’m seeing a good 1-2 hour improvement in normal daily use, which is the difference between me being close to 30% battery left at the end of the day to the point where I have a good 50%+ remaining now.

A couple of notes:

  • I moved a lot of icons around to optimize for parts of the screen that are mostly always reachable with one hand. The bottom two rows are premium space now.
  • The lock screen is always ‘zoomed’ no matter how you set things up otherwise.
  • I appreciate apps that use ’sloppy swiping’ and put icons for commonly used tasks on the bottom of the screen way more now.
  • The vibrate function and speakers both seem to be way better.
  • I hope iOS9 and app devs further optimize their apps for the 6 plus.

Overall I’m happy I made the switch. It’s not perfect but I think the things you gain by going to the 6 plus outweigh the cons by a long shot

Spotify is perfect except…

I love what Spotify has become over the past year or two. I was a Rdio user but saw the light last summer and haven’t looked back. The app is fast and easy to use on every platform, the remote control functionality is great, and I love the way notifications and shared playlists work.

However, the one thing that keeps eating at me is the answer to that “what should I listen to right now?” question. Beats music does this so well with their ‘Just For You’ section. When you load the app up, a list of playlists and albums are presented to you based on your preferences, listening history and music collection. Every time I fire up Beats, I almost immediately am intrigued by at least one suggestion.

However, there are way too many other flaws with Beats to have me in a spot where I’d want to switch full time, sadly. Notably, the lack of these features:

  • Queue albums, songs or playlists
  • Desktop app
  • Remote control
  • Notification of new albums for artists I follow
  • Global history
  • Ability to view all ‘loved’ tracks
  • Duplicate detection when adding to a playlist

That’s a pretty long list. So, I think it’d be way more likely for Spotify to further tweak their ‘Browse’ section to mimic more what we see from Beats currently. I’ll be interested to see what Apple does with their rumored refresh this summer of the Beats/iTunes product line, but for now Spotify is the king … although I still struggle to know what to listen to.

Holiday Movie Power Rankings

I don’t have as much time to watch movies as I once did, but when I was younger the holiday season was filled with tons of Christmas movies that you could only watch for about one month a year. Whenever you turned on the TV you’d catch at least some holiday special or Christmas classic on the air and it’s just another part of the holiday season that I love so much. There’s a pretty short list of movies that I look forward to watching ever year, and do my best to watch all of these every year as I gear up for St. Nick’s visit.

10. White Christmas
A sentimental favorite at best. This movie is corny but it reminds me of my childhood and has all of the classic cheeseball 50s Christmas tunes we all know (and sometimes love).

9. Bad Santa
Nice to throw in a raunchy movie to the mix, and this movie is obviously that. Once the initial “oh my god it’s Christmas season” excitement wears off and you want to watch something a bit less corny, this movie does the trick in spades.

8. It’s a Wonderful Life
Another sentimental favorite, this is the sort of thing I like to watch on Christmas Eve before going to sleep.

7. Scrooged
I love Bill Murray, even in below-average movies.

6. Home Alone
A childhood favorite that has held up ok over time.

5. Die Hard
Obviously not thought of when one is listing out Christmas movies, but it’s hard to pass up this classic, and it’s a nice break from the standard Christmas movie rotation.

4. Elf
An instant classic. I tend to watch this on Thanksgiving night after everyone has gone home. Will Ferrell at his loud and ridiculous finest.

3. A Christmas Story
Obviously, you can’t escape this movie even if you wanted to. Still, Christmas Eve and day are always filled with this fantastic movie.

2. Planes Trains and Automobiles
I love watching this movie on Thanksgiving day or before. There aren’t many Thanksgiving movies that I’m aware of so this one kind of wins by default – but it doesn’t hurt that it’s a fantastic movie after all these years.

1. Christmas Vacation
Unbeatable. Some of my favorite holiday movies hold up regardless of season, and this is no exception.

Honorable Mentions:
Trading Places, Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, Nightmare Before Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street

Album that represents a year of my life

I was recently thinking about what albums “defined” years of my life and quickly came up with the following list.

Doesn’t mean it was even the best album of that year (or that it even came out that year). What it does mean is that’s the album that reminds me of a certain year of my life. Some embarrassing ones, but mostly fairly expected stuff.

1993: Nevermind
1994: Siamese Dream
1995: Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness
1996: Energy/Somery
1997: Everything Sucks
1998: Stranger than Fiction
1999: Things Fall Apart
2000: Reflection Eternal
2001: 2001
2002: OK Computer
2003: Figure 8/Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2004: The Moon & Antarctica
2005: In Motion
2006: Frances the Mute
2007: Wincing the Night Away
2008: Vampire Weekend
2009: Noble Beast
2010: The Suburbs
2011: Little Hell
2012: SBTRKT
2013: Because the Internet

The State of the Streaming Union

Lately, I’ve grown tired of the HTML5/Flash based nature of Rdio, despite all of the other things that I love about the service. The desktop ‘app’ is basically a wrapper app for the website so that you can use the media keys, but is otherwise a webpage. Right clicking and selecting ‘reload’ is a dead giveaway. HTML5/Flash certainly has its benefits – it allows for quick, platform-agnostic iteration and that’s huge for a company like Rdio, who is outgunned a bit by Spotify and now Beats. However, I decided to stray out to Spotify land to see how green the grass is these days. I left fairly impressed.

At this point, I think that Rdio has put all of its chips in the consistent web-style direction and the technical debt they’ve incurred thus far might do them in. The future are native apps everywhere that use a unified API (which I’m sure they have on some level, but even their mobile apps make heavy use of webviews), and relying on Flash on the desktop is a throwback to 5 years ago. While that’s all architecture talk at this point, the fact that it was bothering me helped nudge me to give Spotify a try and I’m glad that I did. I learned a lot about what other services have to offer.

In fact, once Apple announced they were buying Beats, the maker of the overpriced headphones and the fledgling streaming music service, I decided to take a trial run of that as well to see what the future looks like according to Apple & Beats. I was surprised by some of the features and it really made me rethink what I like about any streaming service.

Devices used: iPad mini, iPhone 5s, iMac, and MacBook Air.


I feel like this is an area that Rdio was leaps and bounds ahead of the others on until recently, but as of late I’m not so sure who leads the pack. Spotify recently went through a redesign that unifies their product offering but it’s very skin deep – they put a pretty coat of paint on things, but it feels overly complicated at times, isn’t easily scannable, and the way the apps ‘work’ don’t make a lot of sense to me at times. However they did manage to close the gap in the aesthetic side of the design and I think it’s a wash between the three services at this point. Why is that? I think each one has it’s own personality and there are UX issues on any of the platforms, so it’s hard to pick a winner. Rdio does a great job of making artwork come to the forefront and keep buttons and UI elements out of the way for the most part, with a clear navigation hierarchy in all of their apps. However, the web-ness of their apps come through, so I ding Rdio for UX reasons. Everything is kind of slow and doesn’t quite feel right at times, despite looking great and being logically organized. Beats has a very strong design as well, but sometimes navigation can be clumsy in their mobile applications. However, awful icon aside I think that Beats might have the best foundation to build on. The user experience in their apps is really solid, which I’ll detail more below.

Winner: Beats


This term is getting overused but one of the things that does set Beats apart are their ‘influencer’ created playlists and the recommendation engine that suggests playlists to you based on what you like or have listened to. At first I didn’t think I’d see much value but over the past week I’ve grown to appreciate some of the great lists that have been recommended based on either an artist (for example, Talking Heads: Deep Cuts was suggested after I listened to a Talking Heads album) or a genre (90s Suburbia, a playlist with tons of grunge hits, was recommended after I listened to Alice in Chains). These all show up in a ‘Just for you’ section that loads when the app fires up and it keeps you listening to new stuff. The fact that beats allows you to ‘love’ or ‘hate’ any song or playlist further helps their recommendation engine, and over time it’s almost eerie how good the suggestions are.

Spotify has a similar feature, but they recommend artists and songs more than playlists. This works quite well, but most of the playlists Spotify promotes are 200-song monstrosities that are just a collection of every song that fits a certain category. While this is good for an all-day cookout or something like that, it doesn’t really get as specific as something like Beats does, which is offer up very focused playlists (one of my favorites so far is ‘Best of Chipmunk Soul’, which if you don’t know is what some call the early 2000s Kanye West style of sped up soul samples in songs) which are maybe 10-20 songs long. Spotify still does a good job of suggesting music I might like and I’m usually agreeing with what they have to offer.

Rdio has a recommendation feature but it’s kind of buried and the suggestions are very programatic. I rarely use it and I’m sure most folks feel the same way. Most music discovery on Rdio is via the ‘Heavy Rotation’ feature, that allows music your friends are loving to bubble up. It works pretty well if you follow the right people, but it’s a different approach. Your best bet for discovering music on Rdio is listening to the you.FM feature, which plays a custom radio station based on your collection and listening habits.

Winner: Beats

Playlist / music management

Rdio wins this category, but it’s basically a toss up between all 3 services. On Rdio’s desktop app and the mobile app, you can select to add a song/album to your library, sync it to your mobile device, or add it to a playlist. One of the best things about Rdio is that you can manage what is on your mobile device from anywhere – this doesn’t sound like a useful feature until you try the way that others handle it. If you choose to sync a song to mobile from the desktop, it will do that the next time you open any of your mobile apps. Another great feature is in the way Rdio allows you to add songs to a playlist from the actual list view. A search box exists that allows you to type in a track name and the result will be added to your list if you select it. Great if you’re taking a lot of random requests for a playlist and want to quickly assemble a track listing. The biggest issue again comes from the fact that Rdio uses a lot of webviews. You can’t select or edit multiple songs in a playlist. Drag and drop is slow and just plain clumsy. Other than that, it’s the best for managing music and playlists.

Spotify has its ups and downs – it’s difficult to know what songs are queued to play, and how to save a song for offline playback. If you search for an artist or song and land on the album that way on your phone, you’re unable to sync for offline. If you go through your ‘collection’ you can sync but the iconography is very hard to see. Spotfiy does make it easy to add songs to a playlist or your collection, though. Same for quickly jumping to the artist page or the album page. This is helpful for if you’re going through a long playlist and want to jump to the album the song is from. I also particularly like how you can use a search box to filter an existing playlist to find a certain song. Since everything is “native” the speed to edit playlists is the fastest of the bunch. Recently Spotify added the ability to filter by offline and alphabetical within your library listings, which is huge for mobile usability. This finally brings them on par with the others and for me makes using the mobile app a viable option, despite it being solid in most other ways to begin with.

Beats is really solid on the mobile front – there are filters to see what songs are on your mobile vs your entire collection, and it’s easy to add songs to a playlist, to your collection, or add to your mobile device for offline playback. However, the offline config is a on a per-device basis so you can’t get the benefit of Rdio’s universal management.

Winner: Rdio


Rdio allows you to build custom stations and also provides you with a you.FM feature that is a station built on your tastes and listening habits. In fact, all radio stations allow you to customize on a sliding scale from ‘popular’ to ‘adventurous’ which allows you to specify exactly what you want to hear.

Beats learns your history and suggests albums and playlists you’d like, and the recommendations are really solid.

Spotify offers a similar approach to what Beats does, but it offers a few nice touches that put it above the others. When you see recommendations, it offers up why it is suggesting the artist as well as a very quick way to add the song or album to your collection, as well as play the item.

Winner: Spotify

Desktop app

Spotify wins this round mainly because it’s the only one with a true desktop client. Everything is fast, track lists pop into place and dragging and dropping is snappy. Songs are cached for offline playback automatically as well as giving the user the option to cache specific playlists or albums for offline, just like the mobile clients.

Rdio’s is a good app but it’s essentially a web player wrapped in a native client. It does everything the website does, only it can respond to system keys like play/pause, which is nice. It’s simply slower than a native app, especially when editing playlists or loading lots of content. Dragging and dropping feels clunky (as it’s web based), and basically it’s just a really good web app. Unfortunately, that’s not what people want. Overall, performance on Rdio’s desktop app is pretty poor, and I have no confidence that they’ll ever get away from the web-based model. It’s a shame too, as a native Rdio app that did the exact things that the web version does right now would be unbeatable by the competition.

Beats … they only have a web player and it lacks almost all of the features you’d expect it to have – it’s nowhere near on par with their excellent mobile clients nor does it even have the basics of the other competitors’ web offerings. It feels very rushed and I hope it gets addressed with a true native app eventually (I can see Apple influencing this, as they think of ‘the cloud’ as a conduit for native apps to talk to each other, instead of web-based services). It currently never remembers my login, it takes 10 seconds to add a song to my library, and the connection is frequently lost. They need to up their desktop game, and fast.

Winner: Spotify

Mobile features

I use the mobile app for whichever service I choose a ton, and as such I have some fairly specific things I look for:

  • Offline sync
  • Filtering lists
  • Searching lists
  • Sort by play count or recently added
  • Speed of adding, finding albums
  • Ease of use while driving
  • Background sync

Each of the 3 major clients I tried offer their own take and have strengths and weaknesses, but Spotify comes out ahead (barely).

Spotify allows for offline sync (up to 3,333 tracks!) and recently also added the ability to filter playlists and album listings based on offline only, A-Z, or recently added. This makes it a lot easier to fire up the app and only stream music you have on your device. Spotify has had a search box at the top of the playlist that allows users to find the specific track you’re looking for – and recently they’ve added a dialog that warns you when you are trying to add a track that already exists on a playlist. Spotify makes it easy to view the album a track is from as well as add the track to your playlist. The biggest issue is how quickly Spotify stops syncing in the background when you close the app. I wish that it would take advantage of background sync and try to complete at intervals. Also, it should be noted the iPad app is outdated compared to its iPhone counterpart. I don’t listen to much music on my iPad though, so that’s not a big issue.

Rdio suffers from the same issues that the desktop app does – removing a track from a playlist causes the entire list to refresh, losing your place. The odd placement of the dialog when trying to action on a track means you have to scroll down a lot to add a song to a playlist or queue it. However, Rdio does offer a good ‘offline’ mode as well as some solid filtering options.

Beats has a really great mobile app, and it has solid filtering, offline sync and playlist action controls. The only odd thing about it is how slow the dialog is to determine if you have a song in your library or not. So, if you click on an album you want to add to your library, it might take 2-5 seconds to show the correct icon. Odd and confusing at times. I wish that data would be cached on app launch somehow. Beats also makes it really easy to remove all synced music from your device, while the others don’t offer this.

Winner: Spotify

Remote control

I love setting up a playlist or a station of music at home and using Airplay to broadcast to all the speakers we have in our house. I use iTunes Radio for this a lot, but I’ve also tried using streaming services to see if they can match that feature set.

Another feature that Rdio offers that I truly love is the remote control feature. If you’re playing Rdio from another location (say, you’re desktop) and you open your iOS app, you see a notification at the footer saying that Rdio is playing in another location. You can basically use your iOS app as a remote control, queueing up songs, changing tracks, giving a song a thumbs up/down if you’re playing a station – basically, anything you can do on your app. It’s a really great feature that is only missing the feature of letting you control which device is playing. I’d love to pick up my iOS device and just select my Mac from there, and press play. Currently, you have to initiate the play from the place you want to control remotely.

Spotify does this feature right but they also have an exception – currently the desktop app doesn’t support the Spotify Connect feature that allows for users to remotely control their music. So, if you have an iPad, an iPhone or a supported speaker (I have a Pioneer SMA3K speaker that has this functionality) you can fire up any app and find other supported playback destinations on you network and begin playback on your device or any other device. For now, you’re forced to use 3rd party remote control apps that are generally pretty awful.

Beats doesn’t do anything like this currently.

Winner: Rdio

Overall impressions

For those keeping score at home, here’s how each of the categories turned out:
Spotify: 3 (personalization, desktop app, mobile app)
Rdio: 2 (remote control, playlist / track management)
Beats: 2 (design, curation)

Every time I’ve ditched Rdio for another service, I end up coming back. I think that despite a lot of the implementation detail issues that drive me bonkers, Rdio just is built the way I want a streaming service to be built. I like that I can choose a bunch of music from anywhere to sync to a mobile device, and it’ll just happen the next time I open the app (I wish it’d happen in the background but alas). I like that, when I’m at home I can play music from my Mac on all my speakers and control it from any device without some hack workaround. I think Rdio has the best radio station feature by far, and the heavy rotation / personalized station features are also unique and top notch.

All that said, this time the bad has outweighed the fact that it is built the way I expect it to. The UX on the desktop and mobile apps are just atrocious and slow and I’m going to stick with Spotify for now. Their recent design refresh closed the gap with Rdio enough for me to be ok with the look and feel of the app, and the UX is mostly better than Rdio’s right now. Further, I just can’t shake the feeling that Rdio is the long-term loser here. Development and new features seem to have slowed lately, and I can’t see them keeping pace with Spotify or even Beats once the Apple acquisition is in full swing.

I do think that long term I’ll end up being a Beats customer – I have a hunch that Apple will eventually get their new division on board with creating a desktop app that (hopefully) stands alongside iTunes separately, but at worst will integrate into the iTunes app. If they handle the desktop app part correctly, bolt on some remote control functionality as well as flesh out their ‘sentence’ feature, I think that in a year I’ll be a Beats user. But for now, it’s on to Spotify – warts and all. Thanks for the ride Rdio – it’s a solid service that hitched their wagon to web technology and as a result just can’t offer the native experience that I’m looking for.

WWDC Announcements

If you look back at what I wrote about the reasons that I would miss Android when I ultimately ditched the Nexus 5, it’s amazing how many of those will be irrelevant in a few short months.  Apple knocked it out of the park this week, and I can’t wait to see what amazing apps developers make with the new APIs and system-level integration made available to them.