With Teeth: Rdio, Spotify and the perils of user experience

For the last few weeks I’ve been using Rdio and of late something has become clear: I am now using it far, far more than Spotify, to which I am also a Premium Subscriber. Why? Because as a user experience, it is superior. Using it is a pleasure – one far more conducive to enjoying and discovering music as a true music fan.

The Rdio/Spotify comparison – to my mind anyway – serves as a study in simplicity versus bloat. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is about carefully studied user experience versus a “launch it now, fix it later” approach.

It feels trite to say that in some respects Spotify reminds me of MySpace, but allow me to expand on this. MySpace started going wrong when it felt like their service was not able to cope with the ways in which it was evolving. Features started to look bolted-on, sitting poorly within the interface and leaving users feeling like they were navigating a confused, poorly-designed site.

Spotify mirrors this in many respects. The social integration is poorly implemented and the way in which the new apps run feels not so much “how can this build upon what we have to truly enhance user experience?” as “how can we shoehorn this into the existing setup?”.

Rdio works for me because it reflects far more accurately the way in which I consume music. In many respects it is the same as iTunes; albums are added to your Collection, with Playlists being an entirely separate area. Furthermore, music is presented graphically; album artwork remains prominent and you feel almost like you’re browsing a decent music store – not selecting from a text list, as is the case with Spotify.

However the critical difference for me is the way in which Rdio connects artists, albums and labels together. On any release I can click on the label name and see their entire output. Likewise I can click on any artist name and see all their releases presented as cover art. That doesn’t sound especially amazing, but try doing the same on Spotify: you are not given any album’s label info, and if you click on the artist name you get a list of all tracks available. Yes, the album artwork and release title is shown, but you only need to click on the images below to see which user experience is better.

User experience is everything. It is the foundation of Apple, who combine gorgeous products with brilliant operating systems. It is why iPhones remain the dominant smartphone. It is the reason companies like Soundcloud spend time refining their interface into something where less is more – or, more correctly, it *feels* like less is more (as is the case with the new, forthcoming Next Soundcloud). Rdio understands this and has delivered an interface for users that has come closer than any other service to really mapping out how my music discovery really happens.

In their race to build user numbers to the magic 100m many are touting as the figure they must meet to satisfy investors, Spotify need to be mindful to pay attention to the user experience. More and more apps are being made available and Premium users are starting to build even larger music collections, all of which requires management and organisation. Brilliantly-designed interfaces are a persistent joy to use; they are the reason people stick with your service. Poor user interfaces are like wearing bad shoes; they seem comfortable at first, but after a while those niggles turn into blisters of annoyance that won’t go away.

Right now Spotify seems unassailable as the dominant streaming platform, at least here in the UK. However they would do well to look over their shoulder at Rdio, as the underdog service has a better interface and user experience which may well start to win over subscribers in increasing number.

And hey, if you’ve not tried Rdio yet, put down £10 on trying it for a month (or even just £4.99 to try the web-only version) to see what I’m talking about. Trust me, its worth it.

DH

PS: For the purpose of balance, I should point out that Rdio isn’t perfect. One annoyance is the way in which it shows music that isn’t available to you. Showing people something they can’t have is always going to create a negative sentiment. In addition, on the iOS apps the mobile syncing is on by default – not good when your iPad tries to pull down 30Gb of music you simply don’t want on there. Also whilst I think their social setup is better than Spotify’s, I still don’t like the lack of control over what activity is shared.

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