When it comes to streaming subscription services, Spotify has stolen the spotlight in the US, where companies like Rdio have struggled to get the attention and acclaim they used to enjoy back before the Swedish invasion. With Xbox Music looming on the horizon, promising to install 30 million free, ad-supported tracks into every computer running Windows 8, the market has never been more competitive. Which makes Rdio's newly announced overhaul to its Android app all the more timely. It's even better that it looks fantastic.
Old Versus New
The old version of Rdio that current users have.
The slick new look.
Keeping up with streaming music subscriptions is a pain, as each one iterates a couple times a year or more, so before we give you an overview of the new UI (a full review will be coming later), here's a glimpse at the current version on the Play Store right now compared to the overall look of the new one. The old UI is clean enough, though it still uses an archaic and clumsy grid of icons home page for the app. While there are no hard and fast rules for how to design an app these days, the preference has been to use gestures to navigate elements wherever possible (such as in the Play Store, swiping between categories of apps). However, there's another growing trend in app navigation that makes an appearance here to join countless others:
Sidebar: The New Hotness
Yes, Rdio is joining the ranks of the sidebar navigation crew and it's wonderful. Well, mostly. Thankfully, like Spotify, a swiping gesture can reveal the sidebar for quick and easy navigation. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work in all areas. We can likely chalk this up to it being a beta, since it makes very little sense to intentionally allow the action in a playlist, but not in the Now Playing screen. We'll allow some space for things to change before the final version. But, of course, keeping up with what others are doing isn't enough. Rdio needs some innovation to really take the lead from Spotify. Enter...
Remote Control Mode
I have used virtually every music streaming service under the sun for at least a couple months as my daily driver and given money to each. This, by far, is the coolest feature I've seen on any of them yet. When you start playing a song on one device, the others will become a remote control for it. You can pause, skip tracks, search for new ones, and swap between modes like shuffle and loop all from your mobile device. Or vice versa. I even tried it with my desktop, phone, and tablet all open and I could use both of my mobile devices to pause my desktop. The reaction was nearly instant.
Once a session has started, though, all the action takes place on whatever device is playing music until you instruct Rdio to switch by pressing "Play Here Instead" on the unit you want to listen to music on. It's a clever scheme that makes it stupidly easy to change from one listening situation to another.
Rather sneakily, this also has the added benefit (or restriction?) of making it impossible to use one account on more than one device at a time. This will surely please record labels and upset people who like to share music accounts. Not that this isn't the case already, anyway. For example, on Spotify, if you're listening to music on your desktop and a mobile device starts playing via the same account, desktop playback will cease. At least this way it feels less like an arbitrary restriction obviously tied to licensing deals and more like a feature. That's how you compromise.
As I said earlier, I'll be doing a full review of this app later this week, but if these initial impressions are any indication, it's looking to be a solid update. I'll also be examining Rdio against other streaming services who have had major updates in recent months including Rhapsody and Spotify in the near future. As I mentioned before, this is an intense time for music subscriptions and there's a lot on the line as each one of these companies vies for the next generation of music revenue, battling iTunes from all sides.