Rdio Review: How Rdio (Almost) Freed Me from iTunes

May 7, 2014 by

Thereís no doubt, for a mobile ecosystem, that user experience is key. Itís what keeps you tied to a selection of companiesí offerings; or, in the case of some ecosystems, keeps you tied to a single company. 

We invest so much time and money into our mobile devices, whether it is accessories, music, movies, cloud services or applications, that moving to another operating system can be extremely difficult. Here is how Rdio, a subscription-based music streaming service, almost broke my tie to an ecosystem Iíve been entrenched in since 2008.

What am I talking about when I say "ecosystemĒ?  An ecosystem refers to all the little things that make an overall experience. Things that are in addition to the core software, like App Store or Google Play, media stores and ease-of-use when syncing with your computer, TV integrations -- all of which keep you entrenched in a certain companyís grasp.  For me, my first encounter with a mobile ecosystem was iTunes, starting with the iPod. 

Ecosystem: All the little add-ons that make an overall experience: App Store, Google Play, media stores, syncing with your computer, TV integrations, etc.

The iPod, when originally introduced in 2001, was a great device, but not unlike other MP3 players on the market at the time. It required the use of iTunes, which at the time was only available on Mac OS, and back in 2001, Mac OS was in the single digits in terms of install base, greatly overshadowed by Windows. 

The iPod and iTunesí tight, seamless integration was the first step in creating this ecosystem. Competing MP3 players were cumbersome to operate and even worse to sync with your computer. iTunes and iPod offered an easy one-click sync.

Over time, iTunes (and as a result, iPod) became available for Windows. The iTunes Music Store expanded to movies, podcasts, and audiobooks. Apple dominated the MP3 player market because it created a seamless ecosystem of hardware, software, content and services.  Consumers spent their money on the hardware but stayed for the seamless integration and iTunes Store. This same ecosystem was applied to the iPhone upon its introduction in 2007, and became further enhanced with the launch of the App Store in 2008.

Competitors have also noted the importance of the ecosystem. Google has taken Android from its origins as a smartphone OS to an online content ecosystem with its Play store, offering music, movies and books. They have also been adding more online services, all of which talk to each other to provide a great, cohesive experience. Microsoft has even taken it a step further by producing their own tablet hardware with the Surface RT and Surface Pro, and their recent purchase of Nokiaís phone business, bringing hardware, software, content and online services under one roof. Microsoft also allows users to stream music via Xbox Music.

I personally have been using an iPhone as my main phone since 2008 (and had a Mac since 2006) with the iPhone 3G.  Over the years, I have tried several Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry phones but have always found myself going back to iPhone.

As a longtime iTunes user, I never took any cloud service seriously. Then came Rdio.

Itís not that the other operating systems are weak. I find there are strong features that Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 bring to the table, features I wish I could have in iOS. But the ease of access to content like music, TV shows and movies, and having my contacts, calendars and email tied with iCloud, has always made departing from iPhone impossible for me. Over the years, I have built a large iTunes library of music, TV shows and movies Ė most of which were purchased on the go from my iPhone.

With the library continuing to grow, I have always opted for the larger storage capacity model to fit all my music. With the introduction of iTunes in the Cloud, some of my library could be streamed online, saving space on my phone, but it didnít include the many songs that I imported from my CDs, which made it a service I never really took seriously. In fact, I never took any cloud service very seriously. Then came Rdio.

I got a subscription to Rdio only three short weeks ago, and it has changed everything.  Rdio scanned my existing iTunes library, and added the songs onto my collection online. Because my existing library was all available online now (not to mention every other song Rdio has), I was able to make a backup of my iTunes library at home, right before I deleted the entire music library from my computer and phone. Thanks to that, I was able to go for a lower storage capacity iPhone, saving me money. 

Compared to three weeks ago, where I had 50 GB of music stored on my phone, I now have about 300 MB of music stored on my phone, and the rest of it is streamed via Rdio.

Now, my plan includes unlimited data, so I can go nuts with streaming (Iíve used roughly 8GB in just three weeks), but for the other 90% of the world that are on limited plans, Rdio also allows you to sync certain songs locally to your phone for offline play, so youíre always with music.

Now freed from my musical lock to iTunes, I could actually see myself switching operating systems next time Iím due for an upgrade.

This monumental shift in my listening habits made me think. In three weeks, Rdio has single-handedly freed me from the main thing keeping me locked to the Apple ecosystem: music. Sure, I still have TV shows and movies to account for, but come to think of it, Netflix has alleviated my reliance on the Apple ecosystem for TV shows and movies the same way Rdio has for music.

With new streaming services becoming increasingly popular, they can change the way we look at ecosystems and, ultimately, how we choose a new phone or tablet. I know that with my most important factor keeping me with Apple gone, I could actually see myself switching operating systems next time Iím eligible for an upgrade. 

Because the mobile market is pretty much saturated, brand loyalty to a given ecosystem is crucial to service providers and manufacturers. Consumers have more choice available to them now. Are they going to stick with the same mobile OS, or switch to something different?  Could third-party services loosen the grip of mobile ecosystems on consumers?

And on Monday, Google Play Music launched in Canada. It offers a better bit rate than other streaming services in a U.S. comparison, so thatís significant for people who care about bitrate (I do, for the most part).  For me though, Iím not so trusting of Googleís relentless data collection policies (I donít even have a Google account), so for people who share the same concern, Google Play may not be as appealing.


Posted in: Apple iPhone, Product Reviews, Windows Phone