First impressions of Spotify in India

The service launched yesterday in India in the midst of the Warner music conflict, but it seems to have a pretty decent catalogue in India. The recommendations engine is also top notch as I experienced it first hand by feeding in my preferred artists across different genres and it right away created a bunch of playlists with some of my favorite songs. Definitely the best experience of all the music streaming services so far for me.

I’m currently on the free tier which doesn’t lose out much other than the highest audio quality and offline storage. The ads are bearable for now. It also seems that Amazon is holding back with their Spotify support on the Echo line in India as seen in this mail from customer support.

The premium pricing is also in line with Apple Music though quite a bit more expensive than the Indian services like Wynk or Saavn. It also doesn’t seem to support in app purchases on iOS as evidenced below.

I’ll probably go for the premium subscription once the Echo support kicks in or I require the offline access. For now, happy with the free tier of Spotify and making do with Amazon Music on the Echo.

Apple Music in India: First impressions

I updated my iPhone 5s and iPad mini to iOS 8.4 this week, and with it came the much anticipated Apple Music. I promptly signed up for the free trial, and have been trying it for the last couple of days. The service seems quite promising, but the Indian catalogue seems to be quite limited at the moment. The iTunes store has a ton of Indian music ranging from Bollywood tracks of different eras to regional ones. However, most of the tracks seem to be missing from the streaming service.

The interesting aspect is that if you try searching for a particular track that’s not currently available for streaming, you are presented with results of the artist likely indicating that it’ll show up eventually. The new Music app on iOS is also a big overhaul and relegates your music collection to the last tab. I’m already a subscriber of iTunes Match and was able to see my uploaded and matched tracks listed there and also in the search results when applicable. In fact artist pages in the Music app also show tracks from your library in a separate tab when available.

The Music app also seems to be a bit unstable at the moment and it has crashed on me quite a few times already while streaming music. There were also times when tracks were listed in the album or search results, but when you try adding them to the Now Playing list, they disappear. Looks like it’ll take some time for the service to stabilise in India.

The only other streaming service that I’ve used at length was Mix Radio thanks to the complimentary subscription that had come with my Lumia 720. That definitely had a very extensive catalogue and I’d augmented my music collection considerably during that 6 month period. I’m sure the other Indian streaming services like gaana, Saavn, Wink etc. have an equally extensive collection. However, Apple is taking on these services head on with their Rs 120/month pricing that’s a fifth of what they’re charging in US. This is of course consistent with their pricing for iTunes Match and the tracks on the iTunes Store. Apps are the only area where there’s price parity between regions it seems.

Either way, it is a good option for the consumer. The value of iTunes Match priced at Rs 1200 per year in India has become a bit questionable though, as the price difference with Apple Music subscription is just Rs 240 per year. I’m yet to check out the difference between the iCloud music library and iTunes Match. If equivalent, then it’ll be pretty clear as to which service to go with for me.

flyte impressions: Finally a mainstream Indian MP3 store

It took its time, but we finally have a mainstream Indian MP3 digital store, thanks to flipkart. We did have the saregama store, but it was nowhere near as convenient as what the likes of iTunes & Amazon have offered outside India since times immemorial. I’ve already bought a bunch of tracks from the store, and I’m just getting started.

Here are some of my initial observations about the store and shopping experience:

Track naming: Not exactly named very nicely, but at least the ID3 tags are in place, so they work well with the usual music players.

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Album fragmentation: At least for Hindi & Bengali albums. This can lead to a bit of confusion, and also means that you might need to download tracks from multiple albums though they should be clubbed into one.

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New Digital Wishlist: While there’s a separate link to your “Digital cart”, the wishlist link is still the same. However, it’s been split into a Digital & Non Digital section.

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Downloading files: The MP3 Library gives a convenient list of purchased tracks (wonder when they’ll start a cloud player service). Best of all, there’s a “Not Downloaded” section that makes life easier. You need to download each track separately unless you use the Flyte Download Manager which can download multiple tracks simultaneously. There’s also a counter that shows you the number of times a track has been downloaded – overall limit is 4.

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The download manager is not fool proof though, as you can see below. I was able to fix this issue by letting the successfully added files finish downloading and then grabbing the Not Downloaded files once again from the site. It also seems that the download manager is getting updated frequently and notifies you if there’s an update available.

One limitation is that you can’t select the download location till the files start downloading. So, only files added after this setting change are downloaded to the new location.

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Price: The prices start at Rs 6 per track, which is for mostly oldies (there are some costing Rs 9 too). Most of the new Indian tracks and the International ones cost Rs 15. The highest I’ve seen so far is Rs 45 for some of the longer International tracks (Star Wars tracks for ex.). Entire albums, as expected, turn out to be cheaper than purchasing every track separately. Most tracks are also available in 3 different bitrates – 320, 128 & 64 kbps (not all oldies have 320 kbps versions though) which gives you flexibility in the bandwidth, storage and quality department.

What’s missing: The catalogue is pretty comprehensive, especially from the Indian music standpoint considering that even small labels are available. The International scene also seems pretty good, but there are some notable omissions for the time being – Disney and The Beatles. Then again, even Apple took time to get The Beatles onto iTunes.