Music check: Google versus Apple – Is that all? You can do better, Google!
Ok, I have been an iPhone user since I moved to Japan and got my first smart-phone ever. First a 3s, then a 4s, then a 5s that I dropped into the toilet, so I switched the SIM back into the 4s to have a working phone. Furthermore, I am a heavy music listener and used iTunes Radio for 3 months. Since I am planning to change phones to an Android phone (being fed up with Apple’s super-closed environment), I tried out Google Music Plus for about 3 months, too. Here is my verict – Google Music is a big pain, far from iTunes in comfort and user friendliness.
My move to Android is not very much in danger.
General description of the service
In principle, iTunes Radio and Google Music Subscription do the same things:
- allow you to have your own music in the cloud
- stream any music from the respective market place to your device
- provide radio stations, pre-curated or based on artist/genre/etc
There are slight differences, that often create confusion, especially with Apple’s services: If you are only signed in, you can listen to music stations and can skip some music (limited), but you cannot listen to arbitrary songs from the whole Apple Music library. Then there is another service from Apple, called iTunes Match, that only allows you to upload your music library to the cloud, but other than that again only listening to normal radio stations.
Google Music is much simpler, there are only two options: By default it is free to have your music (up to 25000 songs) in the cloud, but if you want to listen to radio stations or any other music in the Google music store, you need a subscription.
Prizes and features overview:
|No subscription||iTunes Match||iTunes Radio||No subscription||With subscription|
(early access 8$)
|Extra service||Radio stations||Radio stations||Radio/all music||Nothing||Radio/all music|
Music on the go – the application
Let us first consider the applications provided to listen to music on your smart phone:
Apple Music can of course only be used on Apple devices, and uses the built-in Music application. Start up time is about a few seconds after a cold boot (all on my 4s), and music streaming starts with hardly any delay. Responsiveness is good, and the user interface is clear and easy.
Google’s application is available on iOS and Android. I have tested the latest version on iOS, but it is a pain in the butt:
- Starting the application, even after cold boot, is successful at a rate of 1/10. Most of the time the application crashes right away. This might be a problem due to my low end device (iPhone 4s with 64Gb), but not due to space problems (half empty) nor internet connectivity (wlan).
- Responsiveness is abysmal
- Access to additional content (radio, songs) and your own library is well done, similar to iMusic.
Managing your library
Here iTunes is the way to go, bit of a pain when using Linux, but there are other reasons I have a Windows installation in parallel, so I don’t mind to boot now and then into Windows. iTunes gives you very powerful tools to change all kind of data.
Google gives you a few options: Use your iTunes library – in this case all your playlists and ratings (but see later) are also uploaded. I am not sure what happens if I retag a song in iTunes, or change anything else in there. I guess the song will not be re-uploaded, but who knows for sure. Furthermore, you can edit your library via the web interface, but this is rather poor.
Searching your library
Over times your library grows and there are hundreds if not thousands of artists. So you want to search them. The natural way would be to scroll to the first letter of the artist you are searching, and then look it up. Well, that works perfectly in both Apple’s and Google’s application – unless you are having artists written in some strange script like Japanese or Korean.
iTunes allows you to set a field called something like “Artist name for sorting”, which allows me to put for example “友川カズキ” or “김두수” into the artist field, and into the sort field “Tomokawa Kazuki” and “Kim Doo Soo”. This way I find the artists in the correct place.
Google on the other hand uses simple Unicode order sorting – how could you do that? This is simply plain wrong, and everyone should know that by now. Japanese people will never be able to find anything in their list. And – in contrast to Goole Contacts – Google Music does not support phonetic name fields (similar to the order sort artist) for artists.
What I had to do now is to rename all the artists to include first the phonetic name, followed by the proper name, like in “Tomokawa Kazuki (友川カズキ)”. Something I strongly detest!
I might have a slightly peculiar music taste, but the radio stations mixed by Google are simply a pain. The reason is easy to explain: I live in Japan, and so what Google does is mixing about 80% of J-Pop into the radio, all those happy yodeling girlies I really dislike (see my Anti J-Pop campaign for alternatives – yes, they do exist also in Japan!). iTunes radio is here more relaxed it seems.
I appreciate Google’s trial to cater to local (dis)taste, but besides voting down each and every song I hear I don’t see any other option. And honestly, I cannot go through all this voting down without dying from pain inflicted by J-Pop.
Other than this, the two radio stations are probably more or less the same – but as I said, due to the local colorit it is hard to compare.
Ohhh, what a dire point. So there you have you well curated iTunes library with 5-star ratings. I used the ratings in a way that those songs I like get 1 star, those I even like more get 2 stars, and my absolute favorites got 5 stars. I didn’t do any negative ratings.
iTunes/iOS Music app allows you to easily adjust rating, and they are synced between devices. All as you would expect.
Now for Google – they did have a 5-star rating system at some time, but:
Thank you for your feedback. We’ve decided to remove the 5-star Rating lab. This decision wasn’t made lightly, but Thumbs Up/Down is integral for the future vision for Play Music and will be a central design point for our future releases. Please note that we’ll continue to store your ratings that you’ve set via the star lab or via iTunes, and we’ll translate them to thumbs up/down (1-2 stars = thumbs down, 4-5 stars = thumbs up).
Here we go – with the move to a new design they threw away the 5-star system, without any reason but integral for future vision – rubbish sales speak. Besides being a very very poor rating system to have only an up and down (good-bad-don’t care), the translation from my rating system to the thumbs up-down is just plain wrong.
Why on earth is the current movement to reduce functionality and rob users of control? Gnome 3 is the prime example of how we `stupiditize’ users by taken any freedom from them in the name of simple design. Google now does the same. I am so sick of getting patronized this way, so Gnome3 was completely banished from my computer and replaced by Cinnamon, which uses the same (good) underlying technique, but takes users seriously!
As much as I would like to see Google Music a valid alternative to iTunes, by now it makes the impression of a quickly hacked together rotten piece of code that tries to get a share of the market without providing equivalent service. Google is using its market presence and convenience to convert people, not features and quality. I can only hope that this changes in the future.
That still leaves me with the question – move to Android or remain with iOS …