I've watched every Apple keynote since the original iPhone was announced. Almost every time Apple execs take to the big stage, at some point during the presentation they profess the company's love for music.
Apple's iPhone 6 event was no exception. After announcing the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Pay and the Apple Watch, CEO Tim Cook got back on stage to talk music. No, he didn't announce an update to iTunes, which I'm sure almost everybody would agree — including Apple fans — is in desperate need of an overhaul. Instead, he once again professed Apple's love for music and talked about their ongoing deep collaboration with U2, at which point he brought the band up on stage to play a new single. Following that, Tim and Bono quipped back and forth in highly-rehearsed, poor-acting form, where they decided to give away U2's new album Songs of Innocence free of charge until mid-October to the over half a billion iTunes customers around the world. It was definitely a nice gesture that I'm sure many people will appreciate (though personally, following Apple's Beats acquisition, I'd rather have been given a new free album from Dre & friends.)
While watching this post-keynote entertainment go down over Apple's live stream, a realization hit me as I looked at the Sonos app that was also open on the desktop of one my other monitors. The realization? That despite Apple's professed love of music, it's actually Google that now owns market share over my music listening habits, or rather, share of ear as I like to call it. The second realization? Google magically pulled this off on me a time when I wasn't even using an Android phone!
How Songza and Google Play Music replaced iTunes for me
Let me preface this section by saying that I am a Canadian. When it comes to music and music services online, where you live in the world can and does make a big impact as to what music services you can use and enjoy. Blame the self-interest of legacy companies in the music ownership and distribution space wanting to protect their piece of the pie if you live somewhere and don't have access to a music service you'd ideally like to try. The business of music is a complicated one.
As a Canadian, I tried putting off buying music for as many years as possible (much longer than most of my friends in the US who gave into purchasing a lot sooner... most Canadians I know — cops and politicians included — prefer to download music/movies for free when possible). I was an early user of Napster. When that got shut down I was trying every other P2P service that would let me get at music for free, whether legal or not. I remember LimeWire and iMesh fondly. As those services began to deteriorate, I eventually gave up and became an iTunes patron. I put my credit card on file and began buying my music like a good citizen is apparently supposed to do. I didn't like it. While I haven't added up the bills, I'm sure over the years I've now spent at least a few thousand dollars buying my music on iTunes.
I went from getting pretty much 100% of my music from Apple to now getting pretty much 100% of my music from Google
Then, late in 2012, Songza happened. With Pandora never launching/gaining any traction in Canada, Songza took off like wildfire. Instead of reading about it on a Mobile Nations site, I actually found out about Songza from my fiancée (let's call her Erika), who was introduced to it by a friend. Within weeks, it felt like everybody I knew was listening to Songza on their iPhone. I wasn't rocking an iPhone at that point, so while I was familiar with the app, I wasn't really a Songza user.
Soon after the discovery of Songza, Erika also began hounding me that our home music system sucked. We had a Bose iPhone dock, but she hated having to put her own phone on the dock — every notification she received would come through the speakers and she was always having to take the phone off the dock to actually use her phone. Less than ideal. This prompted me to invest in Sonos that December as my Christmas present to myself.
Investing in Sonos was easily the best investment I ever made. Not only did it give us a much better sound system for our home, but it also integrated with Songza allowing me to now become a Songza user despite not having it on my phone at that point (also, when you listen to Songza through Sonos you don't get any ads!).
For a company that continually professes its love for music, Apple has actually lost me as a customer to Google, a company most people don't even associate with music
For me, Songza is a brilliant service. I love good music, but I'm a short-on-free-time workaholic who has no time to discover new good music (and to be honest, my taste in what's good is probably questionable!). Looking at my iTunes collection, it's a nostalgia collection. The music I listened to in high school and university is all mainly in there, but more recently I wasn't buying that much new music. I was mainly listening to the same songs over and over and over again. With Songza's curated playlists available around pretty much any theme or mood I was feeling, the combination of Sonos and Songza had me listening to much more new music than ever before. I probably listened to more music in 2013 than I did in the ten years prior. It was honestly life changing.
The only issue with a streaming music service like Songza is that when you want to hear a specific song, there's no way to make that happen. You need to be somewhat flexible in your music listening habits, which most of the time I am. However, sometimes you just get the urge to hear a song and Songza couldn't make that happen. I still relied on iTunes for that.
Then Google Play Music came to Canada in May of this year, with a a 30 day free trial and $7.99/month introductory price. As a Netflix subscriber paying what I consider to be the "movie streaming tax" each month, I decided to give the free trial a try, and if I ended up liking the Google Play Music service I'd just wind up just paying the equivalent "music streaming tax" each month. While I'd rather get it for free, paying under $20 a month for quality movie and music streaming services isn't that bad.
Four months later, I'm a happily-paying subscriber of Google Play Music. The library is huge, it streams well, and it's the perfect compliment to Songza and replacement to iTunes, where it allows me to find and download specific songs I want to download and listen to. Since subscribing to Google Play Music, I haven't spend a $1 in iTunes buying music.
A couple examples of where Google Play Music has proven awesome:
Upon returning home from watching Guardians of the Galaxy (on opening night!), I immediately wanted to listen to Awesome Mix, Volume 1. It was available on iTunes as an album for $8.99. Instead, I opened up the Sonos app on my computer, went to the Google Play section, and using the playlist from the iTunes album as my guideline, I quickly found and added every song to a Sonos Playlist. It took less then two minutes to find all eleven songs. That one event paid for the cost of Google Play Music for a month. Totally worth it.
When visiting my family at their house, my nieces and nephews (ten and younger) love to have little dance parties, where Uncle Kevin is the on demand DJ. They call out what songs they want to listen to, while Uncle Kevin finds them online as fast as possible and plays them. These dance parties over the years have racked up my iTunes bills. Now I just login into Google Play Music through the web browser, I find every song the little munchkins want to hear in seconds, and Uncle Kevin no longer gets stuck with a big bill for a bunch of music he really doesn't need to own (there are many services I would be willing to pay Katy Perry for, but her singing isn't one of them ;) ).
Looking at how this story has played out, I went from getting pretty much 100% of my music from Apple to now getting pretty much 100% of my music from Google. For a company that continually professes its love for music, Apple has actually lost me as a customer to Google, a company who I think most people still don't even associate with music. Ironically, shortly before Apple acquired Beats I replaced my old pair of Beats with a new pair of B&O headphones. They even lost me there.
I do realize there are caveats to my story that make my situation a little different than many. For one, I'm ok with streaming nearly all of my music. I work at home, where I'm connected all day to fast internet. Streaming is fine. When I drive, I have solid data speeds everywhere I go, so I use Songza when I'm out driving longer distances, like to visit my parents who are an hour out of the city. I used to be a SiriusXM subscriber, but cancelled it now in favor of streaming from my phone (on short rides in the city I listen to the radio still to keep up on local newsy stuff). I also realize there are other streaming services out there that can accomplish what Songza and Google Play Music have done for me. That's not the point of this story. The point of this story is that without even realizing it was happening, Google stole me from Apple at the thing Apple continually professes to love the most. Kudos, Google!
I predict Google will buy Sonos
Given Google seems to have my number when it comes to music, I'm going to finish this editorial opinion piece with a prediction. I think Google will buy Sonos. Google bought Nest, Apple bought Beats, now it's Google's turn to buy somebody, and I think Sonos would be a smart fit for the company. Then along with owning my eyes via Google Glass, they'd really own my Ears, too.