Pandora + Rdio = Primetime

Steve’s breakdown: Considering how much companies like Apple is spending on services like this to keep up with Spotify, Pandora has got to have the smartest strategies along with a bit of cash to make this happen. Check into it.

OAKLAND, CA: Just over 15 months after Pandora acquired key assets from Rdio, and three months after it announced its plans, the company is ready to launch its full-fledged on-demand music service, Pandora Premium.

For the most part, Pandora Premium is exactly what you would expect it to be: a $10-a-month service with millions of songs that you can listen to at will and save offline whenever you want. There are workout and driving mixes and — of course — a radio feature. But Pandora has worked to separate itself from the rapidly growing pack of streaming services with a slew of personalization features and the least complicated music app to date. The goal is to make a music streaming experience more approachable for many who may not have given Apple Music or Spotify a try.

While there are over 100 million people paying for music subscriptions around the world, there’s a huge audience that hasn’t given streaming a second thought. Apple Music’s enormous marketing push has kept its growth rate on par with Spotify since it launched, but even at 10 million subscribers a year, that still leaves a vast audience of potential customers, many of whom haven’t gotten on board because either they didn’t want to learn a new service or they found the current crop too complicated. That’s where Pandora sees an opportunity. “Today it’s just 30 million songs in a search box, essentially,” CEO Tim Westergren says. “I think that can be appealing to a small segment of the population, but for most people that’s just overwhelming; it’s hard work.”

On the surface, it may seem as if Pandora is very, very late to the streaming game: Apple Music launched way back in 2015 and has 20 million users. Spotify has been around for nine years and has 100 million users. There’s Amazon, Tidal, SoundCloud, and even Google already in this game. But with 80 million users already listening to Pandora every month, the company thinks it has a strong base to grow on. The plan is to offer a new service with essentially no learning curve for those users, and a free six-month trial for current Pandora Plus subscribers. That’s probably the best possible jump start for any streaming service, and so Pandora Premium is well positioned to give Spotify and Apple Music the legitimate third challenger that Google, Amazon, and SoundCloud haven’t been able to produce.

The first thing you’ll notice with Pandora Premium is that it takes fewer clicks to actually start playing music compared to Apple Music and Spotify. The app launches into My Music, which features a carousel of recently played albums and stations that can be played with one tap, something that requires switching tabs and searching through a list on Apple Music.

Below the carousel is a list of all your saved music, sorted in reverse chronological order — another decision that keeps you from going back and forth between the album, artist, and song lists that streaming users have become accustomed to. (You can still sort by those categories if you so choose, but the option is hidden in a drop-down menu.)

Pandora made simplicity a key focus on Premium, and it shows. When it comes to the design, the influence of Rdio is clear: big album artwork and a minimalistic look featuring clean, white lines combine to form a very intuitive design that will make it easy for both new and current Pandora users to pick up quickly. When compared to the simplicity of Apple Music’s second iteration, Pandora Premium is at least on par.

Pandora is also handling its catalog differently than the other streaming services. While it has access to the same 40 million-plus song catalog as Apple Music and Spotify, it is curating the catalog to get rid of karaoke, tributes, and duplicate tracks, which it says will help to improve search.

There are a few quirks that may take some getting used to if you’ve used other music streaming apps. Pandora Premium doesn’t offer pre-generated playlists — you have to create your own. The service relies heavily on its radio stations, but with Premium they come without the restrictions you may recall. Clicking on titles like ‘90s R&B and New Orleans Funk will launch radio stations instead of opening playlists like you’d expect on competing services. It sounds annoying, but in practice it’s pretty decent, thanks to a feature that helps you generate your own playlists on the fly.

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