There are two things you should know about eMusic's first smartphone app: it's available only for the Android operating system, and it's pretty good. The app debuted Monday and is available in the Google Play app store.
eMusic is joining a bevy of other companies, including Amazon and Google, that already offer mobile apps that are part music player part download store. Developed in partnership with Hunted Media, eMusic's app can be used by both subscribers and non-subscribers. "This is very much part of our new member acquisition strategy as well as a strategy to keep current members feeling like they're up to date, they're in front and they're getting the best experiences out there," CEO Adam Klein tells Billboard.biz. It's a bit of a freemium business model: in theory, non-subscribers who use the app will have greater incentive to become a subscriber.
Klein says eMusic chose to develop first for Android because of potential and economics. First, Android is an underserved market. Second, developing for iOS would mean paying Apple a cut of in-app revenue. Cutting Apple in on 30% of subscription revenue derived from an iOS app would be economically prohibitive for eMusic's subscription model. "We find that the iOS world makes it relatively unattractive economically if you're going to be generating new membership and things like that," he says.
eMusic's app runs counter to another prevailing wind in digital music: there's no cloud storage. eMusic is a download service, and while its app has some streaming elements - more on that later - it's rooted in fundamental belief that mobile devices should be used to store and listen to MP3 downloads. "The Cloud" may be the buzzword of the last couple years, but this app plays only songs stored on the device. There isn't any one good music player for Android devices - unlike iTunes on iOS devices - so eMusic stands a chance of becoming some users' go-to MP3 player.
Much of the app is dedicated to discovery. Articles, reviews, recommendations, charts and eMusic Radio make the app a good source for frequent reading and browsing. The recommendations function looks at the user's listening history and offers suggestions based on most played songs, recently played songs, under-played songs and recently added songs. You'll need to build up a listening history for these features to work correctly. The page also has an artist search function and eMusic's own picks.
The app has a few noticeable flaws. One is the inability to buy a track or album on an album review page. If an eMusic review creates a desire to buy the title, you have to exit the screen, go one step back to the home page and use the artist search function (which leaves you four clicks away from the buy button). Another problem is found on the recommendations page. eMusic will list recommended tracks rather than albums - an oddity for a music service that targets album buyers and has an obvious album bias in its editorial. Fortunately, these problems should be easily fixed in future updates.
The other sections of the app work just as expected. The radio feature streams curated channels, allows songs to be saved for future download and links to each artist's eMusic page. The charts page offers only an overall list of bestsellers and doesn't filter by genre - as does the eMusic web site - but limited features shouldn't be a surprise on a mobile app. Purchasing music and downloading the files to the device is a breeze.
eMusic's app is available only to U.S. users and only Android owners. The company says it plans to launch the Android app in Canada and in Europe and will also develop a version for iOS, although it gives no timeline for any of the three events. "We will build for the iOS world because there are a lot of people out there, particularly in the tablet space, but that will probably come through a browser app in the medium term, so a couple months for now," says Klein.