Haven´t heard of Alexa, then it is time to step up. Alexa is AI voice behind Amazon´s voice assistant Echo, a woman that has been helping US citizens for some time now with ordering UBER taxis, scheduling meetings, booking restaurants and more. Now Amazon wants to give Spotify and Apple Music a match. The long time awaited release of the new streaming service from Amazon has a couple of new tricks up its sleeve, apart from the fact that they are also pushing the monthly subscription fee down to a mere USD7.99, or even as low as 3.99 if you also start dating Alexa.
In general though Amazon is still pitching basically the same as the other services. It has a catalog of “tens of millions” of songs, a recommendations engine to surface new music; both algorithmic and hand-made playlists; and apps for Android, iOS, Sonos, and desktop (plus Amazon’s Fire tablets and set top boxes). Amazon’s Prime Music apps have been completely redesigned with fresh typography, revised navigation, and a focus on artist imagery and album art. They feature some clever stuff, such as the ability to automatically download music Amazon thinks you’d like while in the background, so you’ll always have something to listen to while offline, as well as lyrics integration.
Nice enough but let us go back to Alexa and discover her contribution to your music explorations. The Amazon Music integration actually does some pretty cool stuff.
- Say “Alexa, play [Artist Name]” and get a playlist of that artist’s most popular songs
- Request the latest song by your favorite musician by saying, “Alexa, play [Artist’s] new song”
- Play songs based on lyrics. Say, “Alexa, play the song that goes [insert lyrics]” to play that tune stuck in your head.
- Request popular music from different decades or years
- Request happy music or music for a dinner party or other occasions
- Just say, “Alexa, play music” to get personalized tunes
In addition, Amazon Music Unlimited has a new feature called Side-by-Side, which pairs artist commentary with selected tracks from the their catalog. The company says it is launching with a few dozen Side-by-Side features, including from artists such as The Chainsmokers, Jason Aldean, Lindsey Stirling, Sting, Norah Jones, One Republic, and Kongos, with more to come in the future. Readers of a certain generation might liken this feature to an updated take on MTV’s Unplugged or VH1’s Storytellers.
In a recent interview Steve Boom (VP of digital music) stated“The first thing we wanted to do was provide that full-catalog music service… that’s a no-brainer,” noting the company has been talking to music labels about this effort for a long time. “But looking at how people were listening to music in the Alexa environment, it’s a different experience than doing it on their phone or on their laptop. You talk to her naturally, you talk as if you’d talk to a friend about music. It forces you to re-imagine how people interact with a music service.”
Naturally, you can sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited from the Echo itself, just by asking the virtual assistant to start your free trial. Though still relatively new, tapping into the Echo user base could potentially become a sizable market for Amazon – the company is estimated to have sold over 4 million smart speakers, and is hoping to sell 10 million next year.
So will this be a real threat to Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music? So far the streaming market has been all about acquiring as many subscribers (preferably paying ones) as possible and in that race Spotify is still in the lead position, and if their acquisition plans related to SoundCloud goes through their position will be even stronger, but it is clear that Amazon has a couple of cool differentiators up its sleeve going forward. Time will tell if it is enough – one factor to keep in mind is that not only the number of subscribers will count, but also the user experience and the overall catalog, who in the case of Amazon seems somewhat meager as of right now.
But wouldn’t it be cool if Alexa could be your next home DJ, and over time perhaps also so as VR persona at your next party?
Charlotte De Witte