Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What's wrong with the Amazon mp3 store on Android?

First, I'm a big fan of amazon mp3.  They offer high-quality DRM-free music that plays on anything and often at very competitive prices.  And they make it very easy to spend a good amount of money and get some quality music.  Their suggestions and free content have also been where I've discovered lots of new artists, such as ZZ Ward.

But I absolutely abhor shopping for mp3s on my mobile phone on Amazon's mp3 app.  Their interface on mobile only gives you these features:
  • Search
  • Recommendations
  • Bestsellers
  • New Releases
  • Genres
  • And some individual highlights, such as a $0.69 song, Latin song, Hot Single, one Free Song, a $5 album, a Song of the week, and an Album of the week
Amazon mp3 store in Chrome on Android
Amazon mp3 Android UI
Amazon mp3 desktop website
All of the categories let you view by Album or Songs.  And one of the first annoying things is that there is an arbitrary limit of 100 items in each of the categories.  What song/album is the 101st New Release?  What if I want to keep shopping down the list?  What if I own or don't care about the top 100?

Grievance list:
  • 100 item arbitrary limit, regardless of the category, with no way to keep scrolling for more.  Although I do see that even the desktop site caps the list at this arbitrary number.  Lame x 2.
  • No way to view song/album reviews, other than a static star-list.  This is one of the highlights of the Amazon mp3 experience on the desktop that I find most useful (and often entertaining).
  • No way to rate songs/albums on mobile.  Oops, a prerequisite for contributing (or benefiting) from the crowdsourced content is that you must first go to Amazon and buy a PC.
  • No access to the sub-lists within the category.  One of my favorites has been the Top 100 Free lists.  Another fun one is their monthly $5 albums list.  I've found some great artists just perusing those lists.  But sadly, on mobile you have no inkling they even exist.  At least their HTML website on mobile has those (but even then the UI takes many cues from the mobile application).
  • No child lock.  At least Amazon VOD on my Roku has a PIN code that I need to enter before purchasing videos to keep my kids from draining my bank account.  Be careful who you give your phone to!
  • What you miss out on from the desktop site:
    • Hot New Releases
    • Movers & Shakers
    • Top Rated (another failure to enable social media to help drive sales)
    • Featured Albums, Editor's picks, Artists on the rise, etc. (no ability to take advantage of Amazon's music buyer curation, which is quite good.  I've found lots of good music that way)
    • Customers who viewed/purchased X also viewed/purchased Y
    • All of the "deals" lists.  You get only a light mist of them.  
  • No wish list integration.  Where's a list of the music on my wish list?  Can I add an item to my wish list rather than just buy it now?
  • Lack of a Play All button to play all samples.  The desktop site has it.  You somehow have to know that it will automatically play all (but this doesn't give you a choice to listen to one without listening to all)
  • Lack of larger cover art.
I gave their HTML website a whirl in Chrome on Android and, although better in a few areas, it still has some of the annoying limitations that drive me back to a PC (the most annoying is when the _functionality_ of the site is artificially pruned, so you don't even know it exists).  I would love to get rid of my PCs and have nothing but tablets, but all too often the mobile experience on apps is completely butchered and hobbled to the point where you often have no choice but to fake a desktop browser or just open up the laptop.  But I digress.

What they did right:
  • Long-press context menu on an item lets you "Shop album" or "Shop artist".  Nice way to explore "more"
  • Music previews good quality and have continuous play for sampling
  • Convenient to quickly purchase songs/albums you just heard.
I could rant about the cloud player annoyances, but they are far fewer.

Where Google Play Music Store on Android shines:
  • Clean, intuitive UI with swipe interaction model
  • Infinite scrolling lists of Top Albums, Top Songs, even Recommendations, etc.
  • Wish list integration
  • Free-music lists
  • Personalized recommendations right on the home screen based on genres and artists in your existing collection
  • Video integration
  • Clear Play All button to play all samples.
  • Larger thumbnails and ability to click and see a larger version you can actually see
  • You can read the reviews!!!  And contribute your own.  And moderate the reviews.
  • Integration with Google+ for sharing/liking content.  Would be nice if there were other options than Google+ though.
  • Integration with Android Share to send via twitter, email, etc.
  • Parity with the desktop site (it's the same thing, only with more real-estate)
Google Play Music Desktop site
Google Play Music App on Android
Google Play Music is rather annoying for purchases, especially forcing you to go through the same workflow for free songs as if you were "buying" them (really works to discourage "buying" multiple Free tracks, which may have been a business requirement -- I don't know).  Too many clicks (even on the desktop).

At this point, what I would wish for these things to be fixed:
  • Update the UI to take advantage of mobile capabilities and gestures.  Swipe from tab to tab to fluidly navigate
  • Remove the 100 item cap and make everything infinite scroll lists.
  • Abandon the "mobile crippleware" design strategy that so many have fallen in love with and maintain parity with the desktop site for accessing all of the same content.  If you are concerned about UI bloat, there are ways of handling that (just look at Google's approach for one).  I prefer to have the options available _somewhere_ even if hidden in another menu somewhere.
  • If you can't get the functionality into the mobile app, at least enable links into the mobile web version of the site from the Android app to allow for accessing the functionality
  • Remove the "mobile crippleware" design strategy on the mobile website to also maintain parity with the desktop site.
  • Take advantage of the curated content to drive sales!
  • Take advantage of user feedback and your preferences engine that works rather well on the desktop site to enable social exploration of other users who may have similar tastes to discover new music.  
  • Enable social integration.  I've often wanted to share a song I just heard or a playlist publicly but cannot
  • Push notifications could be employed in a limited way (ideally, fully user customizable) to notify when the new $5 list of albums are out, new free songs, highlighted curated content, etc.  I'd sign up for them.
  • Here's an idea, since you have access to the Android media list, you could maybe actually recognize in the UI when I've already purchased a given album/song (either from Amazon or elsewhere).  You don't even do that for stuff in my Cloud Player for some strange reason.