Pick a song, any song4 min read . Updated: 22 Jan 2013, 06:24 PM IST
Streaming is set to become the next stage of India's e-commerce revolution
With the launch of its music app last week, Gaana.com becomes the latest major music streaming service to be available as a mobile app in India. While Internet radio has been around for a long time, both in India and abroad, it’s not been a huge success here until recently, because both average connection speeds and access were quite limited.
Today, music streaming in India is split between three main services—Saavn.com, Dhingana.com and Gaana.com. Saavn has a larger international presence, with listeners around the world, and has nearly three times the number of users of the other two services. Dhingana has a larger regional catalogue and Gaana has a good catalogue of English music in India, something the two other services added on later. Gaana, however, still has the lead on that front.
The market for music streaming in India is enormous—the latest Internet and Mobile Association of India numbers suggest that there are 150 million Internet users in India, and for most, piracy is the only affordable way to access the music they want given that there aren’t many legal sources of digital content. With the numbers for mobile users skyrocketing, streaming is a solution.
At around ₹ 6 per song, services like Flyte and iTunes are fairly expensive, and that’s where companies like Dhingana and Saavn come in, relying on ad revenue to let users listen to the music for free. Both Satyan Gajwani (CEO, Times Internet Ltd, which owns Gaana.com) and Vinodh Bhat (CEO, Saavn.com) feel that streaming is competing with piracy, and not paid download services such as iTunes or Flyte, because piracy offers the same content for free.
Streaming offers a large variety of free content with ease of use and safe, virus-free access to a large library of music, making it a viable alternative to piracy. Bhat tells us that the numbers are likely to be driven by mobile users, because “mobile users are much more engaged and listen to more songs in a session than a Web user".
With a number of great free options available today, which is your best bet?
Pros: The mobile app clearly needs a few tweaks, but it shares a lot of the design input with the website. Gaana.com launched in early 2011, and with just over one million songs, it has a comparatively smaller catalogue.
To make up for this, the app features a lot of curated “Best of…" lists to get you listening to popular music. At the same time, the focus is a little different from the other apps where search has the priority. Gaana’s “radio mode" can also automatically build playlists for you, based on the music you’ve been listening to and the song you’re on when you press the radio button, to help you find tracks you haven’t heard before.
The app also handles its social integration really well—it’s easy to set up, you can keep it from spamming your wall, and it finds your friends quickly. Gaana’s friend list allows you to see what music your friends are listening to, and also any playlists they’ve created. These are not static lists, so if your friend then changes the songs in the playlist, that shows up on your device as well.
While the eventual model will likely be ad-supported, Gaana is currently the only ad-free music app. So it has, for now, the nicest user experience.
Aside from Gaana, Gajwani’s team has also been working on BoxTV, a TV-streaming service which could work like Hulu or Netflix, letting users watch movies, TV shows and trailers on demand.
Cons: The radio feature feels underdeveloped. You often get stuck with a single album or a single artiste instead of finding music which wouldn’t have been heard otherwise. Another issue is that the app currently performs badly on EDGE—it can take a long time to start streaming though playback is generally smooth. Wi-Fi and 3G performance don’t have any issues.
Pros: Saavn’s app has a minimal design which is easy to use, particularly in phones. According to Saavn, the service has two million songs, with songs in six languages—Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and English. The English songs were added in November, partly because as an American company, Saavn’s focus was on the large demand for Indian music outside India.
Once you’re playing tracks though, the buttons on the app clash with the Android buttons and make it look cluttered without really helping the user.
Saavn’s implementation of adaptive streaming is well done—the company has six different versions of each song saved, and dynamically switches between them to prevent any loss of quality. Overall, Saavn definitely offered the smoothest playback at all times.
Cons: Saavn is due for a redesign. The entry screen looks bland and the player, cluttered. And since it’s an older service, there are already a lot of ads on the screen which play before your songs do.
Pros: Launched in 2007, and based in California, US, Dhingana is one of the oldest streaming services around, and the huge amount of local music available on the site reflects this. While it has fewer tracks than Gaana, the 3.5 million songs in the catalogue are in 35 Indian languages.
Like Saavn, Dhingana also uses adaptive streaming, allowing the best possible quality for your connection even when you’re on the move. This means that unlike Gaana, which sometimes gives a bad experience on a 2G connection, Dhingana offers smooth playback.
While it doesn’t have the same degree of social sharing, Dhingana integrates “trends" showing what even people you’re not connected to are listening to.
Cons: If Saavn looks bland, Dhingana looks downright ugly. The home page has four buttons and a logo that looks like it was made using MS Paint. In a few cases, the thumbnails presented with songs were not kept in the proper aspect ratio, so you see squashed pictures, and the screens look too plain.