I’m continuing to look at Nokia’s Ovi services this week. Having taken a first look at photo sharing and gaming, it’s the music store this week which continues the trend of being a ‘mixed bag’.
So, it’s the end of my first week with an N81 8GB testing the suite of Ovi services. I wrote here about the first impression of Ovi Share (picture and video sharing) and N-Gage (the gaming platform) and in the last few days I’ve been looking at Nokia Music Store.
It’s hard not to compare the Nokia Music Store with iTunes Music Store – they provide the same service. There’s a substantial catalogue of music (all the current artists I looked for where present and correct – I suspect less mainstream ones may be a bit more hit-n-miss, but we’re talking about a ‘mass-appeal’ service here) with the option to download via PC or direct to mobile. Unlike iTunes, both the PC and mobile variants of the Nokia Music Store are web-based (the mobile client wraps it with an icon, but the interface is all browser), but the functionality is broadly the same. Two key difference I noted were that Nokia Music Store only allows previews via the PC interface and it adds an unlimited streaming of the catalogue (also PC client only) for a monthly fee. In the UK prices are closely matched (79p per track for iTunes v 80p per track for NMS) and both employ DRM – Apple’s Fairplay system and Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM respectively. Apple also provides non-DRM content via iTunes Plus, which Nokia don’t, but the Windows Media DRM system is supported by a range of vendors (although notably not Apple) potentially giving more choice over other devices to play you music on.
So how does it work?
The service is clearly badged beta, but I’d expect better from such a large firm. OK, so I’m on a Mac in this instance which, quite apart from marking me out as a genius style guru hipster, isn’t really such a minority platform any more. But even when I am on a PC, I wouldn’t choose IE as my browser – or expect a modern website to demand it – so I’m locked out. I did grudgingly fire up IE6 and poke around. It’s functional and quick with al the features you’d want for music, but it lacks a bit of style in the presentation and there’s no podcasts or video content (yet). The usual Ovi annoyances exist here – a yet another logon ID and password to remember and no tie-in with any of the other services, but you’ve come to expect that from Nokia now… haven’t you?
However, Nokia have been actively pushing the service giving out PIN codes and marketing so I’d expect things on the usability front to improve. This was a promotion at Waterloo Station in London recently:
The mobile client, however, I think leaves a great deal more to be desired. Accessed from a menu icon it gives the impression of being a dedicated application, but in fact just loads the standard browser. This in itself isn’t a serious problem, but means the entire experience relies on good wireless coverage. On poor connections I found myself unable to navigate the interface on several occasions as graphics failed to load. The site itself may also have some reliability problems as it seemed to break more frequently than other sites, but further testing is needed there. The other drawback with using the browser without making it clear to the user that they’re browsing the web is that the soft buttons do ‘browser’ actions which don’t always make sense through the flow of the application… The ‘back button is a prime example – when the final download screen broke it took me ‘back’ to a page that told me I had already downloaded the song – not the actual page I had come from.
The other annoyance is the number of clicks it takes to purchase a song… It really does feel tortuously slow and if a page fails to load or is broken having to repeat steps of the process exacerbates that glacial sense of progress. Take a look at this sequence where I’m downloading one of the free ‘Green Room’ promotional song
Arghh…. click… click… click…
Once downloading, the window can be hidden (finding it again is buried in a fairly unintuitive location though) and tracks automagically appear in the music player. Failed downloads are alerted via a pop-up message, but it self-cancels so if you miss it or have put the phone out of sight whilst it downloads you’re no wiser. Crucially though there is a ‘re-download’ option for such situations.
On that basis I was more than ready to give Nokia Music Store a C- and move on – it’s good enough as a default offering, but it won’t be hard for any other provider who can produce a more usable interface and pleasent experience to better it – Vodafone’s Musicstation service stands out as a prime example, but there’s no reason it would be restricted to network operators. Access to the music catalogue is the main barrier to entry hear…. BUT…
I think Nokia may have a shot at the beginnings of a successful effort here. Their soon-to-be-launched ‘comes with music‘ initiative has been widely derided in the press and cost a few executives their jobs, but I think it’s the sweetener that could get people hooked… Effectively from mid-2008 when you purchase certain Nokia handsets they will come with one year’s allowance of free music from the Nokia Music Store – not streaming access, but unlimited access to the catalogue of downloads to keep even after the year is up. Of course, this could be financially crippling for Nokia as they have to pay the record labels for every track downloaded, but if they can stay the course I think a good-sized music library they have downloaded will keep people on the Nokia platform and might just be enough to get them hooked.
Watch this space.
I’ll be wrapping up with an overview and look at Nokia Maps next week, so drop any questions you have into the comments and I’ll do my best to cover them.