Watch out Spotify and Apple, now there’s a new kid on the music streaming block. Earlier this week, Amazon unveiled Music Unlimited, the company’s own streaming service accompanying the Echo smart home device.
Let the Streaming Wars Begin
It’s a surprising, and also not so surprising, move from Amazon. For years, Amazon was responsible for a good majority of CDs and vinyls sold, often to the detriment of traditional music stores. Amazon’s foray into digital music was not as successful. Customers could buy digital tracks with Amazon Prime, but the company could never conquer the market in the way iTunes and Spotify have.
Amazon seems to be ready to fight the digital music wars with a new streaming service, which offers “tens of millions” of digital tracks. In comparison, Amazon Prime had only 2 million.
Amazon may have a leg up over iTunes and Spotify thanks to the Echo. These smart home devices are basically speakers powered by Alexa, Amazon’s own Siri-like voice-recognition AI. Amazon Music Unlimited is directly tied to Echo devices. This makes it easy for users to access the streaming service.
Echo users can simply ask Alexa to play music without the need for a smartphone or a laptop. For example, tell Alexa to “play Guns N’ Roses tracks from the 80s,” and she will. The streaming service can also generate algorithmic playlists, if users don’t want to manually create playlists. For example, a subscriber can ask Alexa to “play workout music,” and tracks will be played based on what the subscriber has listened to before. At first, these auto playlists won’t be that accurate. However, with prolonged use, Alexa will get smarter about what the user needs.
The point of pairing Echo and Amazon Music Unlimited is to make streaming as effortless as possible for subscribers. In this regard, Alexa almost beats Siri. Amazon has taken machine learning voice prompts a step further here. Unlike Siri, who only answers to voice commands, Alexa can take action based on voice queries. For example, a subscriber can simply say, “Alexa, play music,” and the Echo will play tracks based on past listening habits.
Alexa can respond to conversational queries and find tracks even if a user doesn’t remember the title or the artists. For example, a subscriber can ask a complex question, like, “Alexa, play that song with the line ‘put up a parking lot,’” and Alexa will play “Big Yellow Taxi.” However, the service will only play the Counting Crows cover of the song, because it’s the most popular version on Amazon. People who want to listen to the Joni Mitchell original can ask Alexa something like “play that song with these lyrics from the 70s.”
Frighteningly Low Price
Streaming services are tripping over each other to offer the cheapest subscriptions to dominate the market. In this extremely competitive field, Amazon is offering Music Unlimited subscriptions for only $4 per month to people who own an Echo. Others can subscribe for $10 per month, the same as most other streaming services. The Echo price package is the lowest currently in the market. There’s a caveat though: a single subscription works only on a single Echo device, and not on any other device including smartphones and laptops.
It seems that Amazon is ready to do battle in the streaming music warzone.