Living in the cloud is quiet. Eerily quiet. On a normal day, I open my MacBook Air, turn on Spotify and listen to music while I work. It’s my method, and it has been for as long as I can remember. It’s a simple formula, Music + Internet = Work. But apparently it’s hard to replicate.
Now, as part of my “Going Google” experiment, my routine is slightly varied. After using my Chromebook as my primary computer for five days now, it feels like I’ve gone into music detox. Similar to an addict being put into a cold turkey rehab program. That is to say: it’s awfully quiet in the Google world.
For music lovers, there are a few options. There’s Google Music, which I earnestly tried to use for a few days. Let me tell you something, though: Google Music is not a viable alternative. It’s been written about before, but it is worth repeating: Google Music is not iTunes. It isn’t even Spotify.
There are two main problems with Google Music. The first is that it has a limited selection of music. That’s fine and dandy, and I knew that going in. So what I did before closing my MacBook Air for the last time was sync all of my iTunes library, so I’d have most of my music. Sadly, this took about 11 hours — I think it is still uploading. Once finished though, I’d be set, right? Wrong.
The music uploaded fine, and I had my mix of Kings of Convenience and Daft Punk uploaded, ready to go. But the music, apparently, wasn’t the problem. The problem was the interface. Google Music is incredibly confusing. This could in part be because I’m just not used to the design, or it could be because it is actually poorly laid out. Whatever the reason, it’s a problem other people are going to run into, as nearly everyone uses iTunes as their main offline music player, and this is a cheap imitation of iTunes.
This confusion was okay at the beginning, as I played around, but it soon became tiresome. You want to see a list sorted by Artist? Then click on Artist, and see a long and visual display of album covers by the artists. Nevermind that looking for an artist by looking at album covers is confusing. The really good way to find an artist is by clicking on the tab “Songs” and then clicking on Artists there, which will then alphabetize the list. Once you understand it, it’s useful. But not really.
Then there’s the fact that there is just a ton of whitespace — all over the place. An unnecessary amount. I’m no designer, but still, when you’re showing an album with this much white space around it on a relatively small screen, you should be prioritizing. You could make the album cover quite a bit larger with all of that space, which would really help the user find the tracks they’re looking for faster.
To be fair to Google, the service isn’t really a top priority for them. Not only have they been having issues with the labels for quite a while, there’s also the issue of not many people using the service. That being said, people won’t start using the service unless it really is good.
After two days of suffering through Google Music, I began to wander. I looked for an alternative, hoping that someone had hacked together a version of Spotify in the browser. (It once existed as a hack, but has since been shut down.) After asking around, I decided to use Rdio.
Rdio has been good enough and does play music from the cloud with a wide selection, but it also has its flaws. For starters, it’s rough to start over with an entirely new music platform, especially switching over from years of Spotify use. There’s also the issue of not being able to cache music for offline listening. However, Rdio does what it needs to do. It gives me music, and it works on all of my devices.
The problem with music in the browser, though, is that it isn’t intuitive to find sources. I’m up to date on most new products and services, but even I had forgotten about Rdio until someone mentioned it to me. People that buy a Chromebook, because they set it in Best Buy aren’t likely to know the pros and cons of every cloud-based music subscription service. Nor should they need to.
Which is why I’m hard on Google Music. It is the only option that is really promoted on the Chromebook, and while you can find Rdio in the Chrome App Store, you have to actively search for it. This is the same problem people have with iTunes. If iTunes was a third-party service on iOS and OS X, people wouldn’t complain about it. But it’s not a third-party service, it’s built in and promoted. So it had better be good.
Switching from a music-infused platform like OS X or Windows to the musically-challenged Chrome OS, is like driving 80 miles an hour down the coast, and then suddenly being thrown into a residential neighborhood where you can only drive 25 mph. It’s jarring, and you get used to it and adapt, but not before you begin to think, “Why am I doing this again?”
["Going Google" is an ongoing series, in which Trevor tries to only use Google devices like the Chromebook, and live out of the cloud. It’s a test of the feasibility of Google’s platform for the average user.]
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]