At Midem this last weekend Nokia announced the launch of Nokia Music Plus, a premium iteration of its free Nokia Mix Radio offering. For €3.99 per month subscribers get an enhanced personalized radio service including unlimited track skips, unlimited offline playback and lyrics streaming. From a pure specifications perspective none of that is particularly groundbreaking, but what is interesting is Nokia’s execution as a truly mobile first music service.
When Mobile First Means Anything But
Many digital content providers are positioning themselves as being mobile first these days, but the results often suggest they are anything but. Mobile first does not mean simply having most of your customer engagement happening via mobile, nor does it mean focusing your development costs on mobile, heck it doesn’t even mean only being available on mobile. None of these factors constitute being mobile first, instead they should be natural outputs of a mobile first approach, success indicators of a mobile first strategy. Being a mobile first consumer offering, at least if we use the term in a strategically meaningful sense, should be about meeting a consumer’s mobile needs in a uniquely mobile way. One that does not just leverage mobile functionality but instead has it at the core of its DNA. That creates an experience that is so good on mobile that it would be an inferior experience on a PC.
Too often the mobile apps of music services either:
- look like little more than a PC screen squashed into a mobile screen
- repurpose the PC user journey for mobile, splitting it across multiple screens to create a fragmented and disjointed user experience
And When It Really Is
Despite being a mobile company first, Nokia hasn’t always delivered mobile first experiences. Indeed one of the failings of the much maligned but nonetheless visionary Comes With Music was that it delivered a clumsy and squashed PC experience that masqueraded as a mobile music experience. But with Mix Radio, Nokia have delivered a truly mobile first experience that sets the bar for others to follow. There is nothing particularly revolutionary in the service, but that misses the point. Nokia have taken the Apple mantra of delivering elegant, seamless user experiences and have run with it. As the screen shots in figure one show, Mix Radio does not try to cram the screen with metadata and information but instead uses the screen inventory to deliver uncluttered, visually rich content.
I’ve been trying out Mix Radio on a Lumia 920 (which by the way is IMHO Nokia’s best device since the N95 8 Gig. It is great to see that Nokia has got its hardware mojo back, let’s hope it isn’t too late). On the Lumia 920’s large screen, Mix Radio is a music experience that genuinely feels like a mobile music experience and that does not leave one wanting to switch to a PC screen as soon as is possible. It isn’t a perfect service, and I am not convinced that the beefed up Music Plus offering will get much traction as a premium offering, but it does set a standard for what a mobile first music experience should be.
Sonic Augmented Reality
One other feature that Nokia launched on Saturday, but with little or no fan fare, is one of the most fun digital music features I have seen in years: NFC Activated Mixes. The user simply points their phone at one of the NFC targets (see graphic below) and a mix starts playing instantly as soon as the he or she accepts the mix. NFC music is far from a brand new concept but the value of the feature is again all in the execution: point, touch, play. All in an instant. And this isn’t just for promoting music, users can use NFC stickers to create their own mixes and leave them anywhere they like. It is also just as easy to dump a mix onto a sticker as to listen to one – with all the actual music files residing in the cloud so it is only metadata that is being transferred. And of course, it is again a genuinely mobile first experience.
The opportunities for personal sharing as well as commercial uses are boundless. Cafes could have them at the counter so customers could chose a mix with their coffee. Bars and clubs could have them on their doors to give passing clientele the opportunity to hear what sort of music they can expect inside. (Use cases similar to those, by the way, that Swedish start up TunaSpot has also been working towards with its Spotify / 4 Square API mash-up app).
Though only a small and fun feature, Nokia’s NFC Activated Mixes nonetheless represent the potential of a profound extension of music consumption: making location and context genuine parts of the music experience. Augmented Reality apps such as Layar have focused, understandably, on augmenting the visual world with mobile context, but this is Sonic Augmented Reality. The next obvious step for music experiences is to then blend sonic and visual elements, but in many ways that will detract from the elegant simplicity of Sonic Augmented Reality. Nokia’s NFC Activated Mixes work because they are quick, simple and non-intrusive. It is as easy as picking up a free newspaper from the stand at a train station, whereas traditional Augmented Reality apps require a strong degree of consumer involvement.
Nokia are not necessarily reinventing the digital music market – after all they tried that with Comes With Music and got their fingers burnt through to the bone. But what they are doing is using the already available assets in the digital music landscape to set new standards in mobile first music experiences. Welcome back to the fold Nokia.