Everybody loves music. And as Blackberry users, we all love BBM. But here’s a question: Will it blend? Lucky for us, Research in Motion (RIM) has created a way for us to share songs, find new music, meet new people, talk about the music, and buy songs all inside one app on your Blackberry!
It’ll cost you $4.99 per month for the BBM Music Premium subscription, which allows you to listen to full songs. Once you begin using it, RIM’s gives you 2 months of premium service free, and free is always good. Without a premium subscription, you are unfortunately limited to 30-second previews of all the songs.
When it was announced, many critics doubted its chances for success. After all, we have Pandora, Spotify, Groveshark and other music-sharing services. So what’s the big deal? Well, it’s all about combining music and the social experience of BBM. Does this unique music sharing service have what it takes to catch on? Read on to find out!
As you open up BBM Music, it asks to connect you to BBM and synchronizes your subscription to the mysterious Blackberry “cloud” in the sky. The look is simple, clean and cool. With a nice brushed aluminum background texture, dark grey boxes, and neon blue text, it feels futuristic, sharp and Tron-like. Scrolling is as smooth as it gets, and you won’t find any lag if your finger gets a little wild.
To navigate within the app, you have four tabs.
Home Screen: Here you can see your avatar, status and any BBM Music-related shenanigans your contacts have gotten into. Anything from new contacts, playlists and updated statuses of your contacts shows up here.
My songs: This pane shows your avatar and status, along with a list of all the songs you have added to your personal music list.
Contacts: This pane shows all your contacts that you have invited to your “contacts list”. Tapping “Add Contact” allows you to invite someone to join BBM Music through BBM, a text message, Twitter, an email or other communication venues. You can also search for a contact when you have way too many (which you will, more on this later). You can also tap on “All songs” to view all the songs of all your contacts in one convenient playlist.
Catalogue: This is where you can search for and add up to 50 songs to your personal song list.
It would be nice if you could swipe between the four tabs, giving you a richer UI experience, but switching between tabs the old-fashioned way works well enough. If you cheap out and cancel your subscription, the app never fails to point out your inferior subscription status in an attempt to persuade you to go “Premium”.
At the top of the catalogue pane, you can search for the song you want to add to your song list. You’re given results that are sorted by artist, songs and album. The song selection is very good, but it isn’t comprehensive. There is a lack of selection from less-than-popular artists so you won’t find every song you’re looking for. For example, if I wanted to listen to some of my favourite death metal from “The Black Dahlia Murder”, I would be straight out of luck. However, most people (including me) can definitely manage to find 50 of your favourite songs to add with no problem.
You’re also given the option to explore six predefined categories to help you find new music within the catalogue: “Featured”, “Staff Picks” “New” “Genres” “Top” and “Recommended”.
Within the “Featured”, “New”, and “Top” sections, you’re shown 10 songs and 10 albums that are either featured, new or most popular (obviously). Within the “Staff Picks” section, you’re faced with a few short playlists (perhaps belonging to some of RIM’s most culturally-endowed employees) containing a few pop songs. Within the “Recommended” section, BBM Music does a fairly good job at recommending some music that you would like. The last” Genres” section contains a mere 6 genres of music to browse through from containing the standard genres like “Rock” and “Pop”. All those who yearn for folk, death metal, or acoustic post-Trip hop may have to search for their favourites.
As mentioned before, you can add up to 50 songs to your own personal song list. You can also swap one of your songs for a new one up to 25 times a month, helping you “refresh” your selection to stay “hip” and up-to-date on the latest tunes. Oddly enough, you can just delete and add new songs as much as you want with fairly minimal effort anyway. In the end, it’s just a fancy way to update your music list if you’re maxed out at 50 songs. Plus, very few people are going to change more than 25 of their songs in a month anyway since you can just listen to other people’s songs as much as you want anyway so it makes very little difference. To this day, I’m still puzzled.
The Social Experience:
BBM Music was designed to be social. By that I mean you can listen to your contacts’ music, check out their playlists, and even publicly criticize their choice of songs! Oh the possibilities! Yet, if you’re using BBM Music, chances are most of your friends aren’t. Most people know what BBM is, but haven’t even heard of BBM Music.
In the end, you’re left with two options; either enjoy your 50 songs until you’ve gotten sick of them and memorized all the words…..or go nuts and invite anybody and everybody you encounter! Plus, with every person you add, you get to listen to their 50 songs! If you wisely chose the second option, the first hurdle is to find somebody from your BBM list who uses BBM Music. Once you have this first contact, you can now proceed to scour their profile for any updates involving their other contacts to add them to your contacts list! Rinse and repeat! Before you know it, you’ll have hundreds of random people and a playlist of thousands of songs to listen to!
If you do get carried away or you simply have way too many friends, apparently you will eventually discover that you can actual reach a limit on the number of contacts you can have. I have not reached this limit with my mere 200 contacts. However, I’m sure it’s at least 500, which is plenty enough for a theoretical max of 25,000 songs. Realistically though, I’ve only seen a few contacts with over 10,000 songs. Not bad for 5 bucks!
Once you have sizeable list of contacts, all it takes is a push of the Blackberry menu button and you have the ability to sort your contacts in more ways that you know: alphabetically, listen count, uniqueness, song quantity, comment counts and more. This comes in handy if you’ve reached your contact limit and you want to purge your list of all those who have too few songs to make your exclusively awesome contact list.
If you feel the need to either compliment/criticize a contact’s selection of songs, you’re in luck! Just find the song, press the Blackberry menu button and select “Comment on song”. You can also simply comment directly on a contact’s “Wall” if you so desire.
You can also add people you meet and socialize with on BBM Music to your standard BBM contact list. I, for one, don’t really care for adding more friends to my BBM, but others may enjoy the fact that you can actually communicate with new people, and not just do what everybody else does and take advantage of them for their 50 songs.
If you view someone’s profile, you can select the option to “BBM Chat” with them. This asks you if you want to send an invitation to add them to your BBM list. If someone decides to send you an invitation to join their contact list, it shows up as a cool new notification in your standard notifications bar.
Listening to Music:
Listening to a song is as simple as tapping on it. If you or one of your contacts haven’t added the song to the list, or you’re cheaping out with the free version, you get a 30-second preview of the song. If you or another contact has added the song, you’re brought to another window with a view of the song’s cover art and fairly standard playback controls. Rewinding and fast-forwarding through songs is a breeze using either the touchscreen or trackpad.
You can skip songs within the current playlist by swiping left or right, or simply pressing the hardware or software “previous” and “next buttons” buttons on your Blackberry. The animation played while swiping through songs is slow, and it’s almost as bad as swiping through group pictures in BBM (which is frustrating). The options to repeat and shuffle songs are included and are easy to use.
With a decent signal HSPA+, songs should take about a second to buffer and play seamlessly. The volume is loud enough to be senior-citizen approved and the quality is more than adequate.
Another useful feature is the ability to ignore songs that you can’t stand or just don’t feel like listening to. This feature, located in the top corner of the screen, blocks the selected song from playing regardless of what playlist you’re in.
I’ve also noticed a strange bug that sometimes pauses playback of a song while the phone isn’t in use. It can be very annoying when you’d like to, say, type out a review of a certain Blackberry app while listen to a playlist while typing. A reboot usually fixes the issue, but it seems to appear again every so often. Hopefully, RIM addresses this issue in the next update.
I’ve also noticed some contacts complaining about some songs not showing up that should be shared. It may be that those songs are not available in all countries, and if so, it’s a very minor issue.
Buying songs: If you are so inclined, BBM Music allows you to directly purchase any songs you find. Songs can be bought using the (typically) pre-installed Amazon MP3 Store app, which BBM Music is linked to. Unfortunately for Canadians, Amazon’s music store doesn’t work in Canada (any many other countries I’m guessing). Even with RIM being buddy-buddy with 7digital, BBM Music and the 7digital app aren’t integrated. It feels like the purchasing songs was a requirement from the record labels that RIM needed to comply with. But with a paid subscription to thousands of songs, who really wants to pay extra for a song that you can’t even listen to on other devices?
Cache songs: If you find yourself stuck in a cold war bunker and without your tunes, BBM Music comes to the rescue. Songs can be cached to your Blackberry for quick loading and you can get a BBM Music fix regardless of signal strength. You can choose to clear the cache of stored songs at any time as well. If you’re afraid of going over your data cap, you can choose to stream exclusively over wifi or using the mobile network as well.
By selecting a song, you can also get recommendations on similar songs, share the song, share the album, find more by the same artist and much more. All these features are buried in the typically long, yet efficient Blackberry menu we’ve grown to love so much.
RIM has made a slam dunk with this app when it comes down to the idea and the features. Yet, many things are missing. There is so much unrealized potential and some loose ends that need tying up.
First of all, most people are not able to purchase songs from within the app. This is manageable for the ones who don’t like purchasing individual songs and instead like the option of paying the monthly subscription to have tens of thousands of songs at their fingertips. With such a poor music purchasing system, the social music subscription service seems much more attractive, even at $4.99 a month. In addition, the value of
any purchased songs will remain very low unless you can synchronize your song list on other devices such as your computer, tablet, etc.
Secondly, BBM Music needs to be joined to the native music player and connect even more deeply to BBM. If RIM can automatically integrate your BBM contacts with BBM Music, it can grow to be part of the Blackberry experience, and not just another app that 95% of people won’t discover. People like sharing songs with their real friends, not just using random strangers to gain access to more songs.
Overall, BBM Music is a refreshing departure from the typical music subscription services that we are used to seeing. The social aspect is a fun and interesting way to discover new songs and allow you to put yourself in someone’s shoes, musically, if that makes sense. A clean and slick UI makes it fun fairly fun to browse new music and socialize. BBM Music is a great idea with big potential if made into a true social experience with people that you know. With deeper BBM integration and the development of a better paid music ecosystem with other platforms and devices, BBM Music could be a big hit with consumers, as well as the record labels!