Amazon just launched a streaming music service tailored for the emerging age of voice computing — at a price for Prime members that undercuts the competition.
Amazon.com has just launched a streaming music service tailored for the emerging age of voice computing — at a price for Amazon Prime members that undercuts the competition.
Dubbed “Amazon Music Unlimited,” it comes with a catalog its makers say rivals that of more established players such as Spotify and Apple Music.
Prime members can get the service for $8 per month, or $79 a year. Those who don’t belong to Amazon’s growing flock of loyal Prime subscribers would have to pay $10 a month, about the same chief competitors charge.
A third alternative is a $4 monthly subscription for use on a single Echo, the company’s popular voice-activated speaker.
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At first sight, the service seems to be another sweetener by Amazon to its already perk-loaded Prime program, which for $99 a year also includes guaranteed two-day shipping, streaming video and a limited-catalog streaming music service.
But it’s more than that.
By applying to music streaming its savoir-faire in machine learning, recommendation tools and voice computing, Amazon is creating a formidable alternative to Spotify for the millions of households that have Echo devices.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement that through Echo, the service would provide the curious with a “sense of the future of voice-controlled music.”
Fine-tuned for interacting with listeners through Alexa, the artificial-intelligence assistant that inhabits the Echo and other devices, the music software can respond to spoken requests for the latest song from a given artist.
It can find music produced by that artist during a specific time period, say, “1980s songs by Irish rock band U2,” or “top songs from any given year going back to the 1950s.”
There are also plenty of playlists crafted by in-house editors who helped create categories based on music genre, occasion (“dinner party”), tempo (“upbeat jazz”) and even mood (“happy music.”)
Most interesting for those who can’t remember the name of a tune, it can search for a song based on a few words from the lyrics.
And for a listener who doesn’t know what to play, it will find something, based on his or her past preferences, a trick straight out of Amazon’s long experience with predicting customers’ purchases.
These advances in verbal search could help counteract one of the more distinctive attributes of Google Home, a rival to the Echo that relies on Google’s expertise in search to find exactly what users are looking for, even if they’re not too sure about it. (Verbal commands won’t be available in smartphones or in the personal-computer version of the service at this point, however.)
Ryan Redington, director of Amazon Music, said in an interview that listening to music at home is a main activity for users of Echo.
The device promises to drive a second wave of adoption of music-streaming services, he said. The first wave, prompted by smartphones and other mobile devices, drove huge growth for Spotify, Pandora and the like.
That’s also the point of the $4 monthly Echo single-device subscription: to promote the adoption of music streaming among new listeners, Redington said.
Amazon isn’t discontinuing the bare-bones Amazon Prime Music, available at no additional cost to Prime members but with a much more limited catalog.
The Music Unlimited service will also be available on iOS, Android, the web, PC and Mac, as well as Fire devices.
Amazon tests convenience stores
Amazon.com is planning to create a network of small convenience stores where customers can pick up milk, veggies and other perishable foods, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The move comes as the Seattle tech and retail behemoth strives for a bigger slice of the grocery pie, a market where it still lags far behind rivals such as Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale.
It would be one of several experiments reflecting Amazon’s iterative approach to business problems — including the Amazon Fresh home-delivery service, which last week switched from charging customers a $299 yearly fee to a monthly $15 add-on subscription for Prime members
(The $299 included payment for the $99-a-year Prime membership; under the new setup, Fresh customers pay $15 a month after paying their Prime membership separately, shaving $20 off the annual cost.)
The Prime Now near-instant delivery service also delivers groceries from local stores in several cities.
The company is also working on a drive-in grocery store in Ballard.
The convenience stores, according to anonymous sources cited by the newspaper, will be for Amazon Fresh subscribers, and may have a no-frills look similar to that of discount grocers. The stores, however, aren’t likely to open for a year or more, the Journal reported.
Amazon declined to comment.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Ryan Redington as head of U.S. Prime Music and Amazon’s digital-music store. He is director of Amazon Music.