Pandora – A Renewed Love Affair
When I read a Twitter post by noted venture capitalist Fred Wilson stating “I’m driving around the east end of LI with Josh. He’s got his iPhone connected to the car radio and DJ’ing by searching for songs on YouTube”, I was left wondering why a tech savvy VC would resort to such a cumbersome option instead of streaming Pandora from the iPhone to the car radio.
Pandora and the Music Genome Project that powers this internet radio phenomenon allow listeners to create personal radio stations by selecting artists they like and then playing music from those artists as well as songs from similar artists.
How does Pandora pick songs from similar artists that may appeal to you? The Music Genome Project uses over 400 attributes to capture the unique musical identity of songs and then uses a complex algorithm to pick songs based on the artists you picked for your radio station. You can also improve the recommendation engine by giving a thumbs up or a thumbs down to songs. Unlike traditional radio, you can skip songs, pause music, bookmark songs, bookmark artists and even purchase music. And the best part is that there are no annoying instream ads (Pandora has begun to experiment with it but I am yet to hear one).
You can access all this functionality both from the Pandora website as well as their iPhone (and iPod Touch) app, but in my opinion the iPhone app offers a much more refined user experience. You can switch to landscape mode by turning the iPhone 90 degrees and then scroll through the list of songs that were recently played with a flick of your finger just like you can with songs on the iPod and as shown in the image above. You can email your radio station to friends and scroll through your bookmarked songs much faster than you would probably be able to through a computer.
However due to bandwidth requirements, if you use Pandora over AT&T’s 3G network, the music plays in mono at a much lower bitrate. You can switch to high quality audio from the settings area but your music could skip more. The other option under settings I found very useful is the ability to turn auto screen locking off, which is enabled by default. It is much easier to skip songs while driving if you don’t have to unlock the iPhone screen to get to Pandora.
The biggest advantage for me and the reason for my renewed love affair with Pandora is the ability to stream the music from my iPhone to my car and not have to listen to the same old playlists, talking heads or numerous ads you tend to find on terrestrial radio stations. Discovering new music and hardly noticing my 30 minute commute into San Francisco are just icing on the cake.