Milk: Samsung Shows its Software Chops

by Ben Bajarin   |   March 7th, 2014

Samsung is introducing a new Internet Radio service called Milk. I had the opportunity to get some hands on time with the service and speak with Samsung executives about the new product and strategy. There are a number of important observations from my perspective.

The first is the quality of the software. Samsung is not exactly known as a software company. The primary public facing software work to date we can look it is their software on the TVs as well as the UI they have developed for their Android devices. Over the past few years, Samsung has added core apps incrementally to add value and to differentiate their hardware in the marketplace. S-Pen apps are a good example of some of these. However, to date, the Milk application and experience is one of the better Samsung applications I have used in terms of software and execution.

The app itself is leveraging the Slacker Radio service. However, Samsung has implemented it uniquely for a streaming music experience that is different than any I have used. The concept tries to make the experience much closer to an actual radio experience. Just in case you think traditional radio is a thing of the past in the US, let me offer a few statistics.

The following chart from Pew Research breaks down media usage of US consumers by type. Note the time US consumers spend listening to traditional radio.

chartoftheday_1971_Electronic_Media_Use_n

What is interesting about this breakdown, is the time spent using a smartphone vs. the time spent with radio. I wrote a few days ago about the challenge competing in the mobile market. My key point in that post, is that the challenge for anyone competing in mobile is that mobile apps are competing for time. In the case of the US smartphone owner, mobile applications are competing for just a little over an hour according to this recent data. Since smartphone screen time is limited, and divided up between a number of tasks, the challenge is be relevant during the short bursts of times people use their phones. Radio experiences are one of the the things that could potentially increase smartphone usage time.

In terms of raw numbers, let’s look at Nielsen data from their State of Media report.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 8.43.20 AM

As you can see from both charts, radio is alive and well and consumers still value the experience of radio. I believe a key reason for this is that radio is produced. There is value in curation. This is the logic Samsung used Milk. The service itself consists of 200 radio channels. Each curated by a taste maker. The app itself has a dial interface and as you move the dial around the circle each station starts played instantly. If you scrub quickly around the dial, you hear the station briefly, sounding just like what happens as you change radio stations quickly.

In between each genre, as you scrub to the right or the left of it, is a series of other channels. Each category contains around 15 stations in my approximations.

The execution of this service is well done. I’ve been using it frequently over the past day and have been very impressed. The app and the service itself is free and ad free. The latter is something I think is the bigger point. I try many different Internet radio services, some free and some paid. This service from Samsung is competitive with all of them and I found the lack of ads to be quite nice. I am a paying iTunes Match subscriber and for the most part default to iTunes Radio as my preferred service. However, a few months ago, I turned the iTunes Match service off to see what ads were like in in iTunes Radio. Over the past month I noticed a sharp increase in iTunes Radio ads, sometimes being as often as every 4 songs. Listening to a number of free Internet radio services, I’d estimate the average number of ads to be 10 per hour. The Milk experience was refreshing both in its curation of each channel along with the lack of ads at no cost.

Samsung has checked an important checkbox competitively with the Milk app and service. I’ve concluded Samsung’s future in mobile lies in them being able to compete in the higher end of the smartphone segment in every market. Adding value and differentiating their hardware with software and services are key to them competing in the high-end.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • B.B.

    Clear Channel radio stations endlessly rotate the same 40 songs from the 1980s, or even the 1970s. It’s beyond boring.

    • benbajarin

      Agree. But many internet streaming radio services have the same problem. iTunes Radio, and supposedly Milk have a deep enough catalog to prevent that.

      • Bill Smith

        Some of my iTunes Radio stations have played for days with nary a repeat. Pandora was this awesome at one point, and Rhapsody before it, but has become ad-laden if you don’t subscribe, and has a depth of 20-50 even if you do.

      • capnbob67

        Weird that other serious internet streaming services (not AM/FM simulcast or more traditional radio over the internet which is an irrelevant comparator to Slacker/Milk) should have that issue given that many claim to have larger catalogs than Slacker (Milk) @13M. Cursory research shows Google AA >20M, iTunes >20M, Sony MU 20M, Rdio 20M, Spotify 20M, Napster 15M, X-Box Music 30M, iHeartRadio 15M, etc. Could be that the genres you like are much weaker in other services but seems unlikely. Do you have strange tastes?

      • Peter

        Maybe the catalog is deep. If so then not enough of it floats.

        As an example, the “Bach Essentials” has forty or fifty items (movements, not whole works) and it’s not uncommon to have repeats within twenty minutes. Other stations aren’t quite as quick but most have repeats within an hour.

        • steve_wildstrom

          I haven’t found that any internet sources of classical music are all that great. Lots of chopped up individual movements and endlessly repetitive performances.

    • Bill Smith

      It’s unfortunate that nearly all of XM/Sirius’ channels are also very repetitive.
      I’ve found that the HD radio channels are somewhat better (and tend to be ad-free!!!)
      Still, iTunes Radio is incredible. My primary vehicle has built-in Wi-Fi pre-paid for 3 years.

      I listen to terrestrial radio pretty much never.
      HD radio…just to get exposure to stuff I don’t normally listen to…keeps you young to force yourself to listen to new, unfamiliar music. Too many people’s musical tastes stop progressing after college…or even high school.
      XM/Sirius…subscription expired and I don’t miss it.
      Pandora…replaced by the far superior iTunes Radio

      Just as I’ve replaced commercial TV with iTunes/Netflix/Hulu/Amazon IV, my radio is now iTunes Radio and an assortment of podcasts.

      Clear Channel’s infinite repeat of 25 tracks has forced me to no longer be part of their target audience.

  • krabbie

    Time will tell with Samsung about the no ads bit. Monetization will roar its nasty greedy monolithic head, maybe???? Maybe they want market share then the money share built with ads???? Sounds good for the moment tho. Where is it available?

    • benbajarin

      US only for now.

    • capnbob67

      According to the Verge, Samsung already admitted it will have ads just not when. Being so massively late to the party, Samsung will have to suck up the pesky costs of paying artists a pittance they get from streaming out of its massive profits (poor dears).

  • obarthelemy

    Or they could put the FM receiver back in their phones. One of the reason I switched to Huawei.

    • Sammy

      Isn’t the whole point of streamed radio/music to have a more focused genre experience?

      Maybe I’m just middle aged but besides NPR/News radio, I usually don’t stay on the same FM station for more than 2 songs. FM stations try to appeal to a big audience, “pop channels” play acoustic ballads, rock, pop, dance, hip-hop etc… Trying to be all things to all people.

      FM radio exists to sell music and sell ads.

      Isn’t the fact the Pandora, Milk etc… exist, a sign that FM radio has many shortcomings?

      Maybe FM radio is great where you live but it isn’t everywhere.

      • obarthelemy

        People *on average* spend 2h46m listening to radio. Radio must be doing something right, and not just for me. If only for that reason, a radio-less phone is lacking. As far as I am concerned
        1- digging a little, it’s rather easy to find a handful of stations to my taste, with different genres and for different moods. And sometimes I do want a chance at hearing something new, and not just the stuff I already have on my phone or some computer-generated list. Human moderators and DJs do add value… sometimes..
        2- the costs and revenues of doing radio are much higher than that of doing podcasts, which results in better talent and production values. Apart from a handful of podcasts on very narrow topics, all my favorite shows are on radio. And they don’t make my ears bleed from bad sound.
        3- Radio reaches places where I get no wifi and very iffy data.

  • capnbob67

    I hate to make this suggestion of you but this all seems a little bit (un)p@id-sh!II-y. I say that because it doesn’t seem balanced or critical (in the sense of a critique) but seems tends to the PR, positive spin side of things.

    It first of all tries to justify Samsung’s actions by saying people still listen to the radio. However, the same data also shows that they don’t really do it through smartphones and connected devices. Although it seems a little hard to pin down it also seems that the vast majority of US online listening is AM/FM simulcast which this obviously does not face at all. The key issue seems to be not the curation of the music (which is terrible on traditional radio) but the added value of chat, news, competitions, weather, traffic etc. none of which are available on internet streaming music choices like Milk. Regardless of all this red herring waffle, it has nothing to do with what Samsung is doing (as you “conclude”) in the blindingly obvious last (should have been first) paragraph.

    Then you describe the product in surprisingly glowing terms. “Chops”, really? As you said, the engine is Slacker so no “chops” there at all. The UI is interesting but largely unimportant and hardly any indication of “chops”, though it seems well executed. As for it being free, the Verge review states…
    “Just don’t get too accustomed to an ad-free service. Samsung plans to incorporate ads at a certain point, but declined to specify when that might be or detail how the ads would be integrated into the service.” Without being ad-free, Milk loses the only thing you suggested was a slight differentiation from 10 other services.

    Samsung have tried (and often messed up) much larger things in SW than a skin to a me-too streaming music app. Dissecting those would be a better indication of its “chops” or lack thereof. It might be useful to remind people this Samsung’s second attempt at streaming radio, it is available on only a select list of devices, Galaxy S3 and above (seems to be high end only).It also is apparently not linked to a purchasing engine which Samsung has (weird), indicative of a lack of “chops” to me.

    Milk is a blatant rip off of iTunes Radio for ONLY the same purpose: for Samsung to add value to its (high end) devices. It’s not some gift to consumers, or even available to that many (US/high-end only). It seems to show no “chops” or imagination beyond nice UI/UX execution. At least iTunes Radio is available to many more listeners (though it is not available beyond US and Australia so far). I’m not trying to be an Apple vs. kind of f@nboy but because this article seems to vastly overstate things in favor of a small, derivative Android market differentiation. Overall this seems a barely significant action in a long list of “if Apple does it, Samsung will do it later” actions because Samsung believes it has to try to match the Apple ecosystem to justify its high-end devices (the core of its handset profits) vs. iPhones (and differentiate vs. other high-end Android devices).

    My guess is that articles like this are the price of “access” to Samsung Executives. I’m sure you got a ton of good stuff from your meetings that we may or may not ever get access to but apparently we have to pay the price too.

    • capnbob67

      PS it seems use of the word “sh!II” will get a comment moderated (and never shown). Is that true? If so, care to explain?

      • steve_wildstrom

        Don’t understand because it’s not on the restricted list. Meanwhile, though, I approved the comment so it is up.

    • benbajarin

      Ha! I get accused of the same thing about Apple all the time. :) As you know if you read much of what I write, you may observe that I tend to lean toward the positives rather than the negatives. At least puclically. I’m an optomist so Its how I work.

      Second, I think I must not have done as good of a job emphasizing a few things I meant to emphasize. So I will clarify.

      The radio bit, was actually intended to make the point about why this feature is actually a smart move for ANY smartphone maker. The same point I made about why Samsung does it appies to Apple as well. That was intended as a general point. There is a strategy there, which was my point. Again general point. Further on this point, if you read my article on my blog about why competing on mobile is tough, you notice that I point out it is becasue time is limited. What I was alluding to was perhaps things like this could incresae the time spent on mobile as an overall usage stat.

      The chops bit has nothing to do with the slacker but but the qualiyt of the software of the app. This I should have been more clear on I suppose. As I point out later on, the reason this matters is becasue Samsung only has the high-end left (I’ve concluded this, others may not have) and to compete in this high end they have to do better at software and services. The software experience of this app is very good. Better than most software I see from Samsung. That was my point and the reason why it matters strategically in a mobile context.

      • capnbob67

        Thanks to Firefox being as stable and drunk toddler, I lost my original wordy reply.

        In summary, this felt like an uncritical puff piece. Maybe that’s the price of positivity?
        Your radio point doesn’t stand at all. Internet music streaming is not part of those radio stats and it is only marginally competitive with radio time. Even within online listening, a large chunk appears to be AM/FM simulcast, not pure streaming music services.
        Unsurprisingly, people listen to radio for a vast range of reasons only one of which is music (talk, news, local interest, competitions, weather, traffic, etc.). Even in music terms, lots of people like hearing the same 40 songs over a week.
        Samsung is NOT striding manfully into the hours of US radio time per day but meekly wandering into the small sliver of time being spent on the 10-15 other existing internet music streaming services.

        Nice UI is not a strategic or defensible advantage, the underlying service is just Slacker (smaller catalog than many) and as the Verge knew (but you didn’t?) they are going to lose their one meaningful differentiation (after some sort of free trial period). It is available on only a few (high-end) devices, either because it won’t run on anything less than an S3 or it is only designed to create ecosystem lock-in for high value users.

        This article just felt far too one sided and inconsequential for a Techpinions piece.

        • benbajarin

          Good thoughts. I appreciate constructive criticism. I’ll have to address the question of what was told to the Verge and our group differently. We were told differing things apparently even though it seems we asked the same questions.

          My point about radio was not that it would eat into terrestrial radio but that it could INCREASE the time spent using a service on mobile devices. This is the key point. As I pointed out, the average US consumers spends just over an hour on their smartphone. That is divided up amongst many different tasks. What is interesting to me are things which may increase this statistic. The role of the mobile device is poised to become more central than it in US markets. That is where my forward thinking parts of mobile analysis is coming in.

          I’ll take the one sided point. But also ask then that this be brought up if I write something too one sided on Apple, which I am told I do often. I know we have a lot of folks with Apple centric view points but if we want deeper critical analysis then it should be for everyone not just companies folks who like Apple don’t like. Again, I wrestle with how deep to take this for a public audience since those types of content are much longer and deeper. This is why I save it for Insiders.

          That last bit was me thinking out loud. :)

      • qka

        “puclically”? Not in my dictionary.