Milk: Samsung Shows its Software Chops

on March 7, 2014
Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.

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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.