Hands on: Pandora 4.0 focuses on mobile music, social sharing

pandora 4.0Pandora has released a significant overhaul today, mainly focused on its mobile reach and social features. As a veteran of music streaming, Pandora has managed to survive the onslaught of Spotify – not to mention worthy challengers like Last.fm and Rdio – while growing its user base and remaining a comparatively popular choice among artists.

Still, hitting the mobile market is where every app’s future lies, and that’s the motivation behind this latest update. “After more than a year of planning, design, engineering, and testing, we’re announcing the entirely new Pandora 4.0 for iPhone and Android,” Pandora says. “This is the biggest update we’ve made to our mobile apps since we first launched.”

pandora progress barListening and station creation

New station creation is very simple, and the function works while using the app. Simply hit the back arrow icon in the upper left-hand corner. From there, you can use the search bar or the plus sign icon as your create-a-station stops, and selecting a specific, already-made station allows you to add variety or change details (which is located under options).

The only hiccup here is that hitting the station auto-plays it and launches you into the player. In order to add variety or edit details, you have to start listening to the station, hit the back button, and then you’re able to access these two features.

When you’re in a station, you can slide the bottom bar up to reveal a few options, including start a new station, share, buy on iTunes, and “I’m tired of this track” 

Pandora has also added a progress bar so you know how far into each song you are.

Social sharing and the Pandora profile

pandora share to twitterThere are a variety of ways you can start sharing your Pandora activity to social networks. So here we go:

  • Selecting a station and hitting options brings you to a share option. From here, you can connect with Facebook and Twitter (or choose email), hit share, and send your playlist where you will. There isn’t, however, an option to include any personal comments along with the post. There also appears to be a bug of some sort because when I tried it out, this is what showed up on Twitter: twitter pandora bug
    Using email and Facebook worked nicely, however. There’s only an option for including your own comments when you use email, for the record.
    facebook pandora post 
  • You can also hit up the upward facing arrow on the bottom banner. The share option here redirects you to that same page where you can connect with Facebook or Twitter. You need to choose whether you want to share the track or the entire station.  
  • If you view your profile (which I’m about to get to), you can hit up Likes (which is everything you’ve thumbed up). Here, you choose an individual track, the share icon, and once again you’re back in the same hub where you can email songs or post them to Facebook or Twitter.

Suffice it to say, if you want to share what you’re listening to on Pandora, you’re more than able to.

The new profile makes Pandora look a lot like your standard social network – you have a profile picture, a hub for your likes, followers, friends, and bookmarks, and an activity feed that people can leave comments on. You can find people to follow via the Feed icon at the bottom of the screen.

Pandora wants to be more than just a music service, it wants to be a music social network, something that a variety of platform’s out there are attempting. Spotify is arguably the closest thing to it, but all the possible contenders are still hubs from which we share content out to our social networks. Pandora’s attempt is still a bit messy too: I don’t love the idea of a straight-up feed of nothing but songs I’ve liked, albums I’ve created, and those that I’ve shared. I also can’t really imagine myself commenting on other profiles a whole lot, although I’m sure that will get some love from devoted Pandora users.

What’s a bit buggy – and annoying – is editing your profile. For your image, the only option is to pull your Facebook photo, although you can’t resize or edit the formatting. That and it never worked: I saved my photo multiple times and still have the default icon. The information you’re prompted to offer isn’t all that interesting either; wouldn’t it make sense to have some sort of “Favorite artists” hub where all your most listened-to music was? Something a little more dynamic than “employer, school, hometown.”

pandora private profileIf you don’t want to display this timeline of Pandora activity, head to settings, privacy, and make sure public profile is turned off.

But there’s one remaining big question: Why hasn’t Pandora integrated with the Facebook Timeline? Spotify is getting some major eyeballs thanks to its nearly constant presence in the New Feed and Ticker, and so have other music streaming apps. But Pandora isn’t among them, and I can’t help but wonder why. I reached out to Pandora and got the following response from a rep: 

Social sharing features are available on mobile for the first time with this release and allow listeners to easily share links to favorite stations and tracks with their friends and followers on Pandora, Facebook and Twitter.

This is something our users have been requesting for a while, but unlike other apps with social integration, we don’t share your information with friends by default. If you don’t want to share, we’re not pushing it out to your network.

Complementary content

track featuresPandora is arguably one of the best services for artist information. The new iteration of the app includes full screen artwork that you can toggle in order to find out more about the track and its artist, with incredibly detailed bios as well as lyrics, key song features, and a list of other similar tracks.

Some of the more interesting data comes from the Music Genome Project. We all might know what a song’s genre is, but information about song structure and key tonality is something you’re really only going to find with Pandora – that’s not exactly in Spotify’s wheelhouse.

The verdict

Kudos to Pandora for improving its mobile presence without too much reinvention; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Pandora certainly isn’t broke, but with increasing pressure from new services (cough-Spotify-cough) and the impending launch of others (right, Apple? That’s happening… right?), there’s definitely something to be said for a refresh. Pandora nearly hits all the right marks here by getting more fun and easy-to-use via smartphones (which is where most of its listening hours are coming from) and making what’s an admirable if lacking effort at its social element.

Pandora 4.0 is available for iPhone now and will be in the Google Play store within the coming weeks. 

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