Soundwave for iPhone, iPad review - Woz, Stephen Fry endorsed music discovery app
Some time ago a file of MP3 tracks appeared online purporting to be the late Steve Jobs’s favourite songs, picked magically from his iPod or likely iPhone. Alongside a few classical tracks, the listing was made up of choice songs from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, Miles Davis and more. An educated guess perhaps, it did at least offer some insight into Jobs’s musical tastes, which have been fairly well documented over the years, with The Beatles famously the inspiration for the formation of Apple computers.
Endorsed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, affectionately known as Woz, Soundwave Music Discovery is an app which offers a similar insight, offering a chance to see what Apple and Android mobile device users are listening to. On Apple devices, for instance, tracks played in iTunes and to a limited extent via Spotify and Rdio are relayed to Soundwave with little fuss, those tracks can then be seen by fellow users. The idea is you follow users, rather people, they in turn follow you and together you see and hear what they are playing, organically discovering new music in the process. You can play short audio clips of those tracks you choose to explore and crucially check for longer versions on SoundCloud and YouTube all within the app. Users can also buy tracks that particularly impress via an iTunes Store link, which nicely saves time searching the store.
With over 165,000 downloads in little over two weeks after launch you would hope for plenty of variety from a range of users and Soundwave kindly offers a selection of people to follow to get you started. This includes the aforementioned Woz, listed as Apple Founder on the Soundwave website, another fan of the app in Stephen Fry, and someone called Mark Cuban, who may mean little in the UK unless you are a US sports fan. Cuban, owner of NBA team Dallas Mavericks, is a larger than life character, a very rich man who has invested in the Dublin based Soundwave, which likely justifies his inclusion in this recommended list. Apart from those three, the other suggested users are hardly well known and aren't likely to inspire users to follow them from name alone. Searching manually for those to follow feels very random and of 442 Facebook friends only one is using Soundwave and regretfully, he's not yet following us. Indeed having listened to 124 songs via iTunes, we have amassed just one follower while in return have followed 32 users.
For an app that has 'Music Discovery' in its full title, the listening choices of many users appear to be rather conservative and uninspiring, with mainstream tracks by Imagine Dragons, Kanye West, Daft Punk, The Lumineers, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus among the most played. You have to dig deep to discover music you haven't heard before or for some time, an option that is more easily achieved via Spotify, Last.fm and the excellent SomaFM. Woz and Mark Cuban do at least have varied and fun playlists, while Stephen Fry, with just 47 plays appears to have 'Raising Sand' a 2007 album from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss stuck on repeat play. Meanwhile, dozens of users we checked had zero plays, with: "This user hasn't done anything yet," where a playlist should be.
Soundwave lets users explore top liked, disliked and played charts, which may sound fine but seriously beyond the age of 13 who wants to know which songs and artists are most disliked? Rather like the thumbs down option on YouTube, this will only serve as a green light for trolls and those with limited capacity to think for themselves and discover their own favourite music without fear of being seen as unhip. The app also lets users set a current favourite song as your 'Humdinger,' which appears under your name, a cool idea that gives a small insight into what aural delights your playlist might include.
While the two Steves in Wozniak and Fry may be fans, Soundwave feels like an app in search of an identify and crucially a user base and audience willing to share eclectic, inspiring musical playlists that don't simply ape current Top 40 fodder. Early days yes, but considering the fanfare which greeted Soundwave at launch, reflected in impressive downloads numbers for the app, the lack of take up and variety of music discovery has to be seen as disappointing.