Change is rarely easy, and for some reason that is doubly true of music services.
My home is something of a digital mess. Between the two girls who love their iPods, the boy who only really cares about Minecraft and Terraria, the guy who moved everything from Android to iOS last year, the spouse who hates change unless I can justify it, and the tech blogger who touches everything, there’s a massive selection of services flying through our house. Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, YouTube, and Amazon’s Prime Music make up a short list of music apps that get used just about every day, and all by different people.
I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for unifying all of these people under Google Play Music All Access with the new family plans that were rolled out recently, but when I saw that the plan also included shared purchasing through the Play Store I decided to give it a shot anyway.
We’re now 90 days into this particular experiment, and I don’t think I’ll be canceling this family plan anytime soon.
Making the switch was just about as easy as you’d expect. Migrating the girls from iTunes was a little challenging since each account didn’t have a dedicated desktop experience, but asking Apple to make it easy to leave their services has always been a bit of a joke. My son doesn’t really listen to music, and the iPhone user prefers local audio so doesn’t have a compelling reason to switch. My spouse took some convincing, but that became a lot easier after two days in a row of Spotify’s streaming stations being less than acceptable.
Over time, I found the feature my girls were using the most was audio pinning. Since they have Wi-Fi-only hardware, this made a lot of sense. No need to purchase new albums if you can pin what you like and listen to it wherever you are. I’m not sure exactly how much this has saved me so far, but I’ve more than broken even against the monthly cost of the family plan just with the girls.
Ultimately I think Google is headed in the right direction with this family plan.
My son is the only Android user of the kids, and that meant I needed to decide how to handle his ability to make purchases. Ultimately, I decided not to block his access to my card, and so far that has worked out well. While I don’t take the idea of giving a six-year-old access to my credit card lightly, he’s been thoroughly educated on how to use the apps and games he enjoys playing. He asks before making a purchase, and never really bothers with in-app purchases.
The most difficult convert was my partner, and it still hasn’t fully happened yet. The biggest issue with switching from one streaming service to another is the inability to take your curated lists with you. After months of tapping the thumbs down icon in Spotify, repeating this process in Play Music isn’t exactly appealing. On the other hand, Play Music seems to offer greater variety in its radio stations and makes accessing new stations based on themes instead of artists a little easier to enjoy. In this instance, the switch from one service to another is slow but steady.
There are several small changes I’d like to see in the way Google has set up these family plans. For starters, I’d like a parent view of what my kids are listening to. Something I can access without physically picking up their hardware, just so I can occasionally check in and make sure everything is cool. Also, I’m still a big fan of remote parent authentication for purchases. I’ve not had any problems so far, but it’s still something I have to think about and it shouldn’t have to be. A family recommendation tool wouldn’t be terrible either, something I can use to jump in and suggest apps or movies or books. More like a group wish list, where anyone in the family can contribute.
Ultimately I think Google is headed in the right direction with this family plan. It’s only going to get better from here, and with any luck we’ll see deeper integration and more controls as we move into this year.