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Gadget of the Week: Music app that saves your data

Tencent Africa has teamed up with Telkom to bring streaming music to the data-challenged. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tries out Telkom Music Powered by Joox.

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What is it?

The streaming music market is so well-served, it is easy to fall for the old trap of thinking there’s no room in the market for a newcomer. That kind of thinking allowed Blockbuster to be destroyed by Netflix, and the downfall of one-time mobile market leaders BlackBerry and the original Nokia.

The same applies in streaming music. As well-served as the market may be, there is always room for improvements and alternatives that are more nimble or meet needs that are not being adequately addressed.

Enter Telkom Music by Joox, a collaboration between the Tencent-owned Joox streaming service and Telkom. In a market served by Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer – with YouTube Music adding video to the mix – it is not a case of whether there is room in the market, but of what gaps exist in the market. One of these is for an app that tailors the service to the unique needs of a market in which data costs are so high for many users, that downloaded or streamed entertainment is a luxury.

In other words, this isn’t about room or gaps in the market, but about the very nature of the market.

In this context, Telkom Music meets a widespread need among younger smartphone users. Their data is limited, and therefore severely rationed. They need to be able to budget precisely how much bandwidth they use, and the app provides a tool to do just this.

For example, to stream Goldfish’s song featuring Julia Church, Heart Shaped Box, a 3:26 track, Telkom Music offers bandwidth options ranging from Very Low (309KB) through Low (808KB) and Medium (1.1MB) to High (1.3MB). It also offers a general Data Saver setting.

In contrast, Spotify offers only a Data Saver option, which is limited to an “Audio Quality” setting, which “sets your audio quality to low (equivalent to 24kbit/s)”, and “Auto adjust quality”, which adjusts quality when bandwidth is poor. The shortcoming of this setting is that someone with excellent bandwidth may still not be able to afford a high-data stream.

Multiple quality options also mean that downloaded music can be tailored to a smartphone’s storage capacity. Once again, in South Africa, entry-level smartphones typically have from 8GB to 32GB storage, which is quickly used up by photos, leaving little room for music storage.

Even at high quality, however, the typical download or stream on Telkom Music is lower than on its rivals. Mobile app developers Bitcube say that their assessment shows Telkom Music consuming just 173MB to stream 100 high-quality songs, while Apple Music consumed 1001MB, Spotify 1112MB and Deezer 564MB.

How much is it?

Free with ad-supported streams. R59,99 a month for the VIP version. An app download of 10.7MB, from both the Google Play Store and Huawei AppGallery.

Why should you care?

The app is uniquely adapted to South African requirements, with an SA-centric emphasis on recommended music and highlighted genres, as well as a lower data demand than on any other music streaming app. It thus hits the two most important hot buttons of mobile music streaming in a local context.

Tencent Africa Services CEO Brett Loubser sums it up: “Telkom Music’s app size reduces the amount of memory used in a listener’s phone, and the integration with Telkom’s app ecosystem makes it easy for millions of people to have millions of songs in their pocket.”

What are the biggest Negatives?

  • It is available only for Android devices. However, users of high-end handsets like iPhones are not the target market.
  • It does not break through the R59 price barrier that other music streaming apps have set for premium versions. But artists do need to make a living.

What are the biggest Positives?

  • Novel options like DJs of the Week, and a social feature called Mods, which includes classic mobile games and collaboration on playlists.
  • Four quality settings, allowing for low-data downloads.
  • Zero-rated data on Telkom’s FreeMe bundles.

* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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