Yesterday during Apple’s generally wonderful event Steve Jobs introduced Ping, a musical social network baked right into iTunes that embodies their vision on how music should become social.
Following a ridiclous internet-wide witch hunt for a functioning download link for iTunes 10, the world now has its hands on the new vesion of iTunes and its built-in Ping tools. I played with Ping today and was surprised at how weak the product is. It lacks the normal group of “must have” features that Apple usually summons to drive adoption of their new releases.
Even more, Ping is underpowered, hard to start using, and unrewarding once you do. Let’s get into the top five problems that Ping has right now. This list could be expanded of course, but this will illustrate just how wrong Apple has this one.
1. No Ability To Import Musical Graph Or Friends
If you are a musical fan, and are therefore the type of person that would want to use Ping, you already have a social music presence somewhere on the interent. Either on Pandora, or Spotify, or Last.fm, or on a hundred other sites, you already have your information online concerning your favorite artists, songs, and genres.
Too bad if you want to get all of that into Ping. When you start Ping, you cannot bring in information from without. You are however linked to your already made reviews in iTunes, but that is still internal data.
The problem continues with friends. Do you have friends? Not in Ping you don’t, and you can’t really get to any either. There is no way to scan your Twitter following list for matches, or to search Facebook for people you know, only a lone invite by email option. Ping does have a search box that you can use to search for friends by name , but after trying about a dozen names of my friends who use iTunes, I came up dry.
Ping is like an island in the middle of nowhere. You like the palm tree in the middle, but the fact that you can’t leave, no one else can come on, and that you are all alone make it rather uncompelling.
Apple makes beautiful things. Ping looks like Microsoft circa. 1998 designed it. Really, it barley has a design. It’s only real feature is that it promotes some artists on its main page. Oh, and it has profiles.
Go fire up iTunes, and poke around Ping. Ask yourself, is this up the normal Apple standards of craft? Look at the below screenshot and its wild waste of space, unneeded breadcrumbs, and general MySpace feel:
3. No Method To Export Activity
Let’s assume that you build an entirely new profile in Ping, get your friends there, and then begin to use the service (to what end, is a fair question). Then what? Let’s say you want to export your favorite reccomendation of the week to Twitter, to share with your friends there. No, you may not. Facebook? No, you are not able.
Ping is perhaps Apple’s most walled garden yet. A bad mix of no import and no export makes it feel more like a secluded state with no trade agreements. Sure, Apple likes to run end to end solutions, but by cutting off Ping from the rest of the (already functioning) world, they are not improving the customer experience by making it simpler (read: stripped down), but are instead making the product too much trouble to use.
4. Bland Content
Do you listen to pop all day long? If not, bad news for you. Apple seems to have spiked Ping usage deals with a strong handful of tip-top artists, people and groups like Lady Gaga and Linkin Park. But what if you dig more deeply? I put in a pile of names, from Metallica and Eminem on down to smaller bands that are on tour to no avail. They just weren’t on Ping. Sure, if you want to Gaga the Lady all day long, Ping has the potion for you, but if your musical tastes are even slightly eclectic you are going to be dissapointed.
As we noted above Ping is hard to use, and impossible to integrate with. Top that off with content that is short on depth, and as narrow as can be and you can begin to see the full picture of Ping.
5. Recommendations Are Broken
If you do what you are supposed to do, and do build a network of friends, and begin to make recommendations to those friends, how can your connections listen to the tracks that you like before they can buy them? If you answered “go listen to them on YouTube,” you are correct! iTunes still features a very sad 30 seconds per song previewing restriction, meaning that if you want to actually test drive a song that your best bud is drooling over before you pay for it, you have to head out of iTunes.
Well, with Ping to do anything really useful at all you need to leave iTunes, but you see what I mean. I suggest, and you can’t follow through, leaving the main mechanic of ‘social music’ snapped in two.
That wraps up my top grudges with Ping. What are yours? Note: fellow TNWer Brad McCarty is optimistic on the future of Ping, read his views here.