According to Thomas Edison "genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration". It is a phrase that nicely sums-up the slow and somewhat painful evolution of Sony's Music Unlimited audio service, and while it still remains a long way from genius, there is no doubt its IQ is on the rise.
What is Music Unlimited?
First announced way back in September 2010, Sony initially took the baffling decision to focus 'Qriocity Music Unlimited' on its smart TVs and PS3 games console. It launched an Android app in June 2011 and dropped the messy Qriocity (pronounced 'Curiosity') branding, but only with this month's long awaited launch of an iOS app do we finally have a multiplatform service to potentially rival Spotify and Rdio. So does it measure up?
In many ways Music Unlimited is both more ambitious and more limiting than its rivals. In the plus column is the fact it is built into the wider hub of the Sony Entertainment Network, which includes Video Unlimited and the PlayStation Network (separate subscriptions). In addition it is plugged into Sony's existing ecosystem of PS3, PlayStation Vita and Bravia smart TVs as well as its (and all third-party) Android smartphones and tablets. In this sense no other service is as comprehensive for Sony aficionados.
Where things take a more familiar turn is the primary functionality of Music Unlimited itself. Users can create playlists, share their listening on social media and download music for offline listening. Like Rdio (but not Spotify) it also can add searched-for content to a library of music sorted by artist, album and song and will scan and match your PC's existing digital music collection. Furthermore Sony claims to offer industry leading streaming performance thanks to its own highly efficient codecs (more of which later).
As we mentioned in the intro, what marks Music Unlimited's true arrival on the streaming music scene is its support for the biggest platforms. It gets around the usual Windows/Mac issues by basing its computer client in the browser and for the most part this works well. The client is a little sparse, but a side column of playlist and collection links with pinned playback controls and a search bar along the top make navigation simple. The flaw is a consistent one throughout Music Unlimited platforms: the lack of settings, with only the toggling of explicit content offered.
When it comes to Bravia TVs and its consoles, little has changed from the original Qriocity service we reviewed in January last year with Sony switching to a grid layout for viewing search results while playback moves to a hybrid Xbox/iTunes Cover Flow UI with tiled cover art. It is simplistic to say "if it isn't broke don't fix it", but Sony can get away with it on this occasion.
As for mobile devices Android and iOS users will discover a wildly different experience. For all the hype Sony's iOS app is currently extremely limited. The interface is similar to its Android counterpart, but it so far lacks offline playback, social media integration and even the ability to sign up for the service using the app. There is also no dedicated iPad app yet. Music Unlimited has arrived on Apple devices, but it is very box ticking and not much more than a beta release. As it stands BlackBerry and Windows Phone users also remain out in the cold.