Google I/O is happening later today, and while all eyes are on the features that will appear in the next version of Android and the company’s plans for its AI bot Bard, the biggest thing I’d like to see is it finally one of its biggest disappointments – YouTube Music.
If I’m being honest, in my mind Google has never been this great when it comes to music. Check out his track record. Google Play Music had some cool features like the ability to rip songs from your CDs and store your own library in the cloud, but it never had the appeal of Tidal and Apple Music, which had better libraries and discovery features.
And despite hitting 80 million paid subscribers last year, the newest platform, YouTube Music, is still in pretty bad shape and hasn’t given me a real reason to move away from Tidal and Apple Music yet.
First, there is the quality issue. Take a look at our YouTube Music review and you’ll see that while it has some cool stuff, especially around video and live sessions, it just doesn’t sound as good as competing services. At launch, this came as no surprise, as YouTube Music launched with 128kbps streams. And despite doubling the bitrate to 256kbps and supporting AAC, it still doesn’t sound as good as the competition, with audio lacking the detail you get on Apple Music and Tidal.
What I’d like Google to do to fix this at I/O 2023 is announce a higher package that offers streaming from a less lossy codec – an equivalent of ALAC on Apple Music or MQA/FLAC on Tidal, the two services those, based on the many hours we spend assessing the audio kit in our listening rooms, offer the best results when streaming. It’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re highlighting Apple Music and Tidal as two of the best music streaming services.
The second big problem is the fact that Google doesn’t really lean on the platform’s greatest strength: video. Tidal and competing services certainly have video features, but YouTube is one of the largest platforms in the world. After all, it currently houses and maintains its own economy for videographers. YouTube Music should really have the same influence on bands and songwriters, and for that it should provide the best possible experience.
To do that I think it needs Dolby Atmos support. Until it offers this, it can’t really beat Apple Music, which includes its own Atmos-powered Spatial Audio tracks, and Tidal, which accommodates Dolby Atmos Music.
Think how cool it would be to be able to watch a music video on YouTube Music and get immersive 3D audio through your Dolby Atmos soundbar, speaker or system – the roar of the crowd behind you as the band takes the stage and the rapturous thump of the bass drum as they begin their set. Having experienced this kind of multi-dimensional soundstage through a variety of devices, I can personally attest that, when done right, the only thing better than hearing Atmos-fied live recordings is being physically present at the performance.
Google is also in a great position to leverage an edge here, given the work it’s been quietly doing to expand YouTube Music’s live recording library. The move just makes sense.
If Google did these two important things, YouTube Music would be a much more compelling offering, and one that could easily grow given its integration into the Android software. And that, to me, is why I’d like to see Google take these important steps in I/O.
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