Personalised radio moves to mobile

An unavoidable usability limitation of mobile phones is that you can’t create a small, multi-purpose user interface that is well-suited to all the tasks asked of it: text entry, information browsing, taking photographs, playing games and even making calls. That’s why a phone will never have the ease of use for music applications that the single-purpose iPod — every aspect of iPod design is intended to help it do one job as quickly, easily and pleasurably as possible. But if you could find a music application that required just very simple user input, that would get round the limitations of a mobile phone’s interface — which is what this announcement from Vodafone and Sony does.

Think of the user interaction with radio or Pandora (reviewed previously on this site here are here, respectively). Mostly it’s restricted to clicking ‘I love this track’, ‘Skip it’ or ‘Never play this again’, which is pretty simple. So the new Vodafone Radio DJ will replicate this on your 3G mobile:

The key feature of Vodafone Radio DJ is its easy-to-use personalization system, which enables customers to ‘train’ the pre-programmed radio channels to their own personal tastes by simply pressing a button to indicate ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ while listening to a song. If a customer presses ‘dislike’, the music skips to the next song.

The following paragraph suggests the service will follow the Pandora ‘music genome’ model rather than the more social model, which based on collaborative filtering.

Through Sony NetServices’ detailed classification of each song in the catalogue — analysing beat and harmonies as well as genre and mood — the radio channels that individual customers receive will feature more songs that have characteristics in common with songs that are liked, whilst avoiding songs with characteristics similar to those that the customer dislikes.

I wonder if Sony have really got their own army of people classifying songs, or if they’re actually licensing the classifications from the music genome project. Either way I still have the same fundamental reservations about that approach.

It’s not clear from today’s announcement whether Vodafone Radio DJ will include the other functionality that offers such as user profiles and charts, not to mention tags, groups and all the other community applications. These will be much harder to emulate on a small mobile user interface.

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