Back in April, Samsung used the launch of its excellent Galaxy S8 smartphone to make a small but important announcement about a partnership with Google. Google Play Music would be the default music player on all Samsung smartphones, and Google would develop exclusive features for the company's devices. That's good for Samsung and its customers: Now the company isn't wasting time building apps nobody wants that simply duplicate ones that Android already has. And it's a win for Google, whose music service is now the default on this top-selling Android phone.
But we're now seeing the first signs that deal is going to be a bummer for everyone else using Play Music. Some enterprising Reddit users noticed a new Samsung-exclusive feature called New Release Radio: a personalized station that surfaces new songs every day. It's similar to Spotify's extremely popular Discover Weekly playlist and Apple Music's customized New Music Mix (also updated every Friday). But at least to start, this station appears to be exclusive to Samsung users. (We've reached out to Samsung and Google for comment on this, but neither company has responded yet.)
Oddly, Samsung and Google still haven't made an official announcement about it. But that didn't stop Reddit from figuring out a work-around so that anyone could access this station; I'm listening to it right now on my iPad. But most average users won't even know this station exists. And that's a shame: This is exactly the kind of feature Google needs to add to stay competitive with Spotify and Apple.
Don't get me wrong, I love Play Music: It's a lot cleaner and simpler to navigate than Apple Music, and it lets me upload my own music library to live alongside the streaming catalog, something Spotify doesn't offer on smartphones. I've also come to enjoy the vast swath of stations that Google features; they often help me find new tunes. But some of Play Music's simplicity comes from the fact that Google doesn't update it often and it's lacking some key features that Spotify and Apple include -- most notably any form of social integration.
Google's slower development cycle makes sense. Spotify's entire business rests on the success of its music service, and Apple has made music a tentpole of its strategy for almost two decades now. But Google has a number of vastly more important initiatives that take precedence over music. It's not often that we see genuinely useful new features hit Play Music, so when one shows up that's only meant for a small number of people, it's damn frustrating.
Sadly, that's not likely to change anytime soon. Spotify's and Apple's subscriber bases are growing rapidly; it's basically a two-horse race at this point. And Google has made it clear that it would offer exclusives to Samsung going forward. I'm just hoping that exclusive features like New Release Radio aren't kept exclusive forever, because I'm sure many of them will be notable improvements to a solid service. But if new Play Music features are kept exclusive to Samsung owners -- even if only temporarily -- it's going to be hard for me to recommend or use it anymore.