By Dexter Blumenthal of Evolver.fm.
It’s up for debate whether hearing an audiobook is the same as reading, but nobody doubts that listening is a unique way to process not only music, but information. It frees up your eyes, for one thing, so you can drive, pedal, or run, in cases when carrying a book would be absurd or impossible. Even if you commute by train, choosing sound over vision means you can stare wistfully out the window at the passing scenery.
So, when will someone build something that combines music and talk in a smart way? Why can’t we just start one app and hear a mix of music we like, news reports we want, new music we don’t know yet, weather/traffic, horoscopes, tweets, and whatever else our ears are hungry for? After all, it’s all audio.
Sure, there are books on tape and a sea of talk radio apps, but scant few developers to date have thought to combine different genres of audio content in a single, multipurpose audio app, maybe with a simple dial that lets you tilt towards music or talk.
How do we know this? Because we scoured the internets looking for apps like this, and only found four of them, and one doesn’t even play music:
Agogo (free, iOS): a moveable feast for the hungry intellectual
This recently launched app offers a comprehensive collection of talk channels curated by theme: radio stations, audio from TV, ebook previews, and podcasts. It combines all that with the music stored on your iPhone and radio-style stations generated by your Rdio or Spotify account. Designed with commuters in mind, Agogo also provides spoken traffic alerts for your specific commute. You can get the iOS version here (an Android version is in the works).
Buzzam Radio (free, Android or iOS): your life as radio
Buzzam delivers a similarly bespoke listening experience, interspersing music from users’ Rdio, Spotify and/or downloaded music with news, weather, and the periodic reading of users’ Facebook and Twitter feeds. Users can customize which elements are included in their listening feed (see screenshot), and can opt to listen to news from a range of news categories. We’re not quite sure what’s going on with the ‘badges’ the app gives out, in what looks like an attempt at gamification, but Buzzam does give a nod to commuters with the ‘car’ setting which introduces big, easy-to-use buttons and a simplified interface. Grab it here for Android or iOS.
Stitcher Radio (free, Android or iOS): talk radio on steroids
The field of multipurpose audio content apps is, for the moment, so barren, that we’re featuring an app that doesn’t even play music. Stitcher offers highly customizable streaming for live radio and podcasts. In addition to channels and an effective search feature, Stitcher boasts a smart station that builds custom-tailored playlist of shows based on user activity within the app. Now we’re talking!
A simple internet radio-style bar at the bottom of the Now Playing window lets you Like, Dislike, or Add a show to a playlists, to shape your programming in the future. The Front Page picks up trending news stories — and thanks to Facebook integration, users can share stations and view friends’ recent listens. Speed demons or the dimwitted can adjust the playback rate by a factor of 2 (1/2 speed or 2x speed), which means you can burn through content even faster. All that’s missing is the music. Honorable mention: Umano
TuneIn Radio is essentially Stitcher with music radio and podcasts. Expect listening recommendations, an impressive catalog of radio stations and podcasts from around the globe, pre-made channels, and a favorites page. TuneIn is also equipped with a ‘car’ setting for easy access during commutes, an alarm clock, and the ability to keeps tabs on cellular data usage so users don’t go overboard. We understand ad-driven business models can be tricky, but $5 seems a bit steep when most of the competition is free. The pro version is the same as the free version, minus advertisements, plus a “record” feature for tracking of individual episodes.
(Top image courtesy of Flickr/ AJ Cann)