SoundCloud re-launches on iPhone with reduced features and ultra-simple listening

soundcloud iphone valtteriSoundCloud continues to drive toward its stated goal of being “the YouTube of audio,” this week releasing an updated iPhone app experience that makes listening easier and prettier. At the same time there are indications that Soundcloud creators and uploaders are driven farther down a path of alienation that started with earlier changes to the service.

The new iPhone app is aesthetically beautiful, and accomplishes the goal of simplicity as expressed in SoundCloud’s blog announcement: “Easy and natural to use while you are out and about. Something that lets you hear more of what you want to hear. It’s beautifully simple. You can control everything with your thumb.”

To attain that simplicity, some features of the previous app (and existing Android apps, plus the desktop browser site) have been removed. Notably, you cannot view comments that exist on tracks, or make comments within the app. The elimination of this key social function, which has long been an essential part of SoundCloud’s DNA, is startling.

Also deleted from the new app is the Activity feed, which (in non-updated apps) shows the Likes, Follows, and comments attached to the tracks that an individual has uploaded. The omission of the Activity feed affects the creator side of SoundCloud’s audience, which can be broadly divided into uploaders (creators) and listeners. That division exists in all crowdsourced media platforms, like YouTube.

SoundCloud’s strategy to grow its listener audience has been in full gear since December, 2012, when it launched an overhauled website that somewhat reduced its legacy social features. Comments became minimized and more difficult to read in full, and SoundCloud Groups (gatherings of members who liked the same types of music) became less functional. With an apparent understanding of how the changes impacted the uploader community, SoundCloud operated both the new and old sites in parallel until recently, when it shuttered “Classic” SoundCloud for good.

If closing Classic Soundcloud rankled some creators and active uploaders, the new iPhone app is driving them to public protest. Oliver von Landsberg-Sadie, a composer who has used Soundcloud for five years and was honored by the company as a “SoundCloud Hero” in 2012, posted an open letter on Facebook itemizing complaints with the new app from the uploader’s perspective: “Full marks for reading the market segmentation and creating a matching user experience. But a complete fail for looking after the users who made you who you are.”

In January, SoundCloud received $60-million in new funding, most likely driven by quick growth of the listening audience. SoundCloud celebrated 250-million listeners as of October. So the audience-building strategy is working, and the new iPhone app seems to align with the lean-back SoundCloud user. Meanwhile, creators and uploaders continue to grieve for the loss of community features, like comments and activity feeds, which were core to SoundCloud’s original strategy.

Brad Hill