Pandora, our divorce is pending….

pandora logoI love Pandora.  I use it on my iPhone while driving around the San Francisco area.

I’ve tried almost all of the others.  But Pandora’s music matching algorithms have exposed me to lots of new & cool artists from genres I already like; better than the other services.

So why are we getting divorced (maybe)?  Because the streaming of a song in progress is often interrupted by the start of another song.  Or an ad.  Both interruptions are a huge bummer (Ads are ok between songs.  I use the free version, after all).

I tweeted Pandora’s CTO pleading for help in fixing their app.  And he was incredibly responsive.  But I ultimately got put into a process designed to make the user go through all of the hoops.  The latest email I got after previously being directed to uninstall & re-install the app and re-boot my phone:

Sorry for the continued trouble, but thanks for giving those steps a shot. I noticed that you aren’t running the latest version of iOS on your iPhone, which helps address bugs and provides you with new features. 

You can install the free update by connecting your iPhone to your computer. Now, click ‘Update’ on the main iPhone screen in iTunes. You can also update your phone by installing the update directly by going to Settings -» General -» Software Update (it’s recommended that you plug your phone in during the update). 

If the issue still continues, then network congestion or a signal strength issue is the most likely cause.

If you’re having trouble when using a 3G or EDGE connection (in other words, not Wi-Fi), you can often get better performance with the “higher quality audio” option turned off. (Tap the arrow in the upper left of the Pandora “Now Playing” screen to reach the Station List page, then tap “Settings” -» “Advanced” -» “Higher quality audio” -» Off). This will ensure the minimum bandwidth is used to stream music when using a cellular-data connection (Wi-Fi connections are always automatically streamed in “higher quality audio” whether this option is on or off. For best results, use Wi-Fi whenever possible — e.g. at home, work, a coffee shop or a friend’s house).

If you are still having issues with “higher quality audio” turned off, then this is almost always due to poor cell reception. Note that the “number of bars” is often not an accurate measure of bandwidth. You can test your actual iPhone bandwidth by visiting http://www.testmyiphone.com on your Safari web browser. It will tell you your upload and download speeds. A consistent download speed of over 80kbps is generally required to stream Pandora smoothly. If you have less bandwidth than this, please change location — even a few feet can sometimes make a difference — or wait and try Pandora again later.

The user – me – isn’t the issue.  Half of these steps don’t even address the fact I’m using 3G networks.  And the problem has been occurring for months on a state-of-the-art phone over 3G networks around San Francisco that are amongst the densest in the world.

The issue is something much more technical and out of the user’s control.  It’s probably rooted in cacheing and compression algorithms that deliver data to my phone.

Anyone try Skype 10 years ago?  Remember the crappy sound and video quality?  Skype has since spent tons of time and money to write great algorithms that now deliver a wonderful service that overcomes lots of network problems.

Pandora has yet to, based on my experience.

I’m the kind of person that probably would have installed diagnostic software on my phone to give Pandora a hand.  Instead, I get asked to do a bunch of stuff that skirts the real issue and ignores the actual usage scenarios.

Is Pandora alone in delivering technical support this way?  Certainly not.  I’ve seen it in companies I worked at too.  But it doesn’t make it right.  Vendors delivering support should take an active role in troubleshooting instead of exhausting the users’ efforts (and loyalty) before owning the problem.

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