Tencent, the Chinese company that owns WeChat and in which Naspers holds a sizeable stake, has launched its music streaming service called Joox in South Africa. The ad-supported, free version of the app limits users to pre-defined radio stations, but the subscription model offers the sorts of features you’d expect from a streaming service: on-demand access to the entire Joox library of 3 million tracks, an ad-free listening experience, high-quality audio, personal playlists and the option to store content offline on up to three devices.
Joox is offering all new users a month of “VIP” access, which otherwise costs R60/month or R30/week. Users can also bag a week of VIP access for each friend they refer who signs up to the service. That pricing keeps it aligned with Apple Music, Google Play Music, Simfy and Deezer, and cheaper than Tidal or Spotify (for those South Africans using workarounds to get the world’s biggest music streaming service).
The service is available for Android or iOS but doesn’t currently offer a desktop version, though Joox says it plans to release one before the end of 2017. So those wanting Joox on their laptop or desktop will have to make do with the web-based version for now. South Africa is the 5th market Joox has launched in, and is also available in Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The app itself is a relatively slick affair, with three main categories: My Music, Discover, and Radio.
That’s my jam
My Music lets you add content stored on your device to Joox and displays your favourite and recently played tracks and any playlists you’ve created or to which you’ve subscribed. Open a playlist and you can toggle a switch to automatically download any new content you add to the playlist. It also offers one-touch access to all of the songs you’ve saved, any you’ve downloaded and those stored locally on your device. Each of these categories can in turn be arranged by tracks, artists or albums.
Discover is the place to search for songs, artists, albums or playlists and offers a wide selection of playlists, from charts and editor’s picks to genre-specific selections. There’s no telling whether the content Discover presents will change based on the preferences we display the more we use the app, but we certainly hope so.
There’s a huge focus on local music in Joox, with playlists like “The Daily Sun Top 20” and Afrikaans and Gospel charts. But there’s also more esoteric content if you dig about a little, like the Angelo Badalamenti score for the Lynchian TV series, Twin Peaks. In fact, escape the charts and the catalogue runs pretty deep. We were able to find everything from the recent Portugal. The Man album to the latest Gorillaz long-player. There was also plenty of classical music, jazz, and even a handful of albums from Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai.
Not that the search is without problems, though. Search “Dandy Warhols” and Joox returns an album called “Horny As A Dandy” by the artist of the same name. Refine the search to “The Dandy Warhols”, though, and you get the seminal works of the proto-hipster Oregonian foursome.
Nonetheless, adding songs to your favourites list or a playlist is a matter of tapping the appropriate icon at the bottom of the currently playing screen, as is choosing to store it offline. Joox uses a spinning image of the album artwork in full-screen mode, and rotating the image (like you would an LP in your best ’80’s DJ impression) lets you skip back and forth within a track. If Joox has the lyrics for a song they’ll display beneath the ersatz record, and illuminate like they would on a karaoke machine.
The radio tab, meanwhile, offers online radio stations in five categories, “#StrictlyZA”, “Hits”, “4 The Party Animals”, “Old Skool”, and “Mood”. Here, like the Discover section, the focus is hyperlocal and youth-orientated. Choose a radio station and the now playing screen adds a slider that resembles the frequency display on an old radio, swiping left or right takes you to the next station, and if you come back to the station you’ve just left it’ll be playing a different song — great when “Local Party” isn’t playing your jam, less so when it is and you swipe away by mistake.
Rummage about in the settings menu and you’ll find options to limit downloading to Wi-Fi, adjust the quality of streamed and downloaded content, clear cached data and even set a timer so you can nod off to your tunes without ploughing through your data or running your phone battery flat. There’s also the option to link your Joox account to your WeChat ID so you can share tracks to your WeChat Moments or with friends, or to your Facebook account. But you can just as easily share links to tracks or stations through your phone’s native sharing functionality to services like WhatsApp, Telegram or social media.
Joox has entered South Africa relatively quietly, but we expect to see it ramping up its marketing activities in months to come. It’s already partnered with Vodacom to take advantage of the operator’s new “Meg Your Day” promotion that offers a GB of data each day for specific uses. Because the cost of data remains one of the primary obstacles faced by local streaming services, we wouldn’t be surprised to see further partnerships or promotions in future.
It seems Joox is hoping its focus on local content will set it apart from rival offerings like Apple Music, Google Play Music, Simfy and Deezer each of which has had a substantial head-start in the SA market, enjoy greater brand recognition and offer far more comprehensive catalogues. But, with it’s pricing in the same realm, Joox may need to add compelling playlist curation, aggressive marketing campaigns, or other unique selling points to the mix if it’s going to get a genuine foothold in South Africa… and not fade away like Rara.