Very recently, the local mobile scene saw two major forays into the online music streaming market lately. The first one was Thaala, by MicroImage, which we covered on Readme sometime back.
The second one is Dialog Music by well.. Dialog.
Oddly enough, both of these products sound weirdly similar on paper. Both are streaming services. Both stream music from a cloud sever to a client. Both, curiously enough, are done by Dialog: Thaala is a joint venture between Dialog and Microimage, Dialog Music is apparently Dialog’s own, and it appeared on the Q243 smartphone I reviewed earlier.
This begs the question: what is Dialog doing with two such similar services? And since Thaala came first, and Dialog Music is just – there, and barely announced – did Dialog rip off MicroImage’s product? Let’s take an early comparative look at these two products and see what’s what.
Like father, like son
Now firstly, both products are music streaming clients. Dialog Music is an adaptation of a client called Boinc, developed by a US based company which offers Boinc to be packaged with selected smartphones (this is already done in Chile and Venezuela). Dialog seems to have sealed a deal to package Boinc into their smartphones and offer it as part of the Dialog Music service.
Thaala, on the other hand, is a homegrown app, done by Microimage. It’s on beta. Both have a certain amount of bugs. Here’s the list:
Dialog Music (Boinc)
Local + International
Offline playback is possible.
It’s honestly odd. We have no idea when the Dialog Music project began, but as you can see, it’s pretty much the same functionality as Thaala – albeit done by a different company with a different platform, while heavily locked into the Dialog ecosystem. Do note, it’s not a direct rip-off.
In fact, it’s so heavily locked-in that you even need to activate the application using a dialog data connection. Even after verification, it’ll occasionally require you to switch to the data connection for verification. I could use my home Wi-Fi connection to use the application for a few days, but then verification happened. This is an absolute turn off, even if you are a Dialog user. This is in stark contrast to Thaala, which from the start was declared to be open to other network partners once the initial setup was done.
Functionality-wise, there are slight differences. Dialog Music does have an offline playback feature. When you select a song for playback, it basically downloads it into the phone, rather than streaming directly as Thaala does. This download is available and visible to the client even when you are offline. In offline mode, only songs or artists that you have content available offline are displayed for browsing. It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage – the advantage being you can listen to your favorite songs offline, the disadvantage being you run out of storage space.
In terms of the UI, Dialog Music does look more mature than Thaala. Both apps have social networking elements where you can listen to other people’s play lists, though overall Thaala does this better. Still, the resemblance is uncanny.
It’s as if someone at Dialog pointed at Thaala and said “I want this thing, but in black. Oh, and make it play Miley Cyrus.”
Both these products are more or less at a developing stage in terms of app quality and marketing – none have made any significant efforts to promote their respective products to gain market traction. Dialog Music is still flying way below the radar with no marketing whatsoever apart from Dialog offering Dialog Music for free with its Q243 smartphone.
The big question is why Dialog Music exists in the first place. At face value, both products look to be competing for the same service. Dialog is also partnering with Microimage for Thaala, yet Dialog’s positioning of Dialog Music is as a direct but un-advertised competitor for Thaala. We might expect to see this kind of dichotomy between two rival telcos: why is Dialog doing this to itself?
From a purely outside perspective, we can see a couple of reasons:
1) Dialog wants their own branding in the name. Dialog Music may sound like better branding than the slightly more ubiquitous name of Thaala. They’re known to want to rebrand things (Anything.lk’s transition to Wow.lk is a good example) and in this case it might be easier to go with an alternate solution, since ownership of Thaala is apparently 50-50 between Microimage and Dialog.
2) Dialog might be hunting for their own implementation because Thaala might eventually be open to other telcos.
The biggest threat to Thaala would be Dialog’s marketing muscle. Dialog is in the curious position of being able to propel either of these apps and steamroll the other. To Thaala’s advantage, it has the entire non-dialog user base to conquer which in the end would prove to be a winning factor. Healthy competition is always good for the market, but it’s just weird to see someone competing with themselves.