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Rory Cellan-Jones

Spotify - going mobile

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 27 Jul 09, 08:22 GMT

For the founders of the streaming music service Spotify - and for those in the music industry who'd like to see it prosper - these are nervous days. They have submitted their mobile application to Apple's app store, and its success or failure could determine the future of the company.

Spotify has been working on a mobile version of its service for some months, not just for the iPhone but for phones on the Google Android operating system.

Spotify app on Apple iPhoneI can now reveal - having played with a beta version for a few days - that the version submitted to Apple will allow users to take their existing playlists with them on the phone and to search over wi-fi or a 3G network for new tracks - but there's another "killer app" to this app. It allows you to download songs or entire playlists so that you can take them with you on the phone - and listen even when you don't have a signal or a wi-fi connection.

It's a very clean and simple interface, which launches quickly, showing your playlists - or at least as quickly as your network allows. The beta version was a bit buggy, with occasional crashes, and there's one major downside - the iPhone doesn't let you run multiple applications so you can't do anything else while listening to your music. And streaming over 3G worked pretty well for me, until I hit a network black spot near my home. But being able to download a playlist to your phone over your own network before you go out, then listen to it despite poor or non-existent network coverage is a real bonus.

Spotify has not yet said how it will market the application, but my bet is that it will only be available to subscribers of their premium service. Which is why it's so vital to their future, because at the moment only small numbers of users are choosing to upgrade from the free ad-supported service to the premium ad-free version with extra bells and whistles.

Screengrab of Spotify app on iPhoneTalk to people in the music industry and they'll be hugely enthusiastic in public about Spotify, then tell you off the record that they have extreme doubts about its survival because a free ad-supported model just doesn't look likely to pay its way.

They will be keen to see this mobile application launched for two reasons - first it might be the key to getting users to pay a decent amount for a streaming service, and second, because it might help them chip away at the dominance of Apple in the digital music market.

Which is where it gets really interesting. Because who has to decide whether the Spotify iPhone application can be allowed into the app store? Apple, of course. And last week Spotify didn't seem convinced that it would get a warm reception, with one executive warning that its application might get blocked.

That would be an extraordinary move, laying Apple open to charges of anti-competitive behaviour, and already Spotify is rowing back from last week's warning. A senior source has told me the company is now confident that Apple will approve the application, as it has already allowed other music services such as last.fm and Pandora into the store.

Of course the iPhone is still a relatively small player in the global mobile phone market. Nokia, for instance, now makes far more MP3 players - in the form of music-enabled phones - than Apple, although very few of its customers use them to play music. So getting a Nokia Spotify app out will be a more important hurdle.

But convincing the music-savvy iPhone crowd that it's worth having, and probably paying for, the Spotify app on their phone would show the world that the music service was on its way to discovering a business model and a secure future. If the" app" flops, however, it's going to be back to the drawing-board.

Update, 10:45: Spotify has now confirmed that while the app itself will be free, it will only be available to its premium subscribers. The company says it should be on the app store in a few weeks - we then may get for the first time some fascinating data on how many people are actually willing to pay for Spotify. Oh, and by the way, those BBC apps on my phone are not apps - just links to web pages. Sorry to disappoint you...

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    They could grow their premium user base fairly largely if they understand how to market this in the iTunes store.

    If you are correct about them targeting their premium users with this app and no one else then they can simply make the app cost the same as a one month premium subscription. Then use in-app purchases enabled in OS3 to let the user extend as they wish.

    I recently read that their premium user base was in the tens of thousands and their free content user base was in the 100s of thousands.

    So the iTunes store would create a very nice path to try and lure in new subscribers.

    Although, this would cause an issue with making the application a fairly expensive purchase. Also, you really need a free version to get it near the top of the download charts.

  • Comment number 2.

    I for one will definitely be upgrading my subscription and purchasing this app should it be allowed through by Apple. I'm not holding my breath though.

  • Comment number 3.

    Has anyone else noticed an increases in the frequency of ads on the free service recently?

    Having used Spotify for over 6 months I've noticed over the past few weeks that the ads are coming more and more often. It's still not enough for me to consider upgrading though.

    I think that portability of the app is key. There is a colossal long-term opportunity for the service, even if users do not sign up for the premium accounts. Consider the amount of hours spent listening to paid-for music each year. If Spotify converts even a small percentage of these music fans into Spotify listeners, the the revenues for serving just one targetted ad every 15 minutes could be enormous.

  • Comment number 4.

    I can see Spotify mobile either being a huge success or a massive flop, dependant on the pricing structure it chooses. Bearing in mind that people are already paying premium monthly rates for their iPhones, I can't see people being willing to spend another significant sum of money on top of this.

    Personally i use the free version of spotify all the time and think its brilliant. I don't plan on upgrading to the premium version since i still won't own a 'hard' copy of the music, but if the mobile version gives users that option then i can see far more people willing to pay.

  • Comment number 5.

    Not being able to play music in the background is a huge drawback in my opinion. Sitting, listening and surfing the web is what the iPhone is all about.

  • Comment number 6.

    A story involving iPhone & Spotify, a BBC tech writers dream, I wonder what the Twitter angle on this is?

  • Comment number 7.

    Forgetting about the Spotify app for just a second.....on the screen shot you can clearly see two apps from the BBC, iplayer and BBc Sport yet a search of the app store yields no results. Are these in beta just now and about to be launched?

  • Comment number 8.

    I'll tell you I'm slightly more interested in the picture released by the BBC showing the ipod interface and the list of application. BBC getting ready to launch an iPlayer application? Was this a slip or purposefully done as a hint of things to come?

  • Comment number 9.

    I've not thought about it in too much detail, too early in the day still, but maybe Apple would see this as a chance to get in to a slightly different sector, whilst trying to corner all, and buy Spotify? Spotify could soon appear of 'jailbroken' phones anyway.

    Don't know how this sits next to the availability of lastfm mind you.

    Also, apart from the anti-competition angle, 'if iPhone is still a relatively small player in the global mobile phone market. Nokia, for instance, now makes far more MP3 players - in the form of music-enabled phones - than Apple, although very few of its customers use them to play music. So getting a Nokia Spotify app out will be a more important hurdle.', why are we commenting on the iPhone Spotify issue when Spotify on Nokia's is a more pertinent issue?

    Is it because the iPhone is a much clearer product that the competition which is a bit muddled by comparison?

  • Comment number 10.

    Waiting for the day when Spotify is in cars... what a day that will be.

  • Comment number 11.

    Tell you what I want a post on. Net neutrality. One of the USA's biggest net providers, at and t, just blocked 4chan. This is them deciding they don't want their users seeing a particular website, that isn't criminal, or any of those other terrorist buzzwords that things like the HS let them get away with. This is the end of net neutrality if it isn't stopped. Let's see the BBC comment on 4chan in a sensible manner.

  • Comment number 12.

    davidhooks & Zolaxs

    iPLayer app? You can watch stuff on iPlayer on iPhone's anyway (and if needs be, put a link in your favourites). Am I missing something that has come as a surprise to you?

  • Comment number 13.

    Front page news on the BBC website?! Is it right that a publicly funded service should give such prominence to a press release promoting a company's product releases in this manner?

  • Comment number 14.

    "I'll tell you I'm slightly more interested in the picture released by the BBC showing the ipod interface and the list of application. BBC getting ready to launch an iPlayer application? Was this a slip or purposefully done as a hint of things to come?"

    Its a shortcut to a webpage, iPlayer and BBC sport work just fine on an iPhone

  • Comment number 15.

    Zolaks and David Hooks - those 'BBC Apps' are just bookmarks saved on the home screen. Go to the BBC Sport page, click the plus sign and choose Add to Home Screen.

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree with earlier comments - portability is definitely the key. Without wanting to sound stupid, I've got 12,000 songs on my ipod and have spent a lot of money with Apple. At £10 a month I would probably be saving money - it is basically taking all my music onto an online cloud and as long as I can get it and play it easily that's great. The multi-functionality could be a problem tho, as the iPhone is great for swapping between phone calls and music.

  • Comment number 17.

    Remember, it's not just iPhones that this is relevant to. There's also millions of iPod Touches out there (like mine) that will see a huge benefit from Spotify. I can't wait to load up a number of albums onto my iPod that I've been meaning to listen to and take them on holiday with me.

    Now I just need Spotify to bring direct access to my Squeezboxes and my vision of any music, anytime, anywhere will be realised. Ten years ago such a thing would have been in the realms of science fiction.

  • Comment number 18.

    *cough*jailbreak*cough*Backgrounder*cough*

  • Comment number 19.

    If you're going to advertise commercial apps then maybe in the interest of balance you should mention the alternatives like last.fm, which already has an iPhone app available.

  • Comment number 20.

    DoomWolf - if you want a uPnP client to connect to squeezboxes then there's no need to wait - try out the Plug Player app.

  • Comment number 21.

    "Nokia, for instance, now makes far more MP3 players - in the form of music-enabled phones - than Apple, although very few of its customers use them to play music."

    That's a big claim. Care to back it up with some evidence?

  • Comment number 22.

    "...the iPhone doesn't let you run multiple applications so you can't do anything else while listening to your music...."

    Yet the iPod app already in my iPhone does that without any problem.

    ".....being able to download a playlist to your phone over your own network before you go out, then listen to it despite poor or non-existent network coverage is a real bonus..."

    What? Just like the iPod that the phone already has in it?

    Spotify is just the big four labels trying to maintain a slice of the rapidly dying music industry. Spotify is the biggest red herring around and will not survive financially. The real future of music lies elsewhere.

  • Comment number 23.

    I suspect that Spotify would do a LOT better if it charged GBP3.99 per month rather than GBP9.99.

    There is a huge market for people who would just buy into the convenience of Spotify at low cost - but who will balk at paying GBP120 per annum. Teenagers are one particularly obvious market.

    I'd strongly recommend that Spotify take heed of Chris Anderson's book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price"

    There's nice coverage of that subject here on the BBC website at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8128314.stm

  • Comment number 24.

    VinceMillett, I think you're missing the point here. There aren't any 3rd party apps that can run in the background without a jailbreak....and the iPod app is only going to be playing music you already own. Spotify will let me create a playlist of tracks I'd like to listen to, but haven't bought, and then cache that playlist to my iphone. So my music collection suddenly becomes absolutely massive as opposed to the few thousand tracks I can play in the iPod app.

  • Comment number 25.

    i have an iphone and am a big fan but seriously bbc, a press release with the words apple or twitter in it does not a new article make. By constantly hammering this kind of non news in as tech revelations you are starting to make even the mildest mannered of us start to pay attention to the 'media bias' murmurings of the conspiracy theorists. This is fairly big news on the iphone forums, mainly because it was thought this app would make it to android first, but I'm not sure it has a place here.
    I really worry now every time I see an apple logo or a presenter using an iphone on tv, that somehow my beloved bbc's ethics have been compromised. Say it ain't so.

  • Comment number 26.

    This would be good stuff, but I think the gap between free and paid subscriber is too large a tenner - I'm afraid I don't think I'd use this enough to justify £120 a year, particularily given it can't run in the background on the iPhone. £50 a year, even with some ads left in? Might be interested there...

  • Comment number 27.

    Not sure this will succeed really.

    I believe that there's also a S60 app in development but with CWM why would you bother?

  • Comment number 28.

    I agree with some of the people here who say they'd pay a little each month to have no or less adverts, but not £9.99. That's just a bit too steep for me, if it was a fiver I'd probably go for it. The ads can be annoying, but not annoying enough for me to cough up £120 a year!

    It's a shame that there's just the £9.99 premium rate and the free service, with nothing in between. I hope Spotify survives since it's very promising.

  • Comment number 29.

    I have premium, but my two kids (who are also avid Spotify users) do not. I wonder if you subscribe for 24 hours will it let you install the iPhone app? What happens to the app when one's subscription lapses? Hmmmm. Unlike some of the other commenters I am pleased that the BBC is thinking carefully about Spotify. I love the idea that when I'm listenning to a piece on Listen Again on the radio I might follow a link to hear other recordings of the same peice on Spotify, or extend my listening beyond the Listen Again seven days using spotify.

  • Comment number 30.

    It honestly wont take off as the App cannot run in the background. The second the iPhone is locked (sleep) then the music will stop playing. It will make a difference if you are in a social situation, such as a party or in a work environment, but then you could just use your laptop. Some may even argue that Apple will not allow the App as it "mimics original functionality offered by pre-installed applications" - the iPod app. On comments that Apple will buy Spotify... sure.... but Apple has there store that they would much rather people used without adverts. Jobs - "in our experience people like to own their music", you can exactly do anything you want with music from Spotify, legally that is.

  • Comment number 31.

    #30 - Internet radio streaming apps all stay on when the screen is locked. The problem is losing where you were when the phone rings, or playing a game / reading a book while (not) listening to music, thats why the ipod app will always win here and Spotify won't.

  • Comment number 32.

    How many people will download this for the offline ability but not be a premium subscriber and not realise this?
    I've never found the 3G network good enough to continuously stream live audio in Cambridge. Even sat in one place.

    It's yet another system that ignores the pay vs free element of Bittorrent/sharing with friends.

  • Comment number 33.

    3rd "news" story on the main BBC news page at one point.
    How the mighty have fallen.

    Shame there's there no mention of rival services, but then, the RCJ and the BBC aren't fanboys of them, are they....

  • Comment number 34.

    "I believe that there's also a S60 app in development but with CWM why would you bother?"

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ BORING! This is an article about Spotify, please can all the Nokia fanbois quit harping on about the mediocre Symbian OS, it's bland, boring and just plain dull.

    ENOUGH ALREADY!

  • Comment number 35.

    You're right, twelveightyone, which is why it's relevant to mention that there are apps in development for the other mobile platforms such as S60 and Android.

    After all, it would be a bit silly just to focus on one device which wasn't even the top selling smartphone in the UK over the last two quarters.

    :)

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    Re: Everyone who wonders why the BBC talk about either the iPhone, Twitter, Spotify, Last.fm, Windows 7 or A.N. Other technology

    This is a technology section of a website, within the tech section is a tech blog

    I think it would be more odd if these products weren't covered, it also always makes me smile when people question but keep coming here to read such articles.

    The very fact you are reading the article must mean that it is of at least a modicum of interest to you, and therefore it should come as know surprise that it is of interest to others.
    Therefore it is only right that the BBC should be reporting about them within the very place they should be, the tech section of the beeb website, and from there a tech writer may want to blog about them enabling us opportunity to comment to

    I think it's very much a wasted comment if all you're going to say is why are you writing about these products - the reason why is because you are reading these articles about those products

  • Comment number 38.

    How about a free, legal music festival just using Spotify playlists?

    www.invisiblefestival.org

    Check it out. We have 50 VIP spotify passes to give away for the weekend so you can listen advert free

    mark

  • Comment number 39.

    @37 Yes, we know it's a Tech Blog.
    You'd think that that would cover the whole world of tech, but look at what is being posted.

    Chuffing Twitter most of the time.

  • Comment number 40.

    How come everyone seems to forget that streaming music over 3G is against O2 terms and conditions?

    Seems to me that until this isn't the case, you have to be in a WiFi area to make real use of the spotify app (without breaking the Ts&Cs), which is usually your house, where you usually have a laptop with spotify on it!

  • Comment number 41.

    "BBC getting ready to launch an iPlayer application? Was this a slip or purposefully done as a hint of things to come?"

    It's just the icon you get when you add iPlayer as a favourite.

    Anyway, Spotify is good. Or it was until 2 weeks ago. Now I just get British Gas ads, and of today, Crucial Memory. I don't mind 5 or 6 ads, but it's just the same one over and over.

    Worse is Spotify's own cheesy answer phone ads. I don't care - either play a proper ad, or the music.

  • Comment number 42.


    I cant believe 9.99 for unlimited music at 320kbs is a problem for all the scores of people who complain about it! I jumped on the premium model straight away, and love it!

    I'm an old duffer, and have vinyl from back in the day at 17.99 for just one album, that was becoming a typical price point at that time, CD's were the same. My mobile contract or dial-up literally cost an arm and a leg.

    To me, a spotify app will be like music nirvana, if and when i get this app running on my iphone...

    It seems to me that in life you have to cough up your hard earned dosh for things you want -
    even if it's an app in the app store at, heaven forbid, £2.99! - the itunes store is crammed with complaints
    about the pricing. In my mind, so much, has become so cheap, and better.

    Perhaps too much of this posting is coming from the pocket money market segment? i hope so.

  • Comment number 43.

    I use the free version at home and so far I haven't had any problem.

    I have a Nokia ExpressMusic phone with 3.5G so the service, if released on Nokia should be quite reasonable.

    If people using the First Gen iPhone try, they might not enjoy paying because of the fact that it's only 2G not 3G connection.

 

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