Spotify goes apptastic

  • 1 December 2011
  • From the section Technology
  • comments
Adele singing
Adele prevents Spotify from using her recent work

What's every self-respecting tech firm got to have these days? A platform, and apps to put on it, that's what.

Last night the music streaming service Spotify announced at a news conference in New York that it was opening up its platform so that customers could use various applications to enrich their listening experience.

Back in the summer, Facebook, which started the app trend a few years ago, announced it was integrating Spotify and other media services into its platform.

Earlier this week the streaming hi-fi hardware maker Sonos announced that it was opening up its API (Application Programming Interface) so that music services could build apps - and those already include Spotify. Everyone, it seems, is "appifying" on each other's platforms. Where will it all end?

There was a big build-up to Spotify's first ever press conference, where the founder Daniel Ek strode around the stage proclaiming his excitement, before introducing a band. All very Apple and Steve Jobs - but did the announcement quite match up to the expectations?

Spotify users will now be able to look up song lyrics, find out about gigs as they listen to their favourite artists, or share the experience through apps made by top brands like Rolling Stone. But how many people are hanging around their computers to interact with apps while their Spotify playlists are streaming around the house?

It is hard to see this as the game-changer it has been for other app platforms like Facebook and Apple.

But in London, where the New York event was relayed to a basement bar, Spotify's UK boss Chris Maples told me this was something customers had been crying out for. "We've had tons of requests from consumers - this really rounds off the experience."

But surely the key to the business is simply getting people to upgrade from the free to the premium service - so why was the arrival of apps so important? "This will encourage people to stay with the service longer and longer", he told me, "and it will stop people looking outside for other things they can't get here."

The really big moment in Spotify's short life came in the summer, when it launched in the United States. With 2.5 million paying customers, some of the questions about its long-term viability seem to have gone away. But that's made the rumblings of discontent from artists who claim they are getting pennies for hundreds of thousands of plays grow ever louder.

Some notable artists - Adele and Coldplay for instance - have kept recent albums off the service, and there is still a job to be done before the music business as a whole learns to love Spotify.

What it can now claim to be is the most impressive new technology firm to have come out of Europe in the last five years.

And with Songkick and last.fm - two firms to have emerged from London's startup scene - contributing apps to the new platform, yesterday's event was heartening evidence that European firms can work together to make a big noise in the global music industry.