It’s official – just announced now at Google IO.
As per all the rumours it allows you to upload your music via a desktop manager, then play in the browser, tablets and mobiles. It’s also able to create 25 track playlists based on audio data and not artist similarity. They are allowing you to upload up to 20,000 songs. Launch will be invitation only for US users. Free during beta.
But, there’s no music for sale….yet.
Back in April I correctly predicted that Spotify would soon offer their mobile service to all customers, including free accounts, following their restrictions placed on non paying users; this is a huge step for them in the ongoing battle to get a full cloud service out there. To be clear, this update does not allow non-paying users to stream music that they do not own – only the tracks they have synced from their personal computer to their device. The desktop version of Spotify has been able to sync a users owned music over WiFi to a the mobile device for some time, a smart move on Spotify’s part to save streaming bandwidth costs. This new update now includes iPod syncing, something that has required the owners to always be tied to iTunes. Today’s announcement is really significant in terms of getting users into the Spotify ecosystem and in my opinion really puts Lorentzon & Ek’s company out there as the leaders in the cloud race.
Apple, Amazon and Spotify already account for 90% of worldwide digital music revenues for and I think this move could prove to be a significant shift in Spotify’s publicised revenue problems if they can get customers to move away from Apple. This is all the more likely given their pending US launch and the hype around the lack of launch for the last yeat. Having worked on the original purchasing implementation, which was powered by 7digital, it was actually quite interesting to see how many purchases were made through it when users could still listen for free – it really points to users’ preference to own their music over the “rental” streaming model.
I think the most interesting outcome from all of this will be the
backlash reaction from Apple. In the past, Apple have changed the way that music is stored on iPods during software updates to prevent third-party software from being able to move music onto the device. It wouldn’t take much for Apple to do this and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next software updates will cause problems for the engineers over in Gothenberg & Stockholm.
The other question surrounds the iOS app and whether Apple will allow future updates to it or if they will even just remove it from the app store entirely. At 7digital we’ve struggled to get our iOS app through the submission process; an app that does considerably less to compete with iTunes and the iPod compared to that from Spotify. Unless Spotify has an agreement with Apple – which I find highly unlikely, I wouldn’t be surprised if the app store guidelines change to say if your app name contains the word ‘Spot’ and your logo is green then it can’t exist in the app store.
On top of this there is the well documented case of Apple wanting 30% of any app subscriptions which would effectively ruin Spotify’s model as they will not be able to operate on these terms. I guess the ball is now in Apple’s court.
Seems like today has been a day for inadvertently gathering mobile knowledge, I found out the following:
1) China One Mobile is the world’s largest mobile phone company with over 600 million subscribers as of today. In comparison AT&T in the US has around 95.5 million and the largest UK mobile Telecom Everything Everywhere has only 28 million. In China the second and third largest mobile providers still have around 170 million and 95 million customers each respectively.
2) Apple have sold over 18 million iPhones since Christmas – their largest area of growth was in China at 250% .
So Apple made $6bn in last quarter – sold 4.69m iPads, 18.6m iPhones.—
Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) April 20, 2011
3) The Chinese ecosystem for Android apps is massively fragmented. As there are so many devices on the market they don’t all get approved by Google so don’t get to install the Android Marketplace. There are hundreds of sites offering .APK files for manual installation. This must make updating applications a nightmare to manage and would probably lead to many installed apps never getting updated. Has anybody created a centralised system for managing the distribution of applications to multiple app marketplaces yet?
4) Of China Mobile’s 600 million users 476 million used it’s wireless music service over the last quarter which offers downloads from 2 yuan – approx £0.20/$0.30. Meanwhile Apple also took over $1.4 billion through iTunes alone which is neither linked to mobile or China directly, but I find it an astonishing figure that cements the importance of a well executed content strategy on any platform.
Apple is amazing: iTunes sales of $1.4 billion, iPhone on 186 carriers in 90 countries, sold every iPad 2 made in the quarter—
Katie Jacobs Stanton (@KatieS) April 20, 2011
5) Much of the growth for China Mobile is into rural areas, they have said they will spend up to 132b yuan (£12b) on their network in rural areas to maintain their lead over China Telecom and China Unicom, it’s closest competitors.
It’s probably a bit late on to be making predictions for the year, but we haven’t really seen any major announcements yet, apart from that small one by Amazon the other week.
So we were all pretty surprised when Amazon announced their Cloud Player/Cloud Drive online locker service, with all the expectation and talk focussed on other services it just crept up out of nowhere and sprung itself on us.
I’m sure they were in talks with the labels and publishers to do this all along but given the to-ing and fro-ing shenanigans of the music industry I guess they thought it was simpler to fire a warning shot to wake them up and get something moving. As has been the case with a number of services in the past it seems easier to offer an apology and seek forgiveness than to seek permission in the first place.
It’s a good service at it encourages users to purchase music in exchange for additional space in the cloud, something which Amazon have available to them in abundance. I see more users being swung to using the Amazon service than having to pay an annual subscription.
Prediction 1: It’s a far from an ideal service as you have to upload your music collection to the cloud to use it and on standard asynchronous broadband connections that would take an age for a decent sized music collection. I think they will introduce some sort of matching service that will just add content to your locker if it identifies it on your local system. I think they need to seek forgiveness from the music industry for launching the cloud locker before doing this or it will surely create havoc.
Prediction 1a: I keep banging on about an Amazon device and I see this as just another sign. Expect it before the year is out.
It’s been much talked about since the purchase of Lala and the rumour mill is always turning about their cloud service. MobileMe is supposed to be the vessel for this service although knowing Steve Jobs it will probably be some new hardware that you push into your inner ear and is controlled by thought alone. This will likely be a US launch initially with a couple of months before worldwide roll out. This is likely to be a subscription service – MobileMe is already a subscription service at $99/£60 per year.
I think the interesting thing here will be about how Apple view this service. If it is just going to be something to encourage the sale of more hardware then it will be quite vanilla, like Ping. If their plan is to encourage the sale of more content, then I would be interested to see if they release apps for other platforms (Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7) to allow non iDevice users to get their music, videos and iBooks on the go. It does seem counter-intuitive but I do think that this could encourage sales of other products like Apple TV which is where I see one of their next major pushes – especially as they are never going to win the mobile OS war. It’s also unlikely to happen in the near term as it will harm their app strategy to move themselves on to Android when they are encouraging all to develop for iOS.
The last of the three big hitters, or AGA as they are collectively know at 7digital, have been rumoured to be launching a service for about a year now. They seem like they have been stifled by the music industry, like everyone else. We’ve seen screenshots of a leaked music application showing the ability to sync music content in the cloud although very few other innovative features have been shown.
Prediction 2: There are talks of the launch going ahead very soon without agreement from Warner so it’s likely to be launched at Google I/O in May. Like most Google products this is likely to be a US only service at launch which will probably not launch globally for some time, if at all. I doubt that it will be anything special compared to everything else available. I imagine it will be a big bang launch and get a lot of hype because it’s Google but will quickly fizzle out with more innovative services out there that can offer better curation of content and frequent service updates with newer features.
Spotify have been trying to get into the US for as long as I can remember. They have apparently paid all the necessary advances to the four majors and have got the signatures to do it, but something is holding them back. I think the music industry has probably been trying to tie the launches of Apple, Google, Spotify and Amazon together so that no one gets an advantage as the first mover – which is all moot now that Amazon has broken ranks and made a run for it. I’d expect to see Spotify go state-side in the next couple of months.
Prediction 3: It was interesting to see that Spotify has reduced their service to only allow 10 hours listening per month for Open account subscribers. Aside to it being aimed at getting hooked users to move onto one of their paid subscriptions, this could also be due to a few other things; an agreement with the labels for the US launch, a cost saving exercise for US launch in case of high demand or …. wait for it…. the start of what I think will become another cloud based service. They currently only allow you to stream your own music on mobile devices with premium account but I can see them offering a free service. With the option to play your own music plus 10 hours per month of free streaming as a way to listen to music that you don’t own. I imagine the music industry will like this as it should encourage purchasing where users want to be able to listen to certain tracks unrestricted.
Obviously I can’t say too much about our plans for the coming year. We’ve had our cloud based locker since I joined the company back in 2007 so this years buzz word is all a bit old hat for us, but we’re looking to offer a bigger and better service to rival all of the above.
Earlier this year we announced our partnership with RIM on the Playbook which is another big step forward in our aim of giving 7digital users access to their content whenever they want it and wherever they are. We’re really focusing on being as agnostic as possible and making our service available to as many customers as possible no matter what device, what personal computer OS or what service provider they choose. Coupled with our territorial coverage this gives us some of the widest reach out there and gives consumers the greatest choice.
In order to achieve our goal, we’ve not only been partnering with device manufacturers, we have also been working on our own mobile applications, which are available from the relevant app stores:
- Our Blackberry app has been available for some time now and that has had several refinements to support new Blackberry devices and improve performance as well as a number of great feature additions.
- Our Android app launched late 2010 and allows users to download and listen to their purchases on the go. We have some great additions to this app coming soon, so keep an eye out for those
- We’re still working on getting an iPhone app similar to our Android offering, into the app store. In the meantime, iOS users can always use our mobile optimised web store.
Expect some announcements from us soon….but that’s all I can say right now.
So the internet has been awash with condemnation at Apple’s recent decision to impose it’s monopolistic tactics onto content publishers with their announcement to kiabosh any out of app purchasing. And somewhat rightly so; 30% is a lot of margin to be giving away, especially when the margins are so tight anyway that a sale can often result in a loss.
The fanbois may argue that Apple has the right to charge what they want as they have spent money building their platform over the years and I would say that they are right. Apple spent
millions billions in R&D to create the iPhone, iPod, iPad and the iOS and it’s their prerogative to make it work for them financially.
However, that’s certainly not to say that publishers should just stand by and let the “suits” from Infinite Loop have their own way. The music industry learnt this lesson a long time ago, after they let Apple define the rules and set the path for digital music downloads for almost a decade. It finally seems to have started to pick itself up and work its way out of that hole, although I do worry it’s is a bit like an absentminded old man who regularly forgets that the kettle gets hot when its boiled and happily picks it up with both hands whenever it whistles.
Apple won’t drop their prices voluntarily, despite mounting pressure and the more favourable Google rates, because they just don’t have to. Unfortunately it isn’t a fair market so they won’t be forced to change their pricing through natural market forces. My point here is, that if publishers don’t like the 30% surcharge that Apple is about to impose then they should pull their content from the platform. If no one provides their content through iOS devices then those devices become less appealing and as happens in a normal fair market economy Apple will be forced to drop their prices to get the publishers back on board.
Working for an iTunes competitor I am somewhat biased on this, but if the already slightly senile music industry doesn’t want Apple to right the rules for the subscription streaming market in the same way it did with a la carte downloads then they should stand their ground. They should look to pull their content from the iTunes platform or at least stop the impending Apple streaming service from launching. Services like Spotify, MOG, Rdio at al. won’t be able to afford to give £3 per month to Apple whilst giving the lions share to the labels. The aforementioned must also avoid backing down on what they take from music subscriptions just to make this work under the Apple dictatorship or they’ll end up bending over again while the Cupertino giant gets its way.
I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the genre bending Beat Stevie podcasts by The Streets of late. Mike Skinner and Ted Mayhem fuse together everything from Dubstep to Country, overlayed with the kind of nonsense hilarious conversations that you wish you could have all the time. They fill the 3 hour long drive on trips back to see my parents nicely, they’ve helped find a common ground in music taste between my wife and I and they’ve got me through the most arduous days at work.
Mike Skinner’s use of social media has been trumpeted recently; his constant stream of Youtube video responses to fans questions on Twitter and poetic ramblings over his trademark beats are enough to keep any fan baying for more. He’s amongst a lineup of celebrities that “get” technology and social media and know how to make the most of it for their own benefit.
His latest “stunt” is to release the newest episode of the Beat Stevie podcast through the use of a an iPhone app, a barcode on his website and a second barcode which you have to hunt down. The second barcode is printed on the side of a 300g tin of Heinz Tomato Soup. There’s doubtless going to me a lot of frustated fans, those without iPhones and those whose local supermarket don’t stock that soup come to mind straight away. But it doesn’t matter, it’ll be talked about, a lot, which is the exactly the point.
Right I’m off to the Co-op, do you need anything?
UPDATE: I’ve realised you can photograph the barcode on the website twice to get the podcast in case you refuse to shop anywher but M&S.
There’s been a bit of chatter today about Sony and Universal deciding that they will try putting new singles on sale as soon as they get radio airplay to try and reduce piracy. The existing model has new singles getting heavy radio airplay for several weeks before they go on sale in order to boost first week sales.
As consumers we are demanding, we are used to getting things now so making us wait means we will go elsewhere so it should have a positive effect. I’m doubtful that it’s going to make a massive impact on the piracy problem especially with those that never buy music – but then I guess that was money the labels were never going to see in the first place.