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Posts tagged with "spotify"

Apple Responds to Spotify’s Claims of Anticompetitive Behavior

In a lengthy response, Apple has addressed many of the allegations leveled against it by Spotify earlier this week. As we reported, Spotify has filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that Apple’s treatment of the music streaming service is unfair and anti-competitive. Today, Apple fired back with a response to many of Spotify’s contentions.

Apple denies it has blocked access to its products and updates. To the contrary, the company says it has approved over 200 updates to Spotify’s app and reached out to inquire about the adoption of features like Siri and AirPlay 2. Apple says the only time it has requested changes to Spotify’s apps is when the company ‘has tried to sidestep the same rules that every other app follows.’

Apple also takes issue with what it characterizes as Spotify’s desire for the benefits of a free app without being free. Long gone are the days when apps were either free or paid. Spotify, like many other apps, offers a free music streaming tier. Spotify doesn’t pay Apple anything for those free users or users that sign up for streaming through other channels like mobile carriers. For Spotify’s paid subscribers, Apple receives 30% in year one and 15% after that for access to its platform and payment system, which the company says Spotify is unfairly trying to sidestep.

Finally, Apple claims that Spotify’s complaints against it are just one facet of a pattern of actions that are in Spotify’s economic interests but are damaging to musicians and the music industry. As evidence of this, Apple raises recent moves by Spotify against songwriters after the US Copyright Royalty Board required Spotify to increase royalty payments.

I don’t know whether Apple’s actions constitute unfair and anti-competitive behavior under EU law. Separate and apart from the legalities of the situation though, Spotify’s complaints have struck a chord because they come at a time when new online app stores are taking a significantly smaller cut of revenue. Spotify has other legitimate complaints, like its frustrations with App Review, but what seems to really be driving the dispute is how much Apple charges for access to the App Store and its payment system. Now more than ever, Apple’s 30% cut looks like a bad deal even when that cut is reduced to 15% for the second year of subscriptions.

What makes this dispute unique is that Spotify competes with Apple Music and is big enough to grab public attention and raise the stakes for Apple by getting European regulators involved. Usually, this sort of fight would play out privately, but by making their disagreement very public and involving regulators, Spotify may have taken the outcome out of its and Apple’s control.


Spotify Files Complaint Against Apple with the European Commission

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, writing on recent actions the company has taken against Apple:

Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC), the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and nondiscriminatory. In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition.
[...]
What we are asking for is the following:

  • First, apps should be able to compete fairly on the merits, and not based on who owns the App Store. We should all be subject to the same fair set of rules and restrictions—including Apple Music.
  • Second, consumers should have a real choice of payment systems, and not be “locked in” or forced to use systems with discriminatory tariffs such as Apple’s.
  • Finally, app stores should not be allowed to control the communications between services and users, including placing unfair restrictions on marketing and promotions that benefit consumers.

In addition to Ek's note, Spotify has also launched a website, TimeToPlayFair.com, that outlines in greater detail its grievances against Apple. The site contains a timeline documenting Spotify's working relationship with Apple, highlighting things such as Spotify's inability to integrate with Siri, the long delay before they could offer an Apple Watch app, and Apple's frequent App Store rejections when Spotify added language promoting its Premium service. The full timeline can be viewed here.

Spotify's aim is to promote a level playing field between Apple's apps and services and those of third parties. One example Spotify highlights at several points in its timeline is that they were unable to create an Apple Watch app until after watchOS 5 launched. Apple Music has been on the Watch for years, so there's clearly a disadvantage to Spotify there – however, that disadvantage was due to the limitations of OS-level APIs provided to all third-party developers, not just those who compete with Apple services.

watchOS is still a relatively young platform. At what point should Apple be forced to prioritize development of frameworks that better equip third-party services to exist on its platform rather than developing other important enhancements to its software? These complexities are going to make it very interesting to see how the European Commission views this case.

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Spotify Acquires Podcast Producer Gimlet Media and App Maker Anchor

Rumors have been circulating for several days that Spotify was in talks to acquire podcast producer Gimlet Media. Today, Spotify announced officially that it is not only acquiring Gimlet but also Anchor, the company that makes mobile apps for podcast creation.

Terms of the deals were not disclosed, but Recode’s sources say the Gimlet deal is in the neighborhood of $230 million. Although Recode hasn’t reported on the value of the Anchor deal, it also says that Spotify expects to spend up to $500 million this year on podcast acquisitions.

The two deals are part of a broader strategy by Spotify to offer audio content beyond music and use original content to entice people to sign up for its streaming service. In a blog post today, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek elaborated on the company’s strategy:

With the world focused on trying to reduce screen time, it opens up a massive audio opportunity.

This opportunity starts with the next phase of growth in audio — podcasting. There are endless ways to tell stories that serve to entertain, to educate, to challenge, to inspire, or to bring us together and break down cultural barriers. The format is really evolving and while podcasting is still a relatively small business today, I see incredible growth potential for the space and for Spotify in particular.

In just shy of two years, we have become the second-biggest podcasting platform. And, more importantly, users love having podcasts as a part of their Spotify experience. Our podcast users spend almost twice the time on the platform, and spend even more time listening to music. We have also seen that by having unique programming, people who previously thought Spotify was not right for them will give it a try.

Although the Gimlet purchase comes as no surprise following days of speculation, it’s fair to say no one saw the Anchor deal coming. Spotify has grown quickly in the two years that it has offered podcasts and now has the second largest podcast platform behind Apple. By purchasing Gimlet and Anchor, Spotify gains a stable of popular, professionally-produced podcasts as well as the means for anyone with a smartphone to record and share a podcast, covering a broad spectrum of the podcasting world with just two acquisitions.

Ek believes Spotify can bring the same value to podcasting that the company has brought to music:

Just as we’ve done with music, our work in podcasting will focus intensively on the curation and customization that users have come to expect from Spotify. We will offer better discovery, data, and monetization to creators. These acquisitions will meaningfully accelerate our path to becoming the world’s leading audio platform, give users around the world access to the best podcast content, and improve the quality of our listening experience while enhancing the Spotify brand.

To be clear, this doesn’t make music any less important at Spotify. Our core business is performing very well. But as we expand deeper into audio, especially with original content, we will scale our entire business, creating leverage in the model through subscriptions and ads. This is why we feel it is prudent to invest now to capture the opportunity ahead. We want Spotify to continue to be at the center of the global audio economy.

Although Ek hints in his blog post that podcasts are just the start of Spotify’s audio ambitions, what remains to be seen is how podcasts fit within Spotify’s business model. Spotify has studied video streaming and could follow suit making Gimlet’s podcasts like Reply All and other original content available only as part of a Spotify subscription. Spotify also says it will offer ‘monetization for creators,’ which could mean many different things including dynamic ad insertion in podcasts offered on its platform. Whatever approach Spotify takes with podcasting, the coming year will certainly be an interesting one for podcast creators and fans alike.


Spotify Debuts on Apple Watch, Promising Advanced Features Still to Come

The latest version of Spotify for iOS has been released, and it includes the music player's first Apple Watch app. The App Store release notes stress this is merely a "first version" of the Watch app, which is reassuring considering how limited the app is now.

Spotify's Watch app currently serves as a way to start playback of recently played music, and control that playback via play/pause, skip, and volume controls. You can also choose a connected device to send music to, and like a song to add it to your collection. And that's it.

As a 1.0, Spotify's Watch app covers the basics well. I'm especially pleased that volume control via the Digital Crown is enabled here. Spotify has designed its own custom volume indicator, visualized as a vertical dotted line in the upper right corner of the screen, and it's especially satisfying to see each area of the line fill in sync with the haptic clicks of the Series 4 Watch's Digital Crown.

One strikingly disappointing oversight is that Spotify isn't optimized for the new 40 and 44mm Series 4 displays, as you'll notice in the framed images above. Launching two months after new devices debut, but without support for those devices, is not a good look. I'm hopeful we won't have to wait long for that issue to be remedied, though. In its announcement post for the Watch app, Spotify candidly acknowledged that there's plenty more work to be done to create the best Watch experience – "we have many exciting things coming up —including the ability to listen to your music and podcasts offline." Surely support for modern Watch displays is one of those 'exciting things.'


Spotify Announces Improvements to Mobile App for Both Free and Paid Tiers

Today Spotify held an event in New York City where it announced several changes to its mobile app that impact users of both free and paid tiers of the service. Jordan Crook reports for TechCrunch:

Spotify’s...free tier has always limited users to shuffle. With the new version, users can listen on-demand to whatever song they want, as many times as they want, as long as those songs appear on one of the 15 personalized discovery playlists like Daily Mix, Discover Weekly, Release Radar or Today’s Top Hits.

Considering the breadth of Spotify's discovery playlists, the ability to choose songs from those playlists on-demand is a significant change. Crook also mentions how machine learning is being used not just to impact the quality of those discovery playlists, but also, now, to help users make better playlists themselves. This new feature, called "assisted playlisting," aids in playlist creation by recommending songs below the search field that are similar to the songs you searched for.

Another noteworthy change is that Spotify introduced a new "data saver" mode for its app that reportedly cuts data use by up to 75% when streaming music. This feature is available to all users, but it's particularly beneficial to free tier users who don't have the option of downloading songs for offline playback.

Each of these updates are currently being rolled out to all users of the Spotify app; it's unclear if an App Store update will be necessary, or if the changes will all be server-side.

Unlike Apple Music, which only exists as a paid service, Spotify has the challenge of balancing the features of its paid and free tiers in a way that satisfies free users, while simultaneously encouraging them to upgrade. Today's improvements seem to do a great job of that by leveraging one of Spotify's strengths over Apple Music – machine learning-powered personalized playlists. The deeper invested you are in teaching the service your likes and dislikes, the more likely you are to eventually become a paid Spotify user rather than jumping ship to Apple Music.

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Spotify Is Testing Voice Control of Its iOS App

Spotify is testing a voice navigation feature that lets users search for and play songs, albums, and playlists in the music streaming service’s iOS app. The feature, which was first reported by TechCrunch, is found under the Spotify app’s Search tab, but it’s currently only available to a small number of users.

Casey Newton of The Verge got a chance to try the feature:

I got early access to the test and tested out the feature set. In short, it’s an excellent step forward for navigation in app that has historically required too much tapping and typing to get where you’re going.

Spotify confirmed the test to both TechCrunch and The Verge but declined to provide any details.

If you have the feature, it appears as a microphone icon inside a circular white button in the search view. According to Newton, voice search provided ‘mostly accurate results.’

Spotify’s experiment with voice commands is notable because rumors have been circulating that it is developing a smart speaker to compete with offerings from Apple, Amazon, and Google. It’s not as useful as having built-in voice search functionality, but unless Apple opens up Siri to other music services, building the feature into its iOS app is also the closest Spotify can get to working like Apple Music on the HomePod.


Shazam Updated with Synchronized Lyrics and a New Design

When Apple acquired Shazam, people wondered what would become of the popular song identification and music discovery app. It’s not unusual for an app acquired by a big company to be pulled from the App Store or for development to slow substantially. Questions were also raised about whether Shazam would continue to support Apple’s music streaming rival, Spotify.

As it turns out, Shazam has continued to be updated and support Spotify since Apple’s acquisition. In fact, there have been at least four updates to Shazam since the acquisition including one today that adds synchronized lyrics and a design refresh of the app’s results screen.

The new UI looks great. The results screen is dominated by a background image of the artist. In the foreground is a big play button, the name of the song the app recognized, and the name of the artist. If you tap on the artwork, you get an image of the artist and album in some cases, plus more details on the artist, album, song, and release date.

Along the top of the results screen is a menu you access by swiping horizontally that includes lyrics, videos, additional songs by the artist, and related artists. If you swipe over to the lyrics screen while a song is playing, they are displayed in perfect synchronization with the song that’s playing, which is perfect for impromptu karaoke moments. Adding songs to Apple Music and Spotify playlists has been streamlined too – it now takes one less tap to add a song to a playlist.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you’re using the iOS 11.3 beta, playback is broken throughout the app. Tapping on any play button freezes the entire UI and requires you to force quit the app. Playback works as expected if you’re not on the beta, however.

Shazam is available on the App Store.


Spotify’s Playlists as Musical Events

Victor Luckerson, writing at The Ringer, makes a good point about how Spotify's algorithmic playlists have turned into the cultural phenomenon that Apple wanted to build around Apple Music:

Spotify is in much the same position right now. With its regularly refreshing playlists, which rearrange artists’ music into a new kind of original content, Spotify has become a beloved musical destination rather than just a tool. It’s an iPod and a radio and a BuzzFeedWhich Drake Album Matches Your Personality?” quiz at the same time. Taylor Swift may have a legion of fans, but Discover Weekly does as well. Those always-updating playlists are now the must-attend musical events that Apple was trying to create around exclusive albums and radio shows.

As I wrote many times here on MacStories, I'd love for Apple to consider more smart playlist features akin to Spotify's Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes.

This is also interesting:

Netflix used its power as an entertainment destination to nudge its users to watch its own original programming. Now instead of being indebted to Hollywood, the tech company seems to run it. Spotify isn’t there yet, and successfully making the Netflix pivot will be tougher because music isn’t as valuable to investors as video. Its attempts to diversify with original content have so far been nonstarters, and despite persistent rumors, the company hasn’t yet tried to establish its own record label.

Given Jimmy Iovine's recent comments on music services and original content ("Guess how much original content streaming has: zero!"), I wonder if the future of music may indeed veer towards the current TV streaming model, with albums made exclusively for specific music streaming services (and as a heavy music listener, this possibility scares me).

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Following Spotify Playlist Curators Around New York’s Live Music Scene

In an otherwise boring conversation about some press release or another, a Spotify PR person mentioned to me that an artist who had a big hit on the platform’s Fresh Finds playlist was discovered when one of the curators just happened to see them play a show in Bushwick. I was as surprised as anyone really can be by an email from corporate PR.

Fresh Finds is one of Spotify’s prized products, a weekly playlist crafted from a combination of two different data inputs: it identifies new, possibly interesting music with natural language processing algorithms that crawl hundreds of music blogs, then puts those songs up against the listening patterns of users their data designates “trendsetters.” What’s going to a show in Bushwick have to do with it? I had visions of a bunch of suits using their business cards to get into cool shows for no reason other than to feel like Vinyl-era record execs for a night. It seemed extremely redundant, and more than a little like posturing. Why bother?

“It's basically their job,” I was told. Okay but, excuse me, how is that a playlist curator’s job? To find out, I asked if I could tag along with on a few of them on their nights out. I did not expect the answer to be yes, mostly because I thought it should be obvious that my intention was to point out how weird the whole thing was.

But the answer was yes. So, for three weeks, I went with Spotify playlist curators to live performances in Chinatown, Bushwick, and an infamous club on the Lower East Side. I got dozens of half-answers to the question: Why are you here?

Fascinating story by Kaitlyn Tiffany for The Verge on how Spotify is sending curators to live music shows – a process that, according to the company, informs the platform’s tastemakers on what later ends up in popular playlists. As she argues, it’s easy to imagine how Spotify may be planning a lot more behind the scenes.

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