TechCrunch reported over the weekend about a browser-based version of Spotify, which led to thousands of posts. The odd thing about Spotify’s reported makeover as a web app is that its status as a desktop client is responsible for at least some degree of its success.
Being a desktop app allows Spotify to gobble upstream bandwidth from each user, so that while you’re listening to your perfect taste in music, some fool somewhere is using your connection to stream the latest horrible music they’re into. This saves Spotify money on bandwidth, which adds up when millions of people use it to stream music worldwide. It has also been credited with helping the songs to play so fast (as does the desktop version’s ability to cache the beginnings of lots of songs you might play).
And perhaps most importantly for a mass-market app, it made Spotify a more natural upgrade from the last dominant digital music software: iTunes. I am not the only reporter to have described Spotify as being “like iTunes but with all the music in the world.”
So why would Spotify turn its back on a strategy that has made it by far the most popular on-demand music subscription service in the world? Here are five reasons:
1. People like Fred Wilson prefer web-based products.
Some of us don’t mind installing desktop software. Others, like noted venture capitalist Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, prefer to use just about everything in the browser. Wilson even went so far as to say he “removed all downloaded software other than browsers from [his] computers.”
Even those who aren’t willing to go that far might still prefer to bookmark something rather than download it, install it, and keep it updated – especially on a flash-based computer like an AirPort Express, which puts disk space at a premium. By rolling out a web version, Spotify would head competitors such as web-based Rdio off at the pass.
Essentially, if Spotify really is going to succeed in its bid to become “the operating system of music,” it needs to run everywhere – and that includes the web.
2. Maybe the web really will end up as the ultimate app platform.
Here at Evolver.fm, we refer to web pages with advanced functionality as “web apps,” and indeed, some say the web is the ultimate app platform. HTML5 is capable of doing much of what used to be possible only with natively running software. People who believe HTML5 will supplant apps are usually talking about the mobile scenario, but the same thing is happening on the desktop and laptop. Ever notice that Facebook never released software that you need to install? It doesn’t have to.
In addition to running on anything that supports common standards, instead of only on various proprietary operating systems, web apps have the distinct advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your perspective) of not being “ban-able.” For example, you can’t find Grooveshark on the iOS or Android app store (although it did re-appear briefly on the latter), but you can use it just fine on either platform as an HTML5 app.
If the HTML5 believers are right that the web is going to be the ultimate app platform, running in a standardized way across all devices without rules about what you can or can’t install, then Spotify would do well to offer a web version sooner rather than later. As for third-party Spotify apps, those are already HTML5 anyway, so migrating those to the browser would be easy.
3. Spotify already lets other people put Spotify on the web.
In April, Spotify launched a web-based music player that lets anyone embed songs, albums, or custom playlists anywhere on the web. If Evolver.fm can play any song on Spotify, why shouldn’t Spotify.com be able to do the same?
4. Spotify no longer has to pretend to be iTunes
When Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon started working on Spotify back in 2006, Apple iTunes was clearly the centre of most people’s music experience, thanks to the omnipresent iPod. As such, the pair were smart to make Spotify look and feel a lot like iTunes, which also runs on the desktop.
However, people are now used to streaming music from all over the web, and most of us have migrated our email, word processing, and just about anything else that doesn’t specifically require native installation to the web. Spotify doesn’t need to live on your computer, unless you use it to play and sync the MP3s on your hard drive, so it might as well offer a web version too. Now that we do so much on the web, the need for Spotify to look and feel like iTunes no longer exists.
5. Why not have both?
According to the TechCrunch report that started this whole round of speculation, which was based on unnamed sources, Spotify has been neglecting its desktop client because this new web version could constitute an “overhaul” of that service – in other words, the web version would replace the desktop version. However, further down in the article, TechCrunch says, “It’s unclear if the browser version will replace its downloadable desktop software or just augment it.”
I’ve been following Spotify closely for several years now, and to me, it seems highly unlikely that the company would scrap the desktop version entirely and replace it with a web version. However, I can’t think of a good reason why Spotify wouldn’t want to offer a web version to augment the desktop one.
Even if the browser-based version lacks the ability to play songs as lightning-fast as the desktop does, the advantages listed above could outweigh that slight delay, especially because people are used to waiting a split-second for songs to load when they listen on the web. They could also outweigh whatever money Spotify is saving on bandwidth by forcing desktop and laptop users to install software on their computers.
In short: Why not?
Evolver.fm observes, tracks and analyses the music apps scene, with the belief that it’s crucial to how humans experience music, and how that experience is evolving. [clear]