As the radio app market continues to grow, there is more than one way to listen to Spotify on Apple’s iPhone. Having launched its libspotify mobile API in August 2011, the streaming music service now provides the core for two interesting new apps: SpotON Radio and Soundrop.fm.
SpotON Radio is a Pandora-style personal radio app that prompts people to type in an artist name, then generates a streaming station of similar tracks.
That music comes from Spotify, with The Echo Nest’s recommendation APIs used for the track selection. Individual songs and whole stations can be saved to Spotify playlists from within SpotON Radio, for later playback in Spotify’s apps on various devices.
Soundrop.fm is more like Turntable.fm, one of the most hyped digital music services of 2011. It lacks the latter’s avatars, but mirrors its concept of virtual rooms, within which people can DJ tracks to one another while chatting.
Both apps require users to have a Spotify Premium account, since that’s where the music is being streamed from. Both apps are free, too: one of the conditions of the libspotify API when it launched.
The release of these apps ““ as well as an earlier app called Metafy that matches highly-rated albums on the Metacritic website with Spotify’s catalogue ““ are not the only way developers are building on top of the streaming service. Its apps platform, unveiled in November 2011, is spawning similar efforts within the company’s desktop application.
Spotify is by no means the only music company opening up its innards for external developers, either. US streaming service Rdio launched its own mobile playback API for Android and iOS in May 2011, for example.
The release of SpotON Radio and Soundrop.fm also comes as US radio giant iHeartmedia (formerly Clear Channel) launches an API for its iHeartRadio service, which includes live streams of traditional radio stations, as well as interactive personal radio features. The iHeartRadio API can be used by web and mobile developers alike.
Last.fm, SoundCloud, Songkick, 7digital"¦ The list of digital music companies touting APIs is a long one. The Echo Nest has worked with a number of these companies, but also struck partnerships with record label EMI and Twitter with the aim of spurring more innovative music apps.
This trend is epitomised by the Music Hack Day events, which take place around the world. The next one is at the Midem music conference in Cannes in late January.
Developers blend a host of APIs with their own ideas, and while some of the resulting hacks are fun novelties, other efforts "“ particularly those exploring social aspects "“ have acted as a springboard for the features being added to commercial music services in 2011 and 2012.
For the streaming music companies, APIs represent an attempt to become ubiquitous: the driving force behind dozens or hundreds of music apps, rather than just a single standalone service. While the focus is on apps and websites, expect hardware to enter the mix this year, particularly automotive firms and consumer electronics manufacturers.
There may be some thorny questions ahead for Spotify and its rivals, too, similar to those faced by Twitter and its developer community in 2011. When you allow developers to make apps based on your platform, they may well cry foul if you subsequently add some of those features to your core service.
So, SpotON Radio has turned Spotify into a personal radio app for iPhone before Spotify has brought its own recently-revamped radio feature to its mobile apps, while Soundrop.fm's social listening rooms could well be a future feature for Spotify itself too, if the idea is popular.
The point of turning a service into a platform is to enable external developers to come up with features that the company itself wouldn't have thought of. "More than anything we really look forward to being surprised by developers," said Spotify's chief executive Daniel Ek at the launch of the Spotify Apps platform in November.
Capitalising on those surprises while avoiding too many nasty shocks for developers if they are subsequently replicated in the main service is perhaps the most important line-treading challenge for any platform owner.
Ek and his colleagues will certainly be aware of previous mis-steps made by other technology companies in this regard. The key is to avoid repeating them, to ensure there are many more interesting apps to follow SpotON Radio and Soundrop.fm.