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When word came out on Monday that Microsoft will launch a music streaming service by the end of the month, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek must have slumped in his chair with his head in his hands. Spotify was never going to be the only kid on the block – Ek would’ve known that – but for their first direct competitor to be the ‘Soft is pretty bad luck. There’s a lot that Spotify has done right but these are five good reasons why the global immovable object will be too much for music’s current irresistible force:
1) Microsoft will have better content
We’ve all had quite a while to play with Spotify now and I’ll challenge anyone not to have had several disapointments at the depth of their music catalogue. They’ve done a decent job but it just doesn’t compare to any other good music service. Have a quick browse around on iTunes, Last.fm and even Nokia Comes With Music and you’ll realise what a real music library is all about.
It’s all about deals with the record labels and the fact is that Microsoft has a hell of a lot more clout than a Johnny-come-lately start up from Sweden. No offence Mr Ek. You have a fan in me but there’s just no comparison.
Gates, Ballmer & Sons will bowl into all the offices of all the music people and walk out with as many tracks as they like and, at the end of the day, why would you bother with both music services as a consumer when one of them has all the tracks you want and the other doesn’t?
What’s more, there’s a very good chance that they’ll add video too. Now, that might be a paid for service, much in the same way that you can rent TV and films through BT Vision or the Apple Store, but it might also be free, provided the rest of the model proves financially successful.
2) Microsoft will make the model work
There’s quite a few murmurings that Spotify isn’t getting all that many people to sign up to the premium paid for service and I’m not hearing and seeing many different adverts on the player an in the music stream either. It all rather points towards the fact that the business model has yet to become fully viable. Now, I’m sure there’s a long term plan that we’re only seeing the tip of at the moment but those ad spaces now filled with voicemail messages from users aren’t wildly encouraging.
The trouble is that Spotify may never get to the point where there business model starts to reap the dividends with Microsoft wading in as soon as they have. If you’re an advertiser, where are you going to spend your money? Their profile is just too big and Spotify’s only hope here is that Microsoft will be too greedy with their ad price. Still, I can see agencies stumping up the extra cash just to make sure they’re getting the right exposure.
3) Microsoft is already in everyone’s home…
…and Spotify isn’t. This isn’t so much a size issue as one of distribution and exposure. Hang on, that’s basically the definition of size.
Any road, the point is that 90% of the world’s computers are still Windows machines. You and I may have heard of Spotify but you can bet we’re in some tiny percentage that has. Most people are going to hear about Microsoft’s music service first through a million different channels and that’s the one they’ll use because they trust it and it’s like it’s already there. It’s the AOL effect.
Not a lot Spotify can do about that one.
4) Microsoft has Xbox and Zune
Supporting hardware is going to be a big factor here. Spotify has launched an API – limited though it might be – but Microsoft don’t have to wait for people to come and develop apps for them. They’ve already got their own mobile OS. They can slap it straight on the front page of each phone that carries it. They can do the same to every desktop copy of Windows too.
Better still, they’ve got a home music player and mobile one of their very own. They’ve already said that they’re going to get the Xbox involved and they’d be crazy not to get the Zune in on the action too. Not only would it make their music service an obvious universal solution choice ahead of Spotify but it would also start to turn the Xbox into not just a games player but a proper home media centre. £100 says the next iteration is all about integration and HD video streaming.
5) Microsoft will have fewer teething problems
There’s still issues with using Spotify as Duncan pointed out a while back and they’re not the kinds of things that Microsoft is going to get wrong. They won’t have difficulty taking payments, they’re bound to have the kind of code in place to allow the integration of your own music library and anything else that they’ve got a problem with they’ll get sorted quickly. They’ll just throw a team of developers at it. Their platform will be a well oiled machine long before Spotify’s is and that could cost Sweden’s second favourite export.
The flip side to all this is that where Microsoft might be quick to develop they’re going to be slower to implement. When you’re going for total music domination, you’ve all those different platforms and devices to consider. Spotify does’t have that problem. It’s smaller and more agile. It’s not a lot to work with but I know enough about guerilla warfare to know that you’ve got to fight with your strengths and attack your enemy’s weaknesses. For example, if Spotify is thinking of getting into video, it might be a good idea to do it now, quickly. Moving into mobile phones yesterday would also be a big help. It’s time to get prolific.
I’m not a fan of any big corporation, so I’d be sorry to see Microsoft squash the competition, particularly when it’s one we’ve come to know and love. It’s the reach of the multi-national leviathan that’ll do for little old Spotify but there is a hope, and quite a good one, that Microsoft will cock it up. They’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past.
Make users pay for the service, add in too many limiting stipulations, throttle the idea in any way and no one’s going to want to bother with what they’ve got, no matter how big their library.
I’m looking forward to seeing which way they take it come the end of the month. If they’re sensible, this could be the change Microsoft has been looking for – a move away from piratable software and into money making services. If it works well enough, maybe even Windows will be free in the future? Nah.
DRM-free is becoming all the rage, as well it should, and today Orange is the latest portal provider to jump on the digital music band wagon. So far they’ve persuaded EMI, Universal and ” a number of independent labels” to offer up their tracks and doubtless the other two majors will follow at some point.
For now, there’s 700,000 tracks to chose from which you can download over the air or to your PC and do with as you will. You’ll only pay the once and prices start at an iTunes sounding 79p.
You can start your downloading from today and it’ll be interesting to see how this sits alongside services which Orange supports like the DRM-heavy Nokia Comes With Music. Still, always nice to have more options.
Since Spotify arrived on the digital music scene last October, people have been flabbergasted by how fast it works. How could it possibly be able to search and index millions of files and then deliver you the music stream quicker than searching your own MP3 collection? The answer is three-fold. A peer-to-peer infrastructure, fantastic coding, and a massive cache.
The cache is the most interesting bit. By default, the program uses up to 10% of your hard drive for storing the music that it downloads. You can have a poke around in it by going to C:UsersUSERNAMEAppDataLocalSpotifyStorage on Vista, or the equivalent directory for other operating systems.
The files residing within are the music that plays when you double-click a track name in the software. Stuff you play gets saved to this directory, so that when you play it in the future, there’s a local copy and it can find it faster. So can you pull out the tracks in a usable form to copy to your MP3 player?
The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, with a lot of difficulty and if you don’t mind breaking the law. For most people, it’ll be beyond them – you’ll need to use source code provided by dodgy open-source client Despotify, and you’ll need to have a Premium account – because Despotify doesn’t work with free ones.
In reality, it’s not worth the bother. You’ll eventually end up with a 160kbps OGG file. That’s fine for streaming but when you convert it to MP3 to put on your MP3 player you’ll lose even more quality. Even if you’re not an audiophile you’ll be able to hear the difference.
Simply put, if you’re intent on breaking the law then in reality it’s much easier to go to The Pirate Bay and get the tracks you want there. But why bother? As actually-quite-useful piss-take website Spotibay illustates, if people have fast access to music in a user-friendly way, then they won’t bother with piracy.
Where that argument falls down is mobile access – even though Spotify’s rolling out the mobile clients, what happens when you go out of coverage, on the tube or in rural areas?Then you’re screwed, right? Well, if hints on the company’s support forum are followed-through, then maybe not.
A post on the support forum requesting that the company provide cache-only playback for offline conditions met with a surprisingly positive response with the company, stating:
“An offline play mode is a feature we’re looking at implementing at some point in the future. I think any feature we develop would likely have the option for the user to decide what is available for offline play.”
If that functionality is extended to mobile, and there seems no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be, then that could have massive positive implications for mobile clients – pick the albums that you want while in a Wi-Fi area and then while on the tube or even when you just have a 3G connection you can still enjoy music, as well as streaming when available.
In the US, mega-computer-manufacturer Dell has done a deal with record label Universal to offer MP3s on its new computers. For the paltry sum of US$25, about £15, you can get 50 MP3s from Universal pre-loaded onto your computer when you buy it. Other download platforms in the US would charge you about US$50 for the same quantity of songs…