Music is the perfect form of contextual entertainment; it can go almost anywhere with you and come to the fore or fade into the background as required. Developers know this and are basing the next generation of music app on knowing what songs you want, before you want them.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone following the tech sector’s drive towards the Internet of Things (IoT). Context is slowly becoming the center of app development, from location-based offer recommendations to directions based on plans in our calendars.
Music listening is ready and waiting to be transformed by this phenomenon, with the surprise being that the type of service required may not be that different to traditional radio.
Too Much Choice, Not Enough Chance
Though the likes of Spotify and Rdio have revolutionized the streaming music space by offering us access to more than 20 million songs, this has also resurrected the old paradox of choice problem. The marketplace is crowded with many ways to access those songs, but far fewer clever ways to navigate the choices available.
Longstanding services like Pandora have made great strides in understanding what we like to listen to. The next frontier is when and where we want to listen to it.
Each service has its own solution to this question but few place it at the core of what they do. Even those that do, like Songza, still require a number of inputs to get to recommendations. Each additional choice puts a barrier to music in place for those listeners who just want to turn on and tune in. This brings us right back around to the old format of terrestrial radio, a mode of listening that all except the traditionalists have been writing off for the last decade or so.
The Return of Radio
In reality, heralding the return of the old format is a stretch, as it’s only the simple user-interface that we need. Dial in, select a preset favorite and let the right music play. Where radio stations may not always get this right due to limited inputs – genre, time of day, and general demographic knowledge – the music app can get to know us personally in a way that DJs never could.
Still, the concept is the same. A major group of listeners who don’t know exactly which artist they want to listen to, or have a playlist for every occasion, aren’t being served the plug-in and play that they’re looking for. As radio itself becomes more limited and heavy on advertising, these listeners will be willing to switch to a more modern solution. There are plenty of them and they’ll be willing to pay, admittedly less than a full streaming subscription but perhaps a one-time purchase fee for the app, or a low subscription rate to remove adverts.
Whether this will be a brand new app or simply a smart new feature add by an existing streaming service is one of the more important questions that remains to be answered. The pool of premium subscribers is limited and the existing services may be able to use this distinguishing factor to help their product to stand out from the crowd. Or perhaps a service rooted in radio, like Pandora or SiriusXM, can use the idea to expand its user base?
Whoever takes the initiative, expect to see an entirely new type of music app in the coming year, with the emphasis on minimal input from you and maximum effort from your mobile device.