There’s a lot of talk about how Apple is building a whiz-bang, streaming Internet radio app to kill Pandora. In 2013, Internet radio seems really shortsighted for Apple. It can’t possibly be the only thing they’re up to in the music space.
Let’s explore this further: 1) Apple has sold something like 300 million total iOS devices, 2) Apple won patents recently called “iGroups” and one about “ad hoc networking based on content and location,” 3) Apple has punted on social to date, 4) Apple has largely failed to innovate their music products since iTunes and the iPod, and 5) Let’s not forget, Apple doesn’t like to lose.
So what does this mean? I think Apple is building a social music experience based on ad hoc networking, where multiple devices wirelessly connect to each other for a specific, temporary purpose. Instead of creating playlists and sharing them with people on Spotify or Rdio, or sending an MP3 to a friend, or huddling around a stereo listening to music, you’re going to be able to quickly spin up a group of neighboring iOS devices, and share music amongst them.
It’s a reflection on how we natively consume music. And one that plays to Apple’s strength as a closed ecosystem. This service will be primarily mobile and tablet-based, through you and your friend’s iOS devices, kind of like iTunes meets AirDrop. I sincerely doubt co-listening will even available. Humans have a very private and intimate relationship with music. We tend to listen to music individually, digest and internalize it, and later on we engage in meaningful discourse about it. Steve Jobs knew this.
One of the great things about ad hoc networking is that it enables groups to be quickly created and quickly dissolved. Cult of Mac explains it as “permanent social networks with temporary transits of members.” Read that again: Permanent networks. Temporary members. That’s exactly how we consume music. For instance, I don’t read Pitchfork every day. I go there, stock up on some recommendations, go away and listen to them, make my own decisions, tell some friends, and then come back to Pitchfork and stock up, again. In other words, you can come and go as you please, but you’re still part of the same loose ecosystem.
This kind of on-demand social music network is one based on the proximity of devices and, likely, centered on common interests and experiences. From Cult of Mac:
“Apple’s social service would no doubt give people the opportunity to establish lasting connections, but the default will likely be to erase connections and dissolve the networks when everyone leaves… Apple could achieve what Ping never could, which is to give people the means to share and socially discover music and other content, always with the added benefit of offering a path to purchase that content.”
That last point was glossed over, but it’s important. So let’s consider a few things further: 1) An ad hoc group only exists when participating devices are in close proximity to each other, they’re temporary, and they automatically dissolve after the devices move away from each other, 2) A group is defined as one or more devices that are in transmission range of each other for a period of time, referred to as “contact time,” and 3) Users could be matched based on the common interests and experiences. In this case, music. I’ve previously contended that Apple will reward ownership of large libraries of music, and I think this is one example of where they’re heading with that.