What if Spotify followed Facebook by unbundling the big green app?



At the time of writing, Facebook has 17 different mobile apps available on Apple’s App Store, including its main Facebook app, and Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp – each with hundreds of millions of users.

But there are also apps like Facebook Groups (for faster access to the groups you’re signed up to on the social network); Slingshot (for sharing photos and videos); Rooms (a group-chat tool); and Riff (collaborative video-sharing).

There’s also Facebook Mentions for verified users; Facebook Pages Manager and Facebook Adverts Manager for businesses and marketers; and several creative apps showing off Messenger’s API: Sound Clips, Stickered, Selfied, Strobe and Shout.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg explained the strategy behind this portfolio and the Creative Labs division behind it, in an April 2014 interview with the New York Times:

“So Facebook is not one thing. On desktop where we grew up, the mode that made the most sense was to have a website, and to have different ways of sharing built as features within a website. So when we ported to mobile, that’s where we started — this one big blue app that approximated the desktop presence.

But I think on mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences.

So what we’re doing with Creative Labs is basically unbundling the big blue app.”

Hence the Riffs and Rooms and Slingshots in Facebook’s apps portfolio. They may not all be successful, but they enable small teams to focus behind single ideas; to update regularly and test new features; and then if they do work, to either graduate into a full product or be integrated as features into the apps higher up the chain.

You can see a similar strategy, albeit with a focus on fewer apps, at work with Twitter. Its main app is now complemented by Periscope and Vine for livestreaming and looping-clip videos respectively, with potentially a photo-sharing app to come – although the tools being used by Taylor Swift, Pharrell and other stars at MTV’s VMAs last weekend could be destined for Twitter’s main app instead.

All this has led to a thought bubbling in my head for a while: could this kind of strategy work for a streaming music service? For example, could Daniel Ek stand on a stage or sit down with a journalist one day and announce a new strategy – “We’re unbundling the big green app” – for Spotify?

The theory: a set of single-purpose first-class music experiences, to cop Zuckerberg’s lingo. Here’s Music Ally’s take on how it might work, to spark further discussion:

The big green app stays in place, but refocused on Spotify’s 55m+ free users. That means an emphasis on programmed playlists and personal stations based on artists and genres. This would be Spotify’s main entry-point for new users, and a direct rival for Pandora in the US, with the focus on free hopefully energising its team to explore new, more effective mobile ad formats and sponsorships.

02-spotify-premiumSpotify Premium
The separate Spotify app for the 20m+ paying subscribers, with the full on-demand streaming experience (and none of those ads). The standalone Premium app would have better audio quality, obviously, but it would also be the place for subscribers to get new features before free users. And, if Spotify does ever bow to pressure to window some big albums for its paying customers only, a Premium app would showcase that content too.

03-spotify-runningSpotify Running
Spotify is feeling sporty in 2015: one of the key new features in its main app is Running, with playlists adapting to listeners strides and a selection of original tracks commissioned to morph according to pace. But is it cluttering up the main app? Why not break it out into a dedicated Spotify Running app, with more RunKeeper-style tracking and graphs to show people how they’re improving? A fully-fledged Spotify fitness app, pulling in relevant programmed playlists.

04-spotify-liveSpotify Live
Not just about gigs: in my head, this is part Pitchfork, part Flipboard and part Dice. An app providing original news, reviews and interviews with musicians; aggregating other content from news sites, music blogs, online video services and social networks; and a gig guide complete with mobile ticket sales. Tuned to your favourite artists and genres, obviously.

05-spotifydanceSpotify Dance
This could be just a set of filters for Spotify Live, but if you were splitting out apps by genre, dance would be the most obvious place to start. A similar mix of editorial content, videos and social feeds, but with a Resident Advisor-style clubbing guide (and ticketing). And perhaps this could be the place for Spotify to try to finally crack the nut of licensing mash-ups and remixes, not to mention figuring out a business model for third-party curation (paging Ministry of Sound…)

06-spotify-messengerSpotify Messenger
Is there really a demand for standalone music messaging apps? Startups like MSTY, Rithm and Music Messenger hope so. I’ve always been sceptical on the grounds that if music messaging is A Thing, surely it involves the biggest messaging apps doing more with music, or the streaming music services doing more with messaging. So, on the latter front: Spotify Messenger? A supercharged version of Spotify’s low-profile Inbox feature, for users to ping songs back and forth, and perhaps a place for Spotify to play with photo filters, stickers, GIFs and other social features. And musicians: could this become the artist-to-fan messaging channel that labels have been asking Spotify for? Competition for Apple Music Connect, and an alternative to the declining organic reach of Facebook posts…

07-spotify-verifiedSpotify Verified
The straight equivalent of Facebook Mentions: an app for verified profiles on Spotify, from artists to labels, playlist tastemakers and other prominent users. It could be a slick, mobile window into Spotify analytics (including playlists – another thing labels have been badgering Spotify about for a while) as well as a mobile hub for posting updates for their audiences of followers. And perhaps a self-serve app for booking mobile ads in Spotify’s main app to drive listeners to new tracks and playlists?

08-spotify-videoSpotify TV
Every so often, I remember that Spotify now has video: I’ll freely admit that checking the main mobile app’s Shows menu hasn’t made its way into my daily habits. But if Spotify really is serious about the online video game, perhaps like Running this should be broken out into a separate app. Take on Snapchat Discover, Vessel and even YouTube as a way for millennials to find stuff to watch rather than listen to. Perhaps this could be Spotify’s Vevo, with music videos and live sessions prominent in the mix. And again, a dedicated team and app would fuel faster updates and a firm focus on the business model.

An important caveat: there’s nothing to suggest that Spotify is planning an unbundling strategy along these lines: this piece is entirely my own ‘what if’ speculation.

And while it makes sense for Facebook, perhaps such a strategy would be a mistake for Spotify (or, indeed, any streaming music service) at such an important point in the music market? Parts less than the sum of the whole, fragmenting the company’s focus when it has plenty of big challenges to face up to.

But in that case, any discussion about why unbundling the big green app would be a bad idea might be just as useful to understanding how Spotify will evolve in the years ahead. The comments section is open for your thoughts either way.

Written by: Stuart Dredge