Earlier today I found out that I have music tastes that are eerily similar to Arianna Huffington’s. At least, that’s if we can believe the now-public playlist titled “Arianna’s Favorites” was created by the media leader.
It’s times like these when I realize how important the mesh between the open Web and native clients is, and how Spotify is poised to really take this arena on.
For a bit of background, there’s been a long-running battle between whether or not companies should create mobile applications first or if a Web-based client is the right way to go. Looking solely at the music-streaming world, there has been a divide between which strategy is correct. Rdio focuses largely on the Web, while Spotify has never had a Web client. These competing offerings appeal to different people, depending on personal preference.
However, this divide has now been altered for the music industry — and it is my hope that the divide disappears forever — with Spotify’s announcement today that it will allow any website to embed a Spotify player on its pages. This means that I could embed a Spotify window right here*. You could hit play, the Spotify application would open in the background, and the music starts playing while you continue on with your browsing.
This new amalgamation of native and Web works well for the music-streaming businesses Spotify and Rdio, but the question is whether it can work with other business models. Well, it’s untested, but my guess is yes.
As a rather sizable qualifier, I’d like to say that I’m no developer, and that I’m basing this off of second-hand observations. The argument of whether or not the Web is fully-capable is not one I’m willing to get involved with, but from what I can see, if the Web was as fully capable as a native world for developers, more developers would spend time on the open Web. Now, moving on.
There are a few key benefits that native clients have for users over Web-based services. First, they generally seem to be faster. Second, they run in the background in a way that is familiar to users. Finally, they provide a better and more stable user interface.
On the other side of the technological divide, the open Web provides a few things for users that native clients are generally bad at. It’s easier to enable social services on the Web, simplifying sharing. On top of that, the Web also introduces new users to a service.
Spotify seems to understand this, and is taking full advantage of these capabilities with its new offering. It enables quick sharing by opening up the embedding process, and it also introduces new users not only to the service itself, but also to individual artists. On the native side, Spotify doesn’t need to hack the Web in order to provide a nicely designed client. It enables offline streaming, and it can run in the background more efficiently, in a way that is normal for users.
Consider what this could mean for the user experience if this model was adopted by any number of services. Netflix, for example, could enable embedding and sharing features, and when you hit play, it would open up the native application immediately and start playing the film. A small application on Netflix’s end, a big boost in user experience for the end user.
Next consider what this could mean for a non-media service like Instapaper, or a large news site like the Huffington Post. These services could use the Web as a basic platform but then enable the text of articles to be pushed off to a native client. Instapaper could provide a better reading experience than the current one available to desktop users, while the Huffington Post could really go above and beyond on its design and extra media features.
This amalgamation would provide a nice answer to the question of whether to go all-in on mobile or all-in on Web. If this latest experiment from Spotify proves to be successful and popular with users, it stands to reason that the best strategy is to do both and take the strengths from both. A technical challenge to be sure, but also something which would really differentiate a startup from its competition.
Yes, all of these services should have a back-up for the open Web so that users don’t need to open a native client. However, at every point the services should be pushing users to the native experience, where the user is not only taken further into the service’s offerings but also provided with a better experience.
This possible future is one in which our digital lives would be similar to our current experiences, but also vastly improved. These micro-apps that are directly tied to the Web would be a boon for companies, which get more face time with users from the bargain, as well as complete control over the end-user experience. More importantly though, it would be a boon for users, which get a better experience, much like that of Spotify.