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Summary:

Shazam’s new iPhone app can automatically identify any song you listen to, be it on the radio in your car, in a bar or even at the movies.

“The only thing that’s easier than pressing one button is pressing no button at all,” said Shazam’s Chief Product Officer Daniel Danker during an interview this week. That’s why the popular music tagging service added auto-recognition to its iPhone app Thursday. The new feature allows users to keep Shazam running in the background and have it automatically recognize any song that’s playing on the radio or any show they’re watching on TV, even when they are interacting with another app or when the phone is locked.

Shazam first introduced this kind of automatic music recognition to its iPad app in May, and Danker told me that this was a great test case. “The iPad was a good place to learn,” he said. One of the lessons was that auto-tagging is a great enhancement of how many people already use the app. Shazam has seen a whole lot of music sales, and in fact is by some accounts now responsible for 10 percent of all paid digital music downloads.

Automatically recognized songs in Shazam's new iPhone app.

Automatically recognized songs in Shazam’s new iPhone app.

But Danker explained that most users don’t take action on a song right away. Instead, they use Shazam to recognize the song and then save the tag, only to come back later and review what they have heard and liked. Auto-tagging could greatly enhance this kind of behavior, he argued: “We go from a world where people are shazaming dozens of things to hundreds of things a month.”

Due to the nature of the device, iPad users automatically identified a lot of TV shows with the app, and Danker thinks that the iPhone version will be used a whole lot more in the car, in bars, restaurants or even at the movies. One of his colleagues recently took a test build of the app to a movie theater, Danker recalled: “He literally had the soundtrack of the movie in his pocket” after the movie was over.

Of course, one of the concerns with bringing automatic music recognition to mobile is battery life. Danker said that auto-tagging eats anywhere from six to ten percent of your phone’s battery for every hour that you leave it on. That’s why the app automatically goes to sleep if you don’t interact with it for an hour. But Danker also argued that making a phone call, or even browsing the web, eats up more battery.

Danker told me that Shazam would love to bring the same functionality to its Android apps, but as of now, Android doesn’t allow two apps to use your microphone at the same time. In other words: You wouldn’t be able to do answer a phone call while Shazam was running. The company is currently talking to Google to get this fixed in future versions of Android.

Shazam’s auto-tagging iPhone app is just one more example for an increasing trend of always-on microphones who monitor our acoustic environment for clues only to jump into action when they hear a certain phrase, or in Shazam’s case, a song or movie. I wrote about this earlier this year, and wouldn’t be too surprised if we see more examples of this coming out in 2014.

As for Shazam, the feature should help the company to make its app even more sticky. Shazam currently has 400 million registered users in 200 countries, and adds 10 million additional users every month. 80 million people use the app every month.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user Ensuper.

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  1. Wao! Even a phone call uses more energy than Shazam. Er, forgive me but isn’t that the purpose of a mobile? And why do I want Shazam listening in all day long…

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