A couple of weeks ago Spotify, the European music streaming startup, came in for sharp criticism when it made the decision to place tight limits on the music you could listen to for free. It made financial sense, but left us wondering where its strategy was going.
Today it’s revealed the next piece in the puzzle, and it’s a bold move: a new version that makes it — for music, at least — a direct competitor to Apple’s iTunes (s aapl)
What do you get from the new, improved app?
It’s a strong line of attack from the Swedish startup, and not entirely expected: most reporting has focused on the way it has been angling to move into the U.S. market, particularly since it has a substantial war chest after raising $100 million.
But let’s not pretend that in doing this, Spotify is breaking completely new ground: it is most definitely not the first company to try to provide an alternative to iTunes. Among the others attempting to compete directly with iTunes is DoubleTwist, a San Francisco startup that has been going great guns.
However, it is one of the most direct plays against Apple that we’ve seen. Spotify comes from a different direction to most of the competing sync platforms, because it’s starting out with a strong base in music and a million subscribers.
There are still plenty of weaknesses: it doesn’t have an American service (some have suggested that Apple is exerting influence over record labels to stymie Spotify’s move into America). It’s still pretty poor at the process of music discovery — the service is great if you know what you want to listen to, but if you’re looking for a radio-type service, then it’s got a long way to go. And, if we’re comparing it to iTunes, it still only does music (co-founder Daniel Ek recently denied reports that it planned to launch a movie streaming service)
But it will certainly be interesting to see what Apple does in response. While Spotify is no Amazon (s amzn), it poses a bigger threat to Cupertino than most of the other players out there. Apple has a track record of changing its software regularly to try to prevent third-party iPod syncing, so it will probably keep the Swedish business on its toes.
And I suspect it may also prompt Steve Jobs to demand that his engineers rebuild iTunes and turn it into something better — it is, after all, a bloated and increasingly confusing piece of software that’s essentially just a hodge podge of different products slammed together in one. In terms of ease-of-use, iTunes is just about the least Apple-like piece of software it produces.