Spotify seeks hardware boffins

For something you never knew you wanted

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Spotify is seeking experienced hardware engineers to create “a category-defining product”, according to a (now removed) job ad.

Spotify already has relationships with hardware companies, and has been embedding its music service into cars, speakers and TVs for years. But this calls for something more ambitious: “a category defining product akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles”.

Of course you know about Snap Spectacles. Or … maybe you don’t, since they’re available only in fewer than a dozen “pop up” booth dispensers across the United States, and nowhere else. But they do allow Snap to call itself a “camera company”.

Spotify was the pioneer in delivering streaming on demand music for a fixed monthly price (or free if you want ads), in 2007. But the difficulties in competing with giant platform providers were illustrated by news from Samsung on Friday.

Samsung announced that Google Play will become the “the default music player and music service on Android-based Samsung phones and tablets launched in 2017”. Samsung is the biggest vendor of smartphones in the world, by volume, over the full calendar year.

Samsung launched its own brand music service, Milk Music, in 2014. The service was free but was closer to a Pandora internet radio service than a real on-demand service, with limited skip functionality. It barely lasted two years before being abandoned last September.

That left the door ajar for streamers like Spotify and Deezer to bid for a relationship with Samsung. We can only assume that in a fair and unfettered competition, Google had the most attractive offering.

Creating a new platform would allow Spotify a route to market that doesn’t involve Google. But there’s a reason that “hardware is hard”. There are more misses than hits, and the misses are expensive. While Amazon’s Echo is a success, fewer people today remember its Fire Phone, a massive flop. Or the “Facebook Phone”, a reskinned HTC model.

Microsoft has a long and tragic history of hardware flops from the MSX to Zune and the Band. Google’s scrapyard, meanwhile, is filled with so many flops, you can be forgiven for thinking it's a tax write-down.

Then again, why not? We’ve urged deep pocketed companies to be a bit more adventurous, and a bit less risk-averse, and try more interesting things. Perhaps Spotify can too. ®


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