We talk to Dave Price - Spotify Director of Product Platform - for a behind-the-scenes story on the evolution of Spotify's iOS app...
For many of us, Spotify is an essential part of daily life. And nowadays, the roles it fulfils are vast and varied. It’s a running buddy in the morning, the soundtrack to your commute, your source of focus a work, and it’s even a personalised DJ in the evening. So it’s amazing to think that actually, Spotify has only been available on mobile since 2009 when the iOS app first launched.
Six years is a very long time in the world of tech, and nothing proves that more conclusively than Spotify’s rise to streaming dominance. In 2008 when Spotify first launched on PC, the idea of streaming music for free was unheard of. But streaming music via your mobile phone? Impossible, surely?
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“Spotify was built for desktop first, but mobile was always on the radar,” explains Spotify’s Dave Price. As Director of Product Platform at Spotify, Dave heads up the development of Spotify’s iOS app, as well as its Android, Windows, Mac and web player offerings. That makes him an extremely busy man, but he has generously made time to chat to us about the evolution of the Spotify iOS app…
“We’re constantly working to improve…”
“If you look back at devices like the Walkman and the iPod, there has always been a need for mobile music,” Dave continues. “When we launched the iOS app, we were very much leading that music innovation on mobile. That’s something we’ve strived to continue since, by launching the free tier on mobile at the end of 2013 for example, or introducing new features like Spotify Running or Discover Weekly. From day one, mobile was always going to be incredibly key for Spotify.”
We’ve explored Spotify Running and Discover Weekly recently – just a couple of examples of big new additions to the Spotify app – but when you look back Spotify has made so many additions over the last six years that it’s easy to forget exactly what you could do with the very first app:
“The original app was pretty revolutionary… it completely changed the game back in 2009.”
“Many of the features were all there from the beginning,” says Dave. “You could search by artist, song title, album through the whole catalogue, and create playlists. We even had offline mode too. The original app was pretty revolutionary in itself,” he adds. “Even if those things perhaps seem very ordinary today, it completely changed the game back in 2009.
“Since then Spotify has transitioned from being a ‘lean-in’ experience where our users relied on search and other tools to find and play music, to an experience that today blends these utilities with discovery, underpinned by our global team of curators and tremendous advances in personalisation, such as the recently launched Discover Weekly.”
That discovery element has infiltrated everything that Spotify does now, of course. The methods for discovering new music through Spotify are diverse, but Dave is quick to point out that finding your favourite new band is only one aspect of the job at hand.
“We’re constantly working to improve everything,” he says. “Throughout the last five or six years, we’ve seen a very constant stream of product updates, aimed at all aspects of the app. If we’ve focused on anything, it’s been on personalising the experience for every user. I think putting a human touch to the application has been incredibly important over the last few years – from adding an editorial perspective to our content, to the introduction of individually curated playlists.”
As for where the application stands today, Dave admits that his team are, “incredibly pleased with the experience.” But Spotify has never been a company to rest on its laurels. It remains dedicated to change, and just as it did six years ago when it first released the iPhone app, Spotify is always searching for the next great innovation.
“We always identify where there’s room for improvement, and we’re always trying to achieve perfection with the app.”
“We always identify where there’s room for improvement,” says Dave, “and we’re always trying to achieve perfection with the app. That’s all about learning from everything that we do – it’s a process that starts pre-development, and carries on throughout the development and subsequent rollout of an update. We spend a lot of time talking to Spotify users through our ‘Insights’ team to get a full picture of how an update has been received, and what can be improved.
“With Spotify Running for example, the feedback from our users was instrumental in improving the feature. We realised that we needed to simplify the ‘Now Playing’ view for runners, as most of the time the phone is strapped to their arm. The last thing we want to do is make the runner stop after the app has detected your tempo, so we needed to make music easy to control on the move.
“Every day is like that, really,” he continues. “We actually release an update to iOS users every two weeks via the App Store, that means users tend to get a constant stream of updates, rather than major overhauls, and importantly, we can get feedback, learn and improve as quickly as possible…”
And in a nutshell, says Dave, that is how the team works. “We’re all working like crazy to improve our existing features” he says, “as well as coming up with new ideas to improve the mobile experience.
Watch this space…
“As the platforms and hardware both evolve, that will open up new opportunities for us,” says Dave in closing. “To return to Spotify Running as an example, the evolution of hardware made it possible for us to detect a user’s tempo through the accelerometer, and we combined that with our own insights as well as scientific links between music and athletic performance. That’s a great example of something that wasn’t on a roadmap two years ago, but our drive for innovation along with the evolution of technology has unlocked that opportunity. That’s very much how we work.
“In the short term, I can tell you that we have some incredibly exciting things planned for the next weeks and months, and a lot of that is the result of everything we’ve just spoken about. There’s a massive amount of innovation going into this – more than ever before in our history I would say! So watch this space.
Are you a Spotify fan? Click here to check out our picks of the albums you should be looking out for in September…