At first blush it might appear that Spotify Connect, the company’s new play for direct hardware integration, is aimed squarely at Apple’s AirPlay. Connect works a lot like AirPlay, except that the technology will be built into hardware from eight different companies like Philips, Denon, Pioneer, and Bang & Olufsen, allowing Spotify apps to pipe music directly into receivers and speakers throughout your house. What Spotify lover wouldn’t want a compatible home theater, right?
But in this case, I suspect the tail is wagging the dog. As I’ve said before, digital media companies want physical product tie-in because consumers like buying tangible things, whether it’s headphones or vinyl records.
This is the exact reverse of the strategy of Sonos, the Boston-based smart-home-theater company which has been selling networked speakers like this for years. Unlike the Spotify-manufacturer alliance, Sonos systems are only made by one company—Sonos—but connect to all sorts of music services including Pandora, Rdio, iTunes, and basically anything else your computer or phone can play. Sonos has done well selling premium systems starting at $299, but a lot of consumers balk at the a $50-a-piece transmitters needed to make each set of speakers fully wireless. Spotify has mixed up the model by making the hardware the commodity—call it the Microsoft Windows approach to music system sales.
Having a great-sounding, simple, and wireless speaker setup of my choosing is easily worth the $10 a month for Spotify, in this listener’s opinion. But it’s also true that if Spotify wants to continue to attract new paying customers, it’s going to have to keep finding ways to expand into people’s physical lives. Spotify Connect is a way to get in front of new customers browsing the shelves of a Best Buy who may not have been a good fit for the Sonos brand or price points. Whether the new wireless enabled speakers are a success or not, however, the move clearly shows that even the biggest software services won’t be satisfied being software only for much longer.