Apple mulling Pandora-like music service, reports say

September 7, 2012

Apple is planning a Pandora-like music service, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal, as part of a bid to become a major player in the online music space.

According to people “familiar with the matter,” the report says Apple would like to create stations similar to the ones on Pandora or Spotify, which play genres of music and are interspersed with ads from sponsors.

To this point, Apple’s approach to digital music has been about letting people listen to music that they already own. Apple doesn’t have a streaming music service, exactly, though iCloud users are able to access their iTunes libraries across devices when they have an Internet connection. The company does have something called the Genius feature, which creates genre-based playlists based on music that you already own and recommends music from the iTunes store.

Services such as Spotify and Pandora, on the other hand, are about access and discovery— not ownership. Users don’t tap music they’ve bought and paid for when they listen to those services; they simply pick a theme and run with it. It’s much easier for users to find music they may be interested in using the online services because they don’t have to seek them out.

That could be a boon for music publishers and artists who want to find new audiences for their work, and it would be valuable to have a company with Apple’s reach pumping out easy recommendations. And it could be good for consumers who want to tie their online listening habits closely with the music they already own.

What’s in it for Apple, though? That’s the question that Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt raised Friday morning. It may be, he noted, that Apple feels some heat from the streaming services that make it so much easier to find new music. But, he pointed out that if Apple wanted an Internet radio service, it could simply buy one.

“Apple could buy 60 Pandoras,” he pointed out in the title of a blog post. “There’s no talent or patentable technology there that it doesn’t already have,” he wrote.

That point was underscored by All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka, who said that his industry sources verify the WSJ report, even though there’s very little money to be made in streaming video after paying fees to the studios. He posited the theory that Apple may be interested in a streaming service simply to keep an edge over its competitors either by building off what it has already or by buying an established business.

“[If] Apple thought it could help sell hardware, it could certainly afford to throw money at the project,”he wrote. “Then again, it could simply buy Pandora itself.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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