Pandora is one of the older and more established internet radio services out there, with 150 million registered users, 58.3 million active listeners and 115 million registered users on mobile. Now, with a lot of competition crowding its space from Spotify, (possibly) Apple, I Heart Radio and more, Pandora is looking to that mobile base for growth. Today, it is releasing new apps for iOS and Android devices with extensive social features, improved navigation and deeper integration with Pandora’s music and artist database.
Pandora says these updates are the biggest it’s made since first launching an iOS app in 2008 and Android app in 2009 (the Android app, however, did already get a partial update with a redesign in August).
Pandora CTO Tom Conrad says the purpose of the new apps is to give the mobile apps “parity” with the company’s desktop experience, where features like social integration already exist. They come after a period in which the company has put more focus on “ubiquity.” “We are on over 700 different consumer electronics brands — TVs, Blu Ray players — even a fridge,” Conrad says, adding that Pandora is also available on 75 different car models, too. “But a year ago we came back to mobile and said, as proud as we are with ubiquity, there is all this great stuff not available in the mobile environment. So we set out to bring the mobile experience in line with the web experience.”
But although Conrad didn’t spell it out, there is another force at work here, too: competition. Namely, Spotify — which has a radio service of its own — continues to gain momentum not only in the U.S. but in other parts of the world, too. (Pandora is still only fully available in the U.S., although it recently started a beta test in New Zealand and Australia and remains “patiently opportunistic” that it will move to other markets soon.)
In both of these cases, the companies are squarely focused on mobile as their engine of growth — the reports on Apple specifically point to iOS devices for its radio service, and Spotify has long had its mobile app as a key driver of usage. Therefore, mobile an area that Pandora has to continue updating and improving for users to keep an edge.
Given how much Spotify has done to integrate Facebook’s social graph into its platform, it’s not really a surprise that Pandora is now putting social features into its mobile app that put a very heavy emphasis furthering the concept of Pandora as social network and, again, follow much of what it has already laid down in its desktop-internet version:
Want others to know what you’ve been listening to? That comes up in your personal music profile, which notes what stations you’ve created, what you’ve listened to and bookmarked, and more. While you were able to access this before on the web, now you can see it in action on your handset. Pandora notes that as with the web app, users can choose whether to make this information public or private.
Want to know what others in your network, or those who have the same tastes as you, are tuning into on Pandora? You can now access a Music Feed to tell you. This works not just as Pandora’s music-focused equivalent of Facebook’s News Feed, but it also gives Pandora a better way of improving discovery on mobile handsets — in general one of those areas that the mobile world hasn’t really perfected yet so always good to see more attempts at trying to get it right.
Want to tell others who are not on Pandora about a certain track or station you’ve heard? You can now share those to Twitter, Facebook (and of course Pandora) straight from your iPhone or Android handset. Again, given that people are Tweeting and Facebooking a lot more on the go these days, and listening to music on their handsets, having this feature on the Pandora apps is really essential.
In addition to these, Pandora has finally put its huge artist and music database to better use on the mobile app. Users can now not only learn more about an artist, album, track and station, but they have access to biographies, discographies, Pandora’s “genome” traits of the current track spinning and lyrics. These are features that Spotify offers in its web app — by way of its App Center — but has yet to incorporate into its mobile app, although we’ve seen and heard of signs that this could be coming soon (yet another reason for Pandora to get these updates out the door).
You could argue that given important mobile is to Pandora, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t tried to enhance these apps before now.
Already, more than 75% of total listening hours come from mobile and other “non-traditional” sources (although 75% sounds pretty mainstream to me, traditional or not). That works out to 700 million listening hours per month on iOS and Android alone.
And it’s not just in terms of consumer popularity that mobile is important for Pandora: more than half (55%) of its ad sales — Pandora’s primary revenue driver — are attributed to mobile and device revenues. That worked out to $100 million in 2012, putting it second to Google in terms of mobile ads. It’s also in the pantheon of most-popular apps: in the U.S., Pandora’s main market, the apps are downloaded on 1 of every 3 smartphones, the company says. (And although you will not see any advertising in the screenshots here — “to better focus us on the new features,” Conrad says — he notes that “all of our advertising features will be there,” including in-stream ads and display units.
Part of the slowness seems to come from a reluctance to mess with a good thing (as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”). In Conrad’s words, it’s about a desire to retain “simplicity” in the mobile experience — because, indeed, when you have a small screen, sometimes the last thing you want is a lot of business.
These days, as we get more savvy with what we can do and what we expect out of mobile devices, perhaps simplicity is less of a gating factor than it used to be.
Notably, what isn’t getting updated today is Pandora’s iPad app, where Pandora sees “great engagement” already, and ironically was the inspiration for the Pandora web update that kicked off all the changes we’re seeing today. That looks like it will be next in line. “Without saying too much it’s reasonable to infer that we’d like to have a consistent user experience across all the major platforms,” says Conrad. “It’s safe to assume we’ll take it full circle to the iPad.”