Digital music turned the recording industry upside down several times already, and given the amazing rate of change it's going to keep evolving dramatically. A couple of news items today point to how this evolution will mean we consume music tomorrow.
Pandora Users Point to a Mobile Streaming Music Future
Pandora's  one of the leading names in digital music consumption simply because its business model of streaming and recommending music to its users like an Internet radio station has struck a chord with millions of people. Now some new data has shed a light on exactly why the service has been growing so rapidly, and it's thanks to a slightly surprising phenomenon: A huge chunk of users of Pandora are doing so via their smartphones.
Pandora's been installed on 13 million smartphones to date, including the king of the smartphone market the iPhone, as well as BlackBerrys, Palm devices, and Android phones. This scattergun approach to making the device available on different platforms has obviously paid off for Pandora, since 24% of its users are smartphone-based. The service also streams 25% of its music to mobile users--suggesting that mobile users are slightly more heavy consumers than those on the desktop. According to Musically , this percentage is a match for the numbers of mobile users of both iTunes and Amazon digital downloads too.
Why's this important? The story here is that streaming music solutions are on the rise, and that simultaneously we know the future of cell phones is smartphone technology: Cut those together with Pandora's statistics and it looks like one huge way we'll be accessing music in the future is while we're on the trot, via a streaming service. If Pandora keeps growing, and Spotify  makes a big dent in the U.S. market, mobile streaming may even begin to challenge the download-to-iPod model that's currently driving Apple's cash machine. And that suggests that Apple itself may be joining the game soon--to keep its grip on the digital music market.
Sony's iTunes Challenger: Sony Online Service
According to BusinessWeek, Sony's taking aim at Apple's seat at the head of the downloadable music business, and it's launching a competitor called Sony Online Service (that's a tentative name, thank god--it's probably not a great idea to launch a service with the acronym S.O.S.) Sony's intentions are very much to challenge Apple, have no doubts about it, since the online store will be selling music, movies, and books, and it'll have a version of a Sony App Store.
But there's clearly no hope in just trying to set up an iTunes rival--Sony doesn't sell Walkmen in enough numbers to challenge the iTunes/iPod/iPhone ecosystem--so the company is going to differentiate its online store by having it integrated with a MobileMe-esque system. Users will also be able to upload home video and photos and share other digital content (presumably music files and software, possibly including PlayStation game info) through their SOS profiles. And there are plans to let third party developers write apps for Sony products too, though this seems like its a longer-term goal, and as such it would seem doomed from the start--Sony would be joining the app game very very late.
Why's this news important? Because it's another indication that Apple's competition is getting very serious indeed about taking back some of the music market. Sony's obviously a giant player  in the business, and this, combined with a potential distribution network via its Net-connected PlayStations, means its store will be a serious rival to Apple even if it doesn't steal first place. Apple's going to have to be nimble and evolutionary if iTunes is to retain its position.
There's also a snippet of a rumor all of its own to be had here: If Sony's planning on selling books, presumably to support its own e-reader hardware, then is this another subtle hint that Apple's e-book-compatible Tablet is worrying the industry before it's even arrived yet?