Rdio Enters U.S. Cloud Music Game, As Apple Re-Aims Lala at iPad, New Apple TV

The streaming music biz in the U.S. has been more exciting, or at least mysterious than it has in Europe, with leading brand Spotify just beaten to market by Rdio. And Apple, with Lala, seems not to be playing the same game at all.

Rdio Spotify


Spotify has been in and out of the tech news for months, with many will-it, or won’t-it stories about its upcoming U.S. launch. Now Rdio, a similar rival music streaming service, has grabbed the headlines by launching first. We’ve also been perusing what Apple will do with Lala, the cloud-based music service it purchased last year, and now it seems the team at Cupertino is going to surprise us by morphing it not into streaming music, but video sometime this year.

Rdio misses a vowel, but hits U.S. markets

Rdio has been in beta for a while now, but today it threw the big switches in its server room, and went live to the general public in the U.S. and Canada too. It’s basic premise is extremely similar to Spotify’s, offering unlimited Web-streamed music from its archive of tracks to its users, for a flat monthly fee. In Rdio’s case, this fee is $4.99 monthly for the basic service, and $9.99 for access also through a smartphone (iPhone, Android or Blackberry).

One advantage Rdio has over Spotify is its emphasis on social media-like tech to “discover” new artists, with an “artist radio” system which offers users music similar to that of the artist they’re currently listening to. The other advantage it has is that it’s actually launched: Its executives managed to successfully convince the American music biz to license it the rights to stream music over the Net–something neither Spotify or Apple seems to have managed.

Spotify will launch


Tackling recent media reports that Spotify’s efforts to expand its successful Europe-based business into the U.S. have failed, it spoke to the Telegraph newspaper in Britain to confirm it’s definitely on track to launch in 2010.

A Billboard report had alleged the firm’s stalled negotiations with U.S. record labels had suffered a complete failure, resetting the efforts back to “square one,” and even that Spotify was perhaps trying to reconfigure its services to better suit what the labels would like. This sort of failure would seem surprising: Licensing content to more than one similar service is a way for the record industry to hedge its bets in backing the new technology, and it’d only bring in more money not less … and greater availability of cheap legal digital music would be a more potent weapon to combat music piracy. So the Billboard report seemed odd, and then Spotify’s spokesman categorically denied any such reset, noting “Any talk of ‘back to square one’ is completely unfounded speculation and quite simply not true.”

While the firm wouldn’t talk about where its negotiations currently rested, a source told the Telegraph that a deal had been reached with one of the four big record U.S. labels, but was “close” to agreeing to a deal with the others.

Lala not in lalaland, will arrive as Apple’s video streamer engine

Meanwhile the grapevine of rumors about what Apple will do with its own freshly purchased music streaming service Lala had fallen silent recently, and perhaps now, with the arrival of a new rumor, we may work out why: Apple has totally different intentions for Lala.


Apple’s now reported by CNet to be talking to media folk behind the scenes, telling them that there’ll be no big music-streaming revamp of iTunes in the coming months–any moves in this direction will likely be “modest” in scope. We can guess that this is likely to be tied to specific promotional efforts for certain artists, and the rumor mill also tells us that the delay in cloudifying (to coin a new phrase) iTunes is because Apple hasn’t thrashed out the kind of deals it would like with the record labels yet.

Lala’s team has apparently gone to work on an undisclosed Apple video streaming service–perfect for the iPad, whose large screen begs for high resolution videos but whose small storage space can’t handle lots of fat files. A video streaming service neatly circumvents the issue and promotes legal videos over pirated copies–which is where Lala’s tech may be helping Apple.

Also, remember those rumors about a revamped Apple TV from several weeks back. The next-gen TV would be a very different beast with an iOS interface, a very small device size and limited internal storage–it would rely almost entirely on streaming video from an associated computer, or a Web-based Apple-sanctioned video archive. Which also fits with the existence of Apple’s huge new North Carolina data center.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)