Pandora on Monday unveiled a major upgrade to its mobile application in an effort to make its Internet radio service more engaging and social to its 175 million active users.
The new features, many of which are already available on Pandora's browser-based service for computers, were designed to appeal to listeners who want a more interactive experience on their mobile devices. Those include artist biographies, song lyrics, access to curated genre stations, and the ability to share listening activity with friends. Pandora's iOS application will get the facelift Monday, while Android users will see the updates in November.
The revamp, a year in the making, is significant because it represents a subtle shift away from the one-click, lean-back music experience that Pandora has been famous for providing.
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To be sure, users can still enter the name of one band and the service will serve up an endless stream of related songs. But as people become more comfortable diving deeper into their mobile apps, having a drop-dead simple service is no longer the only formula for success.
Indeed, a number of music-related applications have popped up over the past year to feed a growing appetite for more contextual depth through, for example, lyrics, band information, tour dates, artist inspirations and editorial input, such as curated playlists from DJs, tastemakers and other genre experts.
Pandora's not the only service to layer on more features. Spotify has invited independent app developers such as TuneWiki and Songkick to add bells and whistles to its core music services through an API model. Over the years, Rhapsody has added features that allow listeners to have a more "lean-back" experience as opposed to requiring listeners to hand-pick everything they hear. And Slacker, which has focused on professionally programmed genre stations, added more on-demand features that allow its users to "lean forward" and have more direct control of what they listen to.
The result is that many of the music services are all leaning into each other's domains, adopting each other's features and blurring the differences between them in order to compete for audiences. (It's worth noting that Pandora is an Internet radio service, while Rhapsody, Spotify and Slacker offer on-demand music access.)
But feature creep does have a potential downside, said Tom Conrad, Pandora's chief technology officer.
"There are millions of places you can go," Conrad tells Billboard. "The overarching goal is that we're trying to keep the experience simple while adding functionality. We're constantly asking how big is the audience for this feature we're considering as we thread the needle of providing information without overwhelming the application with complexity. This upgrade will allow us to continue to ask this question."