iOS, Albums, Google+: Three Digital Music Trends to Watch in 2012
iOS, Albums, Google+: Three Digital Music Trends to Watch in 2012

There is hardly a shortage of trends to watch in digital music. From Internet radio to subscription services to a never-ending stream of services aimed at independent artists, 2012 will be filled with numerous developments that merit close attention.

But at the end of 2011 a few trends have become more visible. Here they are, in no particular order of importance.

1. iOS is for purchasing.
Although more Android devices are being activated, Apple's iOS is the choice for people more likely to spend money on digital content. As Flurry explained in a December 13 blog post, developers still favor the iOS platform. "Anecdotally, developers consistently tell us that they make more money on iOS, about three to four times as much," the company explained. To find numbers to back up developers' stories, Flurry took a sample of in-app purchase data from apps that use Flurry's analytics tools. The results confirmed what it heard: for every $1 spent generated on iOS, the same app will generated $0.24 on Android.

One reason iOS is a purchase-heavy platform is the iPad. IBM Benchmark estimated iPads accounted for 7 percent of all online sales on Christmas day - better than iPhone (6.4 percent) and Android (5 percent). Android lags behind iOS in tablets, but it has a big lead in smartphones -- 46.3 percent of U.S. smartphone subscriptions at the end of October, according to comScore's report of rolling three-month market share. Apple had 28.1 percent.

These discrepancies between iOS and Android could influence digital music trends in 2012. Services that charge for mobility - Spotify, Mog, Rdio - may be impacted, for example. The viability of tablet apps as a revenue source could differ from one platform to the next. And even though Android dominates the market share, iOS could continue to be the preferred starting point for developers of digital music apps (Apple has always been a popular brand for digital music enthusiasts).

2. The Album is Resilient.
The list of challenges facing the album format is long and daunting. Fewer brick-and-mortar retailers carry CDs, and available shelf space continues to be under threat. Popular music is dominated by singles-oriented artists rather than album-oriented ones. Some new digital services, namely Spotify, emphasize playlists created of songs cherry-picked from albums.

But some trends at the end of 2011 show the album format isn't dying in the digital world. Digital album sales - in units - are up 19 percent through December 25 and are certain to finish the year well ahead of the 15-percent gain achieved in 2010. Not all digital services ignore the album. Mog, Rdio and Rhapsody are built for album lovers. And with apps by Pitchfork and Rolling Stone that highlight recent releases, Spotify has become a bit more album-friendly.

Continued interest in albums would be good news for many digital music services. Cloud-based storage services such as iTunes Match, Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive lend themselves toward collectors of albums rather than individual tracks. Direct-to-fan services such as Topspin, Nimbit and Bancamp provide more value to artists if they are selling albums instead of tracks. And when was the last time you saw a band launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for just one track?

3. Google+ Growing But Still Second Fiddle.
A new estimate by founder Paul Allen puts the Google+ social network's reach at 62 million total users. It has more bells and whistles than Facebook, but Facebook is a time hog. Nielsen found that U.S. Facebook users spent 53.5 billion minutes at the site in May. The jury is still out on just how much time Google+ users will spend. In fact, Allen's estimate is for total Google+ users, not active Google+ users.

But Google+ is growing. Allen says one-fourth of its users joined in December, and he estimates Google+ could have 82 million users by February 1 2012. That would be great for Google Music, Google's new download store that allows buyers to share songs with friends via Google+. And if you've watched TV in the last few weeks, the Google+ commercials you've seen are evidence that Google is going whole hog in social networking.