March 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm

A Brief History of Spotify’s Attempt to Become the ‘OS of Music’

spotify app history apps

The HotOrNot app, which launched today on Spotify's music platform, runs on Warner Music Group's music. This causes more people to listen to that music within Spotify -- and money to flow to WMG and its artists.

Spotify recently rolled out a another batch of music apps that run within its desktop software, offering new ways to find stuff to listen to on your desktop, whether you pay for Spotify or not. This didn’t “just happen.” Rather, it’s part of a concerted effort on the part of Spotify to become, in the words of its director of developer platform Sten Garmark, “the OS of music.”

That phrase might be confusing, because don’t operating systems run on computers, and not on internets?

Basically, it means that Spotify would become sort of like Twitter, which might be considered “the OS of 140-character messages.” The same way app developers can build Twitter and Facebook into their applications, they would build in Spotify to handle music playback — and many of them already do, not only in the desktop version, but on iOS as well.

You heard it here first, in an article that rose to the top of Techmeme in which we predicted that Spotify would double-down on becoming an app platform — a necessary step on its journey to become “the OS of music.”

Our prediction was accurate, but it was not formed in a vacuum. Here’s a short history of Spotify’s attempt to become a musical operating system for the internet, web, and apps:


4/11: Spotify limits free listening, most likely in preparation for its launch in the world’s biggest music market, the United States.

5/25: Spotify and Facebook reportedly hatch a plan to scrobble Spotify plays on Facebook, which they eventually did. Now, if you hear something in a Spotify app, your Facebook friends can find out about it (but only if you want them to).

7/14: Spotify officially launches in America. Some members of the U.S. press had already been using it for years.

8/26 posts a collaborative Hurricane Irene playlist on Spotify. The “collaborative playlist” feature telegraphs Spotify’s intentions to become an operating system for music — especially in a social context.

8/31: Spotify announces an API that lets iOS developers build apps that hook into its catalog of officially-licensed music. As they do today, users must subscribe to the Premium version of Spotify in order to use them, because they run on smartphones.

The Equalify hack added an equalizer to Spotify on the desktop.

9/20: A third-party developer creates a hack for Spotify that adds an equalizer (pictured right), hinting at things to come.

9/26: Spotify defends its relationship with Facebook. (Sean Parker owns part of both Spotify and Facebook.)

9/30: After some users complain, Spotify adds a “private listening” feature that lets you play stuff without telling the world about it.

9/30: Spotify’s partnership with Facebook pays big traffic dividends.

10/7: Spotify developer community manager Andrew Mager appears at a small event in Brooklyn, New York to demonstrate 10 awesome apps that run on Spotify… and also mentions that the company is working on a commercial API that will let developers charge for apps that run on Spotify (it has yet to roll out).

10/14: Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg reportedly argue about the plan to require Spotify users to log in with Facebook.

11/1: posts Occupy Wall Street playlists in Spotify.

11/22: predicts that Spotify would become a music platform for apps at its upcoming press event.

11/30: Spotify officially becomes a music platform, launching its first round of apps that run within the desktop version.

11/30: Spotify-powered apps are free (and still are), but the company is working on a commercial API that will let developers charge for them, sharing revenue with Spotify.

12/1: The app-developing launch partners tell they expect Spotify to put their creations on the map. (From the ones we’ve talked to, they were right — see Songkick’s latest investment round, for example.)

12/2: Spotify unveils a “preview version” of its app-running desktop client, which rolls out to all users shortly thereafter.

12/2: Spotify UK managing director Chris Maples calls the company’s app platform “arguably our biggest announcement since we launched.”

12/9: Soundrop CEO talks to about his real-time group-listening app that runs within Spotify on the desktop (and now on the iPhone too).

12/20: Spotify launched its second round of desktop apps, focusing this time on helping fans curate music for each other.


1/4: A neat app allowed SXSW attendees to plan their festival calendar by listening to SXSW bands on Spotify.

1/6: Spotify prepares to add new limits to the free version of its service, which we figure was a prerequisite in order to maintain licensing from record labels and publishers who objected to it giving away so much for free.

1/12: Facebook announces “real-time social listening” with Spotify.

1/13: The combination of Facebook and Spotify proves so powerful that developers at a competing company complain.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

2/10: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, pictured to the right, explains his app strategy to

2/27: Spotify throws its own “Music Hack Weekends” to attract more app developers (see also: SongJitsu and “Search for music by drawing a picture of it“).

3/6: Spotify announced that its app users listened to 1,500 years of music in three months.

3/13: Spotify chief content officer and managing director of North America Ken Parks tells about Spotify’s app strategy and more.

3/19 Soundrop goes mobile, letting people carry around listening rooms in their pockets (as with

3/22: The third round of Spotify desktop apps appears, featuring apps from record labels and distributors, with an emphasis on educating the listener.

Whew! That brings us up to date. Stay tuned, to continue to monitor Spotify’s progress and music apps in general.

  • Mr. Tunes

    it’s kind of hard to be excited about something that still isn’t available here in Canada. i’m sure it’s not their fault though?

  • Lew

    Nice reporting! Although I still prefer Rdio to Spotify, I like that Spotify is opening itself up to developers. Makes a huge difference.