June 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Why Steve Wozniak Loves Soundwave, Coming Soon to iTunes

Soundwave lets you listen to what people are listening to in a new way on iOS and Android.

We apologize for the linkbait headline, but it’s true: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak enjoys an upcoming app for iOS and Android called SoundWave. Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue even liked it enough to make sure the US and UK iTunes app stores approved it, and now that has happened.

But why wouldn’t Apple approve Soundwave, which lets people follow each other’s listening habits by individual or geographical area?

Well, because it does what we haven’t ever seen another Apple-approved app do: listen to your main iOS Music app and some streaming apps, and shares what they are playing to a social network so that friends can follow you. They see what you’ve played in a timeline, and you see what they’ve played too, either by viewing their profile pages or scrolling through your feed. A nifty geographic sorting feature lets you listen by region.

We’ve seen these functions plenty of times. The difference here is that Soundwave lets you use the regular iOS Music app for your tunes, which is why Apple’s approval was so important.

It also lets you listen to streaming services including Rdio, Spotify, and other music apps. On iOS, Soundwave listens to apps that can sync listening data to Facebook via Facebook’s scrobbling feature. On Android, it can listen to your other music apps without going through Facebook.

Not even Last.fm, whose business is predicated on seeing what people are listening to, had figured out how to “scrobble” Apple’s iOS Music app. You have to use a whole different Last.fm player app on iOS if you want to scrobble in real time.

So, this is a big deal

Dublin, Ireland-based Soundwave co-founder and CEO Brendan O’Driscoll tells Evolver.fm that Apple has approved Soundwave for release in iTunes, so it should be released soon. Soundwave might not take off the way we think it will, because nobody can predict the future, but we can say that it makes Apple’s own Music player “social” in a way that nothing else has. As such, we like the odds.

“Soundwave is a music product that fits my life so perfectly,” says Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in an endorsement.

“What we’re doing differently is cutting away the periphery information and allowing you to see what songs people are actually listening to, as opposed to sharing or recommending or anything else,” O’Driscoll told Evolver.fm via voice Skype. “The ability to see what your friends are listening to and plug into different locations in real time and see what songs are trending there is something we believe hasn’t really been done before.”

Crazily enough, he’s right, at least on iOS, because nobody had figured out how to make an app that listens to what other apps are playing.

One of the parts we’re most happy about is the ability to pull from the native music player and from other streaming music apps on iPhone, which is notoriously difficult to do, because iPhone’s so sandboxed,” said O’Driscoll. “You download the app for your Android or iPhone, then you listen to your music on your regular player that you always have, so it’s not another music player app, which I think is important.”

‘Approve Different’

How did O’Driscoll and his co-founders manage this? Unsurprisingly, he is a bit secretive, other than to call it “a pretty layered approach,” and say the following:

“It’s just a clever twist on existing technology. I know Last.fm has been trying to do it for a really long time — we just came at it from a totally different approach [with] a little bit of magic sauce. We sent it off to [Apple senior vice president of internet software and services] Eddie Cue and he was really impressed by it, then he started talking to the App Store teams in the UK and the US about it, and one thing led to another. So it’s App Store-approved… There might be [other] solutions out there, but to have it approved by Apple is something different.”

Here’s how it works: You log in to the iOS or Android app (both to be released on the same day) with your Facebook or email, which grabs your friends into the app. However, they have to use Soundwave if you’re going to see what they’re listening to. You can follow people, whether they’re your friends or celebrities and artists who use it (more on that below). You can see other users’ profiles, as well as what they’ve listened to. To hear the songs, you can settle for iTunes previews, or click links for YouTube or SoundCloud, if the app can find the song on those services. (Listening integration with Rdio and Spotify would be nice, but those aren’t in the app at this point.)

“Somebody could be sitting on the other side of the world listening to a song, and it pops into your activity feed and you can be listening to it five seconds later,” said O’Driscoll.

The Money Question

If you like a song anywhere in the app, you can buy it on iTunes, generating affiliate fees for Soundwave that will provide the first source of revenue from this free app, which includes no advertising.

The second piece of the revenue puzzle would be selling data to music industry types and anyone else who wants to know what music is popular where, within the app(s).

The third source of revenue will be an API version of Soundwave that will allow bands, radio stations, or anything else to make a custom version for their own listening communities. Use cases for that include a radio station releasing its own version to local listeners with programming from the radio station and whatever its listeners are into on their devices — with the added bonus that the radio station can then find out what its fans are listening to, and throw that up on the airwaves.

Another use case for the Soundwave API: a band and its fans could share their listening through a band-branded app in real time.

I had a somewhat similar idea, actually, but I am a writer and an idea guy, not a businessman or engineer. After reading my article, O’Driscoll said via email, “I’ve checked out the Goldmine article there — you’ve hit the nail on the head! That’s it exactly!”

Maybe that’s why this app sounds like such a brilliant idea not only to Steve Wozniak, and the others, but to us as well.