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Spotify finally making US debut

Spotify-USSpotify is starting to look like the boy who cried wolf. After trying to introduce a US version for two years, and despite the months of “imminent US launch” whispers we’ve endured, it once again sounds like Spotify is about to arrive stateside. As usual, there is some pretty solid evidence to back this up: AllThingsD reports that the European music streaming phenom has just closed a $100 million round of fundraising (raising its valuation to approximately $1 billion) and is in talks with yet another big US record label, Warner Music Group. Capping that off is Spotify exec Jonathon Forster’s confirmation. “We’re signing the remaining deals as I speak. We won’t launch before July 5,” Forster said at an Omnicom conference in London earlier this week according to Silicon Valley Watcher.

Spotify has already struck agreements with Universal Music Group, Sony, and EMI Music Group. Getting its ducks in a row prior to an official launch has its benefits and consequences: Introducing a music streaming service without the advised prerequisite label support has proven to be a risky move, one that at the very least gets skeptics raising an eyebrow and the music industry turning a cold shoulder (right Google and Amazon?). The consequence is that the longer Spotify is absent, the more time consumers have to acclimate to their current subscription music model of choice. There’s no shortage of options: Rdio, Mog, Slacker, Pandora, Rhapsody, and Sony Music Unlimited are just a few of the label-supported services out there. And Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, and the coming iCloud are sure to attract ample attention and consumer interest as well. Spotify is top dog in Europe where there aren’t as many affordable freemium streaming options, and there are various flat fees for unlimited music services in the US. Many of them have extremely similar pricing to Spotify, which is likely to be $10 a month for unlimited music.

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In Spotify’s corner is the massive amount of positive hype it’s received, as well as its eventual Facebook integration (which will be separate from the actual application as well as its official launch). Its impressive valuation and recent funding efforts also bode well for the site. If it can convince investors its worth that much in the face of such able competition in such a wide open market, then there must be some serious evidence of US success.

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Spotify sued for patent infringement

Spotify has been available for a measly two weeks and it’s already getting its first taste of patent litigation. PacketVideo says that Spotify is infringing on its claims over streaming music. The San Diego-based company that launched more than 10 years ago and was one of the first to enable streaming video on mobile platforms.
While once one of the leaders of streaming, PacketVideo only has the right to file such litigation because it bought the patent covering “a device for the distribution of music information in digital form.” It did not originally file the patent or originate this innovation – it piggybacked off of a company it acquired which had ownership of the patent. This is incredibly common in the tech industry: Mergers and acquisitions gives manufacturers new rights and lay new claims, but there’s something about the timing and incredibly broad language of the patents that makes this feel like a dirty trick.
Sure, PacketVideo was at one point an innovator in this space, but streaming and subscription music models have only become so popular because of the work services like Pandora, Spotify, Mog, and a handful of others have done since then, as well as other digital progress that's been made. Developments in bandwidth improvements and bringing record labels around were no easy tasks, and are two of the biggest reasons consumers are taking to the likes of Spotify.
PacketVideo, which is widely used for music and video streaming in a variety of products, very well could have just been waiting to pounce on Spotify once it launched in the US. The company wants an injunction against the just-introduced cloud-based music service as well as compensation for damages.
This is what Google meant when it said patents are killing innovation.

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Spotify tested: Does Europe’s Pandora live up to the rave reviews?
spotify wins european tech start up 100 award founders logo

Spotify has finally become a reality for US users after two long years of waiting. We had a chance to dabble with the European version before launch, and were able to put the American service through the wringer today. Here are our initial impressions on the music application. Spoiler alert: It's good.
As it should always be, setup was the most painless part of the game. We entered minimal personal information about ourselves (with things like cell phone and gender being optional), and then began the download. It was exceptionally quick and within moments Spotify was up and running.
Connecting to Facebook was also simple. The right-hand side bar prompts you to connect to your Facebook account, and an application permissions box then pops up, asking for the standard data. After choosing "allow," the side bar becomes dedicated to Facebook (which you can collapse if you want), and the left-hand side bar lets you search and scroll through music.
Spotify also automatically pulls the music you have on your computer. Now this might sound helpful, like the service is eliminating a step for you. On one hand it is, and on another it’s slightly infringing on your privacy, which we’ll explain later. But for now, know that it will pull your iTunes and WMP content on its own into playlists labeled (obviously) iTunes and Windows Media Player.
Installing the iOS and Android apps was similarly easy, and both allow you to sync your music over Wi-Fi. Without a premium account, you're pretty limited, however. With one, you can listen to your Spotify playlists offline, or go online to access its library.
User Interface
The Spotify UI is clean, minimalistic, and very similar to iTunes, right down to the familiar font. On the right-hand side you can navigate Spotify. What’s New, accordingly, holds new albums and releases, top singles, and a news feed with Spotify-fed posts from your Facebook friends and Spotify’s own page. Then you have your queue, inbox (music you’ve been sent), and devices (for importing music).
From there, it’s pretty straight forward. Your library holds all the music you’ve acquired, and all the way at the bottom is the option to create new playlists, which line up above.
There’s a box for album artwork that corresponds to the tunes you have playing in the left hand bottom corner, which can be collapsed. The bottom page of the player holds your shuffle, repeat, play, skip, back, and volume controls, and the center is dedicated to your music navigation. The right-hand side is where your Facebook friends are displayed, and clicking on them reveals their public playlists, which you can subscribe to. The gear icon allows you to hide your friends, disable posting to Facebook, or disconnect altogether.
Within moments of clicking around, we felt extremely comfortable navigating the Spotify player. There are occasional advertisements that pop up, but they are unobtrusive and easy to ignore (if you can get over Pandora ads, this is nothing). It’s an intuitive layout that errs on the side of simple instead of flashy. And for the moment, its Facebook integration isn’t overwhelming – there’s no constant News Feed bubbling over or chat options: It’s just a way to see what your friends’ music.

With every music service there are a few kinks. Here are some of the first we’ve experienced with Spotify that you might want to keep your eyes open for.
Zune users: Microsoft may be issuing a slow death for Zune, but it’s a death nonetheless – and one that Spotify apparently acknowledges. Our writer Jeffrey Van Camp tried to sync his Zune and upload its content to Spotify with no success. He says the service simply didn’t recognize the device.
Your music is automatically public: We mentioned that Spotify auto-pulls in your WMP and iTunes libraries, saving you the trouble. Well you’d best know that if you are connected to Facebook, all of your playlists become public. Now, changing that is easy: Click on your Facebook profile icon in the upper right hand corner and choose “profile.” Then Click the edit icon. You’ll see green toggles, and you can slide them to turn off public Facebook access to your playlists.
Of course, if you don’t realize this, you could be sharing that mix you made your high-school girlfriend for awhile. Embarrassing…
There’s plenty to like about Spotify, and while it’s fundamentally the same as any other music streaming subscription service out there, a few features set it apart and could spell its major US success.
Social integration: The Facebook and Twitter sharing options are useful without being obnoxious and discreet without being hard to find. Clicking a playlist enables you to automatically share it via Facebook, Twitter, or (oddly) Windows Messenger. How long until Google+ makes that list?
We’re wondering if the Spotify player’s Facebook feature will look any different when and if Facebook launches its integrated Spotify client. We almost hope it doesn’t: If you want the experience to be more about social than about music, head over to your Facebook account and use the application there. Time will tell.
Database: Spotify has 15 million songs. Compare that to MOG, which has 11 million, Pandora's 800,000 titles, and Slacker, which had 2.4 million at last count (2009). In our initial run-through, we had no issues finding various types of music – including a couple more obscure choral pieces. Dragging and dropping titles to playlists was simple, and creating mixes couldn’t have been easier.
User interface: We’ve already been over it, but Spotify’s setup is extremely easy to use. We liked it better than most in-browser music players, which may have something to do with being so familiar with iTunes. It’s worth noting that the new Pandora UI coming soon reminds us a lot of the Spotify player.

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Spotify to announce its US launch tomorrow

A Spotify rep has contacted us saying it will announce its stateside debut tomorrow morning. As assumed, it will be available via invitation and subscription, so all those who took to the site and signed up for early invite will likely be notified (the invite request is still open on the site). That's all the music streaming service is giving us for the moment but it says more details will be available tomorrow 8 AM EST.
It's been a long, long road to Spotify's US launch. It's taken nearly two years for the service to make it across the pond and its accrued an impressive handful of competitors in the likes of MOG, Slacker, and Rdio.
And since we know it plans to integrate with Facebook at launch, it's possible the social networking site will soon make an announcement about its alleged music service. We'll know more tomorrow morning.

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