Personal Finance

Spotify Is Working on Voice Search, Potentially Paving the Way for a Virtual Assistant

Spotify desktop interface

Speculation that soon-to-be-public Spotify was thinking about developing its own hardware first surfaced nearly a year ago, after a hardware-oriented job posting was spotted. (Spotify put up another hardware-oriented job listing last month.) Given the rising popularity of voice-controlled smart speakers powered by virtual assistants, it seemed likely that Spotify had such a device in mind. But Spotify doesn't have a voice-controlled smart speaker of its own, prompting the question : Would Spotify look to develop one or license one from a third-party tech giant?

Well, it looks like Spotify is starting to venture into developing voice controls, starting with voice search.

Spotify desktop interface

Image source: Spotify.

Baby steps

Spotify has started testing out a new voice search feature in its mobile apps. Some users have noticed a new button to activate voice search within the standard search interface. It's a small but meaningful move that has significant implications going forward, laying potential groundwork for Spotify to better compete in the growing smart speaker market.

I spy @Spotify laying the foundation for a smart speaker... Hunter Owens (@owens) March 14, 2018

Smart speakers are rapidly changing consumer behaviors and preferences, with the convenience of controlling your music with your voice a primary selling point. Chances are that Spotify is working on its own smart speaker, and it will need voice controls to be competitive whenever it ends up launching. These efforts are likely beginning with some rudimentary voice search functions within the current app, but there's very likely more where that came from.

What comes next?

For what it's worth, there's no indication in Spotify's F-1 regarding what its first-party hardware strategy will look like. The only references to hardware relate to the Swedish company's reliance on third-party hardware and the associated risks. This is both a benefit and a risk, as Spotify's platform agnosticism is key to its ubiquity, but it exerts no control over third-party platforms or hardware. In its filing, Spotify rightly acknowledges that "intelligent voice assistants" are effectively platforms themselves:

We rely on a variety of operating systems, online platforms, hardware, and networks to reach our customers. These platforms range from desktop and mobile operating systems and application stores to wearables and intelligent voice assistants. The owners or operators of these platforms may not share our interests and may restrict our access to them or place conditions on access that would materially affect our ability to access those platforms.

What's less clear is if Spotify is just working on basic voice controls, or a full-fledged virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The latter is exponentially more difficult and would also essentially require Spotify to create a smart-home platform, since controlling smart-home products with a virtual assistant is the second-most-popular use case for smart speakers behind music streaming. Now that would be an absurdly tall order to fill.

But one thing is clear: Spotify does need to venture deeper into voice control.

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