Good artists borrow, great artists steal feature ideas from the app du jour.
That might as well be the collective mantra of consumer tech companies, some of which have a well documented copycat habit. This week, it was Spotify’s turn. While not literally in Silicon Valley, in geographic terms, Spotify is for sure a tech giant. It’s the world’s biggest music streaming service, it has spent over a billion dollars building out its podcast business (which is now undergoing a strategy shift), and it says it’s approaching $40 billion in payouts to artists.
It’s also known for having a comically cluttered app, and on Wednesday the company revealed a new design that’s supposed to make discovery easier. “Spotify now has different feeds for discovering songs, podcasts, and audiobooks, sporting a look that’s half TikTok’s endless scroll and half Instagram stories,” WIRED’s Amanda Hoover writes. Yup, it’s the TikTok-ification of Spotify.
Your inbox doesn’t have to look like mine (overflowing with pitches for new tech) to know that the TikTok-ification of apps is very real. Google has rolled out more visual, infinite search results. YouTube has Shorts. Meta has been retooling its algorithms to force-feed Reels to Instagram users, and it now allows for the cross-posting of Reels across both IG and Facebook. Pinterest has a Watch tab for short videos. And it’s not just the big tech companies doing it. The Gen Z video dating app Snack, for one, is described as a blend of Tinder and TikTok.
The froth for TikTok-like feeds is only out-foamed right now by apps using ChatGPT to … well, who knows. Does anyone know exactly what the long-term plan is for these chatbots? Microsoft, Salesforce, Snap—all “integrating” ChatGPT. Last year, app makers were coming up with new strategies for the metaverse, Web3, crypto, and NFTs, and prominent venture capitalists threw their weight behind them. This year, the buzz phrase is “generative AI,” a technology so powerful that calling it a “chatbot” seems dangerously reductive. One of the world’s largest social experiments—how we interact with technology, and how that technology affects our humanness—is starting to feel like a game of Mad Libs, in which tech executives hurry to fill in the blanks and hope that the end result doesn’t sound totally nonsensical.
Silicon Valley’s collective FOMO isn’t a new phenomenon. Remember when Apple launched a music social network? When Google tried to ride the Wave? When Reddit rolled out a Clubhouse competitor? When Twitter got into newsletters? Whether driven by good old-fashioned inspiration or full-fledged FOMO, the end goal is to typically keep users engaged in their app and their app only. Or to further development of a potentially transformative technology. Often both. Sometimes, you can’t blame them for trying.
Other times, though, Silicon Valley’s FOMO is of greater consequence than a tweaked home feed or a gimmicky chatbot. Just ask any of the thousands of tech workers who were recently laid off because their CEO’s pet pivot-to-X project was deemed inessential. The new FOMO is about “focus”: who can streamline, maximize, optimize better than the next tech company. Cut enough departments, lose enough middle managers, hand it over to artificial intelligence, and the cheers from Wall Street just might drown out the uncomfortable realization that the same strategy for apps is now being applied to human capital.
Finding Your Airport Uber Gets Easier
If you ever wanted to get your step count back up after a long flight, there was always … Uber. Hailing a ride from the airport has typically meant navigating a labyrinth of terminals, levels, and parking garages just to find your Uber driver. (And while that’s annoying for a weary traveler carrying luggage, it’s a nightmare for someone with mobility challenges.)
Uber says it’s now addressing this issue by introducing a walking time estimate for airports and offering step-by-step navigation, complete with photos, guiding people to rideshare pickups within airports. The initial rollout will include instructions at certain terminals at 30 airports around the globe, including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Delhi, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Paris, Rome, and Sao Paulo. Uber timed the feature release to spring break, since the Transportation Security Administration anticipates spring break travel season will return to pre-pandemic levels, and since we know the thing spring breakers care most about is soberly navigating from Terminal 2 to Garage 3 and not inconveniencing their Uber drivers.
Apple Music Is Serving Tár
I listen to a fair amount of classical music when I’m working; not because I’m any sort of expert on the genre, but because my brain doesn’t do words very well (typing) while it’s processing other words (lyrics). Most of that listening happens on Spotify—but Apple’s new app might just win me over. On March 28 the company will launch a companion app to Apple Music that’s dedicated to classical music. It’s called Apple Music Classical, and it will be included in the $10 per month subscription fee for Apple’s existing music service or offered as a part of Apple’s more expensive cloud bundles.
Classical music might not seem like it would be a, ahem, key part of Apple Music, considering that classical makes up a small fraction of all music streaming. But Apple signaled its intentions to cue the orchestra a couple of years ago when it acquired a classical music service called Primephonic, as ArsTechnica writes. Primephonic had created a search function that let users search for alternate spellings of composers’ names or performances by specific artists. It also created a payment structure in which payouts were based on how long a piece was played for—an important consideration when tracks are 20 minutes long—versus how many times a track was played.