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En route to musical lightbulbs, Spotify starts with speakers

The online music service joins up with home-audio manufacturers on Wi-Fi speakers that connect to Spotify servers, so paying subscribers can bounce tunes to the equipment and let their phones do anything else.


Spotify founder Daniel Ek envisions it as the serve-all musical soundtrack of a future where your audio accompaniment streams from speakers, sure, but your clothes and your lightbulbs too.

In the meantime, Spotify is starting with the speakers.

Monday, the online-music service said it has joined forces with a handful of home-audio manufacturers on Spotify Connect, which enables certain of their Wi-Fi speakers to directly connect directly with Spotify's servers. That frees up the phone or tablet that was originally playing Spotify to do anything else -- even shut down -- without interrupting the music.

In practice, that means if you're listening to Spotify on your iPhone on your way home, you can step into your house and ping the listening to your living room stereo setup without missing a beat.

It's a small, initial step down a path that Ek has outlined as Spotify's ideal and fulfills an endeavor he said was in the works earlier this year.

But the company's challenges lie not in bringing music to listeners in different ways, which the company has made into a bit of a habit this year. After spreading across Europe with a fairly straightforward model -- on-demand streams of songs -- the company has been rolling out elements like Discover, Browse and Follow as it has worked to gain the kind of reach in the US that is has in and around its homebase of Sweden.

The challenge lies in getting people in the biggest music market in the world to join up simply because of all the ways the service works to meet their needs, rather than because of bundled packages with mobile telecom companies. That was how Spotify proliferated abroad. Another challenge lies in breaking through the morass of licensing requirements that stymie online music today, something Spotify has been aiming to do.

With neither of those goals accomplished yet, Spotify Connect moves the company closer to the aim where it has the most control: creating cool features.

"Today, listening to music at home can be a frustrating experience - dropouts, below-par audio quality, signal range and phone restrictions, battery drainage, it's basically a hassle," Sten Garmark, product management vice president, said. "Spotify Connect solves this by giving you effortless control of your music across your phone, tablet and now speakers with millions of songs built right in."

The company initially has joined forces with a handful of manufacturers on Connect, comprising Argon, Bang & Olufsen, Denon, Hama, Marantz, Philips, Pioneer, Revo, Teufel and Yamaha. They represent a swath of speaker makers, both high-end and not, to appeal to a wide array of consumers. Speakers are a fragmented markets with no one or two manufacturers controlling a significant share, so mass appeal can't be reached through a couple strategic partnerships.

Spotify Connect will roll out to paying Spotify Premium subscribers on iPhone, iPad and home audio systems over the coming months, with Android and desktop updates to follow.

The feature can allow users to control their musical selections on the speakers from their device, or they can take a call, switch the controls to another device like a tablet, or completely shut down all your devices while the speakers play on. It also means listening won't drain your battery, differing from Bluetooth speakers in that way, or push you up toward cellular data limits.

In a way, it's a throwback to the original idea for Wi-Fi speakers, for them to serve as Internet radios. Looking backward to move forward has worked before.