Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) wants to help you name that tune.
The company is planning to unveil a song-discovery feature in an update of its iOS mobile software that will let users identify a song and its artist using an iPhone or iPad, said two people with knowledge of the product, who asked not to be identified because the feature isn’t public. Apple is working with Shazam Entertainment Ltd., whose technology can quickly spot what’s playing by collecting sound from a phone’s microphone and matching it against a song database.
Apple is bolstering its music offerings even as song-download sales have slowed across the industry. While the Cupertino, California-based company is the world’s largest music seller through its iTunes store, customers are listening more to Internet services like Google Inc.’s YouTube, Spotify Ltd. and Pandora Media Inc. (P:US) Apple last year introduced its own streaming service, iTunes Radio, which it plans to expand outside the U.S. this year, people with knowledge of the plans said.
Apple is set to preview the latest update of its mobile software, called iOS 8, at its annual developer conference that kicks off on June 2 in San Francisco.
The song-identification feature will be integrated into the mobile software in the same way that Twitter Inc. (TWTR:US)’s service is currently incorporated, meaning consumers don’t need to separately download it. Among the ways it can be used will be through Apple’s voice-activated search feature, Siri. An iPhone user will be able to say something like “what song is playing,” to find out the tune’s details, one person said.
The song-matching feature could boost Shazam, whose app was an early hit and has steered millions of song downloads through iTunes. The London-based company, with more than 90 million monthly users, has been weighing an initial public offering, Shazam Chief Executive Officer Rich Riley has said. Other Shazam executives have also previously discussed an IPO.
Sarah Hudson, a spokeswoman for Shazam, declined to comment yesterday, as did Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Apple.
Music is a key part of Apple’s history, with the iPod music player igniting the company’s growth more than a decade ago. While the iPhone and iPad are now more important to its business, the company continues to add new features around music. Apple had 63 percent of the paid digital download market, researcher NPD Group said last year. Download sales fell last year for the first since the iTunes store debuted, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Apple has been exploring other ways to enhance iTunes Radio, a Pandora competitor it introduced last year. The company is preparing to make the advertising-supported service available in more countries, one person said. In contrast, Pandora is only available in the U.S. because of limitations of the licensing agreements it has with music companies.
Apple also has been mulling making iTunes Radio a stand-alone app instead of including it as a feature inside the iTunes store, one person said. A final decision hasn’t been made.
Even as song downloads slow, Apple has tried to boost purchases by asking music companies to give iTunes earlier access to their newest music. In exchange, Apple would agree to sell an entire album, which costs more, rather than just individual songs until the CD is released, two people said.
While Apple reached such a deal for the release of Beyonce’s most recent album, music companies have been reluctant to strike similar agreements for fear of alienating retailers like Amazon.com Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., two people said.
Apple also has been exploring whether to release a subscription-music service that would compete more directly with Spotify, Rdio Inc. and Beats Music LLC. Apple has built the service internally, yet has held off on releasing it to avoid slowing download sales, one person said.
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