Spotify has today flicked the switch on a rich suite of additional functionality that lays the groundwork for some ambitious strategic objectives. You can read the Spotify blog for a detailed breakdown.

Simplicity has been central to Spotify’s success to date.  In fact the Spotify experience was so simple it looked positively archaic compared to more feature-rich and socially-rich services such as Last.FM and imeem.  But that simplicity was Apple-like in its elegance and a key reason it has proven so popular.  The barriers to entry were lowered so that it had mass-market appeal rather than being condemned to ending up as another niche hide-out for the tech savvy music aficionados.

Spotify was always going to flick the switch on a greater level of sophistication, but only when it needed to.  Doing so now is a very cleverly timed move. Today’s announcement both raises the stakes for new entrants such as mFlow and beats Apple to the music cloud. To understand why, we need to take a quick look at what strategy the new functionality implies.  The two most important groups of functionality are social and cloud. 

Spotify becomes a social experience. Spotify has always had a keen sense of how to coexist in the broader ecosystem rather than try to do everything itself (cf  integrating audio scrobbling). It has now taken that a step further with Facebook integration and relatively sophisticated sharing and interaction. Doing it in the context of Facebook simplifies the education process for users.

Spotify is finally taking on Apple and is using the cloud to do so. Spotify has something of a track record for bridging technology divides that mean little to consumers.  Their offline playlists blur the distinction between downloads and streaming.  Today it turns on music management functionality allowing users to play their music collections within the Spotify player alongside streamed tracks. This may seem like a relatively small step but it is huge.  By blurring the distinction between local and remotely stored music, it establishes the platform for a truly cloud-based music experience that goes far beyond a streaming music one.

Spotify has long, and wrongly, been positioned as an 'iTunes Killer’.  The comparison was inappropriate, until now.  Now Spotify is competing with Apple with a 360-degree music consumption experience that essentially rolls iTunes and Last.FM functionality into the Spotify streaming experience.  If Apple wasn’t planning on doing something similar with the LaLa acquisition, it will be now, especially if / when Spotify comes to the US.

Be in no doubt, Spotify has stolen a march on Apple.

Spotify aims to put the Crowd in the Cloud. Earlier this year I suggested that “social will be the fabric of interconnected music experiences.” (see this post for more). Spotify is pursuing exactly this strategy. Whether it pulls it off will depend upon how Spotify users respond to the new functionality.

Consider this rollout of functionality as Spotify’s entry into adolescence.  The real coming of age will be making it all pay and bringing the story to US music fans.