Spotify Testing Voice Assistant on Mobile App. A Prelude to a Smart Speaker?

Hunter Owens lists himself as product for The Viral Fever and self-proclaimed Cool Hunter. What he found yesterday was a new voice assistant that Spotify is testing through its app.

The rumor that Spotify was working on a smart speaker broke in February. The current voice interaction capabilities in the Spotify app seem to reinforce the likelihood that the rumor is true. Granted, voice interaction on smartphones also provides utility for users. This could just be an enhancement to the app. However, when it comes to smart speakers, voice interaction is a required feature. The 159 million Spotify users, or a subset of them, could be a great test cohort for the voice assistant and a channel to accumulate training data.

A Spotify spokesperson told TechCrunch’s John Constine that “this is ‘Just a test for now,’ as only a small subset of users have access currently, but the company noted there would be more details to share later.”

Spotify Voice Assistant User Flow

I use a Spotify free account and was able to go through the set-up flow which concludes with you granting the Spotify app access to the microphone.

You can access the voice assistant by either long pressing the search icon in the app navigation tray or you can touch that and press the microphone icon on the search page.

That was where my experience stalled out. For some reason, I could not get the microphone to pick up my voice even after verifying I had granted microphone access, closing the app and restarting the phone. The microphone otherwise worked for Siri so it seems to be a glitch in the Spotify app which is not entirely unexpected in an early test. However, Hunter Owen did post a video screen capture of his test of the new feature. It doesn’t include audio, but does show the speech recognition and navigation on screen.

Why Spotify Needs a Voice Assistant

So, why would Spotify want a voice assistant? Couldn’t it simply partner with one of the leading platforms. Well, it isn’t that simple. As I wrote in February:

“If Spotify is aiming for a general purpose device, Alexa and Google Assistant are anxious to sign up new partners. This would offer Spotify access to the many other services and third-party voice apps on those platforms. That would help make the device more broadly useful and not an add-on to the household. However, a company like Spotify likely has a grander vision and will be reticent to become beholden to Amazon or Google for access to features, customers and data. Plus, both Amazon and Google are competing for the same music streaming customers as Spotify.”

It gets even more complicated with Apple. The HomePod doesn’t offer access to Spotify at all today. HomePod owners are expected to use Apple Music. Spotify doesn’t want to become beholden to a voice assistant that has a competing product. In addition, Spotify’s expected $20 billion valuation from a pending public stock offering will provide it with access to capital that could be used to launch a smart speaker or acquire an independent voice assistant such as Hound. The voice assistant land war is far from settled. We are likely to see more fragmentation before any significant consolidation.

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