Smart speakers are music streaming's new battleground

Music streaming no longer seems to be the prized cow it once was but that doesn't mean the battle has let up in the slightest. It has just changed arenas. While mobile users are still a top priority, service providers, like much of the tech market, have shifted their eyes towards the unstoppable onslaught of smart speakers. And the way things in that market are going, it's going to be a battle of which music streaming service has a smart speaker or can be on one, leaving the smaller players out in the cold to wither and die.

One of the perks of music streaming has always been the ability to take your music with you anywhere, which is why it has mostly been associated mostly with smartphones. Considering the mobile market, however, services had no choice but to play ball with Apple, Google, and OEMs, even if there were conflicts of interests involved. Even Apple had to begrudgingly provide an Apple Music app for Android to cater to Apple Music subscribers who would barely touch an iOS or macOS device.

It's no surprise, then, that streaming services are very interested and vested in smart speakers. For one, these devices are the hottest thing in tech today and have the potential of being in every modern home in the near future. But more importantly, they're an opportunity for these services to set their own rules that others have to live by, almost unconditionally.

The biggest example of this is, unsurprisingly, Apple. The company is famous, after all, for tying its software and services to its own hardware. The arrival of the HomePod, though late, completes that picture. To many's dismay, the somewhat smart speaker only support Apple Music. How long Apple will be able to keep it that way remains to be seen, but Cupertino is known for being quite unyielding.

The situation outside Apple is less restrictive but favoritism is still the name of the game. Amazon's Echo speakers naturally perform best when Amazon Prime is involved. Treatment of other services or sources is a hit or miss. Alexa, for example, may not respond well when playing from other sources, even your own uploaded music. Google Home is even less restrictive, but partly because Google doesn't yet have a cohesive music streaming strategy. That could very well change in the near future, with Google showing preferential treatment for its own products while still supporting others minimally.

This puts Spotify in a somewhat difficult position. It doesn't have its own hardware and has relied mostly on apps. More importantly, it is now forced to bargain with smart speaker makers, like Sonos, for some room in their feature list. For now, being still one of the most popular services, it's pretty much a no-brainer except for Apple. Spotify, however, seems to be losing its edge and soon it might not have much leverage. Just like Pandora, Tidal, and even smaller names in the market.

Smart speakers are pretty much going to be a staple in the market in the next few years, especially with smart assistants become more ubiquitous and, hopefully, even smarter. They are also becoming the new walled gardens after mobile platforms. And streaming services who are able to build such gardens will thrive and flourish, while those outside will be forced to fight over leftovers.