Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
With each passing day it becomes less of an insult to say someone's head is in the clouds, as more and more people begin to outright rely on web sites and applications like Facebook, Google Docs, Flickr, Farmville, YouTube and Hulu. Among these popular services are Slacker and Pandora, two internet radio services that have grown tremendously since becoming available as smartphone apps, and which have recently completed the three-screen trifecta by being offered on connected televisions. These services have always had plenty of online competition, including simulcast internet radio stations, streamed Sirius XM, and Rhapsody. But it appears as though the landscape of Internet music services in the US is preparing to accommodate two more game-changing newcomers from profoundly different backgrounds.
The first is a startup from Europe called Spotify
, which has been winning fans across the continent in the five countries in which it is offered. Spotify's Open service represents something of a holy grail for on-demand music from the cloud: you can play any song in its catalog as often as you like for up to 20 hours per month for free, and share songs with your friends. The service gets high marks for its responsiveness. Becoming a premium Spotify member essentially turns the service into something more akin to Rhapsody, with no ads, better audio quality, and offline listening. Spotify has begun offering a private preview of its U.S. service to a lucky few, and is expected to be rolling out more broadly this year.