Pandora CTO Discusses How Focusing On Mobile Transformed Their Social Music Business

Pandora CTO Tom Conrad recently held a talk at Digg detailing the online streaming music company’s trials and tribulations during their transition onto mobile devices. His discussion outlined 5 broad lessons the company learned during this time, and how they affected Pandora’s foray into mobile.
Know Your User (Quality vs. Quantity)
When Pandora launched its iPhone application in early 2008, there were more installs in the first 24 hours than the last 18 months on feature phones. This despite the fact that feature phones outnumbered iPhones by an enormous margin. Â  After witnessing a similarly high adoption rate on the Blackberry Storm relative to other Blackberry models, it became clear to the Pandora team that it is much more efficient to target types of users rather than deploying on phones with the highest unit sales.
Free Matters
Conrad also attributes Pandora’s pricing model as a fundamental factor contributing to their success on mobile devices. The company was forced into a subscription model by ATT&T and Sprint for their launch on feature phones and received only a lukewarm response. People simply weren’t willing to pay for the application. Using a free, but ad-supported application on smartphones contributed to a dramatic increase in installs.
Good User Experience (The Post-iPhone World)
Ease of access and usability were critical to the success of Pandora on mobile. Conrad credits Apple as a “game-changer” because of its app store and the simplicity with which users could download and install applications on their devices. Prior to the iPhone, mobile user interfaces were notoriously difficult to use, creating a major barrier to adoption.
First Mover Not Necessarily a Factor
Despite being relatively late to the Android game, Pandora was still a massive success on the platform, closing in on Blackberry for the number two spot in terms of installs. Conrad is careful to point out that this may have been due to Pandora’s success on other platforms at the time, so being a first mover might play a more important role to a less popular application. However, he maintains that resources would be more efficiently spent on other aspects of the application such as targeting demographics and user experience.
Focus On Device Hardware (i.e. Regular Headphone Jack)
Conrad credits the regular sized headphone jack as a major factor contributing to Pandora’s adoption on many smartphones. These devices are simply better suited for multimedia. He believes that in order to have a successful mobile app, it’s imperative to understand not only the software limitations of each device, but the hardware as well. Does the app require a physical keyboard? What about screen size? Hardware limitations play a crucial role in application adoption. Since there are so many different types of devices on the market, it’s critical to target devices which best suit the application.