Saturday, December 5, 2009

Apple Lala and what it means to me (and ooTunes)

As many may have heard, it appears that Apple has indeed purchased Lala. This is bittersweet news to me for many reasons.

First off, I was a very early user of lala (back when it was a CD trading website, I did about 100 trades to help me get a lot of music that I'd been meaning to buy, in exchange for some old cd's I didn't like much anymore). I was very impressed with the openness and the talent of their founder(s) and engineers. So impressed, that I even sent them a Résumé (my first ever non-academic Résumé to be sure). It was a fun experience, and I got replies from at least 2 founders, the most notable one from Bill Nguyen (co-founder, successful serial entrepreneur, CEO and someone I respect very highly).
Here's part of his response:

I'll bite on your interest in being a part of lala, but here are my concerns;

1. It's really expensive to live in the Bay Area. You've got a family including a young daughter. Have you considered the lifestyle implications.

2. The ootunes demo is pretty slow and buggy. What's with that?

(mind you this was back in May of '08 shortly after I launched the ooTunes server).

So what did I do? (Well I actually had 3 kids, and now a 4th on the way, something that certainly would have been tough)

I thought it was awesome I got that response from him, with a valuable bit of feedback. I took a hard look at how long it took to login/use the demo (and found some severe IE bugs), and a bunch of unnecessary network calls that were too slow for services like mp3tunes (and even at the time, to itself, more on that later) and fixed them asap. (FWIW, I just timed full load of vs. full login/load of and the winner was... ooTunes, by 2 seconds, but that's neither here nor there ;)

Anyway, I say this more to say that I believed in them from the beginning. They changed along the way (got a little less "transparent" about what they were doing, and moved to some more mainstream features than cd trading, but that's what happens when you have millions of dollars in VC money and the accompanying strings). Interestingly, at that time, ooTunes actually had integration with, even allowing you to listen to your LaLa uploaded tracks from the iPhone through my (then jailbreak only, remember this was before the app store even existed) iPhone app, or even the Safari browser on the iPhone. This was (unsurprisingly) broken about a week after they checked out the demo (and I took that as a sign that this wasn't welcome, so I let it be).

So, while I have no clue what (if anything) will become of as we know it, so far I know that the CD trading is officially gone (as they've been referring people to another trading site).

I don't think the app is going to suddenly show up in the app store (and this may have been part of the reason for the buyout, iTunes couldn't have survived this, I don't think, though I've also been told that didn't have the rights for mobile streaming anyway so I'm sure that's not the only way to prevent accepting it).

I personally think that Apple will one day do something similar with or some way to stream your iTunes tracks to your phone (they've got related patents filed, for instance, and it makes sense to do). I don't think it's going to be anytime soon though.

So I'm thrilled that something I instantly loved and knew would succeed was bought by "the who's who" in this field.
I'm excited for what it *might* bring to Apple (streaming, subscription services, free preview listens?).
I'm exceptionally happy for those guys who worked so hard to make it happen. They're very talented and deserve a big payoff.
And, I'm terrified of what it means for ooTunes (not just the server, but the radio playing iPhone app, at least in the short term). However not for the reasons some people may think... let me explain:

a) Apple's never followed the "one app at a time" rule that 3rd party developers have to follow. Apple can make an app that does what ooTunes does, but let it run in the background like their own iPod app. That seems a bit unfair to me (given the number one feature request for ooTunes is just that) but that's the breaks.

b) If Apple's going to be competing in this area, that might hurt my (very meager) sales of the ooTunes Server (something I'm not too worried about since it's really at hobby level for me at this point anyway).

c) Here's the one that's got me scared... I recently added "lala" as a keyword for my app in iTunes (apple now gives developers 100 characters of keywords to make the app more searchable in iTunes and the app store). That wouldn't be a big deal except that I've submitted a much needed (and AWESOME) updated version to Apple, yet received their dreaded "this review is taking longer than expected" email from Apple indicating *something* needs further review. There are horror stories of people who get that email only to find their review is still in limbo even months later. So let's hope this isn't ooTunes' fate (especially given that the features of the ooTunes server are very similar to lala's offerings, IMHO justifying the keyword, and news of this acquisition only surfaced in the last day or two, and the app was submitted long before that!)

But as the communication channels between me and Apple consist a pretty uninformative email when they feel like it, I'm left worrying about it all...