I've mentioned it before, but I continue to be amazed at all the buzz about Pandora's online radio service, which creates playlists based on your musical tastes. About once a month, someone comes up to me and asks me if I'm familiar with it, and don't I just love it?
These fans seem to be casual music listeners in their thirties, knowledgeable about computers and personal technology but not obsessed with it. They may have an iPod at home, but have grown tired of their own personal music collection or haven't gotten around to connecting it to their car stereo. They're old enough to remember a time when music radio didn't suck, and would listen to more of it if they could find a station they liked. They're amazed at how well Pandora fits their musical tastes, and wish they had a way to listen to it away from the computer.
I've never had this conversation about Last.fm, or iLike, or Imeem, or any other online music service. For whatever reason, Pandora seems to have hit a nerve with my demographic, just like MySpace did with teens and twentysomethings about two years ago.
Once the early adopters have gotten through the queue, I think the iPhone will appeal mostly to this same audience. Thirtysomething professionals who are interested in but not obsessed with technology will find the iPhone to be the first phone that actually lets them do things they want to do without requiring a certified geek to show them how. (Example: snapping a decent-quality photo and e-mailing it from the phone. Doing that from my Verizon-enabled Razr is not easy, and the pictures suck. My neighbor did it from his new iPhone in five seconds.)
Pandora on the iPhone is attractive, intuitive, and offers an obvious tangible benefit--great music at no charge. Plus, if you just have to own a song, you can buy it from iTunes with one click (if you have an active Wi-Fi connection).
Pandora is already available for selected other phones, but there it costs a few bucks per month after a free trial. Plus, none of those other phones have the mainstream brand-name appeal of the iPhone. The only question is the money--once Pandora on the iPhone takes off, how will Pandora make money from it? I'm hoping they don't ruin the appeal of the service with overly intrusive advertising.