Spotify’s app platform: That’s it?

Spotify launched its app platform Wednesday, making it possible for third-party developers to run apps right within the music service. This move was predicted by some ahead of the company’s mystery event, but few had gotten it completely right – and many will be left disappointed by the details. Spotify’s new app platform may be a smart move for the company, but it’s underwhelming for end users and doesn’t offer potential partners much value.

Here are some of the biggest shortcomings:

Spotify apps only run within the company’s desktop client. Some had speculated that Spotify’s new platform would make it possible to bring the service’s music everywhere and empower third-party developers to finally build commercial offerings based on Spotify’s API. However, that’s not the case. Spotify’s apps are simple HTML5 web apps that can only be launched within the company’s desktop client.

That’s particularly disappointing after we have seen how much the web can do for Spotify: The company’s Facebook integration helped to add more than 12 million registered users since September. But it’s also curious because Spotify has seen mobile as one of its biggest growth factores for its paid offering. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said on Wednesday that Spotify could eventually extend apps to mobile, but emphasized: “We look at this first and foremost to be on the desktop.”

It’s not an open platform. Developers will have to get their apps approved by Spotify before they can go live within the client. Given the placement of these apps, it’s obvious that the company would want to have some control over the process. But for third-party developers that want to start tinkering, this could also be a non-starter.

There’s no clear upside to developers. This is likely a much bigger issue: Spotify wants to play Facebook and have developers launch things within its ecosystem – but it doesn’t give them any clear incentive to do so. “Right now, there is really no monetization within the Spotify platform,” Ek said on Wednesday – and chances are that this won’t change any time soon.

Making money with Spotify’s music through app sales would raise the ire of bands and labels, many of whom already feel they’re not getting their fair share from subscription services. Adding ads to apps would anger users who paid to get an ad-free premium experience. A few select partners may be able to monetize their apps by offering sales of concert tickets – but for many, it will be the mere hope that somehow, usage within Spotify might translate to revenue outside of the platform.

Apps are insular. Ek notably dodged a question about whether apps will be able to play outside content, but it’s fairly certain that playback will be limited to Spotify’s songs. That means you won’t get any great mashups between music services, which could be the next big challenge in an ecosystem where a number of players all compete with each other. Apps can link to outside websites, but not pull too much content in.

It’s a pure power play. We talked to one of the developers involved in the launch, wanting to know why they’re part of it, and the answer didn’t sound very encouraging. Essentially, the partner in question wanted to make sure that users didn’t forget about him once they’re inside the Spotify client. Basically, it’s acceptance of the fact that Spotify has become too big to ignore. It really shows the power of Spotify that it can build a platform and force everyone to be on it: They’ve got muscle here that no other music company has had in the past. Question is: Will this really spur creativity, or just lead to the emerging of another platform bully?

With additional reporting from Bobbie Johnson.