Spotify plays its most requested tune: an iPad app

While Spotify has been churning out news, one question kept popping up: when are we going to get an iPad (s aapl) app?

Well, Spotify is finally crossing this off its to-do list, giving users a polished iPad app that is meant to rule the living room and give people more reasons to discover music.

The iPad app, which supports the new retina display, doesn’t bring any new content or functionality to the table, but does introduce a fresh user interface that has been built around a concept of “half stacks”, where users can pull in new screens from the right, which take up half the display.

It’s good for exploring more content because each selection presents new visual stuff to look at. For instance, you can play a song and then pull up a page for the artist. Clicking on the biography opens a new screen, pushing the artist page to the left. Then if you click on any links in the actual bio or click on related artists, it spawns yet a new screen. This can go on forever if you want.

Designed for the living room

The list of functions is familiar to existing iPhone app users. While navigating through the app, music can always be managed by controls at the bottom of the screen. But if you want to make the iPad the showcase of your living room party, you can expand the player to full screen, with the cover art taking up 2/3 of the real estate. Users who want to take advantage of Airplay, meanwhile, have the option from this screen to stream their music to another device.

The What’s New tab offers a carousel of recommended music based on your listening habits. There’s a more conventional list view of trending songs and top tracks followed by thumbnails of new album releases. On the Playlist tab, the left panel is a simple list of playlists with thumbnails, while the right panel offers bigger artwork and a list of songs.

Exploration is improving on the iPad version, though. The search function has been sped up with predictive typing, and the results can pull up friends as well as musical results. The inbox can also group messages from individual friends together, and allow users to play shared music from the inbox.

So why now?

The iPad has been a frequent request of users and has been the top idea on Spotify’s community site for some time. Charlie Hellman, director of product development for Spotify, told me the team took its time with the iPad app, trying to make sure it was more than a rehash of the iPhone app. And the company also had a lot on its plate, with recent announcements like a new Android app (s goog), a web play widget and a Coke marketing partnership, he said.

Driving deep usage

Hellman said with its more visual interface, the iPad app should invite a lot more deep usage, with people delving into the app instead of just keeping it on in the background. The experience is designed to keep pushing users down the rabbit hole as they find more music to listen to. He expects people to listen to music directly through the iPad but also connect it to larger devices for playback in the home.

“We wanted to create an experience on the couch so while you’re listening to music, you can browse and navigate through to get more context and find related artists,” said Hellman.

The iPad app takes some key features from the iPhone, like high quality 320 kbps music streaming and offline syncing, and it also introduces gapless playback and crossfade from the desktop app. It’s possible that some of the iPad UI elements will migrate over to the other apps as well when appropriate, said Hellman.

But the iPad version is not for everyone. The app will not support third-party apps like the desktop version, but it’s something Hellman said we’ll have to stay tuned for. And it won’t incorporate the updated radio feature built into the desktop app. And, since the iPad app is built on iOS and is considered a mobile device, new users will have to get the $9.99 premium service to play music.

Gives people what they want

I like the feel of the app overall and it’s a big improvement over a blown up iPhone experience. There is still some adjustment with the half stack UI and figuring out how things can be manipulated. I do think there could be more opportunity to bring in additional content or more artwork to make the app more like an interactive coffee table book. I enjoy reading the artist bio information, which is not available on the iPhone app, but it took me a second to figure out how to call up that information.

The iPad app should drive more casual sustained usage around the home and may help convert more users into paying subscribers. Spotify said last month it had 10 million users on its free ad-supported service and 3 million paying subscribers. Compared to some of its other recent overhyped announcements, Spotify is finally giving people what they want.