If Microsoft is going to become a services and devices company, it needs to get serious -- and that means buying Spotify to compete against Apple buying Beats music.
The New York Times and others report that Apple is negotiating to buy Beats for $3.2 billion. Apple isn't particularly interested in getting into the headphones business. It's the streaming music service it's after.
There's good reason for that. Just as iTunes helped kill the business of buying CDs, streaming music services like Beats, Pandora and Spotify are in the process of killing iTunes. It's clear that the future of music is all-you-can-eat streaming services, not selling tracks in onesies and twosies.
What's also clear is that ultimately, the battle between Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon isn't about selling hardware or software. It's about entire ecosystems of services, including music, movies, cloud storage and more.
With Steve Jobs gone, Apple no longer has the innovation DNA that it needs to keep thriving. Tim Cook is an excellent manager, but he's not a visionary. He's smart enough to know that, and smart enough to know that Apple needs to get that innovation somewhere. It's got the war chest to buy it. And that's what it's doing by buying Beats.
Microsoft needs to follow suit and buying Spotify would be ideal. Spotify is superior to Beats. It's better when you want to select music to listen to, rather than get suggestions from the service itself. It's got a sizable base of people already paying for the service. It's available in more countries than Beats. It's got desktop apps as well as mobile apps. And it's been in the business longer, so likely has better insight into people's streaming listening behavior.
If Microsoft is really serious about its future being in services rather than software, it's got to get serious about streaming music, particularly given that Apple appears about to buy Beats. Buying Spotify would be the best thing it could do.