Tim Westergren struggled for many years to get his dream of a personalized online radio service off the ground. In 2007, with the introduction of the iPhone, Pandora finally started turning the corner, and it now dominates online radio.
But in September, with Apple poised to launch the iTunes Radio -- a personalized radio service like Pandora -- analysts predicted doom.
But Pandora not only survived Apple's "tsunami," it thrived, announcing new December usage numbers that not only grew, but show no impact whatsoever of the Apple launch. The company ended 2013 with 76 million active monthly listeners and 8.6% share of the overall radio listening market.
In an exclusive live Talking Tech chat at the Consumer Electronics Show in front of an audience, Pandora founder Westergren and Chief Technology Officer Tom Conrad talked about the impact -- which ended up being "modest and seemingly temporary."
What happened? Making a personalized radio service based on a computerized model of what people like to listen to is "fantastically complicated" and hard to pull off, he added. "That's why, each time somebody comes by with a new product, we sort of stand our ground."
On Tuesday, Pandora introduced a new alarm clock app for Android devices, following the introduction in December of a version for Apple devices. The app wakes you up in the morning with personalized Pandora stations, and is the result of requests from listeners, who said, "We want to wake up to Pandora," Westergren said.
As Pandora's CTO, Conrad got the app built -- and came to CES to see the latest gadgets. He owns an iPhone and "17" different Android devices. In the Pandora suite here to meet with partners, Pandora showed off the latest and greatest -- including everything from a Pebble smart watch with a Pandora app to a new Internet-connected Samsung refrigerator.
The South Korea giant approached Pandora about being featured on its new fridge, and Conrad responded by asking about the sound -- was there a speaker built in?
"There was a pause, and they said no," recalled Conrad. "But we can do it. Now, it sounds great."
Beyond being in device heaven, Pandora is meeting with car manufacturers here at CES, where many new models now feature Pandora built into the dashboard.
The mobile revolution totally changed how Pandora was being used. Now some 80% of its listeners are on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, while just 20% listen on desktop computers.
In the next few years, that will change again, thanks to Pandora's push to make the service an integral part of connected cars. Pandora is currently available on nine out of the 10 best-selling passenger vehicles.
"It's a massive category," Westergren said. "Half of all radio listening takes place in the car."
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