Digital music streaming services have well and truly established themselves as a popular medium for music consumption, and as the primary listening experience moves away from the CD and record player and towards the computer and the portable, there’s one common device that may be the deciding battleground for digital content providers – the mobile phone.

Of course Apple seems to have been the dominant figure with the integration of iTunes into the iPhone, both hugely popular worldwide, but as Sony ATV’s refusal to co-operate with the IT giant over publishing royalties for developing music streaming for the iPhone 5 proved, Apple may not be the king of the heap for too much longer.

Following on from Microsoft’s plans to launch their new ‘all-in-one’ music service Xbox Music – across computer, tablet, phone, and Xbox 360; Apple have announced that they’re moving ahead with their original plans to develop a new music streaming service to launch in 2013.

Mashable reports that Apple is developing a customisable radio service modelled on that of the popular US service, Pandora, that takes artists and songs that listener likes and develops a custom built virtual radio station that continually streams music in a similar vein.

Though the service has yet to gain a foothold outside of the US, its model is proving to be a popular one to follow. According to industry reports, Apple has “intensified” negotiations with music companies and labels – such as Universal, Warner, and Sony – over their new music service, with an eye to launching in the first five months of 2013 – and no doubt rolling it out through their MacBook and i-cessories range, but most prominently to fill the void that the publishing deal with Sony ATV over the iPhone 5 left.

Apple allegedly wants more ‘freedom’ than Pandora allows over what content their users hear, as well as requesting access to new releases, but given that it’s the labels who hold the keys to the proverbial music kingdom, Apple has yet to make any official public announcements in regards to their new service.Apple has “intensified” negotiations with music companies and labels… with an eye to launching its service in early 2013 – and no doubt rolling it out through their MacBook and i-cessories range…

At the same time, Mashable reports that Pandora has undergone a massive update to its mobile app, adding new features and overhauling its mobile music interactivity.

“This is our biggest update to our iPhone and Android app since we launched on both platforms,” says Pandora’s Director of Product and User Experience, Asi Behar. Officially called Pandora 4.0, the new update brings many of the features that users of the web version have been enjoying to mobile phones.

Though its 1 million track library pales in comparison to the likes of Spotify’s 17 million strong catalogue, more than 95% of those tracks get play time each month, while more than 3.2 billion stations have been created on the service since its 2005 launch. The new update introduces more customisation to creating and organising stations, but the biggest new addition is the all-important social media integration.

Pandora users now have a profile page, much like Facebook or the newly re-designed MySpace, showing what stations the user has created, bookmarked tracks, ‘liked tracks’, artist pages, and an activity and news feed where you can follow other users and see what’s been tickling their ear drums.

Not only that but its also integrated with Facebook and Twitter, “it’s something our users have been requesting for a while,” says Behar. Unlike other apps with social integration, however, Pandora doesn’t share your information with friends by default. “We’re not pushing it in your face. If you don’t want to share, we’re not pushing it out to your network.”

The expansion of the service compounds its popularity in its native United States, with 1 in every 3 smartphone users having accessed Pandora on their smartphone, and it’s the second most-downloaded iPhone app of all time, according to Apple; with 75% of Pandora’s some 150 million users using the mobile version as their primary music service.

That seems like reason enough for Apple to worry about its dominant position, what with Microsoft making bold new moves with their Windows 8-integrated Xbox Music service, but there seems to be another entity looking to take a bite out of Apple with Canadian music legend Neil Young recently revealing plans of his new iPod killer, a digital music player that focuses on a recording technology that preserves the fidelity of music the way it was intended.

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