How Apple Could End Up an Average Company

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Apple ( AAPL) runs the risk, as crazy as you probably think it sounds, of falling into a trap set, even if not on purpose, by Pandora ( P).

Focus sets Pandora apart from practically every other Internet radio player. Most of them are all over the place. It's difficult to make sense of what they're trying to be, other than everything to everyone. That's why Rdio impresses me so much, particularly when compared to Spotify.

With Rdio, you're getting a clean and intuitive on-demand interface. Spotify provides something worse than a cluttered and confusing user experience. It's so bad that sites such as Gizmodo have to post tips and tricks to figure out the platform. It really shouldn't be so unclear.

Rdio makes it so when you know what you want to listen to, you fire it up and listen. It renders a record collection unnecessary. Couple that with Pandora's personalized radio experience and you have the modern day version of the old traditional radio listening drives music buying decisions trajectory the Web blew up.

Instead of anointing Apple the "crusher" and "killer" of Pandora, we should consider where Apple might fit in and if, the bigger picture, the company's presence in the space will mean much.

Will Apple be more like Spotify, Rdio, Pandora or a blend of all three? Will it work in other types of content, such as news and sports talk, like Slacker does? Or will it look Pandora in the eye and do straightforward personalized radio. I doubt it. I expect a Rdio-like service, though not as good.

Say what you want about Apple, but it's never really been all that great at putting together awesome user experiences with software and services like it does, consistently, with hardware. That aside, it absolutely will fit in somewhere. It will, without a doubt, be a major player. But, just as it's imperative to draw distinctions between on-demand services, platforms that house your music collection (e.g., iTunes) and the personalized radio experience Pandora provides, you have to consider each service as one option in a sea of many viables (I love coming up with new words).

In the old days, we chose between radio stations on the basis of the style of music played or the personalities who talk between the songs and/or commercials. We no longer do that quite as often. Pretty much all Internet radio lets the user build his or her experience from the ground up.

As such, we choose between delivery options -- and the functionality and/or variety each enables -- as we participate more actively in shaping individualized experiences. That's the context you must place Apple in -- just another face in a crowd dominated by Pandora and iTunes.

Apple already competes with Pandora and the rest of Internet radio as one possible delivery system/type of experience. It does that via iTunes. No matter what, we'll consider iRadio an upgrade to iTunes, quite possibly an integrated upgrade (but maybe a standalone app that calls iPhone "home"). We're talking about a platform that already has a gazillion users as well as "everybody's" credit card information. And it hasn't taken Pandora down yet. In fact, if anything, Apple fueled Pandora's non-stop hyper-growth.

Now Apple ends up in the space. And, timestamp it: little, if anything, will change. At least not to the mindshare and marketshare of today's current pioneers from Pandora to Spotify to Rdio to Slacker.

But lots changes at Apple. Tim Cook makes the decision, for whatever reason, to become just another face in the crowd. He continues to shift focus away from what Apple does well -- generate massive margins and a vast majority of its revenue through the creation and marketing of the most beautiful and useful hardware on the planet -- to what it has missed on several times before. Cook could be stepping to the plate with another Ping or Apple Maps here.

And, for what? To punkslap the record companies again? To set off on a break-even proposition at best on a pimple's worth of revenue on Apple's rear. To throw yourself in a mix where you end up a dime a dozen with little chance of disrupting anything other than your company's focus?

Welcome to a world where Apple is average.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.
Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.