“It will change the way you experience music forever” – this was how Tim Cook referred to Apple Music at this year’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). Apple rolled out the much awaited music-streaming service a couple of days back, along with the iOS 8.4 update. While Apple Music has a lot going in its favor, it won’t be all plain sailing though – thanks to the strong presence of several rival streaming services, led by Spotify. In today’s discussion, we will check out how Apple’s new service (which is a rechristened version of the erstwhile Beats Music) weighs up against its principal rival:
- Number of tracks – There isn’t much to choose between the music libraries of Apple Music and Spotify, as far as the track-counts are concerned. Both services boast of more than 30 million tracks, and provide users the option of listening to music offline as well (paid memberships only). Apple Music does have a feature that puts it at a slight advantage – the entire iTunes library can be accessed through the built-in application directly. On Spotify, people can add/transfer external music files only via a desktop system. There are software systems available for converting iTunes playlists for Spotify too.
- Opportunity to discover new music – Mobile software analysts and app developers feel that Spotify has an edge over Apple Music, when it comes to acquainting listeners with new tracks and music genres. From the ‘Discover’ section (under ‘Browse’) of Spotify, people can actually find plenty of stuff that they have not listened to earlier. On the other hand, the default Beats recommendation system of Apple Music is more limited, and the options thrown up by it are less varied in nature. However, the presence of a separate ‘For You’ tab is a good thing, and according to the Cupertino company, music recommendations are based on human curations. In short, if you want to search for new music, Spotify is the better service – but on Apple Music, the process of searching is more straightforward.
- The price factor – The subscription costs of Spotify and Apple Music are broadly similar. Both the services come with free versions – which, according to general listeners and iOS app development experts, offer very little. On the other hand, the monthly charge on either service is $9.99 (which gets rid of the often-irritating ads on Spotify). Apple Music, understandably, is currently offering a free three-month trial period, following which users will have the option to upgrade. Both the digital music streaming services have plans for family listening – with Spotify offering a full 50% discount on every additional account, and Apple Music having a $14.99 plan for those who opt for the Family membership (six members maximum) plan. The trial period of Spotify is also 3 months, and bears a nominal charge of $0.99. It also has a discounted plan for students ($4.99/month) – something that Apple Music does not have, till now at least.
- Sound quality – The initial reaction to the audio quality of Apple Music has been lukewarm, at best. The service has a single standardized 256 kbps sound option, in AAC format. Spotify, on the other hand has three separate sound quality tiers: 96 kbps and 160 kbps on its free version, and 320 kbps on the paid version. It won’t be correct to jump to the conclusion that the Premium version of Spotify offers better quality music than Apple Music though, since the Spotify tracks are in MP3 format (256 kbps AAC is more or less at par with 320 kbps MP3). For the moment, Spotify is ahead on this count, but as the user-base of Apple Music increases, things can change.
- Platform compatibility – Spotify has been around since 2008, and it is only natural that it would be available on more platforms than Apple Music (which debuted as Beats Music only in 2014). Apart from iOS, the Spotify app can be downloaded on the Blackberry, Android, and Windows Phone platforms. In addition, Spotify is compatible with Roku, PS3 and 4, MeeGo, Linus, OpenPandora and OS X systems. Apple Music, on the other hand, is limited to the Apple ecosystem at present (OS X, iOS and PC). The Android-compatible version will be released later this year. Another clincher in favor of Spotify is that it works with smart TVs like Samsung Smart TV, while Apple Music has not been made available on Apple TV from the start (it will also be launched later). As far as cross-platform availability is concerned, Spotify wins hands-down…the challenge lies with Apple to make its music streaming service equally popular.
- Live Radio – Apple Music has it, Spotify does not. The Beats One station (with celeb DJ Zane Lowe) streams directly from New York, London and Los Angeles on Apple Music – and users can also enjoy the round-the-clock Apple Music radio stations. Initial adopters as well as many iOS app developers have, however, reported that the radio stations are not of uniformly good quality, and often results in the Music app crashing. Although there is no live radio on Spotify, the service more than makes up for that with the option of creating user-curated, personalized playlists (which double up as on-demand radio stations). Apple Music has live radio, but if you prefer creating your own playlists, Spotify is the way to go.
- Social Connectivity – Spotify offers seamless Facebook integration, allowing users to post about the tracks they are listening to, and find out what their friends are hearing. Apple Music has taken the concept of social integration to an entirely different level, with ‘Connect’ – the platform via which general users can connect with eminent music celebrities. Although ‘Connect’ currently features feeds from only the biggest names, mobile analysts and app developers feel that newer artists would be included on the platform soon enough. What’s more, ‘Connect’ has not been designed as an alternative to regular Facebook feeds – and this retains an exclusive air about Apple Music.
- Videos and podcasts – Both general music videos as well as clippings uploaded by artists can be viewed on Apple Music – a property that Spotify lacks (although select TV clips and videos can be played on the platform). The situation is just the reverse when it comes to podcasts, with Spotify supporting them on the app directly, while Apple having a separate podcasts app (there is no provision of playing podcasts on Apple Music). Playback is mostly smooth and glitch-free on either of the digital music streaming service tools.
- Visual layout and interface – The UI of Apple Music is way more beautiful than that of Spotify – but the latter edges it when it comes to navigation (particularly for beginners). Right from checking the track listings in albums on the fly and adding new music files, to viewing artist pages – everything can be done with ease on Spotify, leading to a more holistic, intuitive music-listening experience. The interface of Apple Music, according to software experts and iPhone app developers, is a classic case of style-over-substance. The general navigation system is rather fragmented and confusing, and users cannot create new playlists while listening to music. There are separate sections for the different tasks, which makes the tool slightly obtrusive. Of course, Spotify has been around for way longer than Apple Music, and it is certainly not beyond the Cupertino company to improve the navigation features in Music over time.
- The Taylor Swift factor – This one is a big boost for Apple Music. Taylor Swift’s latest album, 1989, is available on the platform – and the star has actually moved from Spotify to Apple’s music streaming service to host her last 4 albums. What’s more, the Beatles are also on Apple Music (and understandably, are absent on Spotify). Yet another setback for the veteran music-streaming service is the loss of Jay Z, who has his very own music streaming channel (Tidal). Apple is clearly planning to build a clout of the biggest names from the music industry (a Pharrell album was made available on the day of Apple Music’s launch). Although around 20 thousand new tracks are added to Spotify everyday, the absence of big names might just put a dent in its popularity – as the user-base of Apple Music grows.
- Music Sharing – This round would go to Spotify. Apart from FB, users can directly post about tracks from Spotify to Google Hangouts, Tumblr, Twitter and even WhatsApp. In addition, music can also be shared via emails and messages. Apple Music is sort of limited in this regard, with sharing being possible only through AirDrop, Facebook and Twitter (apart from, of course, emails). Spotify also comes with Last.FM support to ‘follow’ friends. Apple Music does not have any such similar feature.
- Need to install a separate application – This is a relatively small factor, but it should be mentioned in any Apple Music vs Spotify debate. The latter is a separate app, which has to be downloaded and installed by users on their devices. In contrast, Apple Music is a built-in application in iOS 8.4 – which does away with the need for additional downloads. There is some uncertainty over the number of free skips available on Apple Music though. On Spotify, users get five free skips every hour.
- Lossless audio – Neither of the two music streaming services offer this, and according to professionals from the field of software and mobile app development, that does not really make any difference. Although the finer music effects may not be audible on Spotify or Apple Music (something that Tidal allows), there are no chances of crackles and sound statics interrupting the music-listening experience. While the music quality and bitrate is not out of the world on the two platforms, both offer good-enough music quality for the average listener.
- Established user-base – Spotify has been providing music streaming services for over seven years now. Understandably, it boasts of a much larger worldwide listeners’ community than Apple Music. At present, the total number of active Spotify accounts across the globe is a shade under 80 million, while Beats Music had a modest 115000 subscribers around a year back. However, experts feel that Apple Music has enough features to start acquiring users at a rapid clip. Given that the free version offers precious little, the number of paid subscribers should also rise quickly (at present Spotify has around 20 million paid users).
The Apple Music service has been made available in as many as 100 countries from the very outset, while Spotify is limited to users from 58 countries (along with a few additional territories). For music curation from the web, Spotify relies more on algorithms, while human curation is a USP of Apple Music.
All things considered, Spotify is easily the better music streaming service for those who are on the hunt for new music and fresh tracks (Apple Music’s ‘For You’ has a lot of catching up to do). The new service is likely to find more favour among people who like to stay in touch with their favourite artists. For a change, an Apple product is a ‘challenger’, and it remains to be seen whether, if at all, it becomes as popular as Spotify in future.
Apple Music or Spotify – which one would you rather use?