An Initial Comparison of Apple Music and Spotify

My previous post about Apple Music was more a response to how it was presented at the WWDC Keynote rather than to the idea of Apple Music itself. I should have known better than to use that clickbait title. I knew I wasn’t writing about the product, more the flatness of its introduction (despite the names on show).

After a few days of living with it I thought I’d write about it and Spotify, so that it’s not just my snarky comments about the keynote that are on record here.

I signed up for the three-month trial. (I also made sure to cancel auto-renewal.) I’ve not cancelled my Spotify subscription because I feel it’s better to evaluate them both side by side. I figure one way to tell whether the new service is better is to note whether I reach for Apple Music over Spotify more often as the trial continues.

These are some brief observations so far:

  1. Apple Music playlists are pretty good. Both Apple and Spotify provide what I call situational playlists - sequences of songs suited to the time of day - though Apple’s are more vague. Also the “For You” tab on Apple Music (roughly equivalent to Spotify’s “Now” tab) is presented more as a feed that updates over time. At the moment I can still scroll down to the very first batch of suggestions Apple gave me. Meanwhile Spotify will work out what part of my day it is (i.e. commute, lunchtime, bedtime etc) and suggest appropriate playlists. I love the bedtime ones that feature jungle noises and rain! Apple’s big plus in terms of playlists are the genre and artist centred ones. These are very good, especially the artist ones, built as they are on iTunes long neglected (but actually pretty good) Genius feature.
  2. Spotify indicates which songs and albums you have saved to your device more clearly than Apple Music. This is important to me because I don’t always have a very consistent signal as I walk through town. I will test this more.
  3. One of the main draws of Apple Music for me is AirPlay integration. However this is better in Spotify than it used to be. With Spotify it’s even possible to play control music playing on my PS3 from my mac, which is nice for combining gaming and music.
  4. I’ve never been much in love with Spotify’s UI but their iOS app has improved a lot in recent weeks and Apple Music on iPhone seems a bit fiddly by comparison (perhaps it’s better with a 6+ than a 5S). On the Mac though the integration of Apple Music into iTunes makes a lot of sense to me and is pretty fun to use. I enjoy Apple Music much more on the Mac than on the phone.
  5. My gut feeling is that Spotify makes it easier to discover new music, while Apple Music seems to me to have a good grasp of the music I already like.
  6. Everything I listen to on Spotify scrobbles. With Apple Music only the music I listen to on the laptop scrobbles. There is an iOS app from called iScrobbler but it seems to be so far behind the times that I don’t think it would work any more, certainly not with the streamed stuff. I like the idea of having a record of what I listen to and have used for many years, so it’d be a shame to let it go.
  7. I think the radio station is ok though I’ve only listened to it for a little while out of idle curiosity. I imagine radio, with its occasional interruptions from the presenter and its meander through genres to please all tastes, is a good way to humanise the playlists. Apple claims its playlists are picked by humans but even so a playlist is a fixed set of particular songs. Radio is another way to surface music for people in a dynamic fashion. To my ears Beats One is so scattershot (Reviews back this up too) that it could also address the issue of how Apple Music gets me to listen to new stuff.
  8. I switched off Connect as soon as I could, it doesn’t appeal to me at all. Neither did MySpace back in the day. You can replace the tab with one that features your own playlists, a nice touch as iCloud playlist syncing is one of the best features of iTunes Match.
  9. Neither Spotify nor Apple Music can play my vinyl. However Apple Music does let me stream two of the three bonus tracks on the recent Orb album.

Overall, Apple Music has impressed me - it was always going to be a case of using it rather than believing the hype - but there are things for Apple to iron out and Spotify does have significant mind share with me. I will write another update in September shortly before the trial ends.

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