Apple Music vs. Spotify: Welcome to the Social
It's been a year since the last post about our opinions on music streaming services. It's one of our special interests, for a long list of reasons, but as things have radically changed for me - for us - over the course of the past year, the things we seem to value in a music streaming app have changed, too.
This blog post doesn't exist to serve as marketing or a definitive guide on finding things! It's mostly just a comparison for our sake, about the features we care about. We hope others find it interesting, and we're always happy to answer questions, but this is almost entirely just us rambling about a topic that's important to us.
This year, it's a much more direct head-to-head. As platforms mature, updates roll out, and prices increase across the board, it makes it easier than ever to rule out the failures. Off the bat, here's what we can rule out.
- Tidal: MQA is a scam, its catalog is smaller than Spotify or Apple Music, is underbaked, and the price of Hi-Fi admission isn't worth it.
- Deezer: It's not the worst, we just can't be bothered to care about it. Its clients aren't great. It's got a good catalog, though, and some nice features. It's probably a good option for some people, but other apps do what it does better.
- Amazon Music: We know nothing about Amazon Music, but we have never heard of literally anyone using it, unless its on an Alexa/Echo device.
- YouTube Music: Still a great value proposition when YouTube Premium comes into play, but still has no native desktop apps, poor integration with other things, and poor social features.
This leaves the top two services from last year left to duke it out - Spotify, and Apple Music. With individual subscriptions costing the same across both - $10.99 per month - this is no longer about value per dollar.
This is where things have changed the most since last year. Some things are still consistent, but as our life has taken itself in new directions, so too have our habits for listening to music. Here were our main wishes from last year, summed up very quickly.
- Price: Equal across the board, prices both increased from $9.99/mo to $10.99/mo. It sucks, but whatever. Doesn't really matter here anymore.
- Local file support: Apple Music still wins, but it's not as bad on the Spotify side anymore. Spotify for iOS can now pull from a folder in the Files app or from music synced via iTunes/Music.app, skipping the need for network sync.
- Last.fm support: Don't care anymore. Got tired of using third-party scrobblers, and Lost Time System Kyouko could write a whole post about hating Last.fm on its own. If it works well, sure, whatever, but it's not a priority.
- Multiplatform support: Spotify still clears, but Apple Music is getting there. The web app is insanely good, and the new Windows native desktop app, while still pretty visibly unfinished, is still miles better than iTunes and has lossless audio support.
One of the things that's become more important to us over time has been managing a library. There's something relaxing and satisfying about building a collection of the music we enjoy and regularly listen to, like a digital shelf we can browse whenever we want to sit down and listen to something particular.
This is where Apple Music truly shines. Not only does it put library management front and center, it contains a plethora of tools and features designed to make interacting with that library all the more seamless. Smart playlists are insanely powerful, and the UI and UX surrounding the library is incredibly well fleshed out. It's built upon the design conventions of the iTunes that came before it, and for that it works incredibly well.
Spotify's in a weird position in this race. For all intents and purposes, its library system functions in relatively the same way as Apple Music's. It has the same features, allows you to curate your collection in largely the same way, and the user flow is generally the same. The somewhat recent update that overhauled user interface on the desktop has also made the library feature much more prevalent and convenient to navigate, and it's not quite on par with Apple Music, but it's still much better.
This is a weird thing that we genuinely never thought we'd care about. Music, to us, has rarely ever been a social event, outside of sharing a song or playlist with someone. Spotify Wrapped, for instance, we thought was cool, but didn't matter to us much.
This all changed this year, when we got engaged to our lovely fiancée. One of the crucial things we enjoy sharing, especially earlier on, was music. Early on, it was albums, and playlists, and then evolved into plane tickets and concerts. As we're usually long-distance, we've toyed with all sorts of ways to create new experiences with what we have. To this end, we've learned to deeply value what social features a platform has.
This is a spot where Apple Music is incredibly far behind. SharePlay is about the only notable feature here; a feature where you can listen to Apple Music albums when on a FaceTime call with someone else. It must be through iMessage or FaceTime, only works on Apple devices, and is limited to albums (we've had zero luck with playlists). As someone who uses a Windows desktop PC, it was incredibly frustrating having to switch to our MacBook just to listen to an album with our partner.
It's also severely limited in terms of playlist features. Like any other service, you can create and share public playlists, and add the playlists of others to your own collection. This is about it, however. Collaborative playlists, where multiple people can add or remove songs to the mix, are still not available (as of 12/04/2023), despite being announced to release two months ago. It makes Apple Music seem incredibly limiting.
Spotify, on the other hand, has had this figured out. On top of having collaborative playlists for years already, it already has out-done Apple Music in every category. In terms of group listening, there's Jams, which is built into the app, and allows everyone in the group to manage the queue. There's also the official integration with Discord (aka Listen Together), which is much more cross-platform than Apple's SharePlay.
The coolest feature, though, is Blends, which makes an auto-generated playlist based on the music taste of you and one of your friends, picking songs that you share in common as well as those you may not. It's a really genuinely cool way to find new music, while still being able to get closer with someone.
All of these observations led us to think, a lot, about how the design and feature set of each of these platforms influenced our listening habits.
It's not something we stopped to process, at least not initially. But the way these apps, these platforms, are designed, absolutely does change the way we interact with music. We noticed this when trying to boil down our points into a cohesive TL;DR, because at their core, we believe each app is best used for a different purpose entirely, and their design language reflects this very well.
Apple Music is a dedicated music platform. It knows what it wants to be, and it does it very well. With a focus on audio quality and library curation, it is very much the music app for audiophiles. Its design, much like Apple's other products, screams intent - you are going to open Apple Music, select an album or a hand-picked playlist from your carefully-curated collection, and enjoy it, because that's what you opened the app for.
Spotify, on the other hand, is more of a social experience centered around music. Its design flows you around a wider world of sounds, giving you recommendations and suggestions on new things to expand your horizons. It's an experience to be shared, with friends and family. To make new connections, and to strengthen existing ones, using music. You may not come into Spotify with the direct intent to listen to something, and to sit down and enjoy it, but that's what it's there for - to be a conversation, whether between you and others, or itself and you. It's okay being background noise.
We noticed that when we switched over to Spotify, from Apple Music, a week or so ago, our listening habits immediately changed. On Apple Music, we'd scroll our 'recently added' section and pick a song to repeat, and then change that out every 15-20 minutes. Sometimes, we'd occasionally search for a new one, but it was mostly picking-and-choosing. The problem was that we'd be overwhelmed by choice, so it was usually the same 10-20 tracks over and over.
As soon as we moved to Spotify (after transferring over our playlists and library using TuneMyMusic), we began listening to more music. It was much easier to simply pick up an auto-generated playlist (our favorite is, ironically enough, On Repeat) and let it play, rather than picking one we made ourselves or finding an album to listen to start to finish. It meant that our music taste had more variety. It may have lost some of the intent, yes, but at the same time, we found ourselves listening to more music more often, so we consider that a net positive.
We've also been seeking out music as a social tool again, and the many features that Spotify has in that aspect as well as the solid integration across other platforms (like Discord, PS4, and Apple Watch) has once again given it the edge in our current decisions for which platform to daily-drive.
As it stands, we're subscribed to both services at this moment. Within the next month or so, we're confident we'll make the decision. Given our situation now, we're leaning towards the side of Spotify, for its excellent integration and social features. But as we perhaps again grow frustrated with its audio quality, or shitty TikTok-esque redesigns of its home page, it's not at all unlikely we'll be back here once again in another year.
Until next time.
Lost Time System out.