Spotify Can Do What iTunes Can’t

Apple have shied away from subscription and streaming for a long time, but Spotify have copied all the best bits of iTunes so it now offers better iPhone syncing than the Apple product.  Will iTunes now copy the best bits of Spotify?  It’s a sibling rivalry – the digital music equivalent of the brothers Milliband…

Subscription services have come and gone as Apple’s iTunes has gone from strength to strength.  But Spotify have developed a compelling service copying iTunes in providing a simple and intuitive client and a very comprehensive music catalogue – and to cap it all, offering it all in a free (advertising supported) option too.  In the “next generation” Spotify service, two major features were added: social and local.

The former is essentially integration with Facebook which pulls in your current friends (if they’ve linked Spotify to their accounts too) and offers familiar features such as feeds and recommendations.  It’s simple, but not only is it more sophisticated than Apple’s limited Facebook/Twitter recommendations options in the iTMS, it has far higher utility because if you have Spotify already you can listen to the full tracks and playlists your friends are subscribing to and recommending with no purchase and no risk (for example, if you’ve got Spotify you could listen to my playlist of commercial tracks from Doctor Who or House, M.D.).  If iTunes wants to get more social, it’s going to be hard to resist the subscription model for much longer.

But the feature that must really have made Apple sit up and take notice is the local feature, the effect of which is to make possible wireless syncing of your iTunes library to iPhone.  This is because Spotify brings in all of your local tracks, and if you have the mobile app (I don’t yet, because I haven’t bothered to sign up for the premium subscription) when you’re on the same wifi network you can make a playlist containing your local tracks (or a mixture of local and Spotify tracks) available for off-line listening. Presto!

Spotify is almost ready to persuade me to give up iTunes altogether.  But there are a few things it lacks (smart playlists, podcasts and audiobooks) and sadly the wifi syncing feature that’s available on the phone isn’t available to other computers on the network (i.e. local files on one network machine cannot be streamed to others).  So Apple has an opportunity here to make a comeback, and here are the three things I want from the next generation iTunes:

  • Streaming/subscription service with social features
  • Let me access music on any of my computers registered to iTunes from anywhere, including streaming it to my iPhone
  • Let me wirelessly sync files to my iPhone for offline listening

And if anyone will (finally) offer me the facility to annotate playlists, I’ll be ecstatic!

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more…

14 thoughts on “Spotify Can Do What iTunes Can’t

  1. So… it doesn’t answer the one question that baffles me to this day: Why would you want a streaming service? Doesn’t that take us back to the bad old days of (basically) listening to the radio?

  2. So… it doesn’t answer the one question that baffles me to this day: Why would you want a streaming service? Doesn’t that take us back to the bad old days of (basically) listening to the radio?

  3. So… it doesn’t answer the one question that baffles me to this day: Why would you want a streaming service? Doesn’t that take us back to the bad old days of (basically) listening to the radio?

  4. Because with iTunes you’re limited to the music you own and with Spotify you are not.

    Or to meet the question with a question: why does it matter whether you’re streaming the music from Spotify’s servers (or, in fact, a hybrid P2P network) if you’ve got an internet connection? As Apple are well aware, most people don’t give a hoot about the technology, they just want something that works.

    Of course, people will notice the effect of the tech as soon as they want take music away from the always-on broadband, for example on iPods or mobile phones. But then if you’re paying a subscription for the Premium service, they give you a hybrid with files stored offline.

    I made the mistake of conflating subscription and streaming services in the post (I’ve edited out a reference to Spotify as a streaming service). I remember Steve Jobs saying people don’t want subscription services where you loose all your music when you leave; they want to own their music. That’s clearly something Spotify (and others) have acknowledged in linking through to We7 for purchasing tracks.

    So why would you want a subscription service at all? I think it’s all about music discovery; you don’t necessarily instantly like the music you go on to buy, and if you’re limited to one listen to a 30 second preview you may never give it a go. By contrast, if you find someone has put together a complete Ashes to Ashes soundtrack, you might find yourself playing through it a few times before you realise that some of the tracks are really grabbing you.

    So I think it is a bit like listening to the radio, but a closer analogy might be listening to mix tapes. And then, with Spotify being something of a hybrid, it’s also like iTunes but instead of being limited to all the music you can afford/fit on your hard disk, your listening choices are suddenly effectively boundless.

  5. Because with iTunes you’re limited to the music you own and with Spotify you are not.

    Or to meet the question with a question: why does it matter whether you’re streaming the music from Spotify’s servers (or, in fact, a hybrid P2P network) if you’ve got an internet connection? As Apple are well aware, most people don’t give a hoot about the technology, they just want something that works.

    Of course, people will notice the effect of the tech as soon as they want take music away from the always-on broadband, for example on iPods or mobile phones. But then if you’re paying a subscription for the Premium service, they give you a hybrid with files stored offline.

    I made the mistake of conflating subscription and streaming services in the post (I’ve edited out a reference to Spotify as a streaming service). I remember Steve Jobs saying people don’t want subscription services where you loose all your music when you leave; they want to own their music. That’s clearly something Spotify (and others) have acknowledged in linking through to We7 for purchasing tracks.

    So why would you want a subscription service at all? I think it’s all about music discovery; you don’t necessarily instantly like the music you go on to buy, and if you’re limited to one listen to a 30 second preview you may never give it a go. By contrast, if you find someone has put together a complete Ashes to Ashes soundtrack, you might find yourself playing through it a few times before you realise that some of the tracks are really grabbing you.

    So I think it is a bit like listening to the radio, but a closer analogy might be listening to mix tapes. And then, with Spotify being something of a hybrid, it’s also like iTunes but instead of being limited to all the music you can afford/fit on your hard disk, your listening choices are suddenly effectively boundless.

  6. I must admit, I’ve seen the rise of the “subscription model” of business and I’m not a fan – and I’m not particularly referring to Spotify.

    The cable company says, “Why spend all that money on a DVR? We can rent you one for a low, low monthly price.” or Netflix says, ” Why pay for just the movies you rent? We’ve got a monthly service for a low, low price?”

    Economically, it’s rather like a lunch buffet, and they know. It’s a mug’s game. They know that, on average, people will get less than they pay for than under a pay for service used model. Plus, a monthly fee equates to a steady revenue stream for them, with a built in resistance to certain vagaries of market fluctuations.

    It makes complete sense from the vendor’s point of view, but less so from the consumer. I’ve never understood why Apple didn’t leap on streaming services. From their perspective it should be a no-brainer.

    I’ve just tried to tell myself that they’re trying to do right by their customers and provide a higher value per product ratio.

    (Pollyanna though my viewpoint may seem, just remember one can’t be a cynic without once having been an optimist.)

  7. I must admit, I’ve seen the rise of the “subscription model” of business and I’m not a fan – and I’m not particularly referring to Spotify.

    The cable company says, “Why spend all that money on a DVR? We can rent you one for a low, low monthly price.” or Netflix says, ” Why pay for just the movies you rent? We’ve got a monthly service for a low, low price?”

    Economically, it’s rather like a lunch buffet, and they know. It’s a mug’s game. They know that, on average, people will get less than they pay for than under a pay for service used model. Plus, a monthly fee equates to a steady revenue stream for them, with a built in resistance to certain vagaries of market fluctuations.

    It makes complete sense from the vendor’s point of view, but less so from the consumer. I’ve never understood why Apple didn’t leap on streaming services. From their perspective it should be a no-brainer.

    I’ve just tried to tell myself that they’re trying to do right by their customers and provide a higher value per product ratio.

    (Pollyanna though my viewpoint may seem, just remember one can’t be a cynic without once having been an optimist.)

  8. I must admit, I’ve seen the rise of the “subscription model” of business and I’m not a fan – and I’m not particularly referring to Spotify.

    The cable company says, “Why spend all that money on a DVR? We can rent you one for a low, low monthly price.” or Netflix says, ” Why pay for just the movies you rent? We’ve got a monthly service for a low, low price?”

    Economically, it’s rather like a lunch buffet, and they know. It’s a mug’s game. They know that, on average, people will get less than they pay for than under a pay for service used model. Plus, a monthly fee equates to a steady revenue stream for them, with a built in resistance to certain vagaries of market fluctuations.

    It makes complete sense from the vendor’s point of view, but less so from the consumer. I’ve never understood why Apple didn’t leap on streaming services. From their perspective it should be a no-brainer.

    I’ve just tried to tell myself that they’re trying to do right by their customers and provide a higher value per product ratio.

    (Pollyanna though my viewpoint may seem, just remember one can’t be a cynic without once having been an optimist.)

  9. It’s hard to level that criticism at Spotify, it being free. I can’t see any reason not to use it at that price? If the adverts bother you during a favourite playlist, you can still buy the tracks to switch them off, since the money is unspent!

    For subscription models in general, I think it depends on the price, but I am sure that LoveFilm (or equivalent to Netflix) saves me as a consumer money (not to mention shelf space!) I used to be experimental in buying DVDs, and for less than I used to spend I am far more experimental in my viewing habits. There are plenty of films I would like to (and am pleased to) see even though I will never want to watch them again.

    For music, I think we’re perhaps more likely to want to listen again, so ownership makes more sense. An eMusic type model, of buying a fixed number of tracks at a lower price each month, is alluring but has lost some of its appeal since the per-track-price has gone up. For a subscription service, completing my Doctor Who playlist in iTunes would have cost me just £10 because I already own most of it. But that’s still £10. For the House playlist, £15. I’ve already made playlists of artists on my Wish List totalling three or four times that in value. I may still buy some of the music, but it would still be worth a monthly subscription to me.

    The critical question for me is not whether or not an iTunes subscription would be worth having, but which features will Apple charge for, and what level will they set their subscription at?

  10. It’s hard to level that criticism at Spotify, it being free. I can’t see any reason not to use it at that price? If the adverts bother you during a favourite playlist, you can still buy the tracks to switch them off, since the money is unspent!

    For subscription models in general, I think it depends on the price, but I am sure that LoveFilm (or equivalent to Netflix) saves me as a consumer money (not to mention shelf space!) I used to be experimental in buying DVDs, and for less than I used to spend I am far more experimental in my viewing habits. There are plenty of films I would like to (and am pleased to) see even though I will never want to watch them again.

    For music, I think we’re perhaps more likely to want to listen again, so ownership makes more sense. An eMusic type model, of buying a fixed number of tracks at a lower price each month, is alluring but has lost some of its appeal since the per-track-price has gone up. For a subscription service, completing my Doctor Who playlist in iTunes would have cost me just £10 because I already own most of it. But that’s still £10. For the House playlist, £15. I’ve already made playlists of artists on my Wish List totalling three or four times that in value. I may still buy some of the music, but it would still be worth a monthly subscription to me.

    The critical question for me is not whether or not an iTunes subscription would be worth having, but which features will Apple charge for, and what level will they set their subscription at?

  11. It’s hard to level that criticism at Spotify, it being free. I can’t see any reason not to use it at that price? If the adverts bother you during a favourite playlist, you can still buy the tracks to switch them off, since the money is unspent!

    For subscription models in general, I think it depends on the price, but I am sure that LoveFilm (or equivalent to Netflix) saves me as a consumer money (not to mention shelf space!) I used to be experimental in buying DVDs, and for less than I used to spend I am far more experimental in my viewing habits. There are plenty of films I would like to (and am pleased to) see even though I will never want to watch them again.

    For music, I think we’re perhaps more likely to want to listen again, so ownership makes more sense. An eMusic type model, of buying a fixed number of tracks at a lower price each month, is alluring but has lost some of its appeal since the per-track-price has gone up. For a subscription service, completing my Doctor Who playlist in iTunes would have cost me just £10 because I already own most of it. But that’s still £10. For the House playlist, £15. I’ve already made playlists of artists on my Wish List totalling three or four times that in value. I may still buy some of the music, but it would still be worth a monthly subscription to me.

    The critical question for me is not whether or not an iTunes subscription would be worth having, but which features will Apple charge for, and what level will they set their subscription at?

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