Being an active musician, I was an advocate of having a music archive of offline MP3 files. However; due to the popularity of stream services, I decided to give it a shot.
Spotify and Apple Music were obvious choices. In terms of hardware, I live in the Apple universe; so Apple Music was supposed to be an obvious choice. On the other hand, I heard many good things about Spotify as well.
I ended up picking Spotify over Apple Music and deleting most of my offline MP3 files.
I would like to share my highly subjective personal comparison experience; where I might have missed some features of the respective services. Nevertheless, the overall comparison could be useful to you.
Spotify seems to have a much larger database of playlists because users are able to create & publish playlists on will. Therefore, search results are more satisfying in a number of ways.
First of all, I can run a search like “Sunday Morning Country” and I’m almost guaranteed to make a hit.
Another point is, I can discover surprise songs or artists over those playlists because a vast variety of people with different musical tastes put them together.
This is clearly an advantage of Spotify because Apple seems to limit public playlists to curators.
In terms of discovery, Spotify has a neat feature: If you play a single song, it keeps playing similar songs – unless you disable this feature in settings. This feature carries the discovery option beyond playlists of the community.
I am not aware of such a feature in Apple Music.
Spotify provides basic but neat options in terms of social media. Every Spotify user gets an URL pointing his/her profile (mine is http://open.spotify.com/user/keremkoseoglu ). This URL contains a profile picture and public playlists of the user. It is a good way to give the world an overall impression of what you are listening to, or a cover band could make their setlist public via this feature.
It is also possible to follow Facebook friends over Spotify to see what they are listening to.
As far as I know, Apple Music lacks such features completely.
Free Offline Play
If you want to play your favourite streams offline, Spotify gives this opportunity for free. You can download any stream to your computer or smartphone and listen offline anytime.
In theory, Apple provides a similar functionality; but with a catch: Even if you want to create a simple playlist, you must subscribe to iCloud music library, which forcefully uploads your local MP3 files to the cloud and costs ~1$ per month if you exceed 5GB (that includes your contacts, other files, calendars, backups, etc as well). So in practice, Apple makes you lean towards the direction where you pay 1$ per month to create any stream playlist.
Although Apple theoretically provides this functionality for free, Spotify provides it free for real. Therefore, Spotify has the upper hand here.
This is a highly subjective matter. However; in my opinion, the user interface of Spotify is very good. The fade in / out effect and the dark background gives a smooth feeling.
Apple, on the other hand, has the usual bright white iTunes interface with Apple TV-like shelves of albums and presents tons of ugly scrollbars. It isn’t really pretty.
I wouldn’t pick an application over others just because it has a pretty UI; but it certainly contributes to the overall user experience. This is one of the winning points of Spotify.
Vendor Lock In
Spotify doesn’t give you an opportunity to download MP3 files. If I decide that I don’t want to pay Spotify any further, I’m left alone without any music file on my computer.
I can keep offline copies of music files on my computer or phone; but those are encrypted and can only be played using the Spotify app.
If you consider Apple Music as a streaming platform, the same applies to Apple as well. However; iTunes platform lets you purchase digital music files as well – which literally are your property and can be downloaded in MP3 format any time you want.
If you would like to purchase legal digital music files for any purpose (like changing the pitch for practicing or syncing into an offline MP3 player), Apple has an edge here because it gives you an option for that. It is not part of the streaming business, but at the end of the day, Spotify feels more like a vendor lock in.
Apple has merged various features on one single platform called iTunes. Using only one application, you can stream music, purchase MP3’s, add MP3’s from other sources, rent / purchase movies, stream free Internet radio, etc. iTunes can organise your local file system as well – it breaks music files under folders categorised by artist and album.
Spotify’s application lets you stream music and include local MP3’s and that’s it.
If you are looking for an all-in-one solution, Apple has the distinct advantage here. If you are a best-of-breed picker, you’ll have to compare Spotify and Apple Music alone and ignore other features of iTunes.
Smart playlist is an area where Apple has a distinct advantage.
We all can define manual playlists by adding songs one by one. However, Apple gives us the opportunity to write formulas to dynamically create playlists which update themselves automatically as we add new songs to our library.
For instance; I can create a playlist which includes all of my rock songs but excludes songs from the band Beautiful Disaster. This playlist will automatically update itself as I add more rock songs over time.
Another example: I can merge songs of 5 artists + a manually managed playlist under a smart playlist. Whenever I add a new song of those artists or update the manual playlist, the smart playlist is updated automatically.
Spotify doesn’t have such a functionality. The closest you can get is to put your playlist under a folder. By playing the entire folder, you can include songs from all the playlists.
For simple requirements, Apple’s smart playlist feature may look like overkill. However; more advanced users will appreciate this feature.
Apple music playlists can be displayed in a file browser fashion and songs can be sorted by various criteria; such as the last time they were played. This is a very good feature for musicians (like me) who would like to practice their playlists daily – it is a good way to ensure that each song gets practiced. Dozens of other columns can also be added for sorting.
Spotify lets us sort by song name, artist name or date added, and that’s it. I saw users requesting additional columns on forums, but Spotify didn’t do anything about it yet.
In case you need to sort your playlist by peculiar columns or display select columns for a specific playlist, Apple has a distinct advantage at this time.
Apple loves controlling things. They are totally in control of their hardware & software, which enables them to create arguably more stable products. They also control the apps on their App Store in order to improve the user experience and prevent malicious bugs / viruses.
It seems like Apple has projected their control tendency towards Apple Music as well. The playlists I have found on Apple Music were created by curators or artists that Apple has picked. As far as I know, rest of the community can’t create publicly searchable playlists.
Result? I feel like I’m limited to the taste of a few people to discover new music; not the entire music community. And the playlists I have inspected felt “sterile”; which means they mostly contain main stream pieces of their respective genre. I was never surprised to discover a peculiarly beautiful song or artist.
Spotify enables it’s community to publicly create playlists and has the edge here.
I generally favour Apple’s control over their hardware & software to provide a stable user experience; but limiting the playlists might have gimped the community contribution.
When I discover a new artist or simply want to listen to an artist I love, I tend to listen to all of his/her songs; including all the available albums.
In my experience; Apple doesn’t enable such a feature easily. One could do a workaround by creating a playlist including all the albums of the desired artist; but this is simply an extra workload.
Considering that I can listen to the entire library of an artist on Spotify with a simple click, this is a disadvantage on behalf of Apple Music.
iCloud Music Library
Basically, Apple forces us to use its iCloud Music Library service in order to create playlists including songs from Apple Music.
At first sight, this seems reasonable. Apple uses iCloud in any scenario where you need to share content between multiple Apple devices. Your contacts, calendars, etc are all shared over iCloud.
The catch is; if you have offline MP3 files on your computer, activating iCloud Music Library will force-upload them to iCloud as well. And, iCloud offers only 5 GB’s of free space. If you want to upgrade it to 50 GB, you have to pay ~1$ per month.
This might look like small amount, but considering that Apple has 13M subscribers, this strategy leans towards the direction where Apple would earn an extra 13M$ per month.
Spotify, on the other hand, makes playlists available to any device without any additional subscription.
Apple could have easily given us the opportunity to create “Apple Music Only” playlists, but they simply didn’t.
If you don’t have a large number of offline MP3 files, this might not disturb you at all. However; Apple has a notorious history of iCloud file system bugs and posting DRM’s over legally owned MP3 files. Therefore, I subjectively don’t trust Apple with storing any file on iCloud.
Because I don’t want my offline MP3 files anywhere on iCloud, this point is a clear disadvantage for me.
This might be a personal issue due to my location or Internet connection, but I’m not completely satisfied with the listening experience of Apple Music. When I start playing a song, I have to wait a few seconds before it actually starts playing. I have also experienced pauses while listening.
Spotify has provided a seamless listening experience so far.
Although I can’t empirically blame Apple for this issue, I evaluate this as a negative personal user experience.
Let’s do a summary of my evaluation.
Spotify offers a great community and a good opportunity to discover new songs & artists; as well as a nice user interface. However, it does nothing but streaming music, and internal playlist options are limited. As of today, it has around 40M paid users.
Apple Music is part of an all-in-one solution; covering streaming, purchasing music, free Internet radio, renting movies, etc. Internal playlist options are very strong. However; its playlists are too sterile – opportunities of discovery are relatively slim. It also lacks community interaction and nudges subscribers towards a paid iCloud account. As of today, it has around 13M paid users.
All in all, I picked Spotify over Apple Music for streaming purposes. Spotify happily accepted my rare local MP3 files as well, and there was no reason to keep the rest of my library (30 GB).
However, I’m still using iTunes to rent movies. That’s another business.