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Apple Music vs Spotify - is it worth switching?

Richard Easton
9 Jun 2015
Apple Music vs Spotify teaser
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We put Apple's new Apple Music service head-to-head with Spotify to see if it will be worth your money

Now that Apple Music has finally been unveiled, the competition in music streaming is set to hot up. It’s currently dominated by Spotify, but Apple could easily steal that crown thanks to its competitive pricing and the backing of some prominent artists and musicians. It won’t be easy though, as competitor Tidal can testify, after its own faltering attempt to become top-of-the-pops.

Ahead of Apple Music’s global launch on June 30th, we’ve stacked the service up against Spotify to see how the two compare and to help you decide which service is worth your money.

Pricing

When it comes to the most basic package, Apple Music and Spotify are largely tied. Both services cost £9.99 a month. Spotify does also have a free service, which is ad-supported on the desktop application. Using the mobile apps, you’re limited to listening to playlists or Spotify Radio with limited track skipping. Apple Music has a free plan that will let you listen to radio stations but with limited skipping.  

View our latest Apple Music discount codes

Apple Music price

‘Family’ plans are where things get interesting, however. A regular subscription to either service is designed for one person, meaning if you try to listen on two devices simultaneously one of them will stop playing. Playlists and listening histories are also all tied to one account, so if you do share a single account with multiple people you might find your library and playlists gets rather messy. Single subscription plans are inherently designed not for sharing.

Both services will offer the ability for multiple users under the same primary subscription. For Apple Music, this means a $14.99 family plan that lets you share access with six different users. To add extra users, you just need to turn on Family Sharing for iCloud and then invite other users.

Spotify is the most expensive of the two services when it comes to sharing, however. Rather than having a fixed price for multiple users, you can instead add extra users to your account for half the price of a new account, equivalent to $4.99 (£4.99 in the UK) per user. This means that for $30 you can share Spotify with up to four users but for half this price you get six users on Apple Music. One point to Apple Music so far but Spotify has already stated that it intends to try and match Apple Music’s pricing, which is great for everyone.

Apple Music will initially be available with a three-month trial while new subscribers can get a 30-day trial for Spotify.

Music

Apple Music uses the iTunes music library, which has been the most popular source of purchased digital downloads for a good while now. Needless to say, its catalogue is extensive with over 30 million songs at your disposal. Any purchases you have made from iTunes will also still be available to you for streaming. Until the service is launched it’s difficult to see if there are any glaring holes in the catalogue but the strength of a catalogue is always going to be subjective and based on your own personal tastes.

Apple Music app

One grievance is that Apple Music is ‘independent but complementary’ of iTunes Match. This lets you import your personal music collection, such as those ripped from CDs and upload them into iCloud for streaming access from all of your devices. Access to iTunes Match will continue to be an additional $24.99/£21.99 a year. It’s disappointing that iTunes Match functionality wasn’t rolled straight into Apple Music as Google Play Music provides this even for a free account.

Spotify, on the other hand, has a strong catalogue as well with a reported 30 million+ tracks available. Spotify doesn’t offer any way to fill in any gaps in its music catalogue with your own tracks if you want to be able to stream your music. You can, however, use the Spotify desktop application to sync local music to your devices for offline playback.

Spotify has been on the receiving end of a lot of negative publicity when it comes to musicians pulling their music from the service, mainly due to concerns around royalty payments to artists. It will be interesting to see how well Apple can leverage good will among the music publishers thanks to the strength of the iTunes store and relationships it’s built.

If you want offline playback for either service, you’ll need to be a paid subscriber, which will be useful if you won’t have access to mobile internet or have limited data and need to conserve bandwidth.

Radio and Music Discovery

Although on-demand streaming and digital downloads are two of the biggest ways people access music nowadays, this doesn’t mean the death of radio as we know it. At least not according to Apple. As part of Apple Music, users will get access to ‘Beats 1’, a global 24/7 radio station hosted by prominent DJs including former BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe who Apple signed earlier in the year. The radio station will play out of New York, Los Angeles and London and promises to deliver exclusive interviews, guest hosts and a way to hear the latest and greatest music.

Interestingly, the same music will be piped out to 100 countries around the globe so everyone has the same experience, which sounds like a time zone nightmare. There is also the more conventional Apple Music Radio, which generates more traditional playlists, but one aspect that Apple is pushing with Music is the human element. All of the stations are curated by actual humans or ‘taste makers’ as Apple has called them rather than algorithms.

Apple Music For You screen

In terms of music discovery, Apple’s ‘music experts’ will be creating playlists based on users’ preferences in a ‘For You’ section of the app. When you first start using Apple Music you are asked to select genres and artists you like and these form the basis of your taste profile. Then you’ll start getting personalised recommendations for albums, new releases and playlists and the curation is supposed to get better the more you listen. With a paid subscription, you’re allowed unlimited track skipping. 

Spotify has started revamping its music recommendation and curation. With the introduction of Spotify Now the service will begin making music recommendations based on time of the day, such as music for commuting in the morning and early evening. Music will be based on a combination of learned listening tastes as well as music curated by Spotify, although it’s not clear what the human element is in recommendations. Aside from this, the Radio feature of Spotify lets you listen to created ‘stations’ based on artists or albums of your choosing. These lack the human element of real-life DJs from Apple’s Beats 1.

Running and music go hand in hand for many, and Spotify is already their running companion. The company wants to take this further with 'Spotify Running'. This is music tuned to your running tempo based on your listening history, multiple-genre playlists and original compositions from DJs and composers. These are designed to help keep your motivation up. Spotify has partnered with Nike+ and RunKeeper support is also coming later in the year so you can listen to Spotify Running playlists while using the running apps.

Social and Community

Many music listeners want a way to interact with, and keep track of, their favourite artists and this is increasingly becoming a big part of music streaming services. Spotify with its ‘On Tour’ function lets you know when your favourite band is touring and even gives you a way to purchase tickets. You can also buy official merchandise straight through the Spotify desktop application. Like following your friends who are on Spotify to see what they're listening to and recommend, you can also follow artists to see music they share or recommend as well as see when they release new music on the service.

On Apple Music there is the ‘Connect’ feature. This will let artists share content such as lyrics, backstage photos, soundbites and videos with their fans. Apple Music users are then able to share and comment on the content and Apple promises there will be plenty of exclusive content.

Apps and Platforms

Spotify is available on nearly every platform you can think of. That includes Windows, Mac, iOS and Android through desktop software, web-based players or apps. Apple Music will be launching on iOS 8.4 devices on June 30th as well as Windows and Mac. In a surprise, Apple Music is also coming to Android but you’ll have to wait until the autumn.

Spotify is also available on nearly every multiroom speaker system available, due in part to its popularity. It remains to be seen how well Apple Music will be supported but it will no doubt work over Apple’s AirPlay streaming protocol at the very least. Sonos would like the service, but can't offer it at launch.

"The Apple streaming service is not available on Sonos at launch, but we’re excited about what it promises for the future of music. We look forward to bringing it to Sonos when Apple is ready," said Sonos in a statement to Expert Reviews.

While Spotify’s apps have interesting features, such as the aforementioned ‘Spotify Running’, Apple arguably has the upper hand with its Siri integration. This means you’re able to tell Siri “Play the song from Selma” and Apple Music will intelligently play Glory by John Legend. Similarly you can ask Siri “Play the top song from May 1982” and Siri will automatically begin playing the relevant song. If this works as well as it did in Apple Music’s announcement presentation this is a great feature especially for those listening to music in a car.

Conclusion

From what we’ve seen of Apple Music so far, it could well be a genuine contender. The human touch will be a big selling point for the service and if you’re looking to share an account with multiple people, its family sharing is great value compared to Spotify. The apps certainly look very slick and well-presented and Siri integration looks fantastic. The fact that it is eventually coming to Android means the service really is gunning for Spotify.

But in truth, Apple Music isn’t quite the revolution we were expecting with all of the hype and secrecy following the Beats acquisition and the lead up to the announcement. There’s not a lot that’s drastically different from Spotify but all competition is good and, if it does indeed cause Spotify to drop its family sharing pricing, that’s great news for all of us. How well the Beats 1 24 hour radio station will take off is also questionable but with a very generous three month trial there’s no reason to not give the service a go to see if it’s a good fit. Come June 30th every iOS user will have the new Music app automatically installed with iOS 8.4 as well, which gets the service into many hands. 

If neither Spotify nor Apple Music are the service for you, have a read of our article: Best music streaming service - which should you subscribe to?

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