Tuesday 31 March 2009

Spotify. iTunes Killer or Game Changer?

Spotify, the latest of many music streaming services, came into public beta earlier this year. And so far, judging by our clients here at The MacDoctor, it seems not only the best of the bunch but quite possibly an iTunes killer if not game changer. So what's so different about Spotify?

From a Mac users point of view, the first thing that Spotify gets right is the native application. It's a barebones iTunes application in all but name and is as intuitive to use as it's undoubted inspiration. The next thing Spotify nails is in keeping most of the social web bells and whistles for the business plan and allowing the user to listen to; a) the exactly the music they want and b) in the order they want. That's never been too much to ask has it? While Lastfm et al fly the flag for the social web revolution, Spotify eschews been dictated to by the listening habits of bad software and teenage American boys, in favor of you the user retaining control.

You can playlist whole albums or individual tracks and the built in search is quick and comprehensive. The only thing we and some of our clients have missed, is the ability to create folders in which to keep our growing number of playlists.

With more and more music available on the service seemingly everyday, there's precious few holes in the catalogue at present. There's a few indie label holdouts (newer Tom Waits albums was what we missed the most) but pretty much anything you search for is available to stream immediately. The service is particularly great for auditioning classical recordings. Not sure which recording of a particular piece is the best? Simply listen to them all until you find the one for you. In fact we've had plenty of feedback from clients to the effect of rather than stopping their buying habits entirely, they are using Spotify to audition artists and albums they have an interest in before deciding which purchases to make.

But why would you purchase at all if you can stream using Spotify's Free, Day Pass or Premium models whenever you want? Well, here's where it gets interesting and raises the question of the service being an iTunes killer or game changer.

We've noticed ourselves and amongst our clients, that once you start playing with Spotify, you spend more time with it than reverting to your existing iTunes catalogue. Even streaming music you already own and that sits happily in your own iTunes library. The notion of having all the music you would ever need or desire at your finger tips is incredibly seductive. And the ability to call up exactly the piece you want whenever you want is really the promised land.

But for now the Spotify service is land locked, in that with no internet connection, laptop or desktop, and the music stops. What you need, we all know, is an iPhone/iPod Touch App. And surely it just has to be coming. And when it does, surely the game has to change for Apple. For with a free or paid streaming music wherever you go, given a network connection, the best and only card Apple & the iTunes store would have left to play is to offer a similar streaming subscription service but with the added, Napster style deal, of being able to download and play music direct from your iPhone/iPod etc, so long as your paid subscription is active. Now surely that is the promised land!

In the meantime, we wait patiently for the iPhone app and face the daily pangs of guilt, each time we open Spotify rather than iTunes. We're not alone. Our client base, once introduced to Spotify, is telling us the exact same thing.

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