Wednesday 9 September 2009

Spotify Take 2!

Back in March on this very blog we noted the arrival of Spotify, the music streaming service, and sang it's praises. It's use amongst our client base has been growing steadily ever since and now at long last our predication of an iPhone/iPod App has finally comes to fruition. So how does the iPhone/iPod App measure up and is Spotify truly becoming an iTunes killer and game changer?

Here at The MacDoctor we've been playing with the Spotify iPhone/iPod App for a few days now and along with feedback from our clients, here's what we've found. But first ...

It should be noted that the App will only work with a Premium Account and not the free or day pass subscriptions. So despite the App being free to download, there is still a £9.99 monthly barrier to entry. And it's also important to point out the App will only stream music over a WiFi connection and not over a 3G or Edge connection. This limitation is quickly overcome however when you realise you can locally store playlists on the iPhone/iPod for when you no longer have a WiFi connection. These off-line playlists are the App and service's killer feature in many ways. The ability to take away up to 3,300 tracks from the Spotify service to listen to on the subway, aeroplane or darkest corners of the planet brings something new to this streaming service offering.

Ok, so how is the App to use in practise? Well, to be honest, it's a mixed bag. Audio quality is good and we had no streaming issues on the WiFi connections we've used so far. We did however find downloading of off-line playlists very slow indeed compared to the usual experience of downloading songs from the iTunes store direct to the iPhone. Perhaps this is early teething problems. We're sure the Spotify servers have been hit hard following the initial launch of the App. But we'd be looking to see improvements here over time.

Next up is the UI, which aside from the album artwork, leave a little to be desired. The desktop Spotify App was one of the big plus points when the service first launched. Clear and simple to use it's been a joy to play with. The Mobile App unfortunately is less clear to navigate and lacks the familiarity of it's desktop sibling. Or perhaps more precisely it would be better to ape Apple's own iPod App layout that users are familiar with.

Our next two gripes are are no fault of Spotify's but rather limitations of the current iPhone OS. One, Spotify is unable to run as background App in the same way as Apple's own iPod App, allowing you to surf the web, read email etc as you listen to music. And two, most confusingly, the headphone play, pause, skip buttons use to control the iPod App have no effective control over the Spotify App. It becomes necessary to return to the screen to control anything other than volume :-(

Having no effective way to sub-divide or group playlists via a folder structure is one of our pet peeves with the desktop client and is only exacerbated on The iPone App with the available screen real estate. You can very quickly find yourself scrolling down, down deeper and down looking for the desired Playlist/Album. This simple addition to both desktop and mobile App would go a long way to making the Spotify App quicker to navigate.

What we took away most from time with the Spotify App and the feedback from our clients, is that if the service really is going to compete with the big boys, i.e Apple & iTunes, it really has to step up it's game in basic UI terms. And as it's uncertain at this stage whether any future iPhone or OS would allow background process, Spotify could so easily have it's lunch eaten if and when Apple decides to offer an iTunes subscription service.

Until that time Spotify really is the only serious game in town when it comes to an Apple & iPhone based music subscription services. But there is still work to do to truly create brand loyalty and an irresistible product. It's so close .....

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