Spotify have added some key features in their latest update, which you can download here. Essentially, it removes the need to ever use the iTunes client to get music from your PC to your iPod Classic, Touch, or iPhone. Here’s a lovely video that explains it better than words.
For 10 years, Apple have been the clear market leaders in digital music. Spotify’s latest update is a clear message that they are looking to topple the Kings from their musical perch.
Why is the Update So Good?
Capabilities and Usability
Not only does it replace iTunes, it makes you wonder why you’ve stuck with it for so long. A recent episode updating an iPod classic on iTunes resulted in numerous error messages, lost files, and the need to reset the device to factory settings.
Updating the same iPod using Spotify Free was a smooth and straightforward delight. Local files were immediately detected, I copied them to one large 70gb playlist (just as you would on iTunes), and synced.
Easy. If I then want to sync a playlist that a friend has made to my device, Spotify Free will prompt me to ‘get’ songs I don’t already own. To Get the tracks, I must buy some downloads and once purchased, the files download as unprotected mp3’s (easily traceable in a newly created ‘Spotify’ folder) and appear on my device. The downloads themselves never expire, but unused credits will, unless I purchase more. The more downloads I buy, the cheaper they are. More on these points later.
By 2004’s web standards, iTunes is cluttered, confusing, and fragmented. There is too much info on screen, and transitions between menus are slow and illogical. I don’t want any Pinging Genius cluttering up my screen, yet Apple won’t allow me to remove them.
iTunes takes 14 hours to import my 120gb music library. Spotify took 90 seconds, and I didn’t even ask it to. The iTunes Store alone takes longer to load than the entire Spotify client.
The latest iTunes, version 10.2.2, is still riddled with bugs (I’ve suffered from it’s new-found inability to keep its music folder organised) despite offering monthly updates that ALL NEED ME TO RESTART MY PC. I never want to see another .xml or .ita file, and if we ever click on those dreaded terms and conditions again without reading them, who know’s what might happen.
On the other hand, I don’t know how Spotify works, it just does. The ‘store’ is seamlessly integrated into my library, I barely even know which one I’m looking at.
Why Is It Important?
Apple’s main revenue generator is hardware. For a decade they used music to sell iPods, but since 2010 they have been using apps to sell iPhones and iPads. iTunes revenues are falling, whilst app revenues are expected to reach $9 billion per year by 2014. It’s no surprise music is no longer Apple’s focus.
They moved the music industry into the digital world, and now their Apps are moving every other industry into it too. Spotify’s attempt to control the music on Apple’s devices comes at the exact time they MAY lack the focus, desire, or need to compete. For the first time in years, Apple may choose to relinquish one of their competencies.
Spotify have somehow managed to break the Record Label obsession of everyone paying the same price for their music, a problem I’ve previously queried here. If I consume more, I should pay less.
They’ve done that by nurturing their relationship, and building up a level of trust that Apple have never had (or needed). With this trust, they have the power to take the industry in a direction not previously possible.
Spotify – The Company
Apple acquired Lala in Dec 2009, just a year after Spotify launched in beta form, and have allegedly been working on a Cloud music service ever since. In recent years Apple have excelled in hardware, but have not released quality software of note for many years. The only significant musical update has been Ping, which does not need another public thrashing here. Their huge Cloud offering will come at some point this year, and the pressure is on to deliver something that changes everything. Again.
In 18 months, Spotify (a tiny company in comparison) have partnered with Facebook to make a truely social listener experience, and repeatedly tweaked their mobile offerings and business model to make a service that works for the fan and the Rightsholder. They’ve now attacked the industry’s Goliath, clearly showing they have the ambition to compete. What will they be launching this time next year?
What Does All This Mean?
For the Recorded Music industry, there’s hope that this will generate healthy competition and lead fans to a new way of listening to music.
For the two companies concerned, if Apple choose not to prohibit Spotify from updating their devices (as they have for every other attempt in recent years), then it is a clear sign that other services can follow Spotify’s lead. If Apple react negatively, then Spotify will undoubtedly focus on Android devices, giving us yet another reason to head to Google for our mobile operating system.
For the fans, this is a distribution model that’s locked in to the way demand is generated, as I’ve previously explored here. Pop culture encourages fast consumption followed by rapid disposal, a desire perfectly matched by offering downloads that expire, encouraging fans to use them quickly or buy more. In addition, high-end spenders get rewarded for their loyalty by paying 40% less per track than casual users, removing the need to head to p2p sites. Good news.
And for me? Well, I’ve waited 12 years for an online music service that comprehensively beats filesharing and iTunes, and I’m ecstatic to say that it has FINALLY arrived. Well done Spotify.