The latest version of Spotify for iOS has been released, and it includes the music player's first Apple Watch app. The App Store release notes stress this is merely a "first version" of the Watch app, which is reassuring considering how limited the app is now.
Spotify's Watch app currently serves as a way to start playback of recently played music, and control that playback via play/pause, skip, and volume controls. You can also choose a connected device to send music to, and like a song to add it to your collection. And that's it.
As a 1.0, Spotify's Watch app covers the basics well. I'm especially pleased that volume control via the Digital Crown is enabled here. Spotify has designed its own custom volume indicator, visualized as a vertical dotted line in the upper right corner of the screen, and it's especially satisfying to see each area of the line fill in sync with the haptic clicks of the Series 4 Watch's Digital Crown.
One strikingly disappointing oversight is that Spotify isn't optimized for the new 40 and 44mm Series 4 displays, as you'll notice in the framed images above. Launching two months after new devices debut, but without support for those devices, is not a good look. I'm hopeful we won't have to wait long for that issue to be remedied, though. In its announcement post for the Watch app, Spotify candidly acknowledged that there's plenty more work to be done to create the best Watch experience – "we have many exciting things coming up —including the ability to listen to your music and podcasts offline." Surely support for modern Watch displays is one of those 'exciting things.'
Today Spotify held an event in New York City where it announced several changes to its mobile app that impact users of both free and paid tiers of the service. Jordan Crook reports for TechCrunch:
Spotify’s...free tier has always limited users to shuffle. With the new version, users can listen on-demand to whatever song they want, as many times as they want, as long as those songs appear on one of the 15 personalized discovery playlists like Daily Mix, Discover Weekly, Release Radar or Today’s Top Hits.
Considering the breadth of Spotify's discovery playlists, the ability to choose songs from those playlists on-demand is a significant change. Crook also mentions how machine learning is being used not just to impact the quality of those discovery playlists, but also, now, to help users make better playlists themselves. This new feature, called "assisted playlisting," aids in playlist creation by recommending songs below the search field that are similar to the songs you searched for.
Another noteworthy change is that Spotify introduced a new "data saver" mode for its app that reportedly cuts data use by up to 75% when streaming music. This feature is available to all users, but it's particularly beneficial to free tier users who don't have the option of downloading songs for offline playback.
Each of these updates are currently being rolled out to all users of the Spotify app; it's unclear if an App Store update will be necessary, or if the changes will all be server-side.
Unlike Apple Music, which only exists as a paid service, Spotify has the challenge of balancing the features of its paid and free tiers in a way that satisfies free users, while simultaneously encouraging them to upgrade. Today's improvements seem to do a great job of that by leveraging one of Spotify's strengths over Apple Music – machine learning-powered personalized playlists. The deeper invested you are in teaching the service your likes and dislikes, the more likely you are to eventually become a paid Spotify user rather than jumping ship to Apple Music.
Spotify is testing a voice navigation feature that lets users search for and play songs, albums, and playlists in the music streaming service’s iOS app. The feature, which was first reported by TechCrunch, is found under the Spotify app’s Search tab, but it’s currently only available to a small number of users.
Casey Newton of The Verge got a chance to try the feature:
I got early access to the test and tested out the feature set. In short, it’s an excellent step forward for navigation in app that has historically required too much tapping and typing to get where you’re going.
Spotify confirmed the test to both TechCrunch and The Verge but declined to provide any details.
If you have the feature, it appears as a microphone icon inside a circular white button in the search view. According to Newton, voice search provided ‘mostly accurate results.’
Spotify’s experiment with voice commands is notable because rumors have been circulating that it is developing a smart speaker to compete with offerings from Apple, Amazon, and Google. It’s not as useful as having built-in voice search functionality, but unless Apple opens up Siri to other music services, building the feature into its iOS app is also the closest Spotify can get to working like Apple Music on the HomePod.
When Apple acquired Shazam, people wondered what would become of the popular song identification and music discovery app. It’s not unusual for an app acquired by a big company to be pulled from the App Store or for development to slow substantially. Questions were also raised about whether Shazam would continue to support Apple’s music streaming rival, Spotify.
As it turns out, Shazam has continued to be updated and support Spotify since Apple’s acquisition. In fact, there have been at least four updates to Shazam since the acquisition including one today that adds synchronized lyrics and a design refresh of the app’s results screen.
The new UI looks great. The results screen is dominated by a background image of the artist. In the foreground is a big play button, the name of the song the app recognized, and the name of the artist. If you tap on the artwork, you get an image of the artist and album in some cases, plus more details on the artist, album, song, and release date.
Along the top of the results screen is a menu you access by swiping horizontally that includes lyrics, videos, additional songs by the artist, and related artists. If you swipe over to the lyrics screen while a song is playing, they are displayed in perfect synchronization with the song that’s playing, which is perfect for impromptu karaoke moments. Adding songs to Apple Music and Spotify playlists has been streamlined too – it now takes one less tap to add a song to a playlist.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you’re using the iOS 11.3 beta, playback is broken throughout the app. Tapping on any play button freezes the entire UI and requires you to force quit the app. Playback works as expected if you’re not on the beta, however.
Shazam is available on the App Store.
Victor Luckerson, writing at The Ringer, makes a good point about how Spotify's algorithmic playlists have turned into the cultural phenomenon that Apple wanted to build around Apple Music:
Spotify is in much the same position right now. With its regularly refreshing playlists, which rearrange artists’ music into a new kind of original content, Spotify has become a beloved musical destination rather than just a tool. It’s an iPod and a radio and a BuzzFeed “Which Drake Album Matches Your Personality?” quiz at the same time. Taylor Swift may have a legion of fans, but Discover Weekly does as well. Those always-updating playlists are now the must-attend musical events that Apple was trying to create around exclusive albums and radio shows.
As I wrote many times here on MacStories, I'd love for Apple to consider more smart playlist features akin to Spotify's Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes.
This is also interesting:
Netflix used its power as an entertainment destination to nudge its users to watch its own original programming. Now instead of being indebted to Hollywood, the tech company seems to run it. Spotify isn’t there yet, and successfully making the Netflix pivot will be tougher because music isn’t as valuable to investors as video. Its attempts to diversify with original content have so far been nonstarters, and despite persistent rumors, the company hasn’t yet tried to establish its own record label.
Given Jimmy Iovine's recent comments on music services and original content ("Guess how much original content streaming has: zero!"), I wonder if the future of music may indeed veer towards the current TV streaming model, with albums made exclusively for specific music streaming services (and as a heavy music listener, this possibility scares me).
In an otherwise boring conversation about some press release or another, a Spotify PR person mentioned to me that an artist who had a big hit on the platform’s Fresh Finds playlist was discovered when one of the curators just happened to see them play a show in Bushwick. I was as surprised as anyone really can be by an email from corporate PR.
Fresh Finds is one of Spotify’s prized products, a weekly playlist crafted from a combination of two different data inputs: it identifies new, possibly interesting music with natural language processing algorithms that crawl hundreds of music blogs, then puts those songs up against the listening patterns of users their data designates “trendsetters.” What’s going to a show in Bushwick have to do with it? I had visions of a bunch of suits using their business cards to get into cool shows for no reason other than to feel like Vinyl-era record execs for a night. It seemed extremely redundant, and more than a little like posturing. Why bother?
“It's basically their job,” I was told. Okay but, excuse me, how is that a playlist curator’s job? To find out, I asked if I could tag along with on a few of them on their nights out. I did not expect the answer to be yes, mostly because I thought it should be obvious that my intention was to point out how weird the whole thing was.
But the answer was yes. So, for three weeks, I went with Spotify playlist curators to live performances in Chinatown, Bushwick, and an infamous club on the Lower East Side. I got dozens of half-answers to the question: Why are you here?
Fascinating story by Kaitlyn Tiffany for The Verge on how Spotify is sending curators to live music shows – a process that, according to the company, informs the platform’s tastemakers on what later ends up in popular playlists. As she argues, it’s easy to imagine how Spotify may be planning a lot more behind the scenes.
For the better part of this year, I’ve been using both Spotify and Apple Music. In my opinion, each service does a few things exceptionally well, but, unfortunately, I can’t have all of them in a single music app.
Spotify’s discovery tools for both old and new songs are simply unparalleled in the industry: Discover Weekly continues to surprise me on a weekly basis just like mixtapes used to do. Spotify is everywhere (including my Amazon Echo); I like how it organizes releases on artist pages; and, it’s got a richer selection of user-generated playlists. Apple Music, on the other hand, looks much better than Spotify (I love Apple’s focus on album artworks and large photography), features built-in lyrics, is deeply integrated with the Apple ecosystem, and I’m a fan of the social feed launched with iOS 11. In short: Spotify is superior when it comes to discovery for music aficionados and integration with third-party hardware, but Apple Music is nicer and easier to use for iOS users. I can’t choose because I happen to have a foot in both camps.
Music Business Worldwide reports on a new, multi-year deal Spotify has struck with Universal Music Group. One change tied to the deal is that some new albums from Universal will be exclusive to Premium subscribers for a two-week window. Spotify's CEO Daniel Ek shares:
“We know that not every album by every artist should be released the same way, and we’ve worked hard with UMG to develop a new, flexible release policy. Starting today, Universal artists can choose to release new albums on premium only for two weeks, offering subscribers an earlier chance to explore the complete creative work, while the singles are available across Spotify for all our listeners to enjoy.”
Another change brought by the new deal is highlighted at the end of the article. Quoting a Spotify press release:
'The new agreement will also provide UMG with unprecedented access to data, creating the foundation for new tools for artists and labels to expand, engage and build deeper connections with their fans.'
Although this information is spun by Spotify as a positive, it may be concerning to any more privacy-conscious users.
We’ve teamed up with Sonos to make it easier than ever to keep the music going strong. Now Spotify Premium users can control their Sonos straight from the Spotify app using Spotify Connect. Use all the features you love about Spotify: the curation, discovery, and sharing and hear it all throughout your home in crystal clear sound. You can also access the multiroom power of the Sonos home sound system directly in the Spotify app. We’ve brought out the best of both worlds to give you the smartest and most seamless home sound system yet.
I've been trying this in beta for the past couple of months, and it has worked well with my Sonos PLAY:1. The feature is based on Spotify Connect, which is fast and doesn't route all system audio to a single device. In my experience, using Spotify Connect with a Sonos speaker has been much more reliable than streaming music to AirPlay or Bluetooth speakers.