We pitch Apple Music and Spotify against each other to answer the question “what is the best music-streaming service?”
Spotify currently represents the best music-streaming service for millions of people – but with the release of Apple Music, that could all be about to change. At WWDC, Apple launched its own streaming service; and it's the biggest threat Spotify has ever faced. Combining an expansive song library, hours of exclusive content and a competitive monthly fee starting at US$9.99, Apple Music deserves your attention – but is it better than Spotify?
Apple Music vs Spotify: Pricing
With Netflix and other commitments already draining our balance every month, the best streaming service has to be cheap. When compared to rival services, Spotify has always offered the best value – until now. (Apple Music's prices have yet to be announced at the time of writing, so for the sake of fairness we're comparing their American price plans.)
Spotify's free tier gives you access to 30 million songs, but sadly comes with adverts and limited skipping. For $9.99 a month, Spotify's Premium tier gets rid of adverts and includes skippable audio, high-quality streaming and the ability to store music offline on three separate devices. Thanks to a free trial, you also have 60 days to try it out.
Elsewhere, Spotify's Family plan gives users 50% off a Premium subscription for additional family members. You can expect to pay $14.99 for two users per month, $19.99 for three, $24.99 for four and $29.99 for five users.
Apple Music is the same price for a single user ($9.99 per month), and provides iOS and Android users with offline listening, unlimited skips and the ability to play and save content from its Connect service. What's more, you can purchase a family account with up to six users for only $14.99 – less than half Spotify's price. Add in a three-month trial for new users, and Apple Music should have Spotify worried.
Also, iOS listeners – but not Android ones – will get free access to radio stations including its Beats 1 flagship led by Zane Lowe, and the ability to follow artists on Apple Connect.
Verdict: Apple wins.
Apple Music's Family Sharing plan gives you more for your money, and even its free trial period is a month longer. However, there are already rumours that Spotify is ready to meet the challenge, and will be slashing its prices very soon.
Apple Music vs Spotify: Library
For music-streaming services, breadth of content is critical – and Spotify's huge number of tracks has made it a clear leader in the streaming space. At the time of writing, the Swedish service has a massive 30 million tracks for users to stream, with around 20,000 added every day.
However, Apple Music should beat that easily, with sources suggesting the iTunes Store has more than 35 million tracks available to download. Although licensing issues mean you won't be able to stream all of those tracks – the Beatles' discography being one notable exception – it's likely Apple Music will have the edge when it comes to content.
Until there's some solid figures for Apple's streamable library, it's impossible to judge.
Apple Music vs Spotify: Track Quality
Spotify offers some of the best-quality streaming available. Free users can listen to tinny 96Kbits/sec files on mobile devices, but that figure goes up to 160Kbits/sec on faster mobile connections and desktops. Spotify Premium subscribers get to enjoy 320Kbits/sec MP3s everywhere, regardless of the device they're on.
Reports are suggesting that Apple Music will be limited to a 256Kbits/sec AAC service – the same as iTunes Match. Worryingly, that would make it lower quality than the 320Kbits/sec Beats Music service it replaces, as well as Spotify.
Verdict: Spotify wins.
Thanks to 320Kbits/sec streaming for Premium users. Of course, differing compression methods are a factor, and it's debatable if humans can even differentiate between 320Kbits/sec and 256Kbits/sec files – but we'd have liked the choice. When compared to Jay Z's lossless Tidal service, Apple Music looks even less adequate.
Apple Music vs Spotify: UI
A great library and high-quality tracks are nothing if you can't find them easily, so a good UI is important for any music-streaming service. In this area, Spotify makes its head start count. Now on version 3.2 in the App Store, the Spotify app is a well-oiled machine. Slick, intuitive and with its own distinct look, Spotify's UI complements the listening experience, whether it's on Android, Windows Phone, iOS or the web.
The last few years have been a time of reinvention for Apple, and that's evident in the Apple Music app. Following the Jony Ive-headed design overhaul of iOS, the Apple Music app looks fresh and vibrant, fitting in perfectly with Apple's operating system.
Hands-on reports suggest it's extremely easy to use, too, with playlists, social content and local music simple to navigate through. Apple doesn't make apps for other platforms – its only other Android app is for migration to iOS – so it's hard to know if it will be as good on Google's platform.
Verdict: A draw.
Spotify's app has taken years to evolve into the easy-to-use software we now enjoy, but Apple has the expertise and experience to get Apple Music right on its first attempt.
Apple Music vs Spotify: Compatibility
Spotify is now available on almost anything with an internet connection; one of the reasons why it's amassed more than 75 million users so far across iOS, Windows Phone, Android, BlackBerry, PC/ Mac and even PS4.
In contrast, Apple Music is available on all up-to-date Apple devices, but it's one of only two apps Apple has made for Android – with the other being the “Move to iOS” app.
Verdict: Spotify wins.
If you have a mobile device, chances are that Spotify will run on it, but for Apple Music it's more complex. Although it will be available on both Android and iOS, users with Google's OS will feel less at home on Apple Music – and won't get access to the free version of the service.
Apple Music vs Spotify: Extra features
Spotify recently added a feature that set it apart from other streaming rivals: the “Running” feature detects your running pace and provides a soundtrack to fit your tempo. It's a unique, innovative feature, and one that Spotify says actually improves performance, making runners feel more energised. Spotify also has several artist-run shows, and now allows users to stream some video content – but it's still primarily a music app.
What Apple Music lacks in innovation, however, it makes up for in exclusive, curated content. Beats 1 – an exclusive radio station with Zane Lowe at the helm – promises on-the-pulse programming exclusive to Apple Music users, while social service Connect will also make Apple Music different from the rest. Throw in human-curated suggestions and playlists, and it could be the choice of real music lovers.
Verdict: A draw.
Spotify's Running feature is impressive and finds a new way to use its vast library, and its video content sets it apart from other music apps, but Apple Music's exclusive content is hard to ignore.
Apple Music vs Spotify: Conclusion
Which service you choose will depend on your mobile platform of choice. Spotify still offers a great listening experience across platforms, and it's easy to see why it's become so dominant.
But Apple Music is undeniably impressive for a brand-new service. Designed to seamlessly fit into Apple's latest OS, Apple Music is tailor-made for the Apple ecosystem, and rewards those already in it. And its aggressive pricing – particularly for multiple users – should turn the heads of even loyal Spotify users.
Verdict: Apple Music wins
Money talks, and having up to six people sharing an unlimited account for $14.99 is hard to ignore – that works out at less than $2.50 per user per month.