December 17, 2009

iTunes, Sirius Seem Antiquated After Spotify iPhone Trial

After an initial test of Spotify back in August, I said the product was the best streaming music service I had ever tried. While I still listen to much of my music through the dozens of gigabytes I have in my iTunes library, Spotify makes searching for practically anything or finding new tracks I haven't yet purchased very simple. After meeting with Shak of Spotify last week at LeWeb, I was given early access to Spotify's iPhone application - still not yet approved here in the United States - and my experience with it has me rethinking my traditional marriage to purchased and downloaded music. While there has been a lot of recent talk about Apple's purchase of LaLa and their future plans with the service, Spotify has me seriously thinking if I even need a stored music library at all.

Search and Find Artists, Tracks on Spotify for iPhone

As I told you back in June, I subscribed to Sirius XM satellite radio after the company debuted its iPhone application. Combined with my iTunes library, I have a solid archive of music I've purchased, and access to new music through Sirius' stations. Now that I have Spotify on both the desktop and the iPhone, I haven't found a need for Sirius, and I have even avoided opening iTunes, which has become far too bloated for me, slowing down my computer as it loads my ever-growing database.

Some of the Great Tracks (and art) on Spotify for iPhone

As you might expect, the iPhone version of Spotify mirrors that of its desktop sibling. Its two core sections are Playlists, both those you have made and friends' who you are following, and Search, which will find you Tracks, Albums and Artists that match your search criteria.

Click on any song in the search results, and it will start playing, streamed onto the iPhone. Hooking it up via my audio cable to the car stereo gave me excellent sound, as good, if not better, than Sirius has. Selecting an artist displays their albums on Spotify. You can choose an album and have it shuffle the songs, or start from the top.

Spotify Playlists Are Available and Sync to the iPhone

As one needs to log in to their Spotify account to gain access to music, the application synchronizes the playlists you have made or follow on the iPhone as well. This means that if you have selected any number of tracks and made them part of your personal playlist on the desktop application, the iPhone knows about it. And most interestingly, you can set up the application to use one or more of these playlists in an "Offline" mode, which will store the tracks to disk instead of streaming them over the air and hogging your bandwidth. While you are streaming, the app displays in green. If you are "offline", the background is blue, reminding you of your current state.

One of the selling points of the iTunes/iPhone phenomenon is that you can take all of your music with you anywhere you go. But as my own personal music library has expanded, now reaching 6,500 songs, comprising 41 Gigabytes and 26 days worth of tunes, Apple doesn't even make an iPhone large enough to do so, forcing me to synchronize a subset of my content. Even if it could, it's not as if the iPhone battery could last long enough to play every song once. That leaves only convenience as a benefit to having all of one's music with them when they are on the go, as well as possibly the feeling of self-satisfaction from knowing you paid for the individual tracks. Also beneficial to iTunes? Your own manufactured playlists, of course. But Spotify does that too. And with the speed at which you can search for tracks and find them anytime, it's close to that proverbial "any song on demand at any time" panacea we have always wanted.

My laptop, which I have been using for more than two years, after I bought it in September of 2007, often feels like it is getting a little long in the tooth. Apps don't boot up as quickly as they once did. The spinning wheel of death is a frequent visitor. Launching iTunes and its 40 gigabyte library isn't exactly something I am as fond of as I once was. With more and more applications moving to the cloud, Spotify seems well positioned to replace iTunes for me, if I ever were to take the plunge. The sheer geek pleasure of driving around town while streaming Spotify's hand-made playlists through the car stereo has been great, and the sound quality is excellent. The world of music has changed, and I am thinking differently about the value of music ownership and music access in general.

As mentioned in my last post on Spotify, the service, very popular in Europe, is looking to make its way to the US for more than just the select few using it now, in early 2010. The iPhone application is already being used outside of the US, and should arrive here around the same time. It has already changed the game for me, and I bet it will for many others once it debuts officially.

FTC Disclosure: I have gained free access to Spotify premium, as well as access to the iPhone app prior to its US debut, without cost.