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The Downsides & Verdict

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Spotify over iTunes, however, is removing the need to sync. Music can be added, removed and streamed to your iPhone without any use of the desktop client whatsoever. Instead all changes are recorded to your profile online so you can login anywhere on any Spotify mobile app or desktop client and everything is there. Yet while syncing is not required, it is there.

The desktop client automatically syncs wirelessly with any iPhone when its Spotify app is open and they are connected to the same WiFi network. Playlists can be added and removed, tracks set to cache and these changes are reflected within seconds in the iPhone app. It all makes iTunes feel positively archaic.


The Downsides

So this is an all singing, all dancing endorsement of the Cloud? Not entirely. The trial highlights a number of glaring faults in both Spotify's desktop and mobile implementations.

The most obvious of this is the company's obsession with playlists. While the fluidity of playlists is beneficial, many still like to listen by album and to do this means creating a playlist and manually dragging in the songs from that particular album. Because there are no sub-divisions of artist, album or track you quickly build huge numbers of playlists and it becomes unwieldy. Spotify's library may be immense, but it provides a poor solution for managing your selections from it.

This is made worse by the fact playlists have to be manually ordered on the desktop app. There is no option to alphabetise and the mobile app cannot order at all. How useful is a sync free existence if it results in a playlist collection that is so unwieldy nothing can be found? Alphabetising and sorting by artist, album, track and date (when published and when added to the device) should all be fundamental user options.


Another restriction is music quality. Tracks can be streamed and downloaded at 128Kbit or 320Kbps Ogg Vorbis, an admittedly higher quality format than MP3, but there is no lossless option for audiophiles. This will be an immediate deal breaker for some, though given the audio fidelity of most mobile phones it perhaps shouldn't be. Equally problematic is while locally stored music can be catalogued and played by the Spotify desktop client, there is no way to get it onto the mobile app. If your favourite band isn't on Spotify then it is doesn't matter to your phone if you have already paid to download a digital copy.

There is more. Spotify has yet to offer background downloading on the iPhone which means the app has to be open while caching tracks [update: now fixed in version 0.4.13] and, despite indications it wishes to evolve the service, you can't use Spotify for video or podcasts. The former is a miss given Apple's U-turn in banning VLC, though a solution to the latter can be found in the form of Instacast – a far more elegant, solution to podcast playback than that offered by iTunes and the iPod. Still it is another Spotify omission.


Our thoughts are numerous. For a start, unless you only listen to music, Spotify is not a complete replacement for the functionality of the iPod and it won't be anytime soon. On top of this the elegance of Spotify's streaming technology is severely compromised by the inelegance of its playlist system. This needs to be improved, fast.

That said what two weeks with Spotify does provide is a tantalising taste of the future. For those not fundamentally tied to the system of owning their music, it opens up a world of musical enlightenment where possession is revoked in favour of limitless sharing. Music is no longer stored and coveted, it is used and deposed of as part of wider acoustic experimentation in which you are constantly trying new things and making new discoveries. Of course the future comes with a price, but at £9.99 per month it feels like a price worth paying.

Ultimately however what this experiment has made most clear is choice is available, everywhere. If you regularly read this site you likely put thought into which web browser or media player you use. It is time to raise the same questions about the stock options on your phones.

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