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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.


May 23, 2011, 5:12 pm

Good summary, but I think you've missed a few points here. On the upside:

- Unlike itunes, you can install the spotify mobile player on non-apple devices. This means that if you have (as I do) an android phone, you straight away halve the number of devices you have to carry around! (I know there are itunes alternatives for Android, before anyone points out DoubleTwist etc, but not of them are as endemic as itunes, and I'm really highlighting the system independence of Spotify here)
- Whilst I agree that you should be able to listen to an album without creating a playlist, it's not as cumbersome as you make out. I hardly ever use the desktop client. I just search for the album on the mobile app, then create a new playlist from the album. You don't have to drag each song over individually. In usage, I generally cache the album to offline, listen to it a few times over the course of a week or two, then delete it.

On the downside, Spotify just doesn't have as much music available as itunes. The FAQ on Spotify's own website names and shames some of the big omissions, including Pink Floyd and the Beatles, but of greater annoyance to me is there seems to be a delay between new albums being released and becoming available on Spotify. Also, a lot of popular current bands don't seem to be represented at all. For example, just recently I've been frustrated by the absence of Pink, and Florence and the Machine, to name a couple.

Ben 3

May 23, 2011, 5:31 pm

"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."

Since the last update Spotify can sync local files in playlists into the iOS mobile app


Denis iii

May 23, 2011, 5:49 pm

I think Spotify needs to hurry up and evolve ASAP.

I don't buy music, online or physical media, nor do I pirate but once Spotify integrate Pandora style radios, Google style "make playlist from track", Apple's "Genius Playlist" and fix the other issues in the article I will sign up for paid mobile access version.


May 23, 2011, 6:01 pm

To an extent. You can make your 'local files' folder an offline playlist, but most people's local files are far larger than their phone capacity.

If you have spotted an alternative I'm happy to be corrected.


May 23, 2011, 6:04 pm

Some of those are impossible, Apple will never licence its iOS features to others. There are radio stations in Spotify, but it should take a leaf out of TuneIn Radio's book. Meanwhile smart playlist generation and a centralised database for saving and searching for playlists should be at the heart of the service.

Spotify is a hugely impressive technological leap, but you are right it does need to quickly evolve...


May 23, 2011, 6:08 pm

Thanks Bluepork
-I do mention Spotify's flexibility in the section about why we chose to use it. A primary reason is its ubiquity across devices.
-I think this is a debatable point. Saying the work around for the omission of a simple feature ('Add album') isn't too difficult does not justify its omission in the first place.

All libraries have their absentees - the Beatles was missing from iTunes until just recently and Pink Floyd is famously absent from most services. Florence and the Machine is there by the way ;)

More concerning is that tracks are removed regularly so you will often find previous playlists or tracks in playlists greyed out. This suggests Spotify is having some licensing problems which it needs to iron out.

Tom Andrews

May 23, 2011, 8:00 pm

I've been using Zune ever since I got a windows 7 phone and I've found it to be brilliant. I started using it simply because it integrated with the phone better than spotify did, which I'd been using up to that point, but I dont miss spotify at all. The only downsides are that unlike in the US we dont get to keep 10 tracks per month, and of course that it's only useful on windows phones and pcs.

Ben 3

May 23, 2011, 8:47 pm

You can add local files into all other playlists, or create playlists purely from local files, and it will still sync them across. You don't have to treat the local files as an all or nothing option


May 23, 2011, 8:53 pm


Agreed it's a workaround. I'm just saying its not that inconvenient.

You are right about Florence and the Machine. Turns out the "and" is a "+", which highlights the obvious omission of a "did you mean...?" response to the searching facility, a la Google.

That said, there's still no Pink. And I can't think of any alternative spellings to try! There are plenty more examples. I hope they get their licensing sorted out soon.

(Off topic, but as you kindly replied to my comment in a threaded fashion, I would like to be able to add this response to the existing thread rather than starting a new discussion point. Are TR planning to allow this functionality?)

Ben 3

May 23, 2011, 9:00 pm

Further to my above comment, I mean in the desktop client that will then sync to the mobile app. I do agree there isn't a way to manage it directly from the Mobile app


May 24, 2011, 12:08 am

I've attempted a similar experiment and failed, for one the interface doesn't work over my car's system. It does however compliment iTunes quite well, on a recent one month trip I cached a dozen or so CDs alongside the iTunes library. My main problem is with Spotify's unsophisticated interface, they should take a good look at how the iTunes 'increasingly outdated' interface organises a library (I guess the equivalent would be library system for favourites), it leaves Spotify's for dead, and if you're interested in Classical music, searches can get really confusing.


May 24, 2011, 12:09 am

Try P!nk ;)


May 24, 2011, 1:44 pm


OMG you are right! "P!nk" it is!

Can no-one spell or punctuate any more? (I know, I know. Now I'm sounding like someone too old to be listening to Pink anyway!)


May 25, 2011, 2:28 pm

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned that Spotify make you view ads even when just listening to your own local music files. This is the primary reason why I won't migrate, along with many other reasons. They are making money from content they have no hand in delivering.

Library management, Coverflow, Apple Remote, Genius Playlists, iTunes Store, Content Sync,

It might be easy for somebody using an Android phone to move into the Spotify ecosystem, due to the awful Android player and difficulty in getting music easily onto the phone, but Apple users know how good they have it with the iTunes eco-system. When a future update brings Wi-Fi sync to the iPhone, then Apple will further pull away.


June 23, 2011, 2:42 am

darkspark88 - You can only use spotify mobile if you have spotify premium, which is ad-free.

I've recently started using spotify premium and mobile on my android device. I've started subscribing to playlists on spotify, particularly those from Armada Music and Armin Van Buuren. It's a way of keeping up with new music instead of listen to the same songs all the time. After that I started offline syncing some playlists but due to lack of space on my phones SD card and no desire to spend £50 on a larger capacity card, I've decided to drop all my own music library which I used to sync onto the phone from itunes using isyncr and I am now syncing all my spotify playlists onto my phone. I will use my ipod for my own music files, but I'm sure I can find most of them on spotify and build a playlist if I have to.

There are some minor gripes I have with Spotify, but this are more to do with the running of the software such as not being able to choose which playlists sync first (a pain with a 500-strong song playlist, although last night I found out that if you play a song the whole way through, it is then synced, which can be handy for small playlists).

The service is excellent and at £10 a month, I'm not complaining. They've basically ruined spotify free with the recent changes, so if you're going to pay £5 a month for unlimited, why not pay a bit extra for premium and make the most of spotify's features.

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