What's good about Spotify?
Clearly the main thing is it is free: everyone's favourite price. But, more importantly, it's not just free, it gives the user freedom; freedom to enjoy all the music that's available without significant impediment. Linked to this is the speed of the service. In many respects it's faster to play music on Spotify than it is music stored locally, especially compared to iTunes on Windows, which is absolutely awful. Playlist sharing and collaborating are also prominent among its strong points and several websites have already popped-up dedicated to sharing playlist links.
Vitally, as yet at least, the advertising remains relatively unobtrusive and also quite effective. Though the audio clips are very similar to radio advertising, they can be targeted in a way that radio cannot. This is not only good for advertisers, it's also good for the user as you're not bombarded by random adverts that you're likely to have no interest in at all. Its light resource use and simple interface also enhances accessibility to the point that you can be comfortable of most of the functions within minutes.
What's bad about Spotify?
There are definitely areas where Spotify is a little rough around the edges, which is to be expected given it is still in Beta. Its similar artist suggestions, for instance, aren't always that helpful. How, exactly, are Fiona Apple and KT Tunstall similar to the Manic Street Preachers? This problem extends to the artists radios and generally the suggestions and recommendations Spotify comes up with aren't a patch on Last.fm. It's good to see, though, that scrobbling to Last.fm is supported.
Other bugs include tracks whose availability, regionally, appear to change without warning. Aside from this, the negatives of Spotify are largely based on what it can't do or doesn't have, which leads us on to...
What will make Spotify better?
Clearly there's a lot of scope for additional features, though the need to balance this against keeping the application light and simple is acute. More extensive artist information, lyrics and general trivia would go a long way to enriching the experience, while the aforementioned related artists issue definitely needs sorting out.
Beyond this there are plenty of tweaks that could be made, but the most natural progression would be the ability to buy tracks using Spotify. It's bound to happen since it would be madness if it isn't somewhere in Spotify's long term plans, but perfecting the buying experience and ensuring its music database is thorough and comprehensive will be key - as will a lack of DRM for that matter!
Perhaps even more important, though, is penetrating the burgeoning market for mobile music applications and we've already seen movement on this; there's an iPhone app already in the works as well as one for Symbian based handsets. This is a canny move on Spotify's account, especially given the success of Last.fm's own iPhone app.
Will Spotify succeed?
Arguably it has already in one sense, since it has generated enough positive press to attain more investment should it need it, but there's still a long way to go yet. Though its model of advertising is undoubtedly ingenious, this doesn't guarantee it to be one that can sustain the business. It's not as if there's no competition out there, either.
Napster, whom we covered in our music service round-up last year, offers a similar service at a cost, has a larger and more comprehensive library and also offers music for download. However, though we're keen on Napster's service, its streamed music is of a lower quality and it's slower. Fundamentally, though, if you're not willing to put up with adverts and are happy to pay, Napster remains the more mature service and costs no more.
One has to wonder, too, whether the likes of Last.fm and even Apple through iTunes might launch something to compete, though both seem to have been caught with their trousers down right now. Finally, successful as Spotify is up to this point, until it can launch into North America and remove the shackles of largely invitation only availability, we're still in the realm of ifs and buts. Nonetheless, the future is very bright indeed since, after nearly ten years since Napster (the original) kicked-off this period of change, we might have a service that truly understands its user's desires.