It's been strange to watch the hype surrounding Spotify. It has been aided, in no small part, by the mainstream media's greater awareness of ongoing tech trends. It is one thing for us to enthuse about something, but quite another to see it headlined in the Daily Mail as the next big thing to corrupt innocent children or subject to pointless vox pop segments on Radio 1. Spotify, though well-known in tech circles, began to reach such levels of recognition last week when it launched mobile applications for the iPhone and Android handsets.
If somehow you've managed to miss all this (my mum knows about Spotify, so you should be embarrassed if you don't!) then now is the right time to acquaint yourself with our previous feature, Spotify: The Future of Music? For the rest of you, however, you should know Spotify as the music streaming service that has made its name by being completely free and supported by advertising. However, it has always carried a subscription option that eliminated adverts which, given several reports suggesting the ad-supported model is unsustainable, is ultimately where the future of the service probably lies.
It's a fact clearly reinforced with the advent of the mobile applications, which are free to download but require a monthly 'premium' subscription to the service. At £9.99 a month this is no trivial commitment, despite being cheaper than Napster's 'Napster To Go' package, which costs £14.95 a month for unlimited music transfer onto a compatible player (Apple products not included). Of course the two services, though superficially similar, differ in many important aspects and we're not going to exhaustively compare the two, here. However, we feel Napster still represents the best recognised alternative - as last year's Music Subscription Service Round-up attests to.
In essence the mobile application offers the same service as the desktop iteration, but with one important difference: it adds the ability to download tracks. Thus, while you can still stream music over Wi-Fi or 3G, if you're somewhere that you can't get either or just don't want to drain your battery, you can still enjoy your music.
Like most things Spotify, the process for this is insanely straightforward. Upon logging into the mobile application, all the playlists you already have are synchronised to it. This works in both directions, too, so any changes or additions you make while using the mobile app are instantly mirrored in the desktop version. With your playlists loaded, all you need do is go to the 'Offline Playlist' menu and select the lists you want to access when offline.
Provided you're connected to a Wi-Fi connection these are then downloaded in 160kbps OGG, free to be listened to offline provided you reconnect within 30 days to confirm your subscription. Of course, the connected nature of an iPhone means this isn't a great trial, taking just a few moments and not even requiring a 3G connection.
As for streaming, while it will kill your battery pretty rapidly, it works perfectly over both Wi-Fi and 3G. It's just as fast as the desktop application, which is no small achievement really. Anything less than a reasonable Wi-Fi or 3G connection and streaming becomes problematic, but the quality sacrifices necessary for it to work on EDGE probably wouldn't warrant the effort. Speaking of quality, while not good enough for audiophiles, the 160kpbs OGG files (roughly equivalent to 192kbps MP3) are more than good enough for the general population, not least anyone still using the horrific Apple-bundled earbuds - dear God why?