Apple Music full review
When Apple unveiled Apple Music at WWDC 2015 on 8 June, Spotify's CEO and founder Daniel Ek tweeted just two words: "Oh ok." The tweet has since been deleted, but it could well indicate that the company is mighty scared by Apple's venture into the music streaming market that Spotify has dominated for several years.
On 10 June, just two days after Apple's unveiling of Apple Music, Spotify published a blog post to reveal that it now has 20 million paying subscribers, and 75 million active users in total, but that took almost seven years to achieve.
Apple Music is automatically installed on every iPhone and iPad with the iOS 8.4 update, so audience acquisition is not going to be the same tricky task it was for Spotify, so it has the potential to become an enormous threat immediately. See: iOS 9 release date & new feautures
In response, Spotify has increased its free trial period to two months, because Apple Music is offering a three-month trial, a sure sign that the company is worried.
Of course, Apple Music isn't the only Spotify rival. Google, Amazon, Deezer and more have already launched. Find out more about those here.
Here, we take a closer look at the similarities and differences between Apple Music and Spotify in our comparison preview. We'll be updating this article when we've spent some time with Apple Music for a definitive verdict on which we think is best.
Apple Music vs Spotify comparison: Price
Apple Music launched on 30 June, available for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac and Windows PC in the form of a free update. Apple Music can be found within iTunes on your computer (you'll need to update your software first) or the Music app on your iOS device, and you can sign up and use the service for free for three months, after which Apple will begin charging £9.99 per month for the service.
There is a free option of Apple Music, but it only offers limited features. With the free version, you'll get access to the Connect feature, where you'll be able to view and follow artists, but you won't be able to play, save or like content from Connect. You'll also be able to listen to the Beats 1 Radio station and listen to Apple Music radio stations (but with limited skipping).
You won't, however, be able to listen to the music you choose from the Apple Music library, which is where users will turn to Spotify, which offers an ad-supported option if you want to stream music for free and don't mind the lower quality and ad-filled content. Apple Music's free option also lacks offline listening (you won't get that on the free version of Spotify, either), or the tailored music recommendations feature.
But like Apple Music, the paid-for (Premium) subscription for Spotify is £9.99 per month and offers unlimited streaming with no ads at a higher quality (we'll talk more about quality in a moment).
Apple also offers a family package for Apple Music, which works through Family Sharing. Find out more about Family Sharing here. Six individual linked accounts can have access to Apple Music at a cost of £14.99 per month with the Family membership option.
Spotify offers a family account option, but it simply gives 50 percent off each additional member. A total of five people as part of the family package costs £29.99, so we imagine it won't be long before Spotify adjusts this pricing model to match or beat Apple's.
One thing that Spotify does offer that Apple currently doesn't is a student discount, which is £4.99 for the Premium subscription.
Apple Music vs Spotify comparison: Catalogue
Apple Music takes advantage of Apple's already huge iTunes Library, which has more than 40 million tracks, though you'll only get just over 30 million of those as part of the streaming service. Plus, your own songs ripped from CDs or already downloaded from iTunes will be right there in the Music app for you to listen to alongside the Apple Music tracks you're streaming.
Spotify also has more than 30 million songs available, although a noticeable omission is Taylor Swift, who Apple managed to win over when it revised its policy and promised to pay all of its artists royalties during the three month free trial.
Apple Music vs Spotify comparison: Audio quality
The audio quality of Apple Music is currently limited to 256kbps. That means it's lower than the 320kbps offered by the Premium option in Spotify, but higher than the 160kbps offered in the free version.
However, it's important to note that Apple Music is AAC while Spotify's tracks are MP3, and 256Kbps AAC is often considered the better format. The more deserning audiophiles among us will know that MP3 files are both larger, and also lose more information due to compression, resulting in a slightly worse audio experience when compared to AAC.
Apple Music vs Spotify comparison: Compatibility
Apps are available for both Apple Music and Spotify. There's already a Spotify app for Windows, Mac, iOS, Windows Phone and Android, but Apple Music won't be getting an Android app until later this year and the Apple TV app isn't expected until autumn, either. It's currently unclear whether Apple is working on a Windows Phone app for Music.
Apple Music vs Spotify: Other features
Both Apple Music and Spotify allow you to pick and choose songs you want to stream as part of your subscription, but they also boast personalised recommendation algorithms and numerous playlists designed to suit your mood or activity.
There's also radio stations that are created by choosing a particular artist or song and letting the service work its magic to determine what you're in the mood to listen to, and in Apple's case there's a 24/7 DJ-led radio station available anywhere in the world.
Both Apple Music and Spotify's paid-for membership options offer offline listening, too.
Apple Music vs Spotify comparison: Music discovery
Let's start with recommendation tools that help you discover new music. As music-lovers, we're always looking for something new to listen to, and Apple Music and Spotify both offer up personalised suggestions that they think you'll love.
Spotify's recommendation tool is simply called 'Discover,' which offers up artists, albums and individual track suggestions based on your listening history and favourites. You won't see playlists in the Discover section, which is a shame, but overall we've found the suggestions to be useful and have come across new artists that we now listen to regularly.
We particularly like the Browse section for music discovery in Spotify, because there you'll get a top lists, genres and moods, new releases and news for an overview of what's popular around the world.
Browse on Spotify also knows what day and time it is, and tailors what it shows you to suit that. On Monday mornings it'll show playlists that'll give you a bit of a pick-me-up, on Friday afternoons you'll get music that helps you celebrate the start of the weekend, and on Sunday you'll get relaxing lazy day playlists, for example.
Apple's discovery offering is called 'For You,' and like Spotify it shows you recommendations that it tailors to your music taste. The first time you use the service, you'll be asked to choose your favourite genres and artists – you can tap once on the artists you like and twice on the artists you love. This will kickstart the recommendation engine.
Apple's recommendations include albums and playlists, and several of those playlists come from experts in different genres, as well as music magazines and websites such as Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. Apple has put lots of emphasis on the "human" element to its recommendations.
Both Apple Music and Spotify's recommendations can be fine-tuned by clicking the like or dislike buttons, so the more you use them the better they'll get.
And like Spotify's Browse, Apple has a New section that shows the newest music, videos, charts and more.
Apple Music vs Spotify comparison: Radio
As mentioned, Apple Music has its own 24/7 radio station called Beats1. It's based in three locations around the world and DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga will be running it. Wherever you are in the world, the music will be the same on Beats1. It's an interesting idea but we've already discovered that there are lots of people who don't enjoy listening to it, as it's not always going to be the kind of music they like to listen to.
Aside from that Apple Music and Spotify offer similar Radio functionality. Both let you pick an artist (or in Apple Music's case an artist song or album), and create radio stations based on that, with music from that artist and similar artists included
Apple Music vs Spotify: Social
Apple Music has a feature called Connect, which is where the social element of the service comes in. Artists can post photos, videos and more to connect with their fans, and those fans can comment on and share those posts. Users can't create their own posts, so it's not designed to be a replacement for Facebook or Twitter in any way, but we imagine it'll be a compelling reason for many music fans to join the service if the content is exclusive.
On Spotify, social integration with Facebook is available, so you'll be able to see what your friends have been listening to. This is a big draw for Spotify, and something we feel Apple Music lacks.