Apple Music vs. Spotify: Streaming Services Compared

While Spotify's ubiquity and social media integration made it the established leader in streaming music, Apple Music's cloud locker, live radio and deeper Apple device integration make it a worthy competitor.

Is Apple Music compelling enough to warrant switching over? We've used both, and while the services are quite similar in some ways, each have some benefits over the other.


Apple Music
Spotify
Starting Price
Free
$9.99 per month
Student Discount
$4.99 per month
$4.99 per month
Family Package
$14.99 per month, 6 accounts
$14.99 per month, 6 accounts
Annual Plan
N/A
$99 per year
Exclusive Content
Windowed-exclusive music, Beats 1 Radio, Carpool Karaoke, Planet of the Apps
Showstopper podcast

Music Library

Apple Music and Spotify both feature libraries built around the same "more than 40 million songs," but their track records for exclusives set them apart. Since its introduction in 2015, Apple Music has claimed a series of high-profile albums (such as Chance The Rapper's "Coloring Book" and Taylor Swift's "1984") as windowed-exclusives, meaning they hit other services eventually.

Some criticize this practice as bad for fans, but Spotify's reluctance to deal in exclusives has meant its users have had to develop some patience over the years. Reports suggest recent contract renegotiations between Spotify and the major record labels will lead to the service putting a paywall around certain new releases, though that has yet to be seen.

Winner: Apple Music doesn't make you wait for new music.

Music Quality

Apple has not formally announced the bitrates that its songs stream at, but locally-saved files are 256 kbps AAC files, the same format as tracks purchased from iTunes. Spotify streams songs at three different rates (~96 kbps, ~160 kbpsand ~320 kbps) all in the Ogg Vorbis format, though the highest caliber is limited to paid Premium subscribers.

Reports suggest Spotify is testing a pricier lossless audio quality format tier, though we've yet to see any confirmation.

Winner: Draw, neither service is truly setting itself apart.

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Special Features

Spotify's most compelling feature is its user-specific Discover playlists, a once-weekly, now daily way for music lovers to discover new tracks. Apple Music has a similar section called My New Music Mix, but more people seem to rave about what they learn from Spotify. 

While Apple Music features curated playlists for music discovery, its Beats 1 online radio station is a destination for artists to debut new music. Those big moments and interviews typically happen on Pharrell Williams' OtherTone show, Q-Tip's Abstract Radio, DJ Zane Lowe's regular programming and Drake's OVO Sound program. Spotify's take on radio stations offers automatically-generated playlists that generate by selecting an artist or song.

Spotify comes out ahead on social sharing, with its Facebook account integration that allows friends to track each other's listening habits and send links to songs. Apple Music will become more social in the fall when iOS 11 comes out, but how easily that will work has yet to be seen.

Apple Music's biggest special feature is the iCloud Music Library, which allows MP3 collectors to access their libraries of rare tracks wherever they go. While the service's original rollout was hampered by collection-distorting bugs, it's currently a useful feature that helps the service stand out from the pack.

Both Spotify and Apple Music are trying to deliver non-music content, but neither is showing much success. Spotify offers select podcasts, including exclusives such as its Showstopper interview series, but it likely won't replace your own podcast app since it doesn't allow you to add shows outside of its pre-selected list.

Apple Music's going to deliver new episodes of Carpool Karaoke (but without host James Corden) and is trying to push a new reality TV series called Planet of the Apps, which seems to be more cringeworthy than anything else.

Winner: Spotify does a better job of delivering tracks you'll love.

Design

Redesigned in iOS 10, Apple Music's bright aesthetic focuses on big pictures and blocky text that's easy to read. Spotify's stayed pat over the years, as many love its now-signature black-and-neon-green aesthetic.

Both apps, though, have so much going on that you need to tap around a lot in order to find certain features, such as curated playlists.

Winner: Draw.

Value

If you don’t want to pay for streaming music and you’re OK with ads, Apple’s insistence on not having a free plan will keep you using Spotify. New users can try Apple Music for free for three months (Spotify offers a similar 3 months for 99 cents trial), but after that, you'll need to subscribe.

Spotify's increasing the advertising shown to its users, though, with a new Sponsored Song feature currently in public testing. This will allow for record labels to pay to feature songs in the space above playlists.

For those who are willing to pay, the balance tips the other way. While Apple Music and Spotify Premium are both $10 a month for individual accounts (with $15 per month, six-account family plans) Apple offers a $99 per year option for $20 in savings. Both services also off a $4.99 per month plan for students.

Winner: Spotify's free offer is unbeatable to many, though Apple's annual deal is a nice touch.

Availability

Available on almost every device that can play music (including phones, tablets, connected devices, and PlayStation consoles), Spotify has an impressively wide reach. Apple Music can be found on all Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, Macs, the 4th Gen Apple TV and the Apple Watch) as well as on PCs and Android devices, and Macs and PCs, as well as automobiles with Apple CarPlay.

Spotify won't be available on Apple's upcoming Siri-based Homepod speaker, reminding us that Apple's digital assistant can't be used to control any services other than Apple Music. So, if you want Siri to be your DJ, you're limited to Apple Music.

Winner: Spotify, available (almost) everywhere.

Bottom Line

While both services offer a solid set of streaming features, neither does an amazing job of pulling users away from the other. While Apple Music looks like a must-buy for those who pay attention to what trend-setters say, Spotify's got stronger appeal for those looking to see what their friends are into.

Going forward, it'll be interesting to see if any exclusive content, including windowed-exclusives, Apple's TV shows and Spotify's playlists, can make one of these services a must. Without a free version, though, Apple Music will likely have a hard time breaking the grip that Spotify has on many users.

Verdict: 5-3, Spotify (for now)

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  • beingbenjamin
    I have used premium spotify for years but am continually frustrated by ongoing and known issues with syncing my library. Songs are greyest out and unplayable offline in spite of me owning them. Their app support for devices like play station and CarPlay are abysmal. If the free trial goes well, I'll switch and rebuild my playlists.
    -1
  • henrytcasey
    Anonymous said:
    I have used premium spotify for years but am continually frustrated by ongoing and known issues with syncing my library. Songs are greyest out and unplayable offline in spite of me owning them. Their app support for devices like play station and CarPlay are abysmal. If the free trial goes well, I'll switch and rebuild my playlists.


    Exactly, beingbenjamin. Spotify has failed routinely to play well with my iTunes library, or vice a versa (I can't tell who to blame), and the prospect of playlists comprised of songs in my library and songs in the Apple Music subscription server is a primary driver of my interest.
    -2
  • Per Sjofors
    Full disclosure: My company is America's must trusted advisor to set prices right. Here is a link to a project we did about a month ago on what people are willing to pay for various music streaming services. And yes, I too was very underwhelmed with their presentation.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ya0b...

    As you can see if you download the PDF presentation Apple underprice themselves. They had the chance to be a "good citizen" and give more money back to the industry. But decided to launch a me-too service. Sad. Maybe the first true nail in the Apple coffin.

    In the meantime I continue to use Tidal as they are the only service I know that stream full quality (lossless compression) FLAC files.
    3