Spotify vs Apple Music: features, pricing, catalogue and exclusives

We take a look at the battle between the two music titans, and see how they stack up against each other

Spotify and Apple Music are going head to head. With billions to be made, and the market for music streaming growing larger by the day, can Apple's service supplant the current king of the hill?

Spotify vs Apple Music: history

Apple Music has been a long time in the works. Back in 2014, Apple finalised its acquisition of Dr. Dre's Beats brand, including both Beats Electronics and Beats Music. The purchase of Beats Music, a pre-existing streaming service, led many to speculate that Apple was planning to set up its own online music platform.

The company's Worldwide Developer Conference in early 2015 proved the rumour mill right, and Apple Music was officially unveiled.

Launching at the end of June 2015, the service features 24/7 online radio station Beats 1. Music, human curated playlists and more detailed ways of interacting with artists.

Spotify is by this point a well-established player in the music industry, with a vast catalogue and millions of subscribers. Nevertheless, it's clear that Apple is gunning for Spotify and, during the launch, founder and CEO Daniel Eck tweeted simply: "Oh ok."

Spotify vs Apple Music: subscribers

The Apple Music service, which appears as a preinstalled default app in iOS 9, has apparently gained 11 million members since its launch in June. However, since the three-month free trial period doesn't elapse for another month, this may drop as users are asked to start actually paying for it.

Spotify, by contrast, is doing much better in the subscriber stakes, boating 75 million active users, 20 million of whom are paying customers. Having been around longer, it's also much more stable.

Apple Music has been raked over the coals in recent weeks for its multitude of bugs, glitches and hiccups, including one flaw which could see thousands of pre-existing songs accidentally deleted from users' libraries.

Spotify vs Apple Music: celebrity endorsement and criticism

The debate between Apple Music and Spotify has been a heated one, particularly in the artistic community.

Spotify had its fair share of public spats with artists before Apple Music even launched Taylor Swift notably pulled her entire catalogue from the service in November last year but Apple Music's launch really ramped up the tension.

Swift in particular has been a big focus of the argument. After she fell out with Spotify, the artist turned her ire on Apple Music, penning an open letter that lambasted their policy of not paying artists royalties during users' free trial periods.

The letter gained widespread media attention, forcing Apple to reverse their policy within less than a day. This quick about-face pleased the mighty Taylor Swift, whose back catalogue including smash hit album 1989 is now available on Apple Music (and not Spotify).

Swift later took a stinging swipe at Spotify in a Vanity Fair interview, saying "I found it really ironic that the multi-billion-dollar company reacted to criticism with humility, and the startup with no cash flow reacted to criticism like a corporate machine."

Others are somewhat less than complementary of Apple's efforts, though. Ex-Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher has hit out at the service, calling Apple Music's global radio station "some kind of George Orwell sh*t".

In an interview with the Varvet International podcast, he lambasted the idea, saying "how can you be so arrogant that you can say, We now f*cking own world radio'?"

He was also vocally critical of the Connect feature, that lets fans have more access to artists and their day-to-day lives. "Who cares what f*cking Thom Yorke is up to? Seriously, who gives a sh*t? I'd find it creepy if everyone wanted to know what I was up to."

Another target of Gallagher's trademark vehemence was Tidal, the streaming service set up by Jay Z that purports to be by artists, for artists'.

"They were like, We're going to f*ckin' save the music business.' And I'm just sitting there, thinking you might want to write a decent chorus for a f*cking start. Never mind f*cking royalties and the power of music'. Write a tune. F*cking start with that."

Tidal was born out of music creators' alienation with Spotify and the traditional streaming model, leading to some of the world's most popular artists signing up for exclusive deals.

These can be early release deals, exclusive singles, or in the case of artists like Prince, putting their entire catalogue exclusively on Tidal.

Spotify vs Apple Music: the future

Spotify, with an existing user-base that dwarfs all competition, is unlikely to be going anywhere any time soon. However, Apple Music may prove to be a serious long-term rival.

Spotify's inherent problem is that music is an expensive industry - the company claims that it has paid $2 billion to artists and copyright holders since it started in 2008. The licensing of popular music costs money, and Apple has enough capital behind it that it could simply outspend Spotify to get the biggest and best artists first.

The real test though will be whether, people are still willing to pay for Apple's service once the free trial ends.

Spotify vs Apple Music: features

By now, Spotify is established enough that we shouldn't have to explain it. However, if you've been living under a rock, Spotify is an on-demand music service built in the traditional streaming model; it's Netflix, but for music.

Among its main strengths are the fact that its platform-agnostic meaning you can use it on Android, Windows Phone, iOS or through the web app and that it links with Facebook, so users can share what they're listening to.

Apple Music boasts some decidedly shinier features, such as Beats 1 radio. A global, always-on radio station, Beats 1 boasts a cast of all-star DJs like Zane Lowe, Elton John and Dr Dre, playing a huge variety of different styles and genres.

It also incorporates a feature called Connect, which acts sort of like a social network for music stars. Fans follow their favourite artists, and Apple Music will display a newsfeed of pictures, updates, songs and playlists from them.

One of the things Apple appears to be proudest of, however, is that all of its playlists are human-created. "Algorithms are really great, of course, but they need a bit of a human touch in them, helping form the right sequence" Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine said in a Guardian interview.

This would appear to be a dig at Spotify, but despite the multitude of playlists that Spotify has compiled for seemingly every mood, all of Spotify's playlists are curated.

Using big data analytics tools like Spotify's Truffle Pig, the company makes playlists based on a number of variables and criteria, and then refines them by hand based on users' listening habits.

Spotify vs Apple Music: fees and pricing

Pricing structures are a tricky issue, and especially so in the case of Spotify. The service's primary draw is its free tier. You can listen to unlimited music, but it's supported by ads. The 9.99 per month premium tier naturally removes these, but it also gets rid of a few other restrictions.

For example, mobile users can listen to the artists, albums or playlists for free, but only in shuffle mode they can't directly select tracks, and they have a maximum number of skips per hour.

It's a good deal for all parties. The free tier is more than functional enough, especially for casual users, but the benefits of premium (like higher-quality audio) are enough that many will consider switching of their own volition.

Apple Music also has a free tier, but compared to Spotify's, it's downright truncated. Free users won't be able to play, save or like content from Connect, have limited skipping privileges on the Apple radio stations and, crucially, have no access to the Apple Music instant streaming library.

To compensate for this, Apple instead offers an unusually-long three-month trial period for new users. However, as noted above, the trial period will be ongoing for everyone for another two months, meaning there's no evidence of how it will fare as a paid-for service.

It does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of the family subscriptions, however. Single subscriptions cost 9.99 a month the same amount as Spotify but Apple also offers a family membership for 14.99 a month.

Provided via the pre-existing iCloud family sharing, this enables up to six people to use the same Apple Music account, with separate playlists, recommendations and libraries. It's an absolute steal for families, and beats Spotify's similarly-themed offering into a cocked hat.

Spotify vs Apple Music: catalogue

According to the company, Spotify's catalogue is around 30 million tracks. Although the iTunes library has 40 million, only three-quarters of these are available through Apple Music, leaving the two services neck-and neck in terms of rosters.

What Apple Music does have that Spotify lacks is an unsurprising number of exclusives. Dr. Dre's latest album Compton, for example, will be released exclusively on Apple Music. Pharrell also released his single Freedom exclusively on Apple Music, as part of the 30 June launch.

Compared to rivals Apple Music and particularly Tidal, Spotify's standing in the artistic community does not carry a huge amount of weight. While it's unlikely to be starved of new music and major releases, it's also not going to be seeing the same amount of exclusive releases as Cupertino's offering.

Spotify vs Apple Music: restrictions

In a rather unexpected masterstroke, Apple has removed one of its biggest stumbling blocks for Apple Music. Rather than tying users into the Apple ecosystem, Apple Music is available across iOS devices, Macs, PCs and, coming in Autumn, Android phones.

By removing one of the most egregious aspects of Apple's software and services policy, Apple has opened itself up to the die-hard Android fanbase, a segment that might otherwise have been locked out.

Spotify vs Apple Music: user interface

Apple has come under fire for its confusing interface, and rightly so. While it admittedly looks very sleek and, well, Apple-ish, it's hard to navigate if you're just after a quick blast of the Beastie Boys.

Spotify's layout is a lot simpler, cleaner and easier to use, but it does lack the visual panache of Apple's. That said, from a pure functionality standpoint, Spotify wins this round hands down.

Spotify vs Apple Music: verdict

There's honestly not a huge amount between these two services. They've got a similar number of tracks, virtually identical pricing options and no real drawbacks for either.

If you're after a free streaming service and are willing to put up with only slightly obnoxious ad breaks, Spotify has a far more complete functionality to offer. However, if you're an existing iTunes user with a large and well-maintained library, Apple Music will integrate it beautifully.

For our money, Spotify is still just about edging out Apple Music, but we wouldn't hesitate to recommend either, and we've got no problem calling this one an even tie.

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