According to Spotify “There’s a new world inside Spotify” and that means apps. But do you want them, are they any good, or is the music streaming service just jumping on the apps bandwagon in an attempt to make us all believe that it is something more than just a streaming music service?
Following the launch on Wednesday, we’ve spent some time playing with the new apps to find out what it is all about.
As with virtually every new software launch, Spotify with apps is still at the preview stage at the moment. You can have a play with the new features and there are a handful of “apps” to try out, but you’ll have to go to the Spotify preview page on the website, download the app again and install it on your PC or Mac either next to or over your current version of Spotify.
If that sounds like too much effort, the company say that it will be pushed out as an automatic download in the coming weeks. Once you’ve downloaded, installed and then run the app you are ready to go.
Before we get to the apps there are some other new features worth noting. The whole experience has got a lot more social. The What's New page now lists trending playlists amongst friends, new friends on Spotify, Top Tracks amongst friends, new tracks to the service, and even Top playlists near you based on your location.
The right-hand column of the app has also been tarted up with a ticker tape of what your Facebook (if you have it connected) friends are listening to right now and the ability to pick "favourite friends" so you can see what they are listening to if you know your music choices are similar.
The Spotify desktop software looks identical to what you have been used to already with one major difference, there is now a new section on the left-hand column called Apps, and more specifically something called Apps Finder.
Apps Finder is like the iTunes Store option within iTunes and takes you to the apps that are taking advantage of the new features in Spotify. At the time of writing there are 11 apps available and some are more adventurous than others in what they offer and how you will use them.
Apps are incredibly easy to install. You click the add button and they appear in a list in the left-hand column ready to be accessed. A right click gives you the option to remove them. There is no lengthy download and install process.
Billboard Top Charts
By its own admission, the Billboard Top Charts app is incredibly basic, and in reality it is a curated list of tracks from the Billboard Top 100, Top 200, R&B/Hip-Hop, Country, and Rock charts in the US. Tracks that aren’t available on Spotify are still listed, but greyed out and it really highlights where Spotify is lacking - Adele, Coldplay and Red Hot Chilli Peppers for example. Those lists, and they really are nothing more, can be subscribed to and saved to your own playlist queue.
It is a great way of quickly playing the hot hits of the week, but is very US focused. Here in the UK we would like to see the Chart Top 40 for example.
Fuse takes a very different approach to letting you discover music by giving you curated playlists based on what is happening in the news with particular artists.
At the time of writing that meant a playlist for the Grammy Nominations in the US and even the more controversial "Conrad Murray Gets a Prison Playlist" which features tracks like Folsom Prison Blues and In The Jailhouse Now.
There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what they pick - it looks to be editorially driven - but it is a nice idea.
The Guardian is using its Spotify app as a companion to the music reviews that it does in the paper each week allowing you to listen to the albums they have reviewed.
Sounds like a great idea, but in reality it is the 100 words lifted from the review in the paper, with a link to the album in Spotify’s database. There is no search, no suggestion of further reading on the site (the link to The Guardian takes you to the website's home page) and ultimately is just a pretty RSS feed.
But then again that isn’t surprising. On The Guardian website it has and still does suggest you buy the album from Amazon. It clearly feels the affiliate kickbacks are more lucrative than anything Spotify is currently offering.
Last.fm already has a close relationship with Spotify so it is no surprise to see the music service being one of the first apps in the Spotify App shop (nothing is for sale though).
It scans what you listen to and then suggests more tracks for you based on that. The more you use it the better it gets, and the circle of listening discovery begins.
Are you looking for an angry playlist, or maybe something sensual to impress Mrs Pocket-lint? Well Moodagent believes it is the answer. It will create a playlist based on your mood whether you give it a starter track or just ask it for suggestions. It then gives you a pretty graph so you can see what you’re going to be getting.
There are basic controls to influence the playlist up or down and with choices along the lines of Sensual, Tender, Happy, Angry, and Tempo, there should be something to get you fired up.
What is clear is that you will be introduced to a bucket load of music that you’ve never heard for. Thankfully you can always press the skip button.
It, like other apps, as the ability to save your creation as a playlist to listen on other devices.
Like The Guardian App, Pitchfork is a curated reviews app highlighting the best independent music around.
The reviews are longer than the both The Guardian and Rolling Stone Recommends apps, but are still just ways of highlighting new releases.
Rolling Stone Recommends
New album releases, hot songs, and a compilation of greatest tracks you need to be listening to are all here in the Rolling Stone Recommends app.
The app is a bit more polished than The Guardian offering, however American in its tastes and approach. Reviews are still on the short side though.
On the compilation front we aren’t really sure we are ready to listen to Mick Jagger’s Top Reggae Songs however.
Tapping into the Songkick website and musician concert tours the app looks at the music you have stored locally in Spotify and then keeps you informed when those artists or bands are performing so you know to book tickets.
If none of your artists are performing, it will also work out your location and then give you a list of where all the gigs are in your area. It is the only app we can actually see making money.
Taking the subscription playlist feature to the next level, the app allows you to create a “spot” that you can then invite people to listen to. The app works very much like turntable.fm allowing a group of you to have a say in what music is played next, but with the added bonus of doing it all within Spotify. You can comment on the songs being played, add tracks, and then vote for tracks to be played next if you really are that bothered.
The app tracks how many people are listening to it allowing you see and then join really popular playlists. If you like the playlist you can add it to your list for listening later. If the track isn't available in your country then you'll get silence until it finishes. Annoying.
You can’t however skip or rewind tracks.
Like a spot of karaoke? Fancy sitting in front of your computer singing? Well if that is you then this is the Spotify app you’ll be wanting. The app will show you the lyrics (if it has them) so you can sing along to your heart's content without having to leave your home.
It has most of the popular tracks you’ll be looking for.
For the ultimate karaoke professional you can hone the syncing skills of the app further if you feel it is slightly out, but for us that’s taking it a little too far.
We Are Hunted
Like the Rolling Stone Recommends and The Guardian apps the We Are Hunted app is yet another curated song list app that gives you what’s hot for its loyal audience. Here you get an eclectic mix of emerging artists, a mainstream chart, and genre based charts.
However offering something very different and perhaps the killer feature here is the “Instant Playlist” feature that allows you to pick an artist and for it to generate a playlist for you of musicians and bands that sound like that artist.
It is very Pandora in its approach - a good thing for UK listeners who don’t have access to the US streaming service - but we did find that the artist we asked for either didn’t then appear in the playlist the app generated for us, or appeared just once or twice over 90 tracks.
For the Spotify user it is win win. There are some really good examples of what is possible here and it is only day one.
We’ve been a big fan of curated playlists for a while, enjoying other people’s far better music knowledge and the introduction of apps will let you tap into that in a way that for many will be lot friendlier.
The apps also start to help you get past one of the biggest hurdles Spotify has always add - what do I listen to?
But while we think the apps have massive appeal to the Spotify audience, we can’t currently see what benefit they have for the creators, apart from trying to build their brand to another untapped audience.
Spotify has said that currently developers won't be able to charge or earn money from creating apps and that means that while some are happy to “mess around” many won’t be able to invest the time to create them, let alone then maintain them. That might change the in the future, but there are no promises.
As Spotify founder, Daniel Ek, said at the press conference: “This is really something we’ve done because we believe this was missing.”
He is right, and anything that helps you get more out of the service is very much welcomed. Let’s just hope those that have good app ideas are happy to work for free.