First look! Bitterwallet review of the Spotify iPhone app

7 September 2009

What place has a review of the Spotify iPhone app got on a consumer(ish) website? Well, if it holds to its promise, for your £10 monthly subscription you'll never buy another track of music again. Maybe you've been bit-torrenting for years and so haven't paid for music in as long - in which case there isn't going to be a whole lot of music around in the future. The Spotify iPhone app (which is also released today for Android handsets) could be the model that gives both consumers and record labels what they want.

So first things first - the Spotify iPhone app downloads in seconds over 3G. Downloading the app is free, but you'll need to pay for a premium monthly subscription (which is possibly one of the simplest sign-ups ever if you're already a member) to use it. As soon as you sign in, the app will automatically open and sync with your desktop account. There's no need to refresh the app if you make changes to playlists on your desktop - the app updates in real-time.

Bitterwallet - spotify review for iPhone

You can listen to your playlists over 3G, but the first thing you notice is the enormous "offline playlists" button - the reason most of us thought this app would never see the light of day. Perhaps all isn't rosy in the iTunes garden, because the ability to cache all your desktop playlists offline is here. Selecting which playlists to cache takes two taps - it's dazzlingly easy to use.

The big selling point of Spotify is that, with a few very notable exceptions (The Beatles and Oasis being two) you have access to millions of tracks. Search is well thought out - tap in any phrase and flick between the returned results for tracks, albums and artists. Editing playlists is simple for anybody who's used an iPhone before; adding tracks from Search isn't quite as intuitive - you've got to tap the information icon, rather than select a more obvious "add to playlist" option - it keeps the interface clean but it's not immediately obvious.

Bitterwallet - Spotify iPhone app review

Now the downside; unlike the iPhone's (or iPod's) embedded music player, the app has to remain open to listen to music. This severely restricts your use of the handset - you can't use any other app or feature without shutting Spotify down. Not great, that. The second sticking point is offline syncing - it takes forever. While changes to playlists are synced between your desktop and handset in near-real time, caching playlists is a slow process - a 28 song playlist took over 20 minutes this morning. And hooking the handset up to your desktop doesn't change that; connecting the two makes no difference to the speed of the process.

Overall? Great if you spend hours lying in field of wheat staring at blue skies, not so brilliant if you want music as a soundtrack to the rest of your day. £10 a month isn't a bad price point for unlimited music, but it still has a few limitations - in terms of content and execution - to overcome.

[UPDATE - we’ve just tested it, and another downside is you can only cache your playlists offline using wi-fi; you can have a hard-line broadband connection to your desktop and still not be able to cache your app playlists. So that’s not very good, is it?]

TOPICS:   Mobile


  • Amanda H.
    "cotton eye joe" I saw it, you cant delete it now.
  • -Mike H.
  • Commercial B.
    [...] we might have mentioned elsewhere, it’s National Spotify Day, as the very excellent music streaming service comes to the iPhone and Google’s Android [...]
  • MrRobin
    'the app has to remain open to listen to music' That is a major, major downside. That has definitely made me put off subscribing until that's fixed.
  • Dan
    @MrRobin: The likelyhood of that ever changing is very, very slim I've paid for premium this morning, just to try it out for a month or so. Really liking it, but as with everything else 3G, my battery life is being decimated. Hopefully this will be rectified when I get home and get some offline syncing done.
  • Phil
    ‘the app has to remain open to listen to music’ Well that's well and truely put me off it. I'll be passing thanks.
  • Andy B.
    ‘the app has to remain open to listen to music’ Yeah but face it, that's only a limitation of the crappy iphone as it can only run one app at once.
  • Paul S.
    That's not down to the "crappy" hardware though, Andy - the iPhone is more than capable of running more than one app, Apple choose not to allow it without exception. A firmware update would sort it.
  • MrRobin
    As a side note, has anyone else (who isn't paying the subscription) noticed that the frequency of the ads has dramatically increased? It's like almost after every song now.
  • Maude
    Paul, thanks for the review. Two notes: 1) 'hooking the handset up to your desktop' would do absolutely nothing to speed up the syncing of offline playlists. The iPhone app is its own autonomous client which downloads music directly from the Spotify servers - not something that syncs with your desktop machine. 2) I would give the offline sync a bit of time. Despite scaling up their infrastructure, Spotify's servers are going to be being hammered at the moment with all the new traffic. I would hazard a guess that it will be a lot quicker in a week's time once the initial traffic has died down, and they get their server balancing optimised. Now, the question is... Do I pay £10/month?
  • Jake
    Presumably the Android version can run in the background? Might check this out, don't know whether I can stretch to the £10 a month though, will have to see how much I use it.
  • Paul S.
    Hey Maude - that's a fair point, but I think it'll catch a few people out because you kinda expect it to behave like iTunes; i.e. faster downloads through a physical connection. I've just tested it, and the other downside to this is you need wi-fi to cache your playlists offline; you can have a hard-line broadband connection to your desktop but still not be able to cache your app playlists. So that's not very good, is it?
  • Giki
    I love it how you have completely missed the point of spotify. The idea of spotify is to use it to listen to artists who you potentially might be interested in.. once you have formed an opinion on 'said artist' this site has done its purpose, you can then decide wether to buy the music or not based on your review of the music.
  • Maude
    Giki, I think it is you that has completely missed the point of Spotify. The market gap they are trying to fill is having a subscription to a huge legal music library. It replaces the traditional music purchasing model. Yes, you might discover new artists along the way. And yes, they have links in the application to actually purchase music through partners (although in all honesty, that's probably more about having extra kudos with music publishers, and also a way for Spotify to make some payback from the free customers through referrals) But let's not pretend we don't know what Spotify is about. It's eat-as-much-as-you-like music for a fixed flat monthly rate. All the time you have your subscription, you never have to buy another CD or MP3 again.
  • Paul S.
    Giki - if the point of Spotify was to form an opinion on a track and then buy it, there wouldn't be an option to cache playlists offline, now would there?
  • Giki
    maude, Thanks for your reply to my post, i do see what you are saying, but if you use spotify on your PC you will see that originally the intention was to help people search for artists and listen to music and base your own opinion before purchasing somethijg you may/may not like... i suppose it differs slightly on the Iphone with this scheme, but essentially it is the same, as you have to have the programme open to run your tune list. I would prefer to own music in CD form anyway, and although this is my own opinion, i will always buy cd's but i use spotify via my pc to experiment and listen to potential music i may buy.
  • Richard
    Not much Bob Dylan either.
  • Maude
    Paul, is it definitely true that offline playlists only sync over WiFi?
  • Paul S.
    Seems to be - it refuses to sync over 3G, and the screen reads: "They [your playlists] will be downloaded while you have a Wi-Fi connection." When I connect the iPhone to the laptop, there's no dialogue between the Spotify desktop app and iphone app. The Android version may be different, but as far as I can tell if you don't have wi-fi you can't cache playlists offline. That's not great.
  • Ronald
    Anyone who wants to use Spotify as a background app should jailbreak their iPhone, its not rocket science.
  • cheapskate
    Has anyone tried it on a proper phone yet than can do all sorts of things without the need for firmware upgrades etc?
  • Mark (.
    Backgrounder will let it run in the background 3G Enabler will allow you to download via 3G as well as wifi.
  • Amanda H.
    It's no use! I got a screen grab of it!
  • Simon C.
    There are a lot of tracks missing from Spotify not just Groups, such as Metalica (inevitably) and Pink Floyd. For example nearly the whole back catalogue of The Dead Milkmen is there but not Methodist Coloring Book - which is very odd.
  • Imax p.
    This is strange, but i feel nothing comes for free as the annual charges are bit high
  • O2 B.
    [...] couple of shortcomings (as highlighted in our review on Monday) and the £10 monthly subscription aside, the Spotify iPhone app seems to have been well [...]
  • Tim
    @Giki - that was the point of radio where you can't exactly play what you want, but can play things it thinks you want, and thus may buy it if you like it. Spotify is more of a mass library of music with licence deals that keep the studios happy. It faces the reality that the business model for music has changed and potentially wipes out music piracy as there's really no need any more. @Jake "Presumably the Android version can run in the background?" Yes it can. And so will the S60 version when it's out. It's only the Cult of Apple that prevents you from multi-tasking. Maybe Jobs has something against women ;)

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