The state of music streaming services in 2022

Nothing but peace love for the builders of criticized software, who are talented people that are good at their jobs.

I’ve been a Spotify user for half a decade, give or take. For the better part of that time, I was a (cringely) die-hard Spotify user who would eagerly participate in Spotify vs. Apple Music debates with whoever dared to engage. More recently, Spotify has managed to keep me just happy enough with the service not to jump ship, but after shopping around for a few days, back and forth over the railing.

I’ll only be comparing Apple Music and Spotify because they’re the only viable options for me. Yes, that’s a slight hyperbole and no, I don’t care to elaborate more than Amazon Music Unlimited, SoundCloud whatever the fuck, and YouTube Music are jokes and I primarily listen to music through AirPods Pro so Tidal’s weird UI and inferable drawbacks because of its relative obscurity outweigh any marginal sound quality benefits over Bluetooth.

inhale Aight. All anyone cares about is UX (user experience), right? That’s a bit vague, so I’ll get more specific. But not before I flippantly suggest that Apple and Spotify are colluding to make their (music streaming) services suck in uniquely different ways to get me to pay for both of them.

Below you should assume I’m talking about mobile software exclusively if a detail I mention isn’t correct about a desktop counterpart.

Audio

AM (Apple Music) wins in audio, as in how much my ears like the sound. Dolby Atmos-enabled Music with AM, where I have HiRes Lossless (ALAC up to 24-bit/192 kHz) enabled makes a noticeable difference compared to what Spotify calls “very high” quality, which in reality is AAC 256kbit/s (not very high quality).

I listen to music almost always through AirPods Pro, so as long as it sounds good enough to me, which it does with both services, this stuff matters little to me. But those AirPods Pro allow me to listen to some songs in Spatial Audio with AM, which, although it’s not a big factor, I do like and leave enabled for those specially mixed songs.

Library

Both AM and Spotify are fine at library browsing. Apple Music has more filters that I don’t use. I find what I’m looking for in my library faster with Spotify, but the difference can be chalked up to muscle memory.

With AM it’s unclear when looking at songs anywhere outside your library, (in a playlist, album, etc.) which songs are in your library. That’s not a problem with Spotify, where that green heart shows up next to a song that’s in your library basically everywhere it’s listed.

With AM, there’s no way to keep your entire library downloaded, which is something I want to do and Spotify does just fine.

Continuity and multi-device support

In general, Spotify wins in continuity and multi-device support. Spotify supports more devices and continuity works solidly, except for the lack of queue preservation. Apple Music excels here if you have any HomePod devices you listen to music with, in which case I would at least have an Apple Music subscription if not switch to it entirely.

Discovery

Is it even a question who does discovery better?

Algorithmic recommendations

Spotify is better at algorithmic recommendations, it just is. I enjoy listening to Spotify’s algorithmically-generated playlists for different moods or for discovering music and building on existing Spotify playlists with algorithmic recommendations is not only uniquely possible but good.

Human-curated playlists

Re: human-curated playlists, I can only speak to hip-hop/rap human-curated playlists, where Spotify is better.

Lyrics

Both AM and Spotify have real-time lyrics that work well on most mainstream music. Most as in like 70% of the time, definitely not >90%.

Anecdotally, Apple Music has more consistently present and accurate lyrics. As someone biased towards Apple’s software design language, Spotify’s are prettier.

They offer differently limited sharing options. AM allowing sharing to (out of the apps installed on my device, including the relevant social apps) iMessage and Instagram Stories. Spotify allows sharing to Instagram Stories and Twitter. Both should have more sharing options, but AM’s work better for me.

Both AM and Spotify do a good job at search, I’m rarely unable to find what I’m looking for. Both support searching for lyrics, which is nice to have. I prefer Spotify’s search UI.

Social

Both AM and Spotify’s friends features are poorly integrated. On mobile at least, your friends are hidden behind arbitrary buttons. I want to know what my friends are listening to, dammit. Give me a friends tab so I can stalk them. Now, please! Spotify takes the edge here because profiles work far more seamlessly.

Then, Spotify dominates because of Group Session, Private listening, Discord and Spotify, and Blend, “a shared playlist that combines the music you and a friend listen to”. I’ve used all of those features and they all work well, but none of them stuck with me or became important to the way I listen to music. I do not care to know if AM has implemented some SharePlay shit, because who’s using that. It might be unfortunate the AM team is restricted in cool stuff they can release to system features, to a degree. Like, we’d never see AM come out with a unique way to listen with your friends without using a system-level feature, in that case, SharePlay, which in my opinion is not good for sharing music.

Queue management

Queue management may be AM’s strongest feature and Spotify’s weakest.

On AM, queueing works exactly how I’d want it to and expect it to; if I have a whole queue built up and want to listen to one song or album immediately, I can do so straightforwardly without fucking up my whole queue or DRAGGING THE SONGS MANUALLY.

Everything about the way Spotify’s queue works is utterly frustrating. First of all, (on mobile) it’s not possible to queue something to play next instead of last. That sucks so much. And an app has never enraged me as much as when arranging songs I accidentally click a song that’s way down in queue because of the poorly designed interface, scrapping a carefully-curated queue with no undo button in sight.

More important stuff

Accuracy

Anecdotally, Spotify is more likely to have the not weird version of a song, and the album without weird bonus stuff and videos. AM has more bullshit, missing album art, stuff like that.

Clean music

The physical education department at my high school is seldom fond of profane music blasting in their facilities, so quick access to the clean version of songs is useful as the self-appointed aux person anywhere I go. I do wish there was an easy way to toggle a playlist clean or enter a mode that plays the clean version of selected songs.

Focus

I gladly pay a separate subscription for an app that’s good at playing podcasts, so I want to turn off podcasts on Spotify entirely.

Polish

Spotify seems more polished to me than AM on both iOS and Mac, but more so the latter. This is disappointing. It should be an easy advantage for Apple.

In closing

The Apple Music team is smart enough to figure out what Spotify does better than them and resourceful enough to beat them. They should do that. In the meantime, Spotify remains in my dock.