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Unlike your average TV and movie streaming service (a la Netflix, HBO Now, Disney+ and Hulu), it doesn’t make sense to have more than one music streaming service. After all, each service does just about the same thing — they stream music. So whether you’re using Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Pandora or Tidal, you’re pretty much going to be able to listen to all the same tunes. And while there is some room for debate there (more on that later), the main point here is that you only need one music streaming service. Which brings us to the main question of this article: Apple Music vs. Spotify, which do you choose?
Though there are several music streaming apps available, the two most popular services are Spotify and Apple Music. Both offer millions upon millions of songs in their respective libraries. Both offer the ability to create playlists and share songs. And both have access to some pretty rad bonus features like offline listening, dedicated radio stations, podcast centers and even the ability to find new music you’re guaranteed to like. But again, that brings us to the question, which do you choose?
Below, we’ll help you decide by breaking down the main features of each service and pitting them against each other. From here on out, it’s all Spotify v. Apple Music, and only one streaming service can walk away with the crown.
Subscription Models: Spotify Wins Out
So which costs more, Apple Music or Spotify? While both services cost a measly $9.99 per month, the two services are still not quite equal in this arena. For starters, Apple Music is all or nothing. You can either pay the $9.99 per month for an individual account or not use it at all. Spotify does have a free, ad-supported version.
If you’re already a big music fan and not concerned with spending the money, $10 a month shouldn’t bother you. Spotify does win out by allowing users the option of subscribing to a free, ad-supported version of the music streaming app if they don’t want to fork over the $10 each month. They drastically cut down what you’re able to do with the service (read: ads every few songs and you have to listen to playlists on shuffle when listening offline), but hey, at least you can still access the platform.
Both brands offer a student priced model at $4.99 per month and a family plan at $14.99 a month. Though, Spotify goes a step beyond and bundles an ad-supported subscription to Hulu along with their student plan. So if you’re still in high school or college, it’s almost a no-brainer to opt for Spotify.
Verdict: Spotify. Though Apple Music and Spotify have similar prices, we like that Spotify allows users to dip a toe in their stream with the ad-supported option. Likewise, bundling Hulu for students is awesome and a total money saver if you qualify.
Spotify vs. Apple Music Catalog
While this is a rather moot point overall as both services boast libraries with literally millions of songs, there are some catalog subtleties worth mentioning. Yes, both Spotify and Apple have insanely large music libraries. Certain estimates put Spotify around the 30 million mark and Apple Music somewhere around 60 million. Needless to say, that’s more music than you will ever need. Most importantly though, these libraries are deep enough that it’s rare you won’t be able to find a song you’re looking for.
However, in the arena of libraries, there is one situation where Apple Music beats out Spotify, and that’s in uploading music. If you own an album or mixtape (perhaps you picked up a release off of Bandcamp, for example) and wanted to add it to your Spotify or Apple Music, you certainly can. This is nice because certain artists don’t put their music on streaming services. However, if you buy their music and upload it, then your favorite tunes can still be accessible to you on your preferred service.
However, only through Apple Music’s Sync Library function can you listen to your uploaded music offline. In other words, if you downloaded an old Tyler, the Creator mixtape from Bandcamp and uploaded it to your Spotify, you couldn’t listen to that mixtape on an airplane. With Spotify, you can only listen to uploaded music locally. So in the case of Tyler’s old mixtape, you could only listen to that mixtape on your computer (where you downloaded it from Bandcamp and uploaded it to Spotify in the first place). Apple Music does not operate this way, and once you upload something to your library, you can take it with you wherever you go.
Verdict: Apple Music. Though overall both libraries are big enough to make this almost a wash, the fact that you can upload music is huge for those who listen to pretty obscure stuff. If you don’t fall into that category, you can ignore this section, but for those who do, Apple Music gets the win.
Sharing / Social
Both platforms have been optimized for sharing music with friends either by individual songs or full-on playlists. So while this is another point where both succeed, Spotify goes a step further by better integrating the social aspect into their platform.
On both Apple Music Spotify, you can search and follow your friends to see what they’re listening to. Everyone has that musically inclined friend (perhaps it’s you!) who always knows the best new artists and makes the best party playlists. For this reason, it’s great you can follow friends on either platform. But with Spotify, instead of just getting access to your friends’ playlists, you can also see what they’re listening to right then and there. Furthermore, instead of just creating links to playlists or songs, Spotify has fully integrated with Instagram, allowing you to post to your story without needing to leave the Spotify app. It’s a nice way to make the listening experience feel more like a community affair, instead of an insular and singular experience.
Verdict: Spotify. While listening to music isn’t strictly a social experience, it’s fun to be able to see what people are listening to. Likewise, we like how easy it is to upload a song to Instagram right from Spotify.
Spotify Playlists vs. Apple Music Playlists
Both Spotify and Apple Music allow you to make your own playlists. So that’s great, though pretty expected these days. Likewise, both platforms have bigger playlists which you can follow for a constant stream of new tunes. Whether you’re searching by mood or by a specific playlist (like “Rap Caviar” on Spotify), you’ll have plenty of options to find and follow.
The one area that Apple is lacking in the playlist arena compared to Spotify, however, is in playlist collaboration. One of the best features Spotify has to offer is the ability to create a joint playlist with a friend, wherein both of you can upload songs at your leisure. If you and a roommate are hosting a party, for example, you can create a single party playlist, and then both of you can add your favorite songs so the tunes aren’t ever one-sided.
Verdict: Spotify. Both platforms offer the essentials in playlists, from creating your own to following bigger playlists, but Spotify’s ability to collaborate gives them the edge.
Apple Music vs. Spotify — Radio & Podcasts
Though you can’t listen to podcasts through Apple Music, Apple does have a free podcast-dedicated app (called Podcasts) where you can get your casting fix. Because of this, Spotify will automatically get the win for us, but we’ll still explain the differences between Apple Podcasts and Spotify anyway. That said, Apple Music does have a very robust radio feature, which is why we put both of these together into one section. Thanks to their purchase of Beats by Dre, Apple now has a ton of extremely high-quality radio content with the likes of Zane Lowe, Frank Ocean, Ebro Darden, Rebecca Judd and more on their platform. If radio is your thing, this is a huge bonus and it might even be the only reason you need to pick Apple over Spotify. It’s like paying for Disney+ just to watch The Mandalorian.
However, if listening to podcasts is more your bag, you might feel differently. In fact, we asked Harper Thomson, one of the hosts of SPY-favorite podcast Hawkeyes, which platform she preferred for podcasts and why.
“As a listener of podcasts, I prefer Spotify,” says Thomson. “I have an Android and I feel like it’s just more compatible. And I also listen to my music in Spotify.” Even though you can easily get the podcast app from Apple, it’s nice to have everything baked into one app. Plus, as Thomson points out, Spotify adds a neat little feature to their podcast/music integration. “On Spotify you can put podcast episodes into playlists, too. If that’s something anyone wants, I don’t know [laughs].”
Verdict: Spotify. For the sheer fact that Apple requires you to download another app for podcasts, we’re giving Spotify the win here. From a radio perspective, Apple Music makes a strong play with Beats 1, but it’s still not enough to overtake Spotify’s overall ease of use and simplicity for music, podcasts and radio stations.
Apple Music vs. Spotify — Layout
Between the two platforms, Spotify offers the most streamlined layout. That’s not to say that Apple Music is overly cluttered, but if your primary directive is to listen to music, Spotify makes it much easier. The difference is found in the bottom bar of each mobile app. While Spotify only has three separate buttons to pick from (Home, Search and Library), Apple Music boats five (Library, For You, Browse, Radio and Search). So is more or less better? Well, it depends on what you’re there for.
If you’re someone who takes advantage of Apple Music’s Radio platform to its fullest, then yes, Apple Music’s inclusion of Radio on the bottom bar is great. It’s a quick way to access their radio page with and tons of quality Beats 1 content. If radio isn’t your jam, though, then it feels a bit unnecessary.
From an artist page to artist page perspective, we actually prefer Apple’s take. Both Apple Music and Spotify have a similar layout for artist pages, a large hero image of the artist, followed by their top-performing songs, their albums, an About page and finally, similar artists. That said, the way Apple lays this all out is actually quite nice. Whereas Spotify forces you to click into the artist’s discography to see all of their albums, Apple lets you scroll through albums with a quick swipe to the left. This makes searching for a particular album that much faster.
Likewise, we love that Apple pulls out some key info in the About page without forcing you to click into it for more information. If you’re curious where a recently discovered artist is from, you need only to scroll to the bottom of the artist page to find out on Apple’s platform. With Spotify however, you have to click into the About section and hope it’s mentioned somewhere in the write-up.
Verdict: Tie. Though Apple has more buttons on its bottom bar (to their detriment) the way they organize information on an artist’s page is much easier to navigate. And in the case of Spotify, it’s nice that they streamlined their overall setup, but it would be great if they made scrolling through albums and singles easier.
Extra Features: Spotify Wins, But Barely
There are tons of features on both sides of the fence here. For Apple Music, a recent addition is the ability to search a song by lyrics. And, to be completely honest, the service works surprisingly well. All too often a song comes up that no one can remember the name of, but they can sing a few lyrics. Simply type those lyrics into the search bar and watch as Apple Music quickly returns the song in question. We tested it with some obscure ones and, damn, does it work.
Another great feature from Apple which requires a second mention is their Beats 1 radio station. For some, this is reason enough to hop on the Apple bandwagon. With exclusive shows from the likes of Zane Lowe and Frank Ocean, it’s sort of tough to compete with this feature.
With respect to Spotify, we love how the platform automatically starts playing similar songs after you finish an album. Though both platforms have artist Radio stations (stations that play music similar to an artist), Apple doesn’t seem to have the ability to trigger radio after listening to an album. But with Spotify, when you finish an album, you don’t just cycle back to the beginning of the record, but instead are fed similar songs. It’s a fantastic way to discover new music you’re bound to enjoy.
Another great feature that Spotify boats is Spotify Wrapped. More than just telling you what you listened to this year, Spotify makes a custom little walk-through of your top songs and albums, along with telling you exactly how much time you spent listening to music. If you’ve ever been on Instagram or Facebook in December, you’ll know what we mean. Everyone with a Spotify account shares their top five songs of the year (which always includes at least one major surprise), as well as their time spent listening. Is this a game-changing feature? Of course not. But in a world where we all have FOMO, it’s a fun feature that keeps you connected with your peers.
Another feature we love on Spotify is their tour information card. At the bottom of the artist page, Spotify lists all the upcoming shows for that artist thanks to their partnership with SongKick. It’s a great way to get the full experience when discovering an artist. And also, it’s an easy way to keep tabs on your favorite artist because all the info you need is kept in a single place.
Verdict: Spotify. Both platforms offer stellar extra features, but Spotify offers a bit more for the casual music fan. Yes, searching by lyrics is helpful on Apple Music, but between Spotify Wrapped, tour info through SongKick and autoplay into artist radio, Spotify gets the win.
Overall Verdict: What’s the Best Music Streaming App?
As you’ve undoubtedly guessed by now, both of these services are great and offer nearly the same things in terms of depth of music and streaming quality. Sure, each platform offers unique experiences that are specific to the brand (whether that’s Spotify Wrapped or Beats 1 Radio on Apple Music), but overall they do the same thing and do it well: they offer endless music for an affordable monthly price.
However, when it’s all said and done, we felt that Spotify edged out Apple Music.
The features that Spotify has over Apple Music are a bit more fun and make the experience of listening to music a social one. And as it turns out, that’s pretty great. It’s never been easier to share and find music, and that side of the business is something Spotify does incredibly well. If you’re a diehard Apple fan or are totally obsessed with certain Beats 1 shows, there are plenty of reasons to use Apple Music, but for us, the overall experience of Spotify takes the day.