It’s not easy choosing a music streaming app these days. The subscription prices are generally the same, there isn’t much disparity in the music that’s available, and on the surface the services all appear pretty similar.
But there are some important differences that will decide which music app is right for you.
Spotify and Apple Music are currently the two biggest music streaming platforms available. Here are the key differences you need to know about when choosing the music service that’s in tune with your rhythm:
Subscriptions: Spotify offers a free version of the app, but Apple Music is subscription-only after the initial, free three-month trial.
Both Spotify and Apple Music offer student plans for $US4.99 per month, individual plans for $US9.99 per month, and family plans for $US14.99 per month – so pricing won’t likely play a role in your decision here. The free version of Spotify has limited functionality compared to the paid version, and includes ads.
For the purpose of this article, the paid version of Spotify will be compared with Apple Music.
Apple Music starts off by asking you to select the genres and artists you’re interested in.
After you’ve made your selections, Apple Music starts to recommend playlists and artists that it thinks you will like. Spotify doesn’t have this type of feature, but it learns from your listening habits over time. Both apps allow you to ‘like’ a song, letting them know that you want to hear more like it.
However, Spotify’s recommendation system is much stronger.
Spotify simply does a better job of making recommendations than Apple Music. Every Monday you receive a new ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist – 30 songs picked through an algorithm that are similar to music you’ve listened to in the past. Spotify also has an entire ‘Discover’ page that makes recommendations based on artists you listen to frequently.
Both of the browse tabs are pretty similar — these serve as the hubs where you’ll find new music, playlists, videos, and concerts.
Spotify’s recommendations dwarf Apple Music’s.
Spotify gives you a few ‘Daily Mix’ playlists composed of songs and artists you’re already familiar with and listen to frequently. They’re usually grouped by genre.
In addition, Spotify takes artists that you’ve listened to a lot, and recommends artists that are similar (as seen in the image on the right).
Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ is one of its strongest features.
Discover Weekly, a 30-song playlist that refreshes every Monday, is one of the best parts of Spotify. It introduces you to songs and artists that you probably haven’t heard yet, but will probably like based on your listening history. It’s a consistent and reliable way to find music that you’ll enjoy, and you’ll probably end up looking forward to the new version every week.
The Release Radar, seen in the left image, is a playlist that updates with newly-released music from artists you listen to.
Apple Music has recommendations and promotes artists similar to what you already listen to, but it’s not as extensive as Spotify’s various methods of introducing you to new music. Spotify is the clear winner in this department.
Apple does beat Spotify in another area though — user interface.
When you ‘save’ songs in either Spotify or Apple Music, it means you can access them later in your library without having to search for their artist page again. Both services give the option to download the music you have saved to your library as well.
However, once you actually get to the artist page, it’s a different story. Apple Music’s artist pages in the library are clean and easy to navigate – each album is displayed separately with its artwork, allowing you to select which album to listen to quickly.
Spotify, on the other hand, just dumps all the songs you save from a particular artist into a playlist of sorts, with no clear distinction of when one album starts or ends. You can easily navigate to the online artist page (not in your library), where the layout is quite similar to Apple Music’s, but this requires an internet connection and defeats the purpose of saving music to your library and downloading it in the first place.
Spotify is a winner when it comes to audio quality options.
You can set an equaliser for either app, but Spotify’s is easier to locate and allows you to customise the actual frequency response curve in addition to using a pre-made EQ setting. Apple’s EQ is located outside of the app, in the phone’s music settings, which means you have to leave the app to adjust it.
Spotify allows you to pick exactly what kind of audio quality you want, whether you’re streaming or downloading.
With Spotify, you can choose whether to download (which would affect storage space) or stream (which could affect data plans) your music in low to high quality, with a few settings in between. This allows you to decide whether you’d rather have better quality, or more space on your phone.
Apple automatically gives you higher-quality music when you’re connected to wifi, but you can allow for high-quality streaming over your data plan as well. However, you don’t have control over the specifics of the audio quality or file size.
Both apps have radio, but Apple is the winner here.
If you use Spotify, you might end up just ignoring the radio function. You can choose from radio based on an artist, genre, or song, but you’d probably be better off making a playlist or using the discover features, as Spotify’s radio tends to repeat if you listen to it enough, and doesn’t really offer anything new.
Apple Music, on the other hand, has the same style of radio as Spotify (based on artist, song, or genre), in addition to some live radio stations with actual DJs picking and playing songs. This adds a personal, human element to Apple’s radio that feels missing in Spotify.
Spotify has podcasts built into the app.
The selection isn’t as extensive as what you can find on Apple’s standalone podcasting app, but you don’t have to leave Spotify to listen to podcasts. You can add them to a playlist, or save them in your library alongside your music.
Both apps have video sections — but you might not feel very inclined to use them.
Spotify has some music videos and episodic content, but nothing too exciting. Apple Music appears to be the winner here based on available content, but there still isn’t much of a reason to use the video tabs on either app.
Both apps have top charts, but Spotify’s is a little more detailed
Spotify’s top chart allows you to break it down by country or globally, and also shows you the ‘viral’ 50. Apple Music has a single top chart, but allows you to break it down by genre – something Spotify doesn’t have.
Spotify’s social aspect outshines Apple’s.
Both apps let you see what your friends have been listening to recently, and what playlists they have made public. But, Spotify lets you see what your friends are listening to in real time. On the desktop version of Spotify, the social tab on the right side of the app shows what all of your friends are currently listening to, or what they have recently listened to.
This feature can be temporarily or permanently turned off if you don’t feel particularly inclined to broadcast the embarrassing tunes you’re blasting.
As far as the music-playing interface goes, both apps pretty much look the same.
But Spotify has a few additional features — like moving, gif-like album art on certain songs.
The above images are still screenshots, but they move while the song is playing on your phone.
Spotify even has Genius ‘behind the lyrics’ annotations integrated on certain songs.
Spotify will show you upcoming concerts nearby based on your listening habits.
Apple Music doesn’t have this feature in the app, but can be integrated into the Bandsintown app, which will determine your tastes by pulling from your Apple Music library.
If you really want your potential Tinder matches to know your music tastes, the app includes Spotify integration
Tinder, among other apps like Bumble and Discord, have Spotify integration within the app. This means you can show off your recently-played artists on your dating app profiles, and set an ‘anthem’ that you feel best represents yourself.
Apple Music has some album exclusives from time to time.
Although Apple, and other streaming services, are shying away from album exclusives, they still pop up every now and then. Drake’s 2016 album ‘Views from the 6″ was initially an Apple Music exclusive before moving to other platforms.
Apple Music is also the home to some exclusive visual albums, like Frank Ocean’s “Endless,” released in 2016.
Spotify has collaborative playlists – you and your friends can add songs to the same playlist
This is a fun way to collaborate with your friends on the never-ending quest to make that perfect playlist.
So which music app is the winner?
Spotify. It has its downsides, like the messy library interface and lacklustre radio, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The aspect of music discovery alone is enough to rank Spotify above Apple music – the algorithm is extremely effective, and you probably won’t be let down by what the app recommends. The other differences are somewhat minor, like the album art and sound quality options, but they add up into an overall better subscription package and better experience than Apple Music.
Of course, this is a very competitive market and the companies are constantly updating their apps and adding new features, so check back again soon to see if our verdict has changed.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.