Hands on: Spotify Apps review
1st Dec 2011 | 13:02
Has Spotify got its priorities right?
Hands on: Spotify Apps review
Apps. They're everywhere these days, and now they've even infiltrated Spotify.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that these little programmes have appeared for the sake of it.
What's big this year? Oh, apps, brilliant. Let's do some. Perhaps that's how lesser companies work, but we think Spotify is a little bit different.
Its technology seems born of a real passion for music and, as founder and CEO Daniel Ek put it, a sense of "Why doesn't this already exist?".
While some of the apps are simply album reviews with a one-click process to get you listening to the album in question, others are much more ingenious and go some way to solving the music discovery problem that Spotify has always had.
The apps live in their own section of Spotify's familiar left-hand navigation panel. The service launches with eleven apps on board - all free to all users, premium or no. The new apps section also houses Spotify's top lists and its hit-and-miss radio player.
It seems that the app finder is a bit redundant at this point; with only eleven apps to play with, many people will simply add them all and have no further need for the page. But as the app services grow, perhaps this page will come more into its own.
Adding the apps is super simple - just a button click to add it to your sidebar, a log-in where necessary and you're good to go.
All the apps make it easy to start listening to a track either by clicking the album artwork or using the 'add as playlist' button.
The Share button also makes it simple to send albums and playlists to friends using Twitter, Facebook, Windows Messenger or simply through Spotify's internal mail.
Hands on: Spotify Apps review: The Apps
So what of the apps themselves? The eleven launch apps come with varying degrees of usefulness, but there's likely to be more to come as devs get their heads around the possibilities.
The simple apps we mentioned earlier include Billboard, which offers playlists of its many and varied charts and comes off a bit like a radio playlist - you probably know most of these songs already.
Fuse is a bit more interesting. Originally a music news site, you can peruse the latest news which is presented with accompanying themed playlists.
So news about the Grammys is accompanied by a Grammy Nominee Prediction playlist, while the news of TLC's T-Boz's bankruptcy filing spawned a 'Bankruptcy Woes' playlist that begins with Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg by TLC.
Not one to let an app platform pass it by, The Guardian's app is a bit disappointing. A list of album reviews (most of which give their quarry 3 stars with one notable exception which was, according to one anonymous TechRadar writer, "written by an amoeba") and links to the album in question is not exactly pushing the technological envelope.
Luckily, Last.fm picks up where the Guardian failed to tread. It's the shining jewel in Spotify's app-laden crown. Using information from both your Last.fm and Spotify profiles, the app makes recommendations of albums you might like to check out, complete with the reasons behind its recommendation. There's a lot of "You've scrobbled this artist but not this album", but similar artists also get a look in.
The recent tracks and album playlists seems a bit pointless, since you know you've already listened to those songs, but some will no doubt find them a handy reminder.
Whether you're listening to music from the Last.fm app or you have a playlist playing elsewhere in Spotify and you're just browsing, Last.fm's Now Playing tab gives you an artist bio (a more reliable one than Spotify's own, in our opinion), tags, similar artists and options to 'Love' the track or create a playlist of similar tracks.
In fact, you can create a playlist of similar tracks from anywhere in Spotify by simply dragging the song on to the Last.fm icon - and these aren't just similar artist's songs, Last.fm uses its algorithmic wizadry to create lists of songs that actually do sound similar. It's not perfect, but it's definitely not bad.
Dedicated Last.fm users will get the most out of the app, but even newbies will be privy to a wealth of musical suggestions given that Last.fm can tap into your Spotify library and history too.
Pitchfork's music reviews are somewhat more comprehensive than The Guardian's, and come in a zippier package too, with the 'best' new albums housed separately from the rabble in 'all reviews'.
Pitchfork's playlists are already well-renowned and live happily together in the Playlists tab. Doesn't look like the subscriber calculators are working yet, but aside from that it's as simple and intuitive an app to use as the rest.
Rolling Stone Recommends is along a similar vein, with album, song and playlist recommendations alongside reviews.
Songkick brings its brand of gig-find-ability to your Spotify music library. You need to set your location and link it up with Facebook - supposedly so it can use your events calendar, but we don't see why it can't work without access to that.
If there's a gig you want to go to, 'tickets and more' takes you out of Spotify and into the web browser, but neat of it to find shows by artists we like using our library.
Moodagent builds playlists according to your mood - as long as your mood is sensual, tender, happy, angry or, er, based on tempo. It's a nice idea, using both your library and other artists to create new playlists. The songs largely fit the right emotional category, and you can control the 'curve' of the music which takes you from, for example, happy to sad in a quick and easy manner.
Soundrop is all about social music - either set up your own playlist and invite friends to listen along, voting songs up and down and chatting, or you can zip into one of the existing music rooms but you have to listen to the music that's playing at the time which is annoying if you just want to see what's on.
Anyone can add a track to the playlists, which leads to some minor annoyances as users 'troll' certain songs. Stay tuned for rick rolls.
Tune Wiki provides song lyrics to pretty much every song around, which will no doubt lead to many festive sing-songs around the Christmas tree this year. It syncs to where you are in the song which is nifty, but the app doesn't do much more than that. Other functionality takes you out of Spotify and onto the website.
Finally, We Are Hunted is all about introducing you to music that's on the up and up - so it includes an emerging artists chart (a suspicious number of which feature on the Twilight Breaking Dawn soundtrack), or you can check new music out by genre and have the app build you an instant playlist based on an artist of your choosing which is, again, save-able to your playlist library.
Hands on: Spotify Apps review: Early verdict
Considering this is a beta version of the new interface, we didn't encounter too many bugs. Over an intensive course of use, we suffered a couple of crashes and a bit of lag.
Our main annoyances arose where tracks are unavailable. A lot of the services are US-based, so we were constantly coming across tracks that aren't available in the UK and wishing that these were just stripped out.
Likewise, if a playlist begins with an unavailable track, it simply won't play from the album artwork, you have to open it up and get it going from the first available track.
Spotify has made an intersting decision to leave music discovery and curation to the experts, and we reckon it was a good move. We no longer need to rely on the areas where the service has always struggled before - its nonsensical artist radio and not-brilliant search functions.
Still, we can't help but feel there are a few things that could have taken priority over the app development. We published an article on 8 things we'd like to see from Spotify in August 2010 and thus far only folders for playlists have come to fruition.
Advanced search, selective sharing and playlist search seem like no-brainers to us, so we're puzzled about why the company has gone in this direction before sorting out basic functionality.
It'll be interesting to see where the App Finder goes next, with the floodgates no doubt opening to Joe Developer to try his hand at a Spotify app - the company assures us it will forever have final approval, but as the apps grow, it's going to have to sort out its library mechanism.
But that's not to say that we don't still rate Spotify as one of the top music services out there - and these apps simply broaden its appeal and we can't fault Spotify for not just resting on its laurels.
Although there are some apps we probably won't go back to, Last.fm, Pitchfork and We Are Hunted are sure-fire winners.