Spotify vs. Apple iCloud

Depending on which side of the wall you sit, Apple’s iCloud is either the greatest advance in music technology since the original iTunes or it’s just another (albeit very slick) music locker service. One thing is clear however: the emphasis is still very much on music that you already own. iCloud is not a direct competitor to Spotify: it’s a scan-and-match music locker to compete with Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive, rather than a subscription service that gives you instant access to millions of tracks.

There are however more similarities between iCloud and Spotify compared with the other lockers: both have licensing agreements with the major record labels (although many independent labels are excluded from iCloud) and neither Spotify nor iCloud require you to upload music before you can listen to your songs on other devices.

 

Absolution for Your Downloading Sins

Both Spotify and iCloud offer solutions to music pirating, but while Spotify simply makes their service easier and faster to use compared with downloading, Apple has chosen to position iTunes Match as a way to monetize illegal downloads. It’s a clever strategy, as it provides absolution to the pirates and cash to the record labels. As TuneCore CEO Jeff Price says:

“The truly innovative and radical part of the iCloud service is its ability to allow copyright holders – the labels, artists, publishers and, possibly the songwriter – to make money off of music not bought the first time around. Each time a subscriber streams or re-downloads a song via the iCloud service, the label and publisher (and possibly the songwriter for the public performance) get paid.”

 

iCloud’s Stream is Dry

For me, a streaming music subscription model is clearly the best option for anyone who can spare a fiver a month and who has more than just a passing interest in music. So the question is: why doesn’t Apple’s iCloud do streaming? They bought the technology (LaLa) a while ago. They were heavily rumored to have signed streaming music licenses with the major labels. So why hold back?

Perhaps the label deals just came too late in the day for Apple’s big announcement. Or perhaps those rumors weren’t true and merely refered to the matching service that monetizes illegal downloads. Another possiblity is that Apple (or the record labels) just don’t see a streaming service as something that will make them as much money as downloads. They have such huge brand loyalty that any “new” music offering would still be idolized and thought of as progressive. iCloud retains the status quo of iTunes Uber Alles, consumers continue to purchase track-by-track, and the labels get a bonus of additional income from iTunes Match.

Whatever the reason, if you do use iCloud you’ll still need a fair bit of local storage for all those downloads.


Where iCloud Beats Spotify

There are a few advantages iCloud has over Spotify: it comes with a built-in fanbase at launch, it’s easier to understand conceptually for casual listeners (since it retains the notion of  music files and “My Collection”) and you can access your library on twice as many devices compared with Spotify.


Where Spotify Beats iCloud

I titled this article Spotify vs. iCloud but perhaps that’s a bit misleading. Like Google and Amazon’s offerings, iCloud is a music locker where you download music instead of streaming it. You purchase music on a track-by-track basis and have storage limits to consider when you want iCloud to manage non-iTunes purchases. Unlike Spotify, iCloud doesn’t offer access to tracks you don’t already own (unless you subsequently buy them). So once you get past the generalization that they’re both music services, comparisons tend to break down. As BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones puts it:

“Spotify’s a different kind of service, it allows you to stream music even if you don’t own it. So perhaps Spotify will think iCloud is really just second-hand news.”

If you did want to compare the two though, Business Insider neatly sums it up in their article Why Spotify beats iTunes in the cloud:

  • iTunes does not stream music
  • Spotify will do “scan and match” better
  • Spotify lets you stream or download any song to your device at no extra cost
  • You can create better playlists with Spotify (even if you don’t own the music)
  • Spotify does social much better than Apple’s Ping
  • Spotify integrates with Last.fm
  • Spotify also works with Shazam

Spotify is also available on many more devices compared with iCloud, particularly Android smartphones and tablets.

 

Dueling Banjos

For iOS5, Apple borrowed many ideas from Google (and Instagram, Dropbox, Flickr, Instapaper, GroupMe etc.) but for iCloud it fell short of taking true music streaming as offered by Spotify et al. It might offer subscriptions at a later date but for now, Apple are training their users with the benefits and convenience of having music in the cloud.

This popularization of cloud-based music plays right into Spotify’s hands. Just as music fans learned to move from owning stacks of CDs to folders full of MP3 files, so Apple is pushing the next move to a remote access model rather than locally stored music. As more people begin to let go of the 20th century notion of a personal music collection, cloud-based access begins to become the music model de jour. It’s then simply a matter of choosing between a locker for your existing collection, or on-demand access to a limitless world of musical discovery.

The last word goes to Daniel Ek (founder and CEO of Spotify) who told mocoNews:

“We believe music should be connected. People want to discover more music. Not just [listen to the] same music.”

Now that’s how to think different… 

  • Great article, thanks Jer.

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  • Anonymous

    is iTunes Match worldwide or USA only?

  • It’s not launching for a couple of months yet, but when it does I believe it’ll be US-only at first.

  • Paul Smith

    Another great advantage for Spotify users; there’s a great community of sites offering features that integrate directly with user accounts. It’s worth a look at http://sharemyplaylists.com to see what’s going on there with users creating and sharing playlists.

  • Paul Smith

    Another great advantage for Spotify users; there’s a great community of sites offering features that integrate directly with user accounts. It’s worth a look at http://sharemyplaylists.com to see what’s going on there with users creating and sharing playlists.

  • I tell you something: if storage of your tunes, and subsequent streaming of them to mobile, is what you want, you could do worse than take a look at Ubuntu One (which, despite the name/underlying tech, works with Windows – or so I understand).

    You get 2GB of storage for free (which is utterly useless, really – if you have a device capable of streaming music, it more than likely has more than that in flash memory already), and it’s then $4 a month (or $40 a year) to stream to mobile.  You can buy bundles of 20GB (as many as you want) for another $3 a month (or $30 a year).

    https://one.ubuntu.com/plans/

  • WOLF

    Using this little trick you will be able to register and download spotify onto your computer now ….A service that is not available in the USA yet … Tip to make a Spotify account: http://unblocker.biz > www.spotify.com > New Account > Country UK , Postal Code: A23 3VV

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  • Jonne

    Aren’t you forgetting the recent trend of increased tariffs for data transfer will harm pure streaming services much harder than services like Apple’s iCloud? 

  • Fair point Jonne, but I think things will turn around again in that regard as the ISPs move to 4G, improve their infrastructures etc. I’m lucky that I have a generous 3GB/month allowance on my mobile data plan, but that will drop to 500 MB next summer. Luckily Spotify Premium has offline syncing on both desktop and mobile, so that’s one way to reduce traffic.

  • nice article, except iTunes will let you stream your music from the cloud:
    http://www.macrumors.com/2011/08/29/itunes-match-allows-both-streaming-and-downloading-of-music/

    so i guess in that light the article ain’t so great after all ;(

  • Thanks… I think 😉 The article you link to post-dates mine by two months, so I guess that might explain any discrepancies. I disagree with you on your mainstream music point though: I barely listen to anything mainstream, yet 39/40 of my favorite albums this year are all on Spotify. Unfortunately I will never be able to check out iTunes Match as I live in the UK and Apple only have  license agreements for the US.

  • Steven

    If you want to get your music onto Spotify for FREE.. check out http://routenote.com

  • Umarglobal

    Thanks for the clarity on this topic!

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