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.
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…