When the iPod arrived and digital music downloads became mainstream, many people kicked CDs to the curb completely to focus on tracks they could store on their PC hard drive or their portable media player of choice. But Spotify and other online music streaming services have caused another shift in habits, since it is easier to keep your music collection as a vague concept in the cloud, rather than as a predetermined set of tracks that take up valuable space on your smartphone.
Spotify is not the only music streaming service of note any more, as it has recently been joined by offerings from Apple, Google and Nokia.
These big name operators could sap some of Spotify’s market share, but they will only achieve widespread success if they are actually any good. So are they?
Apple announced iTunes Radio alongside iOS 7 back in June and it is not likely to be available in the UK until the autumn, which means there are still some questions about it which haven’t been answered.
Both a free and subscription-based version of iTunes Radio will be on offer. If you do not want to fork over any cash, it is expected that you will have to put up with audio adverts every 15 minutes.
Apple is apparently looking into making video adverts a part of the service as well, with hourly playback scheduled, as long as you are actually looking at the screen of your phone. This might make leaving it locked a desirable option for those who want to enjoy their music unmolested.
Those who do buy a subscription will get an ad-free experience, although anyone will have the option of buying outright any of the songs they stream and downloading it to their smartphone or PC at a later point.
At the moment it is not clear how extensive the iTunes Radio catalogue will be, but with big record labels including Universal and Warner signing up already, you can expect pop hits from Miley Cyrus to appear alongside less mainstream artists.
Apple has a lot of buying power and so it should be able to overcome the protestations of certain artists and labels simply by flashing cash at them until they are rendered speechless.
Do not expect to have the same freedom to enjoy music with iTunes Radio as you get with Spotify, because this is more of a playlist-based experience rather than one that will let you listen to entire albums or artist back catalogues in one go. Of course Spotify isn’t free on mobiles, so it is a case of working out how much music streaming is worth to you.
Google Play Music – All Access
The combination of cloud-based music storage and fully fledged streaming makes Google’s premium music streaming platform an interesting choice, particularly for anyone with an Android smartphone.
You can upload as many as 20,000 tracks from your PC and then play them back when you are out and about using this service in any order you like.
There is also a collection of 18 million songs that you can listen to via the Radio streaming service, which like iTunes Music will automatically create playlists of songs you’ll like based on your collection.
This isn’t the kind of live radio streaming that lets you listen to DJ-manned stations and the selection algorithms are not always perfect, so you could end up listening to a playlist that includes songs from Iron Maiden and Paramore, which might annoy purists. However, the service is pretty comprehensive and since you can collate your own collection, the music streaming is really an optional bonus rather than a core part of the product.
Nokia Mix Radio
The word ‘radio’ is coming back into fashion with all these new music services and if you have one of Nokia’s Lumia phones you can get a competitive platform in the palm of your hand.
The catalogue here includes more than 22 million tracks and is updated weekly, with mixes created by celebrity contributors including to hipster favourite Lana Del Ray.
Nokia goes one step beyond its contemporaries by allowing you to synch playlists to listen to when a network connection is not available, aping Spotify in this respect. It also has no advertisements, subscription fee or even the need to create an account of any kind, which means it’s go a plug-n-play approach to music streaming which is refreshingly liberating.
So which of these emerging platforms should you pick to partner with your smartphone? The most comprehensive and powerful experience is offered by Spotify and its premium service is still the music-lovers choice.
Where else can you listen to whole albums of school children doing pop song covers, or access a long list of sound effects, lasting just a second each?
Novelty hits aside, the Spotify library is better for finding new and unusual music than any of its contemporaries, as well as giving mobile users the ability to determine their own listening experience.