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Apple Music vs Spotify: What's the difference?

How does Apple's streaming service stack up against longtime favorite Spotify? We lay it all out here.

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Joining the ranks of Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody and others, Apple Music is now available to download on your PC, Mac, and iOS device. Apple's new service strolls into a competitive and crowded scene in the quest for music-streaming dominance and your dollars.

With a similar price and features to arguably the most well-known streaming service, Spotify, what makes Apple Music better or different? Here I'm pitting the two services against each other, breaking down the differences and similarities.

Apple Music Spotify
Monthly fee $9.99, £9.99, AU$11.99 $9.99, £9.99, AU$11.99
Free option? Yes, with limited features Yes, with ads
Free trial period Three months 30 days
Advertised music library size 30 million More than 30 million
Family sharing? Yes, $14.99 per month for up to 6 users* Yes, $5, £5, AU$6 per month per additional user
Offline listening? Yes, with paid subscription Yes, with paid subscription
App availability iOS, Mac, Windows, with Apple TV and Android coming this fall Windows, Mac, PlayStation 3 and up, Android, iOS, Windows Phone

Music catalog

What good is a streaming service without a robust music catalog? It seems that Apple Music and Spotify are pretty evenly matched here, both boasting 30 million songs. However, Apple Music is claiming it will get more exclusive tracks and music from unsigned artists who can publish their music through the service, neither of which were available at launch. Both services have plenty of music to satisfy you and, though Spotify does a pretty good job at this, there's a chance that Apple Music will have more content from emerging artists as it picks up steam.

Apple Music's catalog, called the "Apple Music Library," pulls its music from iTunes, however, you can't stream every song in the iTunes catalog. Some music available for download on iTunes, such as The Beatles discography, is unavailable for streaming. In a big coup for Apple, after a public display of resistance, Taylor Swift's catalogue is available on Apple Music -- but you still won't find her music on Spotify.

Spotify and Apple Music let you supplement their streaming catalogs with your own tracks. With Spotify, you can add music files from your computer, and add them to playlists to listen alongside streaming tracks. With Apple Music, all of the music you've put into iTunes over the years, either by ripping it from a CD or buying it from the store, is added automatically.


Both Spotify and Apple Music have radio features, but they work in very different ways. Apple Music has a live, 24/7 global radio station, streaming from London, New York and Los Angeles called Beats 1. Apple's hired DJs to run the stations, which promise to not only play great music, but also discuss what's hot in music and music culture and offer exclusive interviews.

Also available are Apple Music Radio stations, which offer music based on genre, created by so-called music experts. With these, you can skip songs to fine-tune the station. Since its recent launch, Apple Music radio stations have experienced many technical issues and bugginess -- like crashing the app or audio not loading.

Apple Music radio is more like radi-no. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Spotify does not have live radio. Instead, you can create stations based on your favorite artists, genres, songs, playlists or albums, and the service will find songs to match. These radio stations are essentially on-demand, endless playlists that you can play anytime. You can upvote and downvote songs to help Spotify better understand what you want to hear.

Music discovery

Nearly all streaming services try to understand your music preferences to serve up recommendations, and Spotify and Apple Music are no different. However, each takes a slightly different approach.

Apple Music uses the Beats Music recommendation engine to learn what you like and continually find new suggestions. You can pick your favorite artists and genres when you first fire up the app and then as you listen, the "For You" tab will fill up with constantly evolving recommendations. Apple boasts that it doesn't just use an algorithm to create these recommendations, it also uses real humans to curate playlists and pick out music.

After a few days of using the service, the "For You" tab delivered as promised, with playlists and album recommendations based on my music taste. Unfortunately for the music nerd, Apple Music suggestions aren't very adventurous. After confirming my love for jazz musician Eric Dolphy, it recommended I listen to a playlist called "Intro to Eric Dolphy."

"You're a fan of Eric Dolphy? Why don't you check out Eric Dolphy!" Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

It simply took the musicians saved to My Music and redundantly suggested their albums and playlists in which they're featured. The paltry recommendations lack imagination and feed you what you already like, instead of offering you something fresh, like Spotify does with its Discovery feature.

Spotify's recommendations are less prominent, but still part of the app. Buried in the Browse tab is the Discover section, which tailors recommendations based on your listening history. They aren't front and center like they are with Apple Music, but if you're genuinely interested in finding new music from artists you're unfamiliar with, it's much more in tune with lesser known, underground and indie artists.

My top recommendations in Spotify listed 20 albums and of those 20, I was familiar with only 6. In comparison, Apple Music suggested mainstream artists such as Coldplay, Elvis Presley, and Robert Johnson -- everything proposed were obvious, almost lazy, selections.

The curated playlists from music publications are much more interesting than Apple's. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Flashy features

Extra features that go beyond simply playing music are what set Apple Music and Spotify apart from each other. Apple's focused on helping you stay connected to your favorite artists, while Spotify helps you enjoy music in a variety of situations.

In Apple Music, the Connect section serves as a social network for artists where they can share photos, videos, lyrics, demo tracks, mixtapes and more with their fans. You, the fan, can follow artists and like or comment on these updates. Apple also promises to be a place for up-and-coming musicians to publish and promote their music.

The Connect section reads like a less interactive Facebook feed for musicians and publications you choose to follow. As someone whose Facebook feed is essentially just that, I really like it. Unfortunately, the comment text window is small, but if you're simply telling Pharrell "I love you," it'll suffice.

Comment on your favorite musician's post, just keep it short. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Anyone not interested in mainstream names will be disappointed by the feed's lack of diversity; most artists on Connect are bigger industry names with some clout. Hopefully with time this will change and include lesser known artists -- if Apple chooses to keep it around.

Spotify's features are designed for the various places you listen to music, from relaxing at home to running around your neighborhood. The newly added Running feature detects your running tempo (in steps per minute) and plays music to match your speed. Songs fade into one another to create a seamless experience that can keep you motivated to move.

Spotify also has built-in tools to play music through external speakers, such as a Sonos Player. Using the app, you can connect to your speakers and control the music from your phone.

Sharing is caring

What's the point of finding the Best Song Ever if you can't share it with your buddies? Apple Music and Spotify both offer options to share music, but one has more robust features than the other.

If sharing is caring, Spotify cares a lot. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Spotify lets you post an artist, album, playlist or individual track to your personal Spotify, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr feeds or you can share them with individual friends via Facebook, e-mail, text message, WhatsApp or Google Hangouts. Spotify also lets you "follow friends," providing a feed to lurk what they're listening to, and the app integrates Last.FM scrobbling -- if you're into that kinda thing.

In contrast, Apple Music's sharing selections reflect those of a miser. If you want to share an artist, album, playlist, or track, you can only do so via text, email, Twitter, Facebook, or AirDrop. It also lacks a social component that connects you with your friends and other music listeners.

Apple Music sharing options are much more limited. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

If you simply want to send a song to a friend every once and awhile, Apple Music is fine. But if you're like me and constantly exchange music with friends, it's not as easy and convenient as Spotify. Spotify is far superior when it comes to sharing music; not only can you send a fellow Spotify user music, there's a chat window where you can discuss or gush over what you just sent. Apple Music doesn't even have a feature to let you send music directly to another Apple Music user.

User-friendly UI

Spotify and Apple Music each don simple user-interfaces that are easy on the eyes, but they greatly differ in ease of use. They have one thing in common: a three-dot button to the far right of an artist, album, track, or playlist title. This button launches a menu with different options and each music service offers a different selection.

Spotify makes it easier to quickly create a new playlist. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

In typical Apple form, the Apple Music app looks beautiful, but the same can't be said about its navigation. This is a classic case of fashion over function. While listening to music, you can't create a new playlist on the fly and accessing an artist's page or album isn't as easy tapping on the name. Each task requires going to another section of the app to do so. The disjointed navigation results in a fragmented experience that's unattractive.

Here Spotify benefits from its veteran status in the streaming music scene because, though not as elegant, the app is simple, easy to use, and full of features that make for a fluid music-listening experience. You can conveniently make a new playlist from the Add to Playlist option, investigate an artist's page or view an entire album's track listing by simply tapping on the three-dot button to the right of the title.

Same, but different

On the surface, Apple Music and Spotify look like very similar services. Both play music on demand from a large catalog of songs, have recommendations based on your listening history, offer some form of radio and are (or will be) available for PC, Mac, iOS and Android. Both services cost $9.99 per month and let you play your own music files too. There's no one big difference between the two, and no one killer feature that will dictate which one you should choose. That decision will come down to what you want from your streaming service.

Apple Music gives you more options for listening in the moment, while Spotify keeps it simple. Screenshots by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

If you're a music nerd with an insatiable thirst for fresh sounds, the latest releases, and new artists, Spotify is lightyears ahead of Apple Music. If you're not that into discovering new music and like to stick to what you know, Apple Music does a great job at keeping you in your musical comfort zone.

As far as my experience goes, Apple Music's valiant effort to escort my music taste into new and exciting territory flopped hard. Instead I got trite listening recommendations of artists half of the world is familiar with (Beyonce, Elvis, Buddy Holly, to name a few.) Apple caters to a crowd that leans towards more mainstream tastes, who are looking for an easy way to introduce themselves to popular music they've yet to be exposed to. (You might find Lana Del Rey a new indie darling, but to those in the know, she's been on "Saturday Night Live" and MTV for years.) Some of the "music expert"-curated playlists offer more underground picks, but that requires exploring the currently inconveniently unintuitive layout of the Apple Music app.

If you like music, Apple Music will work just fine for your streaming needs. If you love music, Spotify does a better job at cultivating a community amongst your music listening friends and showing you a greater range of new music from artists you won't hear on Top 40 radio. Fellow music nerds, feel free to stick with Spotify for now.