The rise of the mobile apps has led to an abundance of streaming services for us to get our music fix on the go. In this blog, we cast an eye over the current big name Mobile Music Streaming Services to find out which one comes out on top as the best of the best.
A funny thing happened on my train to work recently. After noticing a fellow morning commuter’s swanky Beats Headphones, I had the sudden urge to finally listen to Dr. Dre’s new album (and also received a sudden lesson in cross-promotion). So I tried searching for the album on Spotify but could not find it. “Where is Dr. Dre’s new album?!” I thought to myself.
A quick Google search revealed that the album is exclusive to Apple Music and not available on Spotify. It was a disappointing revelation, but considering the incredibly crowded field of streaming services, it wasn’t a surprising one.
There is little doubt that the digital music market is moving away from downloads and towards streaming services. With mobile devices and apps driving the change towards streaming music, both big names and emerging brands have realised these huge opportunities in the mobile music streaming industry.
Apple Music launched its long-awaited streaming service in June this year, while Google continues to invest in expanding YouTube’s Music App. With much to gain for the winners, competition in the mobile music streaming space is intense.
So what’s the best streaming service for us app users? Well, if you asked me before that train ride, I would have said that Spotify provides the best mobile experience. If you ask me as I got off the train, I would have told you that Apple Music has the best catalogue of music, including access to exclusive albums and songs. However, if you asked me at work that day after chatting with our Graphic Designer Julian, I would have suggested that Pandora provides the best instant playlists optimised to your music preferences. That being said, I know that some of the people in our office at Launchpad App Development swear by Tidal’s excellent sound quality.
Despite my indecisiveness, I know that not all streaming services are made equal. Therefore, it’s about time I get off the fence and evaluate the marketing-leading music streaming apps to find out which is best for those morning train rides.
Spotify – The Best Mobile App
With over 75 million active users worldwide, Spotify is the brand many associate with music streaming. Boasting the top streaming service app worldwide, more than half of Spotify’s active users stream music on their mobile devices.
Spotify’s mobile app cements their spot as the global leader in mobile music streaming. Source: App Annie
The Spotify mobile app is clean and simple, working in a similar manner to the desktop application. You can create custom playlists, and add tracks on the fly through search or while browsing. Users can also follow artists or other subscribers to keep up with their recommendations.
Spotify has a Freemium business model that, for free users, only offers shuffle playback of your playlists rather than track-by-track selections. Mobile streaming is only available in 96Kbps, 160Kbps or 320Kbps (the latter bitrate for iPhone and Android only and with Premium service). Furthermore, the free service is ad supported, which sucks for frugal users, but is effective for generating paid subscribers to the Premium service.
Speaking of which, Spotify offers three months of their Premium service for AU$0.99. After, it costs $11.99 per month and offers no ads, mobile listening and offline mode. For Premium users, Spotify also allows you to log in and keep listening to your music outside of your profile country if you travel.
Spotify is the genuine all-rounder and was one of the first ‘search for a song and play it immediately’ services available on iPhone and Android mobile devices. Despite missing out on exclusive artists and access to 24/7 radio services, Spotify offers a community where users can make and share playlists with other subscribers, add friends to share music with and see what other people were listening to. There are even playlists themed around what mood you are in or what activity you are undertaking.
Considered by many as the gold standard, Spotify is the mobile music streaming service that others are measured against.
Apple Music – The Best Music Catalogue
The new(ish) Apple Music has been built from Beats Music, which Apple acquired for a lazy $3 billion in 2014. So how is Apple trying to push aside the likes of Pandora, SoundCloud and – especially – Spotify to be the one-stop destination for all things music?
Well, having the largest music catalogue of 37 million tracks, along with exclusive access to artists like Taylor Swift and (cue defeated sigh) Dr. Dre is a damn good place to start. Add to this a new all-live worldwide radio station, Beats 1, and an artist-centric social network, and you’ve got an all-in-one streaming service app.
For the loyal Apple fans, there’s the added bonus of Apple Music being pre-installed on all iOS mobile devices for instant access to all iPhone and iPod users.
When you sign up for Apple Music, you get a free three-month trial with full access to all of the features. After that, it costs AU$11.99 a month, or you can get a family subscription for AU$17.99 which will allow six people to share the one subscription. Furthermore, Telstra is offering iPhone users on a 12- or 24- month Go Mobile Plan a year’s worth of Apple Music for free from the carrier.
Apple Music gets a lot right – a massive music catalogue, great voice control integration with Siri, and good cross-platform support (it’s coming to Android later this year). But with all of those features jammed into one app, Apple Music falls short on navigation and user interface – which is something of a surprise, given Apple’s long time focus on superior design.
Stuck in fourth place behind Spotify, Pandora and YouTube, Apple Music isn’t providing enough incentive for mobile app users to leave established streaming services. Apple have a long standing reputation for taking a wait-and-see approach with new technologies, but in an industry where the competitors have shown no signs of slowing down, Apple’s name recognition just isn’t enough anymore.
Pandora – The Best Internet Radio
The market-leading music streaming app in the United States, Pandora highlights the demand for Interactive Radio by offering users a way to consume music without choosing individual tracks. Pandora’s model is simple – enter any artist, genre or song you like, and Pandora will provide a stream of similar sounding music.
Users can then give a thumbs up or down to refine their radio stations to songs they want to hear. You can save artists as favourites, with an option to by specific songs with link-out agreements. It’s more of a music-discovery service, or an instant playlist without the hassle.
The free service is ad supported with radio stations that stream at 64Kbps. The premium service (in the form of Pandora One) costs $4.99 per month and removes ads. With Pandora One, users also get more skips per hour and an improved streaming quality of 192Kbps.
Pandora offers a true radio experience with a simple and intuitive user interface. The iPhone and Android apps introduce you to a lot of new music and allow you to easily optimise your Internet radio experience.
However, the pessimist in me can’t help but have a ‘glass half empty’ view of Pandora. There are limitations, such as only being able skip 12 songs a day and large data consumption. Plus 1.5 million songs in its catalogue is not a lot when compared to other services.
Cue the trombone… Womp womp womp woooomp.
Pandora’s not the best streaming app available, but it’s never been an overall music service like Spotify or Apple Music. Instead, Pandora’s all about keeping things simple – push a button to listen to songs you like, without setting up playlists or searching for music. Internet radio doesn’t get much better than that!
Tidal- The Best Sound Quality
Tidal, formerly known as Aspiro, is the Swedish music streaming service that was recently purchased by Jay Z for a casual $56 Million in March 2015. The rapper/business mogul has vowed to create the first artist-owned music streaming service – owned funnily enough by some of pop music’s elite. Lets not talk about that bizarre press event, which has to be one of the worst marketing campaigns I have ever seen.
One thing Tidal is doing right is pledging to pay higher royalties to artists, songwriters and producers. If this is true, it may see bigger bands and artists removing their music from Spotify, which in turn may help smaller bands that are struggling to make ends meet. But lets get down to what’s on offer with Tidal.
Tidal’s star-studded press conference. Source: Engadget
Tidal offers the highest quality audio on the market, something that will appeal to a number of listeners out there. Tidal HiFi, Tidal’s superior streaming service, offers high fidelity lossless CD quality audio – FLAC 1411 kbps – for $23.99 a month. It makes sense for subscribers to subscribe to Tidal. Why buy an expensive set of headphones if you aren’t getting the best sound out of them? The FLAC 1411 bitrate audio offers a fuller sound with much more detail. There is also Tidal Premium, which features standard sound quality (320 kbps) for $11.99.
Tidal’s music catalogue is over 35 million, with a few noticeable gaps, but will give access to exclusive content and is ad free. Unsurprisingly, the Tidal app is very sleek and modern but a bit buggy. There is a 30-day free trial to give Tidal a shot but no free service like what Spotify offers.
Tidal actually has a lot more going for it than just being owned by some of the world’s biggest artists. It offers up the best sound quality, with that lossless CD audio being far superior to its competitors. Furthermore, its extensive music catalogue and access to exclusive content from artists is a real eye-catcher.
However, at a cost of $24 per month, I can’t help but question if what Tidal offers is worth it. At $288 a year, it’s double the cost of a Premium Spotify service and an Apple Music subscription. Not to mention I am already paying for Netflix, Foxtel and an expensive phone bill each month.
Can a guy catch a break?
With no free option, Tidal is positioning itself as the highest quality and aiming for the audiophiles market. Does helping ‘fledging artists’ pull at your heartstrings or does Tidal’s cost makes it seem like too much of a hit to the bank account? I think I can feel my back pocket burning…
The Best of the Best
Let’s face it, no music streaming service is going to offer everything we want in a mobile app. Spotify provides great user experience and extensive music catalogue but means missing out on exclusive content. Choosing Apple Music subscription gives you exclusive content, but forgo Tidal’s FLAC 1411 quality audio. You might get an excellent Interactive Radio with Pandora, but a lite catalogue of music to listen to.
No mobile music streaming service is perfect.
For now, Spotify remains the best option available. The app is user-friendly, has a great music catalogue, and lets you make and share playlists. Not to mention that it’s free if you can put up with those pesky ads.
FYI I’m a Spotify user and ended up buying a CD of Dr Dre’s new album. Who knew that music could still be a physical product??
What music streaming app do you use and why? Let us know in the comments below.