Apple Music vs Spotify vs Deezer vs Amazon Prime Music: Spotify lets free users skip ads

The service will use an algorithm to learn which ads users listen to

Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Prime Music and Deezer are going up against each other. With lots of money to be made, and the market for music streaming getting bigger by the day, can Apple’s service replace the current leader?

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14/08/2018: Spotify lets free users skip ads

Spotify users that partake in the free service may soon enjoy music streaming ad-free as the company are looking to change its business model.

A report from Advertising Age suggests that Spotify could be preparing to run a test in Australia that will let free-tier listeners skip audio and video adverts that pop after a certain amount of time spent listening to music on the site.

The trial will allow users to skip whatever ad as many times as they like and as often as they like and jump straight back into the music they were listening to.

This trial feature is called "Active Media" and its aim is to improve the user experience and provide value for money for advertisers who will not have to pay for skipped ads.

Instead, Spotify hopes an algorithm can be used to learn what type of adverts free users prefer listening to, helping advertisers target consumers more efficiently and enabling Spotify to offer a more tailored advertising package.

"Our hypothesis is if we can use this to fuel our streaming intelligence, and deliver a more personalized experience and a more engaging audience to our advertisers, it will improve the outcomes that we can deliver for brands," said Danielle Lee, Spotify's global head of partner solutions.

So far the company has only tested the feature in Australia but Lee said the company plan on rolling it out to the rest of the world in the near future.

04/06/2018: Spotify has removed its "Hate Content & Hateful Conduct" policy after receiving criticism from its users, saying it was unfair the music streaming service blocked some artists from playlists if the content was regarded as hateful.

It wasn't just users that hit back at Spotify's policy, but some record labels, including Kendrick Lamar's Top Dawg Entertainment, which threatened to withdraw support for the platform if their artists' music wasn't allowed on playlists.

The 'Hate Content & Hateful Conduct' policy was first introduced in April when a campaign against singer R. Kelly called for a boycott of music by artists accused of sexual misconduct.

Spotify explained that it accepted the language of the policy was too vague and it resulted in confusion and concern rather than its intended purpose of promoting a safe and unhateful environment for its users. It said some artists were concerned the policy meant they wouldn't be able to promote their music, while others said mistakes made in their youth would be used against them.

"That’s not what Spotify is about," the company said in a statement announcing the scrapping of the policy. "We don’t aim to play judge and jury. We aim to connect artists and fans – and Spotify playlists are a big part of how we do that."

"Our playlist editors are deeply rooted in their respective cultures, and their decisions focus on what music will positively resonate with their listeners. That can vary greatly from culture to culture, and playlist to playlist. Across all genres, our role is not to regulate artists. the statement explains."

Spotify went on the explain that regarding the second part of the policy - addressing hate content - would still stand and the company would remove any tracks it believes incite hatred against a person's race, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

"We will continue to seek ways to impact the greater good and further the industry we all care so much about," the company added. "We believe Spotify has an opportunity to help push the broader music community forward through conversation, collaboration and action. We’re committed to working across the artist and advocacy communities to help achieve that."

27/04/2018: Spotify has upgraded its free music experience for customers who don't want to pay for the privilege of listening to music on demand. It's the biggest update to the company's non-premium service since the company launched in 2014 and comes with a brand new app experience.

Free users will be able to get on-demand access to up to 15 playlists created by Spotify according to your existing listening habits. You can listen to these playlists as if you have a premium account, without being subject to song shuffling which was the case with previously the free service. However, this shuffle-free service will be limited to the 15 playlists. 

There's only a bank of 750 tunes your playlists can add, but Spotify promises they'll be constantly updated so it's unlikely you'll hear the same songs over and over again. The content includes Discover Weekly, Release Radar, and Daily Mix playlists too.

When users launch the new app for the first time, they'll be asked to choose their favourite artists and Spotify will curate playlists using this starting point, so it's pretty likely even from the off, you'll enjoy the suggestions the music streaming service will present to you.

“Over the last several years, we've made Spotify’s premium mobile experience top notch,” Spotify’s chief R&D officer Gustav Söderström said at the launch. “The mobile free tier has stayed exactly the same since 2014,” he added, so it's time for a change.

24/04/2018: EU watchdogs have announced that they plan to mount an investigation into Apple's buyout of music analysis company Shazam, examining whether the deal unfairly advantages Apple over its competitors in the music streaming market.

The European Commission is concerned that by purchasing Spotify, Apple could "obtain access to commercially sensitive data about customers of its competitors", which would allow it to directly target them in an unfair manner.

"The way people listen to music has changed significantly in recent years," said commissioner Margrethe Vestager, "with more and more Europeans using music streaming services. Our investigation aims to ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won't face less choice as a result of this proposed merger."

Shazam is a service which identifies songs based on a short sample. The app provides no music streaming capabilities of its own, but does integrate with other streaming services, allowing users to add identified songs to a Spotify playlist or purchase them from Amazon Music or Google Play Music.

It is this usage data that the EC is concerned could give Apple the competitive edge in promoting Apple Music over rival services. The Commission has also raised concerns over whether the streaming companies that currently partner with Shazam would be impacted if Apple were to dissolve those integrations following the merger.

The Commission has 90 working days to reach a verdict on the issue, with a deadline of 4 September 2018 to decide if it will block the deal from going through.

Read on for our in-depth comparison of Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer

Catalogue

According to the company, Spotify's catalogue is around 30 million tracks. Although the iTunes library has 40 million, only three-quarters of these are available through Apple Music, leaving the two services neck-and-neck in terms of rosters.

What Apple Music does have that Spotify lacks is an unsurprising number of exclusives. A slew of artists have formed relationships with Apple, releasing their material first (and sometimes only) on Apple Music.

Many artists have also pulled their back catalogues from Spotify, leaving the service bereft of some major names. Unless you're dead-set on listening to a particular musician's oeuvre, however, it's unlikely to be a major dealbreaker.

Deezer, somewhat surprisingly, has the best of the lot. The company claims a library of over 40 million songs, spread over basically every taste and genre you can imagine. It's lacking the aforementioned Apple Music-exclusives, but otherwise, it's incredibly robust.

Amazon Prime's catalogue, sadly, is pitifully far behind its rivals. While Spotify and Apple Music both have around 30 million songs, Amazon Prime Music only has around 1 million. It does have a passable mix of new and classic artists, but its selection pales in comparison to rivals.

Read on for pricing and subscription comparisons of Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer

Pricing & subscription

Spotify's primary draw is its free tier. You can listen to unlimited music, but it's supported by ads. The £9.99 per month premium tier removes these, but it also gets rid of a few other restrictions.

For example, mobile users can listen to the artists, albums or playlists for free, but only in shuffle mode - they can't directly select tracks, and they have a maximum number of skips per hour.

It's a good deal for all parties. The free tier is more than functional enough, especially for casual users, but the benefits of premium (like higher-quality audio) are enough that many will consider switching of their own volition.

Apple Music also has a free tier but compared to Spotify's, it's downright truncated. Free users aren't able to play, save or like content from Connect, have limited skipping privileges on the Apple radio stations and, crucially, have no access to the Apple Music instant streaming library.

It does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of the family subscriptions, however. Single subscriptions cost £9.99 a month - the same amount as Spotify - but Apple also offers a family membership for £14.99 a month.

Provided via the pre-existing iCloud family sharing, this allows up to six people to use the same Apple Music account, with separate playlists, recommendations and libraries. It's an absolute steal for families, especially if they're existing Apple customers.

Spotify also has a family plan, but it's much more expensive. It costs just under £20 per month for three members, £25 for four people, and a whopping £30 for a family of five.

Deezer goes one up from Spotify, with three subscription tiers. It's got an ad-supported free tier, which is limited to a low-quality bitrate of 128kbps. Cough up £9.99 per month, and you can ditch the ads and bump up the quality to 320kbps.

The £14.99 Elite membership, however, offers hi-def audio streaming at an ear-massaging 1,411kbps, which is one of the highest-quality streaming rates around.

Amazon Prime Music isn't available as a standalone subscription at all -- it's only open to Amazon Prime customers. Let's be realistic, though; no one's going to want Prime Music as a standalone service.

If you're paying for Amazon Prime anyway, though, it's a bit of a steal. The £79 annual subscription works out to under £7 per month, and if you're using all the benefits - including Prime Music, Prime Instant Video, the one-day delivery and free unlimited photo storage - the value is obvious.

Read on for a comparison of Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer's availability and compatible devices

Devices & availability

One of the principal benefits of streaming all your music from the cloud is being able to take it with you while you're on the go. Unsurprisingly, Spotify is available on basically every platform - including the ancient and venerable BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

Deezer has similar availability, although device support across its Elite tier has reportedly been a little patchy. Both services also have good support across secondary platforms like Smart TVs and in-car entertainment systems.

You might expect Apple Music to be exclusive to iOS and OSX devices. However, in a minor masterstroke, it's available not just to Apple users, but also on PC and Android devices too. That's it, though - no love for other operating systems here.

It's the same story with Amazon Prime Music. In spite of the company's partnership with BlackBerry to deliver extra apps for the OS, it's not listed as one of the officially supported platforms. Android and iOS are fine, though, as is the company's line of Fire devices.

Read on for our verdict on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer

Verdict

While Spotify has come to be as ubiquitous in the audio streaming game as Netflix is in the visual space, all of the major services have elements to recommend them.

If you're just after a bit of casual listening and you're already an Amazon Prime subscriber, then it's likely that Prime Music is going to be perfectly adequate for you without shelling out any extra.

On the other hand, if the rest of your family is also looking for a streaming service, a family subscription to Apple Music could end up saving you all a packet in the long run.

Audiophiles will want to stump up for Deezer's top-quality Elite package. You're unlikely to find better audio with any other streaming service, but make sure to check that your device is supported first.

The overall winner, however, is Spotify. Support is near-ubiquitous, it's got a well laid-out interface and tonnes of integrations with other products and services, and a very respectable selection. Its curated playlists are also some of the best around, thanks to excellent use of big data analytics.

This article was first published on 06/08/2015 and was last updated on 26/04/2017.

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