Spotify

Feb 18, 2009

Tried out Spotify.

Now, the back story here is that I'm not very big on Internet apps for music. Basically there's nothing missing in my life that iTunes cannot do. So I'm not a big user of Last.fm, Pandora, Muxtape, or any of those other things. I'm all mainstream and iTunes. So I had some skepticism for Spotify. But I figured I'll give it the benefit of doubt and give it a go.

I've now been using it for a couple of days -- more than I anticipated. And there are several good things about it.

The first thing I like, before talking about music, is the general high quality of engineering and design. It's a really well done piece of client software. Specifically, it is small and super fast in all aspects. It starts pretty much instantly. When starting to play audio tracks, there is no perceivable delay. Searches are lighting fast, much faster than iTunes. The whole thing is extremely snappy and responsive.

Responsiveness is important to me. I keep ranting about how I need to constantly wait behind my computer crunching away in some infinite loop, and how programs start and run too slowly. I get very upset when the computer is wasting my time. Spotify in its responsiveness is a true gem that really stands out well.

It also has many other nice little things. It shows Growl notifications when changing tracks, without me having to change anything (although showing the album image instead of program icon there would make it even nicer). It responds to MacBook Pro's "previous", "pause" and "next" keys (I thought only iTunes can do that). The signup process was dead simple. The UI is fairly minimalistic. So it's just a nice complete package.

Now, function- and music-wise, looks like you can do two things with Spotify today. You can search for artists/songs and play them, or you can run the "radio" where you specify the decade (from 50s to 21st century) and music style, and then it creates a "virtual radio".

Just to make sure I haven't missed anything in the marketplace, I gave Last.fm and Pandora a quick go. I still like Spotify more, because the other two guys' webpages are overwhelmed with stuff that doesn't interest me, and being web apps, they are much less responsive. Even if they only spend two seconds streaming the next track, that's already killing my experience.

Now, there's a couple of things that some of the other guys do, that Spotify doesn't, and I hope it will. So here's my little wishlist.

  • Merge the artist and radio functions somehow. Let me search for an artist, and play it back, but also play "similar" tracks like Last.fm who creates a virtual radio station around an artist.
  • I don't like how I have to start from scratch with music apps. They should utilize the knowledge available to them. Specifically the iTunes library. My iTunes library has 20 GB of content and the XML file is 3.6 MB. It has a lot of data about me -- what songs I like, how I have rated them, how often I have played them, etc. Spotify should grab this data and put it to good use. Now, of course, you can do this with web-based players too -- given that you get people to manually upload their iTunes library XML file. Which could be a nuisance -- you have to click the upload button and find it on your disk and wait for the upload to finish etc. But Spotify is already sitting in my computer, so it could grab this file seamlessly without annoying me.

On their site, Spotify also talks about upcoming social features. I don't know if I'll use them, but it will be interesting to see if they can maintain the UI responsiveness and simplicity while adding new features.

Now, the big question is, would I pay money for this whole thing? I really can't say. I end up buying a lot of music from iTunes during some podcasts that mix together the gems of a particular music genre. I can see Spotify doing the same -- helping me find great stuff. And maybe it can somehow inject itself into the iTunes or Amazon MP3 value chain. Or maybe I would even pay -- but with the product like this today, I can't see myself paying more than a few dollars per month.

UPDATE: found a bug too. It does not support Cmd-H key combo to hide the window. On Mac, it should, it's a standard action. UPDATE TO UPDATE: Cmd-H actually works, so there is no bug. I blame it on my MBP, it has been acting up recently, and random things don't work from time to time.