Digital Top Stories

Spotify revamps download service, adds iPod syncing

By | Published on Wednesday 4 May 2011


Spotify this morning announced changes to its software which seemingly attempts to turn its free service into a closer competitor to iTunes. Having added new limitations to its ad-funded version at the beginning of the month, it has now added some new functionality: an expanded download service, syncing for basic iPods, plus access to its mobile app (previously only available to paying subscribers) for all users.

The new features are of most significance (and most likely to be used by) users of the free version, making it and the paid-for one even more distinct. The ad-funded version is now seemingly being positioned much more as a preview service for people who still wish to purchase music, while the paid-for option is for the streamers. Given Spotify’s original business model was based on the idea that the future of music was “access rather than ownership”, that does seem to be something of a backwards step, though given the ad-funded access model doesn’t seem to have worked commercially, and given that some reckon the access and ownership models of digital music can co-exist, perhaps dabbling in both domains is sensible.

Spotify’s Chief Product Officer Gustav Söderström told CMU: “Accessing music on your mobile phone is the future, but today that makes up a pretty small percentage of music fans. We want to open up the Spotify experience to as many people as possible, and in a way where they can get exactly the music they want at a great price”.

The previously low-profile Spotify download service will continue to be handled by 7Digital, though users will now have to charge up their accounts with credit in advance, rather than paying per track iTunes style. Bundles are offered on a sliding scale ranging from 80p to 50p per track, with ten tracks costing £7.99, fifteen tracks £9.99, 40 tracks £25 and 100 tracks £50.

Once tracks are downloaded, iPod Classic, Nano and Shuffle users can then sync them (and any other local audio files imported into their Spotify library) to their portable devices via Spotify without having to load up iTunes. This new feature does make it possible for users of these devices to dump iTunes altogether as a tool for managing their music collections.

iPod Touch and iPhone users also have this option – to an extent – now that Spotify’s mobile app is free to all. It will allow free and bottom tier paid subscribers to wireless sync local files over wi-fi. However, streaming via the mobile app is still restricted to those signed up to the service’s most expensive subscription option.

Commenting on the latest update to the Spotify software, CEO Daniel Ek told CMU: “From today, Spotify really is the only music player you’ll ever need. Our users don’t want to have to switch between music players, but they do want to take their playlists with them wherever they go, on a wider range of devices, more simply and at a price they can afford. Now we’ve made that possible on one of the world’s most popular consumer devices”.

While he is right that Spotify users can now use the service as their sole music player, it doesn’t make it an ‘iTunes killer’ by any means. For iPod Touch and iPhone users, iTunes will remain an important bit of software, because they likely use it to do more than manage their music collections – ie to sync apps, photos, contacts, calendars, videos, ebooks between devices, as well as downloading and managing podcasts. And for those who do only sync music, Spotify’s currently fairly clunky offline library mixes up podcasts and audiobooks on your computer with your music files (and misrecognises some videos files as audio), which is all a bit of a turn off.

There was a time when Apple might have responded to a development like this by tweaking its device software to block Spotify syncing, though given the limitations of Spotify’s syncing functionality the company probably won’t be too concerned about this innovation.

Spotify probably realises the limitations, but wants to get some benefits out of the freemium user-base it has recruited in recent years. Also, if users of the free service are regularly charging up their accounts to buy downloads, over time it prove easier to convince them that they’d be better off paying for a premium subscription.

UPDATE 6 May 2011: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly said that 7Digital will continue to power Spotify’s download service. At the time of writing, the old pay-per-track download service run by 7Digital through the Spotify player is still operating. However, this relationship will end when Spotify’s revamped download offering goes live.

Ben Drury, CEO of 7Digital, told The Telegraph in an article published today (6 May): “7Digital is not powering the new download offering from Spotify. There will be a minimal impact on 7Digital, as we continue to focus on expanding our offering to new customers who want access to music anywhere, anytime, on mobile and connected devices”.