Spotify announced its new app platform today in New York, and we just checked out the brand new Preview app. The new App Finder — think a mix between Chrome Web Store and the iTunes Store — requires the new Spotify client, which you can download here for Mac and PC. Is the integrated App Finder an example of "me too" app store-ism, or is Spotify onto something with the idea of using its music platform to power third-party apps? Read on!
On launch, you'll be greeted by a completely redesigned 'What's New' screen that shows a glimpse of new albums, playlists and tracks trending among your friends, and top tracks and playlists near you. First up, the right rail has a new favorite people section, which on your initial launch will be empty. Clicking brings up a grid of your friends, and selecting these will enable Facebook ticker style updates . Unfortunately, user profiles haven't improved much in this version, with no indication of top played albums, tracks, or artists.
The big news here is the new App Finder, which features third party apps from Last.fm, The Guardian, TuneWiki, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, We Are Hunted, Songkick, Bilboard, and several others. It's a beta release, and we're only seeing 11 partners at launch today. Installing apps reminds us of adding browser extensions. Just tap the add button, and the HTML5 app will appear in the left rail under the Apps listing. It's a simple process, the apps are free, and many of the apps don't require you to login to a separate service or authorize.
There's 11 apps in all, and we took a closer look at several of the apps. On the Pitchfork app you'll be greeted with the site's best new albums, read the full review, click the album cover to start playing immediately, or add the album to a playlist. It's far more seamless an experience than playing tracks on Pitchfork proper, though there's definite room for improvement. There aren't any sorting mechanisms under 'All Reviews,' which would be great when you're in the mood for Swedish indie pop albums rated better than 8.0. In all seriousness, we'd love to see genre search. Pitchfork is building out big editorial pieces listing the top tracks of the year or decade into shareable, listenable playlists.
The Last.fm app, a service we've been using for years now, plugs directly into your Last.fm account and displays the top played albums from the past three months, recent tracks, and recommendations, but not much more. The new app offers a significantly pared back experience — I've got over 100,000 scrobbles, and there are very few options for digging into my years of listening data. It would be great, or terrifying, to listen to my top albums from 2007. Your Last.fm friends and groups? You won't find them here.
Rolling Stone feels about like what you'd expect, offering the site's newest reviews, a list of curated songs, and the magazine's trademark lists, from Songs that Shaped ?uestlove to the Top 100 Guitarsists of All Time. UI inconsistencies aside — we're wondering how multiple playlist UIs were approved — there are some great playlists here and we hope Rolling Stone continues to work with artists to mine its considerable archives. For now, though, there's no way to search and listen to the top southern rock albums from the late '70s.
The Guardian is a pretty bare bones affair: the app features the site's last 10 or so reviews, each about 200-300 words. Billboard had a great opportunity to show off its deep lists, but it inexplicably only lets Spotify listeners see the top ten tracks from the Hot 100, Billboard 200, R&B/Hip-hop, country, and rock. To view the rest of the list, you're kicked back to the browser with no option to easily play. The We Are Hunted app will be instantly familiar to users of the music discovery site; it looks and functions the same way as the web site, yet it's powered by Spotify so you'll get higher quality streams and the ability to dig down into featured artists.
The social experience is improved in this latest version, but it's still lacking compared to services like Rdio. While Last.fm offers the promise of combining a third party network on top of Spotify, it doesn't come close to delivering, and the process of searching for, sharing, and discovering great new playlists in Spotify is still frustratingly difficult. While finding new music from your friends is improved in the new app, Spotify's betting on the third-party apps to help users find new music.
We've been waiting for years for someone to seamlessly wed editorial content like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork's lists and reviews to a deep music backend, and this is a great step in that direction. These beta apps, though, are merely a first step, and don't fully reflect the deep archives, sorting features, and knowledge of these sites yet, and we're hoping to see that in future versions.
As far as the app experience, it isn't perfectly consistent; once you click through to a playlist from an app, you're often — but not always — whisked back into Spotify's traditional playlist UI without a banner or indicator that you've been browsing, for example, Rolling Stone. The back button takes you back to the app, but tapping the app icon in the left rail will force you back to the app's home page.
Of course, Spotify isn't going this alone; the company's recent Facebook integration has proven a strong force in driving new users to the streaming service, and hooking these lyrics sites, concert trackers, and editorial content into Facebook by way of Spotify will continue to make the platform even stronger.
Grab the Spotify Apps Preview version for Mac and PC here.