A few months ago when Spotify announced its move into podcast streaming, I was an immediate opponent of the idea. Are people really going to start opening Spotify for the latest episode of This American Life or WTF? Is that a mental link that users will ever make? I'm just as skeptical now as I was then. But last week, Spotify took its biggest step yet in broadening the type of content that we've come to associate with the leading subscription music service: it launched video.
Not music videos, mind you. Unlike Tidal and Apple Music, which both offer their subscribers on-demand access to a big vault of music videos, Spotify's going way more mainstream with something that almost resembles YouTube. You'll find video snippets from The Daily Show. From ESPN. From ABC News. From MTV's Catfish. It's all very... random.
Here again, we face the same problem. There's a bit of an identity crisis happening. Who turns to Spotify for this sort of thing? I'm going to open YouTube for 90 percent of it, and if I want to see sports highlights, I'll just load up ESPN's app. Or Twitter. But Spotify? It just doesn't occur to me, and I doubt that'll change. Spotify is where music lives. All of the music. It's where Discover Weekly continues to blow us away with playlists that somehow only get more precise and enjoyable each Monday. It's an app that, for all its weird quirks, we've grown incredibly addicted to. Just swiping through the activity feed can fill you in on what sort of mood your friends are in. And now, after welcoming The Beatles, Spotify's catalog has officially hit "good enough for nearly everyone" status. Videos and podcasts, though, aren't really a value add in my eyes. It's the total opposite. They risk cluttering up the app until it's a bloated, confusing mess. Like iTunes.
Discover Weekly is Spotify's killer weapon; Tosh.0 clips won't ever be
iTunes on the desktop has become the de facto jack of all trades, master of none app. It just does too much stuff. What began life as a music player has evolved into the app that plays your TV shows and movies, your ringtones, and your iPhone's voice memos. For some reason it's where iOS apps go. And yep, countless people use it for podcasts. Considering that laundry list of tasks, I give iTunes credit for functioning somewhat okay at all of them. But there's a reason for all the ridicule; it's a heavyweight app that most of us avoid wherever possible. Think of that feeling of having to sync your iPhone and the acknowledgement that you've got to click the iTunes icon. It's soul crushing, no matter how many times Apple tells us the latest version is faster and easier to use.
No one asked for this. No one wants this.
On the iPhone, Apple has taken a much wiser strategy of breaking iTunes apart with single-purpose apps for all of it. You've got music, videos, podcasts, voice memos, and two stores — one for apps, the other for music, movies, and TV. You can whine about all those apps taking up real estate on your home screen, sure, but the execution is so much tighter and focused. (Well, it was until Apple Music crashed down upon the music app.) Right now, what I'm seeing from Spotify is the opposite of focused. This company needs to make money, sure, and find new ways to turn a profit beyond subscriptions.
Spotify still hasn't mastered its role as a music app
But Spotify still hasn't even mastered its role as music software. That should always be priority number one. Seriously, what does toggling "Offline" mode even accomplish? That feature doesn't work at all like you'd expect. Why is there such an arbitrary limit on the number of songs you can save? Worse, a lot of cool stuff is stubbornly hidden. iOS people, I bet you've already forgotten that you can hold down on playlists to hear track previews. And get this: I've been using this app for years and only discovered — like, last week — that when in "Your Library," you can swipe down (from the top) on the lists of albums, songs, etc. and filter by downloads. Everything that's not saved on your phone goes away. Try it! It's revelatory for those times when I'm underground on the subway, and yet Spotify does absolutely nothing to let you know it's there. Some of you will say that Rdio, rest its soul, had a better design and better sharing options — a superior social experience. But Spotify's getting better on both points. And it's doing other good stuff, like finally embracing Chromecast, building out a dedicated mode for runners, and adding lyrics.
But this big "shows" push has me concerned for what's to come. At least for right now, all of these podcasts and video clips are easy enough to ignore. But that might not always be the case. And the day it's not, that'll be when I give Apple Music yet another chance, or make the full conversion to Google Play Music. Spotify is in a phenomenal position right now, but I understand that it can't sit still. The urge to distinguish itself as Apple chips away at the company's lead, and as Amazon reportedly prepares a full-on assault, is perfectly legitimate. But Spotify already has its one true killer feature, Discover Weekly. When it connects and nails your music tastes, that feeling — that immediate reaction — is magic. I genuinely look forward to opening Spotify every week. And it's not for videos of Trevor Noah or Jimmy Fallon. It'll never be for that. Please, Spotify, keep focused. Or just cram this stuff into a standalone app: Spotify Video or Spotify Shows, perhaps? And then, much like Rdio, you'll probably come to realize how lukewarm users are about this stuff.
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