It’s December 1st, which for Spotify users, means the annual tradition of the music streaming service’s Spotify Wrapped roundup: customized, flashy infographics of the top songs, playlists, artists, and podcast that you’ve listened to over the last year, chock-full of data, mood boards, and just a sprinkling of judgment.
I, unfortunately, do not use Spotify. Instead, I pay Apple $10 per month for Apple Music, Spotify’s biggest competitor. And so while virtually everyone I know on Twitter and Instagram is spending the entirety of today putting their personal taste in music on blast, I get... a playlist of the songs that I listened to the most this year.
Spotify has been eating Apple’s lunch for years now with Wrapped, which has practically become its own internet holiday each year. And yet, it took Apple four full years to even launch its bare-bones Replay feature, which debuted in 2019 and hasn’t been meaningfully updated since. (I’ve been using kludged together Smart Playlists on iTunes for years to try to poorly replicate the Spotify experience.)
2021 is no exception, with Spotify offering what feels like its most lavish recaps yet. My wife (who is a Spotify user) spent the morning showing off her bespoke playlist to me, which included (among other things) specially curated songs for specific moods, rankings of where she placed among global Doja Cat listeners, a color-changing “audio aura,” and an interactive quiz. All of it is designed to be shared and shown off on other social media platforms.
And it’s not just music listeners, either. Artists seem to love Spotify Wrapped, too, with their own customized recaps showing off how many millions of times their fans streamed their music around the globe.
It’s not that Apple Music couldn’t do its own version of Wrapped; Apple certainly has the data, and I find it extremely hard to believe that the $2.79 trillion company can’t find the space in its budget to task a team of designers and engineers into building a similar tool. Or maybe it could try to buy Last.fm, which already does a whole bunch of music trends based on customers’ listening habits, if it wanted to offload some of that work.
And there are plenty of reasons for Apple to do exactly that besides my annual dose of social media FOMO: Apple has made no secret of its ambitions for recurring service revenue to serve as a key part of its future going forward. And yet, instead of jumping on the easy marketing win and massive user goodwill that a more robust replay feature could offer, year after year after year, Apple just chooses to do the absolute bare minimum.
Look at it another way: Spotify, every year, manages to get millions of people to spend days posting algorithmically generated Spotify advertisements to every corner of their social media presences, without even offering any free giveaways or incentives. Why wouldn’t Apple Music be trying to get a piece of that action?
It’s not even like Apple has to worry about angering Spotify by shamelessly ripping off one of its most popular features: Spotify already thinks Apple is a “ruthless bully” that monopolizes the App Store to favor its own services and has filed an antitrust complaint in the EU to that end. It’s not like there’s a good, healthy corporate relationship to ruin here. If Instagram could shamelessly copy stories from Snapchat, Apple can figure out how to replicate its own version of Wrapped.
In fact, it’s increasingly surprising year after year that seemingly no one is copying Spotify’s absurdly popular data visualizations. With a few exceptions like Microsoft’s recent 20th anniversary Xbox retrospective, there are still virtually no takers on following Spotify’s lead here. Where’s Netflix’s flashy look back at the shows you binged over the year, or PlayStation’s deep dive into how many hours you spent trying to beat Pride and Joy Prototype in Final Fantasy VII Remake? The closest comparison I can think of is Goodreads’ “Your Year In Books,” which also functions more as a straight list than the comprehensive experience that Spotify has created here.
But for now, I’m once again spending December filled with envy as my Spotify-using friends get to show off all their favorite songs, left hoping with increasingly futile optimism that maybe Apple Music will figure things out next.