Spotify Keeps Getting Better at Phone Apps’ Expense

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Jared Newman /

As someone who doesn’t regularly use Spotify, I often look at the streaming music service with envy. Spotify seems to be making all the right moves, from its U.S. media blitz that made it the center of attention last summer, to its early support for Facebook’s frictionless sharing, to its introduction of third-party apps that tap into Spotify’s huge music catalog.

This week, Spotify added a dozen more apps to its desktop software, opening up new ways to discover music. One example, called Tweetvine, creates playlists based on Twitter mentions. Another, called Filtr, creates playlists based on the tastes of Facebook friends. Music labels such as Def Jam, Domino and Matador have also created their own Spotify apps. (Hypebot has the full list of new Spotify apps.)

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With all this cool stuff happening, why am I not a Spotify user? The mobile experience is still subpar. It’s not worth the $10 per month that Spotify charges, especially when other streaming music services such as MOG and Rdio do a better job. (I’ve been a MOG subscriber for a while, mainly because of its well-designed mobile app and radio feature, but I don’t swear allegiance to it.)

I aired some grievances with Spotify’s mobile app just before the service launched in the United States last July, and the company’s PR department quickly scolded me. The software I tried was just a preview based on the U.K. service, they said, so it wasn’t nice for me to write a full review.

Nonetheless, Spotify’s mobile apps haven’t gotten much better since then. Let’s revisit what’s wrong:

Starred Tracks Are a Mess: Similar to other streaming services, when you find a song you like, you can mark it with a star for easy access later. Ideally, these starred tracks would organize themselves by artist and album. Instead, songs simply appear on one huge list, in whatever order you starred them, so the list becomes impossible to navigate if you mark a lot of songs.

Play Queues Get Hidden: Once you start playing an album or playlist, there’s no way to get a full view of your queue without navigating back to where you found the songs originally. If you’re listening to a friend’s playlist, that means the queue is buried beneath several layers of menus. The screen that shows what’s playing needs a way to look at your full list of queued songs so you can jump around easily.

No Apps: I’ll be shocked if Spotify doesn’t eventually bring its third-party apps to mobile devices. For now, though, the means of discovering more music is limited to new tracks, top tracks and your friends’ activity.

Still No Radio: Spotify offers a radio feature on its desktop app, putting song selection on autopilot so you don’t have to keep picking new playlists or albums. On the mobile app, however, there’s no way to keep the songs coming.

No Tablet Apps: Rdio and Slacker Radio both have gorgeous apps for iPad, taking advantage of the extra screen space. They’re perfect for listening to music at home, sending the audio to Airplay-enabled speakers. It’s too bad Spotify’s apps are only designed for smartphone screens.

For users, smartphone access is the main benefit of upgrading to a Spotify Premium account, so I assume the company wants to convert lots of listeners. Spotify might have better success if it starts treating its smartphone apps like first-class products.

MORE: Listen: The Best Music of 2011 Is Now On Spotify