If you're annoyed by Apple’s iTunes, you may finally have a path to freedom.
Until recently, if you used an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you were pretty much locked in to Apple’s music player software, but thanks to a few new iOS features and the streaming music service Spotify, those days may be over.
There are tons of reasons you might want to ditch iTunes--we found 10 already this year. Apple’s media player started off simple and lightweight, but as my colleague Nick Mediati pointed out to me, it’s based on a piece of software that was released twelve years ago (according to the iTunes Wikipedia page), and it's also become a notorious resource hog in recent years.
When we last looked at iTunes alternatives in May, there were a few options available, but they all had significant disadvantages when compared to iTunes. Also, inherent limitations of iOS meant that you’d often have to open iTunes to update your software and back up your device, even if you didn't use it as a music player. iOS 5 removed that last hurtle in mid-October, letting you update iOS right from your phone or tablet.
We’ve already discussed how iOS 5 lets you sync your iDevice wirelessly with iTunes, but that still requires you to have iTunes open whenever you’re syncing. If you never want to use iTunes again, iOS 5 alone isn’t enough. Luckily, there’s a new option that lets you ditch Apple’s music player forever.
The New Kid on the Scene
Spotify made a splash when it finally came to America in July. The upstart service lets you stream music from its library of millions of tracks for free to your Windows PC or Mac by downloading a stand-alone app. Once you download Spotify’s app, though, you’ll quickly realize that it wants to be more than just a streaming music service like Pandora. It wants to be your iTunes replacement.
When you open it for the first time, Spotify will automatically import your iTunes library, so you can listen to your own music--in addition to the millions of songs Spotify offers via streaming--all from one app. This sounds great, but it can be annoying in practice if you still use iTunes to sync up your phone or tablet. Instead of having just one music app, you’re forced to switch between Spotify for playing your music and iTunes for syncing your devices.
The solution is Spotify’s mobile app. The free version lets you sync your music over Wi-Fi to your iPhone or iPod Touch using Spotify instead of iTunes. If you upgrade to Spotify’s $9.99-per-month Premium plan, you can also stream music from Spotify’s huge library to your phone. Unlike iTunes, Spotify also plays nice with Android and other mobile OSes, making it easier to manage your music across all of your decives.
You'll still need to have Spotify open when you sync your phone or tablet with your PC, just as you would if you were sync an iOS 5 deivce with iTunes over Wi-Fi.
Fortunately, Spotify doesn't appear to be nearly the resource hog that iTunes is: While we haven’t done extensive testing, a quick look at the Windows 7 Resource Monitor with both apps running revealed that iTunes consistently used more memory and made heavier use of the processor than Spotify, even when it sat idle in the background.
Spotify Can’t Do Everything…Yet
Spotify still won’t be a total iTunes replacement for everyone. After all, iTunes doesn’t just do music anymore: It also handles video, iOS apps and data, e-books, and even podcasts. And Spotify can't play any DRM-protected music you purchased through iTunes. If you rely on these additional features, you might have a difficult time finding a replacement that handles everything iTunes does, and does a good job at it. Spotify replicates iTunes music syncing capabilities--and it even adds a few new tricks--but if you want to sync your apps or back up your data, you’re out of luck without Apple’s music player.
iTunes is also still your best bet for syncing large video files to your iPad or iPhone. Some third party apps like iPad Transfer (Windows only) will sync video without iTunes, but most of them aren't as easy to use as iTunes. To go 100 percent iTunes-free, you'll likely have to stream your video from a service like Netflix.
Perhaps the most glaring problem with Spotify is that the company doesn’t offer a native iPad app. If you want to use Spotify to sync your music on your iPad, you’ll have to use the version for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which makes for a less-than-ideal experience.
But despite all these caveats, Spotify is the best iTunes alternative we've seen. Depending on your needs, you may find that Spotify already does everything you need, and, with just a few tweaks and the addition of a native iPad app, Spotify could finally let the average user delete iTunes forever.