Few iPhone apps have been as eagerly awaited as Spotify for the iPhone. After months of speculation, development, and concern whether Apple would allow this iTunes rival on the iPhone, the app is available and sitting at the number one spot in the Apple App Store free downloads chart as we write.

Of course, calling it a free program is a bit misleading. Because - in case you haven't already heard - Spotify for iPhone is available only for Spotify Premium subscribers. Those are the people who pay Spotify £10 per month to use the service without the interruption of adverts.

So you can download the app for free, but the first thing it does is request your Spotify name and password. If you aren't already a Premium subscriber then you'll get an error message. Setting up as a Premium member is simple enough through the Spotify website and you can pay by credit card, debit card or PayPal.

Upgrading as a Premium member is instantaneous and enables you to use Spotify on your iPhone; it also enables Premium services on the Spotify desktop application.

Many of our US readers may have heard of Spotify, but won't have been able to use it yet, so here is our quick rundown. Feel free to skip to the bit marked 'What you get as a Premium member' if you already know all about Spotify.

What is Spotify?

Spotify is currently only available in the UK, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, and Spain.

The service is a legal streaming music application for Mac and PC that works a little like iTunes, but with approximately 3.8 million tracks in the library. And they're not rubbish homemade tracks either - all the main record labels and a host of independents are backing Spotify. For example, the top 10 artists on Spotify are currently: Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Beyoncé, Akon, Flo Rida, Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Green Day and the godawful Coldplay.

Thanks to deals with major independent labels, you'll also find plenty of smaller bands on the service. Having said that, there is a host of major bands that you won't find, including AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica and The Beatles.

You can create your own playlists: one particularly neat touch is that you can export and share playlists with your friends. And sites are springing up that compile playlists created by Spotify users.

But the main thing about Spotify - the thing that's garnered it so much attention - is that it's a free, ad-supported service. Users can legally download Spotify and instantly start searching and playing any of the tracks from the 3.8 million in the database; every four or five songs it throws an audio ad at you. The desktop app also has banner ads around it. It's not too obtrusive and certainly an acceptable way to listen to music.

But for £10 a month you can get rid of the ads by becoming a Premium subscriber. We've increasingly noticed local bars and cafes using Spotify hooked up to speakers - presumably paying the £10 rate.

NEXT PAGE: Premium membership >>

Digital World

Few iPhone apps have been as eagerly awaited as Spotify for the iPhone. After months of speculation, development, and concern whether Apple would allow this iTunes rival on the iPhone, the app is available and sitting at the number one spot in the Apple App Store free downloads chart as we write.

What you get as a premium member

Aside from enabling the iPhone application, Spotify Premium also removes all adverts (both banners and audio) from the desktop application.

It also enables you to listen to music at a higher than usual bit rate. The free desktop application uses a combination of peer-to-peer technology and streaming servers to deliver the music at 160kb/s. Premium subscribers get a higher bit rate streaming of 320kb/s on the desktop application (by going to preferences and ticking ‘Enable High Bit Rate').

It's worth noting that the iPhone application also delivers audio at the lower 160KB/s bit rate even though you are a Premium member. We presume this is to enable smooth streaming over the network.

For the music geeks amongst you, Spotify uses the Ogg Vorbis q5 codec.

To put this in context, Apple iTunes tracks are by default a 256kb/s and uses AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) codec developed by the MPEG Group. For a long time they were sold at the lower bit rate of 128kbp/s, which Apple claimed sounded as good or better than a 160kb/s MP3 file.

The upshot of this is that the music on Spotify Premium is pretty high quality. Maybe it's not quite as high-quality as the music currently being sold on Apple, but it's better than the music sold for many years through iTunes and better than the average MP3 file.

We'd like to say that we could hear the difference. But despite our extensive listening we can't tell much difference between the music in Spotify and iTunes. Both use pretty advanced codecs and you'd have to upgrade to a lossless codec to move up an audio grade.

Spotify also advertises that you get exclusive access as a premium member to pre-releases and concert ticket libraries - although we've yet to see any evidence of this.

So you've downloaded Spotify and signed up as a Premium member. What can you expect?

If you've been using Spotify for Desktop you'll instantly be greeted with your Playlists menu, and a list of any playlists you've saved on the desktop application. Clicking on one of the playlists scrolls to the list of tracks, and clicking on a track starts to play it along with full-screen artwork, and sliders and shuffle controls that are very close to the iPhone's iPod application.

The slider at the bottom controls the playback position, rather than the volume. This is confusing for people used to the iPod app on the iPhone

There are a number of annoying differences, though, for example, the slider at the bottom of the screen is a shuffle control rather than the iPod's volume slider.

But there are neat touches. You can move between tracks in a playlist by sliding the main image left and right (doing this moves back to the list of tracks on the iPhone's iPod app).

As with the iPod application, tapping the artwork overlays a second set of controls. On Spotify these are a volume slider, Shuffle, and Repeat buttons, plus a link to the album that the song appears on, a link to the band that is playing, and an Add To Playlist button. One niggle is that the volume slider is independent of the main volume of the iPhone. We found it easier just to set a level in Spotify and then use the iPhone's volume controls on the left of the device to adjust the sound settings.

Of course, Spotify's key draw isn't just the playlists: it's also the ability to search those 3.8 million tracks for new music. At the bottom of the screen are three buttons: Playlists, Search and more. Clicking Search takes you to a search window with a text box and three entry tabs: Tracks, Albums, and Artists. Actually, you can search either category just as you do in the desktop app: type Prince into the Tracks tab and you'll get tracks by Prince, not tracks with Prince in the title. But the tabs do help to narrow down a search.

NEXT PAGE: the trouble with playlists >>

Digital World

Few iPhone apps have been as eagerly awaited as Spotify for the iPhone. After months of speculation, development, and concern whether Apple would allow this iTunes rival on the iPhone, the app is available and sitting at the number one spot in the Apple App Store free downloads chart as we write.

The trouble with playlists

As with Spotify, you can add songs you like to playlists and save them for later listening. This, however, is where the app starts to fall apart. You can add tracks to currently enabled playlists, but you can't easily create new playlists. So say you search from Prince, and choose Raspberry Beret; you can add that to a playlist but you can't quickly create a new playlist for that track.

It gets worse: if you then click on the Around The World In A Day album option (to bring up the whole album the song is taken from) you can add all the songs to a current playlist, but not create a new playlist for the whole album - at least not from the Now Playing part of the app.

You can manually add playlists, so there is a workaround, although the process can charitably be described as "a bit of a faff". What you do is this: click on Playlists, then Edit, and press the '+' button; now manually type in the name of the new playlist - in this case "Prince: Around The World In A Day", press Create, click Done, click Now Playing to get back to your track, click the album art to bring up the options, Press 'Add to Playlist', scroll down to the bottom of your playlists and click the newly created playlist.

Playback quality and offline playlists

One of the great things about the Spotify app is that it works over 3G and not just WiFi. We found streaming music over the 3G network to be fast, reliable, and identical to using a WiFi connection.

One point to note is that Spotify can't stream music over the EDGE or GPRS network: it has to be 3G. We found as we walked around that the music stopped playing when we walked outside of a 3G area and into an EDGE one - of course, if you live outside a 3G area (as many O2 users do) then you might find Spotify for iPhone functionality severely limited.

Another great thing about the Spotify for iPhone app is that it enables you to download songs in your playlist to the app and play them when there is no 3G or WiFi connection. This stabilises the playback of songs when you're walking around and also lets you listen to tracks when there is no connection - we use this when listening to music on the Tube, for example.

The Offline Playlists option works surprisingly well. You tap the Offline Playlists button and tick the playlists you want to sync (you can only sync playlists, not individual tracks). These are then downloaded into the app and can be played seamlessly. You can only sync tracks over WiFi, but the process is invisible and if you are in a 3G connection it carries on streaming until an appropriate WiFi network becomes available.

Offline Playlists are signified by a small green arrow icon, and when a 3G or WiFi network is not available the regular Playlists fade out, and only the Offline Playlists are accessible.

One technical point: Spotify on the desktop uses a combination of streaming and peer-to-peer connections to distribute music. Some Macworld readers have questioned whether it does this on the iPhone because the upload limits imposed under O2's fair use and speed are a concern. The good news is that there is no peer-to-peer functionality on the Spotify iPhone app: it's streamed directly from the Spotify servers.

We did note with interest, though, that O2 sent out a text to iPhone owners the day after Spotify's release that stated: ‘Get the most out of apps and the web by using Wi-Fi', and included a link for setting up WiFi on the iPhone.

There is another menu, titled More, which is a bit of a misnomer as typically on the iPhone this leads to more selections, whereas on the Spotify app it simply leads to a Preferences menu. As well as the version number, there are a few options here: you can sign out of your account, access hotline help, and view the third-party licenses.

One interesting option is called Forced Offline mode. Activating this closes down the 3G and WiFi connection and only allows you to access your Offline Playlists.

Why would you want such a thing? Andy Penfold, editor of Macworld's sister title iPod User had the answer for us. This allows you to use the iPhone with a speaker system without the network causing feedback to interfere with the sound of the speakers. It's a really neat touch and Spotify should be commended for including it at launch.

NEXT PAGE: what you don't get >>

Digital World

Few iPhone apps have been as eagerly awaited as Spotify for the iPhone. After months of speculation, development, and concern whether Apple would allow this iTunes rival on the iPhone, the app is available and sitting at the number one spot in the Apple App Store free downloads chart as we write.

What you don't get with Spotify for iPhone

One massive quirk of Spotify for iPhone application is the odd omission of the What's New and Top Lists options. These are great ways of browsing music on the service without having to know what artist or track you are looking for.

The Forced Offline mode enables you to play music through speakers without interference from the mobile phone signal

You also don't get the Radio and Play Queue options. While this doesn't get in the way of using the application for its basic purpose, that of searching for music, it does make it feel somewhat limited compared to the desktop version.

A third issue is that there doesn't seem to be any way of importing shared playlists into the mobile application. Obviously clicking on Spotify links doesn't launch the application; but there's no way to use the iPhone's copy and paste feature to put the links you find on Spotify sharing sites into the app.

Mind you, these are features that can be included in future builds of Spotify: it's clear that the app is off to a flying start.

One issue that no upgrades will address is that the application doesn't provide background music. So you can't fire up Spotify and surf the web, or check your email - as you can with the built-in iPod application. When you shut down the Spotify app the music stops playing - although it does restart from the same point as soon as you open the app again.

Is the Spotify for iPhone app worth the money?

Spotify manifestly works, because it is a pragmatic approach by the music industry to a problem that doesn't seem to be solved by any other paid-for service. The problem is that it's exceptionally easy to get music for free on the internet, or by sharing with friends.

Now there's a whole big debate here that Fergal Sharkey, CEO of British Music Rights, is keen to engage in, broadly called ‘copyright infringement is theft'. The digital sharing of music is killing the music industry, runs the argument. Be that as it may, the only thing stopping people from getting music for free is their sense of the morality - or immorality - of ripping music and sharing it. And that doesn't seem to be stopping them.

There are lots of arguments here. Our take on it has been that the ‘copyright infringement is theft' argument didn't draw any water when we were teenagers and albums carried ‘home taping is killing music' messages; it also didn't draw any water when the Federation Against Software Theft told us that copying computer programs was illegal, and it certainly didn't stop Macworld UK's editor in chief from picking up an illegal VHS copy of A Clockwork Orange when it was banned in the UK for all those years. So we doubt very much whether it's having any impact on the youth of today - which manifestly does not have to pay for music.

Spotify Free is a great alternative to ripping music because it's free and you only have to put up with a few ads. As Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify said: "The audience that Spotify reaches is in many cases the 18-24 year olds - the same audience that doesn't buy music". His point is that Spotify is a direct replacement for pirating music; it's an alternative to getting music for free. There is a generation growing up that has not, and possible never will - ever - pay for music. Spotify tackles that problem admirably by being free.

So where does Spotify Premium with its £10 a month charge fit into this?

It's clear that Spotify needs to generate more money to exist as a service. One of the key aims of this iPhone app - at least for Spotify - is to act as an income generator. Now, we don't have insider information on Spotify's balance sheet, but we'd imagine that it has a way to go before it can become a valid income generator.

There is a valid argument that the whole point of Spotify is that it is free and that makes as much sense on the iPhone as it does on the desktop. Having to pay £10 a month for the service negates that key aspect of the service and puts Spotify in the same sphere as the current incarnation of Napster. Most people want to pay to own music, or they want to get it for free, what they don't want is to pay to rent music. Films, maybe, but not music.

And let's face it. That's what Spotify Premium amounts to. Renting music.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

Digital World

Macworld.co.uk

Spotify for iPhone: Specs

  • iPhone running 3.1 software of later required
  • iPhone running 3.1 software of later required

OUR VERDICT

So is the £10 a month deal worth it? Napster charges £14.95 for its Napster To Go service so it's certainly less than its rival. And some people in the Macworld office have stated flat out that they're happy to pay £10 per month to have unfettered access to all that music. You can pay £5 for a sandwich in London, so perhaps £10 per month for just about every song in existence is a fair deal. Mind you, we've been using iTunes now for five years. At £10 per month that's £600 we'd have spent if we'd been using Spotify. Few people have spent that much money on the iTunes Store. There are also a few gaps in the Spotify collection that you don't mind on the free service, but jar when you're paying £10 per month. The inclusion of audio books, comedy shows, podcasts, and assorted other media would make for a more rounded service. Still… whether you think it's worth £10 or not per month is an individual choice. We certainly think it's worth spending £10 for one month to try out the service. If it was Spotify Free it would earn five stars. As an aside we'd like to see Spotify sort out the clunkiness of adding tracks to new playlists and incorporate some of the browsing features from the Desktop App. Aside from all of this it's great to see Spotify on the iPhone and this is a fantastic initial application.

Find the best price