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 >>