Music streaming showdown: Apple vs. Spotify

Apple aims to be the next big thing on the music streaming market

Since the first experimental steps toward Internet radio twenty years ago, subscription-based music streaming has taken the country by storm. But, from big name brands like Spotify to industry newcomers like Tidal, music lovers must choose from seemingly infinite options in a sea of similar services.

Now, add Apple to the bunch. The tech company has revealed plans to launch its own music streaming service (simply called Apple Music), and there’s been much speculation about the new challenger’s ability to break into the extremely competitive market.

With the new Apple Music app scheduled to arrive on iOS June 30 (and even Android later in the year!), there’s just enough time to check the pulse of this rapidly evolving industry and find out which streaming service works best for you.

Back to the basics of Internet Radio

What is music streaming?

Generally, phrases like “music streaming” and “Internet radio” refer to the process of listening to music in real-time via the Internet. This trend has become a popular alternative to downloading audio files directly because streaming uses data instead of occupying storage space on your device.

Why do we need it?

Although some prefer the permanence of downloaded MP3 files or tangible CDs, the Internet makes streaming an easier—and arguably more affordable—option. The Internet connectivity of smartphones, computers, Bluetooth speakers and even cars allows you to listen to any song, anywhere, anytime and share favorites with friends.

Here and Now

Sure, streaming sounds great, but with lots of options, you may find it hard to know where to start. Here’s a comprehensive look at today’s most popular (and most anticipated) music streaming services.

Spotify: The Streaming King

With 60 million total users, Spotify is the undisputed monarch of music. In addition to its impressive digital library of over 30 million songs, Spotify is well known for its variety of discounts and pricing options.

After downloading the free Spotify app, users can choose between the Free streaming service (which includes ads and limited access to playlists in shuffle mode) or the Premium subscription service, which allows users unlimited access to any song, anywhere—even without an Internet connection—for a monthly fee.

Apple Music: The Up-And-Comer

Although Apple Music has yet to be released, it’s already being branded as the ultimate music streaming option, because it will combine key features from all the others. The app will boast these main elements:

• Unlimited music streaming from a majority of the iTunes catalog
• Beats 1, a 24-hour live radio station featuring popular DJs and artist interviews
• Connect, a new social media network that allows fans to engage with musicians

Unlike Spotify, Apple Music will not offer a free option. After the preliminary three-month trial period, users must pay a monthly subscription fee to continue using the service. Apple will also offer a family subscription plan which will cover up to six users.

For Apple device users, there’s no need to worry about downloading—the app will be automatically installed when they update their operating systems to iOS 8.4.

Tidal, Pandora and Google Play: The Notable Mentions

In addition to big-name music streaming companies, there are many small services to consider, each with different strengths.

Tidal: Tidal is relatively new streaming service best known for its backing by popular recording artists. It brags lossless, CD-quality streaming with access to 25 million songs and music videos. Its competitive advantage is access to exclusive artist content and handmade celebrity playlists.

Pandora: Instead of selecting specific songs, Pandora users can create automated radio stations based on their favorite artists, albums or genres. It’s a great option for people looking to discover new music. It also allows users to create a specific mood without the hassle of making playlists and managing individual tracks.

Google Play: This service offers a radio-style experience, plus the ability to stream more than 20 million individual tracks. As an added bonus, mobile users can integrate online music with the old favorites they’ve already downloaded to their phones.

Looking Ahead

While the myriad of music streaming services may seem intimidating, each app is simply a different route to the same destination: an easier way to share, discover and enjoy music.

In the end, only time—and lots of tunes—will tell which streaming service reigns supreme.