Spotify & Nokia Music: apples and oranges?

If you’re even checking weekly for Windows Phone news you’re definitely already aware that Spotify has released its WP8 application. After creating an account on the web, new users can enjoy a 48-hour free trial of all of Spotify’s features. However, there are likely a number of Nokia Lumia users who are enjoying Nokia Music for free as their streaming-music service of choice.

Many are saying that Spotify is imposing serious competition on the formerly-alone Nokia Music service because of its massive user-base and higher-quality audio. Well, not so fast; there are actually some serious differences between the two that cause the competition to be less in respect to feature-set and cost than in respect to what the end user actually wants out of the service.

Nokia Music is a radio-based streaming service exclusive to Nokia Lumia devices, so if you’re using a Samsung or HTC Windows Phone, Nokia’s services are already out of the question. As it is radio streaming, the tracklists are generated by the user inputting up to three artists or selecting a pre-curated genre of music. The service lets you listen to the streams infinitely, and you can download a number of pre-mixed stations. However, you are limited to the number of tracks you can skip and offline stations you can download.

Spotify is known for having two core ways of listening to music: defining your own playlist of individual tracks you choose and streaming those, and listening to a streaming radio generated from a playlist, album, artist, or song. You can store as many as 3,333 songs in playlists and categories for offline listening onto any device, or you can stream the playlists over the web just as well.

While this might seem like a no-contest victory for Spotify, the fact of the matter is this: Spotify has not included its radio functionality in its WP8 app. In other words, unless you have been a long-time user of Spotify or know what you want to start filling your account playlists with, there is no music discovery that radio-esque streaming services, such as Nokia Music, provide. In short, Nokia Music and Spotify, as far as the WP8 device is concerned, serve two different needs of the music-streaming audience. In fact, until Spotify adds radio functionality, it and Nokia Music are more likely to be used in tandem by users who want the best of both worlds, with users switching to Nokia’s service for discovery, and back to Spotify to add new tracks and save playlists.

Then price gets factored in. To use Spotify on Windows Phone, you must subscribe to a $10-per-month Premium subscription. Nokia Music, though exclusive to Lumias, is entirely free. Unless you opt for the up-and-coming Music+ package, which earns you unlimited downloads, unlimited radio skips, lyrics lookup, and higher-quality audio, plus web-based access to the service for listening from any computer. That will cost you just $4 per month. I think viewers can be the judge of which is better, opting for the top-of-the-line package or enjoying what’s already there for free.

And therein lies the major problem of comparing these two services in a competitive sense: you really can’t. Both function in two entirely different ways that cater to two very different audiences. One is free radio, the other is paid access to an unlimited library of music. While competition may seem imminent, the truth of the matter is that both of these services can actually behave mutually between each other, one offering features that the other can’t. Since one is free already, once a user pays for Spotify, s/he is already getting the best of both worlds.

I could go on, even, about how Spotify’s superior Ogg Vorbis encoding wipes the floor with pretty much any MP3 bitrate, or about differences in library comprehensiveness or accessibility, but the point is already made well enough. These are two entirely different animals, and I declare it so without hesitating to say that both do at least a solid job at what they are designed to do.

With this in mind, do you know what would be a valid comparison? A true competitor to what Nokia is providing with Music?

That’s right, Pandora. The other big-name streaming service. They don’t even have an official application released, though the third-party MetroRadio does their job perfectly for them (the ad-free program will cost you $1.49 in the WP Store).

Just like Music, Pandora starts at $0 and lets you create radio stations based off of artists and songs. Both services stream in a fairly low bitrate (64k AAC+ or 128k MP3) and have a limit on skip numbers per hour. After these concessions are made, Nokia takes over. Nokia listeners get unlimited hours of listening versus 40 per month, offline music mixes, and zero ads, neither audio nor visual (though MetroRadio only displays nonintrusive ads on Windows Phone).

The paid versions are also competitive on paper. Both paid subscriptions are $4 a month and offer higher bitrates (Pandora offers 192k MP3, Nokia’s remains undisclosed). Pandora gains unlimited listening hours, a relaxed daily skip limit (though 6 per hour remains), and a desktop client for Mac and PC. Nokia Music+ offers unlimited offline downloads, unlimited skips, lyrics (though Pandora already offers it for free), and web access from a computer.

Now that is a comparison worth making.


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