Spotify did away with the “radio” tab of the past, replacing it with an “assisted playlisting” feature instead, which can be found under the “search” tab (wherein, naturally, you can search for artists and new music suggestions). This feature gives you contextual recommendations based on your music interests. Say, for example, you wanted to create a playlist to accompany you on your morning workouts. Using assisted playlisting, Spotify will pull from suggestions based on your past listening history, as well as recommendations based on songs others have added to their own, similar contextual playlists. You can continue to fill your playlists with tracks, or Spotify can autofill them once you’ve chosen a few to start with. Users are also able to search and preview songs before adding them to a playlist.
The company is still focused on playlists, but premium users do get a feature called Endless Artist Radio, which allows users to select an artist they like and get personalized playlists based on their listening history — all of which are also available for download.
This feature complements the previously discussed free-tier playlists option, which gives free users over 40 hours of music across 15 playlists generated from their musical tastes that they can listen to for up to 24 hours.
The experience differs from radio-style listening. While it gives you more control over discovery and personalization, it’s no longer the simple channel-based approach.
In an age that prioritizes automation, Apple Music’s preference for the human touch helps with radio-style programming. This philosophy is embodied in Beats 1, Apple Music’s premier radio station that runs nonstop music — mixed by DJs — on live radio shows.
While in-house DJs like Zane Lowe do an admirable job, especially when it comes to premieres, the most intriguing shows on Beats 1 are those hosted by notable musicians such as Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest), and Ryan Adams. These shows provide listeners with a unique look into the tastes of artists they admire. Some of them also have interesting formats, such as St. Vincent’s Mixtape Delivery Service, in which Clark solicits fans to tell her what is going on in their lives and assembles playlists to suit them.
Beyond Beats 1, Apple Music has some more generic radio stations for those who simply want to listen to say, classic rock, jazz, or Top 40 hits. There are also non-music stations such as BBC News and ESPN, creating a menagerie of options that are hard to … well, beat.
Winner: Apple Music
Apple Music costs the industry-standard $10 per month, as does Spotify Premium, Tidal Premium, Pandora’s on-demand service, and just about every other on-demand subscription service on the block (Amazon Music Unlimited costs $10 per month for existing users, or $8 for new users and those with an Amazon Prime subscription). Apple originally hoped to undercut its competitors by offering its standard service for $8, or even $5 per month, but that plan was derailed by the major labels that own the rights to the vast majority of the company’s catalog. To make an Apple Music or Spotify subscription a bit more appealing, both companies offer special family packs that allow customers to add up to six individual accounts for a grand total of just $15 per month.
If you’re considering Apple Music, there’s another way to save some cash. New users with an applicable student email can get a discounted monthly subscription of just $5. Similarly, current users can get a year’s worth of service for $99, as long as you know where to look. You’ll first need to be subscribed to Apple Music (it doesn’t matter which subscription you have). Head to your Subscriptions in the App Store app (accessed through your Apple ID at the bottom of the Featured tab) and select Apple Music. You should see an Individual (1 year) option for $99 — select it, and you can save nearly 20% over a year. Or, you know, you can always subscribe to Verizon Unlimited and bag a six-month membership for free. AT&T Unlimited & More customers, on the other hand, have the option to redeem a free Spotify Premium subscription, which will run right through the end of the contract.
Considering Apple grants every prospective subscriber three months of Apple Music for free, the service may be sweeping away more of Spotify’s user base than CEO Daniel Ek would like to acknowledge. However — and this is key — Apple does not have a free, ad-based tier like Spotify, which is a big reason the Swedish company was able to corral so many users in the first place. The majority of Spotify’s users listen for free, and that’s better than any three-month trial or discounted yearlong subscription Apple could offer — and the sole reason it takes home the crown for having the most competitive subscription fees.