Brian Tan

@btantheman

5 Things I Learned From My Comparative Study of Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer

Original photo by Frida Aguilar Estrada at Unsplash; Logos are from the respective companies

Recently, for our Information Technology Entrepreneurship class, we students were split into groups, and each group had to compare and analyze a set of related apps.

Our group decided to analyze music apps, particularly the ones that are the most popular but are also accessible here in the Philippines. So we picked Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.

We analyzed each app’s history, features, UX Design, and marketing strategies. Here’s five of the lessons I learned and uncovered from the research we made as a group.

#1: Your number of users and success has nothing to do with how long you’ve been operating.

“Success doesn’t just come and find you, you have to go out and get it.”

Spotify was officially founded back in 2006 by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon in Sweden. Since then, it’s grown to have over 140 million active users and 60 million paid subscribers as of July 2017.

Spotify’s user growth

On the other hand, Deezer was founded about the same time. It was founded by Daniel Marhely and Jonathan Benassaya back in 2007, and it operates out of Paris. Deezer is also similar in terms of features to Spotify.

However, Deezer currently only has 10 million active users as of Dec. 2016, and 6.9 million paid subscribers as of Jan. 2017. It now mainly focuses on selected markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Deezer’s paid subscribers are growing, but not growing that fast

Meanwhile, Apple Music was only launched in June 30, 2015. However, it’s already grown to have 30 million paid users as of Sept. 2017.

Apple Music is catching up to Spotify. In just 2 years, they have half as many paid subscribers as Spotify.

Of course, Apple Music benefits from the brand of Apple and its partnerships with record labels, plus it made the app available on all new iPhones after it launched. But I was still surprised to learn they had this many paid users in just 2 years.

#2: Apps can’t help but copy each other

“The best compliment someone could give you is to copy you.”

As we’ve seen in how Facebook and Instagram are copying Snapchat’s features, music apps love to copy each other’s features as well. They even copy each other’s pricing:

P129 = 129 Philippine Pesos, which is only 2.54 USD. Spotify is way cheaper in the Philippines than in the US.

As you can see above, all three music apps have the same prices for their premium and family plans. The only key differences are 1) Apple Music doesn’t have a free plan, and 2) Spotify priced their family plan cheaper by 5 pesos in the Philippines.

Moreover, all three music apps also have the same basic set of features for their free and paid versions (except Apple Music, since it has no free version):

Spotify and Deezer’s free plans have the same features
All 3 apps have the same base set of features for their paid plans

Spotify was the true trendsetter in terms of its pricing and its features, and they are the leader in this category, so it is smart for Apple Music and Deezer to just copy their pricing and features. But this leads me to my next point:

#3: If there’s nothing setting your app apart, there’s no reason for me to keep it on my phone

“Don’t be afraid of being different; be afraid of being the same as everyone else.”

For the group work, we split up different parts of the research so each of us in the group had something to work on. I volunteered to analyze each app’s UX and features because I was very curious about their differences.

Being a UI/UX designer myself and having interned as one recently, I wanted to use this as an exercise to critique each app’s UX and features.

I’ve already been a Spotify user for 3 years and a premium user for a few months, but I haven’t used Apple Music and Deezer.

So for this study, I downloaded and signed up for each app as if I was a new user, even for Spotify. I tried out all apps’ free versions and paid versions.

Here’s what I found to be each app’s differentiating features in their paid plans:

Spotify’s Differentiating Features (4):

Public Playlists and Top Charts for your country

Spotify has four differentiating features. Spotify Connect lets you use one device to be a Spotify remote for another device. Behind the Lyrics lets you view lyrics and trivia to a song. And although Apple Music also lets you listen to your friends or other people’s playlists, Spotify’s public playlists are definitely more popular and widely used, so I’d call it Spotify’s differentiating feature.

Apple Music’s Differentiating Features (1):

Meanwhile, Apple Music only has one differentiating feature: its ‘Connect’ feature. This feature lets you see updates from artists you like on Apple Music. In fact, when you first go in to Apple Music, you’ll see a feed of their recent posts. You can also comment and like.

Apple Music’s Connect feature

Although the other apps have nothing like this, most fans are used to seeing updates on their artists on other platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, so it’s tough to see this catching on.

Deezer’s Differentiating Features (2):

Lastly, Deezer actually has 2 differentiating features: its Flow playlist and its ‘karaoke-style’ lyrics feature.

Deezer’s Flow Playlist and Lyrics Features

Deezer’s Flow playlist is basically the app’s main playlist for you. It plays the songs it thinks you’ll love, based on the artists, songs, and albums you’ve ‘liked’ on Deezer.

While I was using it, it did play songs I like, and I loved the simplicity of it. Deezer puts Flow as the main section when you open the app, so it doesn’t let you get lost in other playlists. It’s perfect for if you’re not too picky about what you listen to and don’t want to get lost in choices, which I often do in Spotify.

Also, Deezer’s karaoke-style lyrics are one-of-a-kind. Basically, the lyrics are highlighted as they are sung in the song, so it makes it easier to memorize and sing along to. Spotify only shows you a few lyrics with its Behind the Lyrics feature, and Apple Music just shows you the lyrics as a block of text at the bottom, so Deezer definitely wins here.

How I’d rank them:

Because of this, if I had to rank the three apps based on their UX and features, I’d rank Spotify first, Deezer second, and Apple Music third.

Although Apple Music is a very well-made app, Deezer’s karaoke-style lyrics and Flow playlist make it differentiated and more useful than Apple Music.

That being said, I don’t see why anyone would ever switch from Spotify to Deezer or Apple Music permanently, and it’s because of this:

#4: Spotify’s features and network effects make it hard for users to switch to a new app.

“What does a company with large cash flows far into the future look like?…they usually share some combination of the following characteristics: proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, and branding.” — Peter Thiel

In 2009, Mark Zuckerberg famously sent out this status on Facebook:

mhmm, Spotify is so good

2 years later, Spotify launched its integration with Facebook. This was vital to Spotify’s popularity, because users were now able to see what their friends are listening to on Facebook and go to Spotify to listen to it.

Spotify took off after that, and as you can see below, they’ve exponentially increased their number of paying Spotify subscribers. This is the true result of network effects. Spotify got more valuable and useful as more people used it, so it just kept growing.

Picture credit

So if you’re a current user of Spotify, most of your friends probably are as well. And there’s such a high cost to switching music apps that you wouldn’t want to ever leave Spotify. You’d have to re-download all your favorite songs, recreate all of your playlists, and you wouldn’t be able to access the playlists you follow on Spotify on the new music app.

So this leads me to my last insight:

#5: Spotify will continue to be the leader among music apps in the future.

Although I had a hunch that Spotify would have the best UX and features even before this study, doing this comparative study made me realize why they’re the best even more.

Their features, network effects, and marketing strategies are all brilliant. Of course they still have their issues — after all, they’re still not profitable and continue to lose millions every year. But as long as they continue to innovate and reach more users, Spotify will always be the market leader here.

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Brian Tan is a 20-year-old writer, UI/UX designer and front-end web developer from the Philippines. He’s also the co-founder and CEO of HangTime— a web app built to help students create and share class schedules with each other. Get in touch with him at brian@hangtimeapp.com.

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