Q: What’s the difference between Spotify and iTunes for my iPhone?
A: One of Europe’s most popular music services, Spotify — http://spotify.com — recently launched its service in the United States, and many are characterizing it as an iTunes killer.
While the service is certainly very interesting, I’m not sure I’d be forecasting the end of Apple’s music cash cow just yet, although it’s easy to see why it might stop some iTunes customers from buying the next big CD to hit the charts.
There are three different levels of service from Spotify: Free, unlimited and premium.
The free service, which is by invitation only in the U.S. at the moment, provides unlimited access to the entire music library (they claim over 15 million songs) from any computer that has the application installed on it — you can get it here: http://www.spotify.com/us/download ... Spotify can also pull in your existing music collection from iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc., so you can create playlists that combine both libraries.
At first, it feels like you are using one of those old illegal downloading networks, because you can instantly access virtually any popular song or album that you can think of and it’s free.
The catch is that the free access works for a limited time (rumored to be six months) and it plays ads in between tracks on occasion (a la Pandora’s free service). It also only works on a computer connected to the Internet (no mobile devices).
The unlimited service ($4.99 per month) gets rid of the commercials and allows you unlimited access to the entire library even if you travel abroad (the free service can only be used for 14 days abroad).
This is where it gets interesting: the premium service ($9.99 per month). In addition to all of the unlimited features, you can play your music on up to three mobile devices (smart phone, tablets, etc.), access their enhanced-quality streams and create offline playlists for when you don’t have Internet access.
You can only stream songs from one device at a time, but if you create playlists and get your mobile devices synced up (which is extremely easy to do) it’s quite possible to have a single account for an entire family. Each mobile device can have up to 3,333 songs from the streaming catalogue for offline use.
This could be great news for parents with teenagers that are burning a hole through a credit card every month buying songs and albums from iTunes. For the cost of one album per month on iTunes, you can provide your teen with a music library that would take a lifetime to listen to that they can legally have on their iPod Touch, iPhone or Android devices (go to http://m.spotify.com for mobile apps).
Another side benefit is that your teen won’t need to go to shady websites that often are often laden with malicious files and virus code to get their music fix.
The primary difference between the two music systems is that iTunes is designed to work with music you own while Spotify offers various methods for streaming and downloading their 15-million song library that you essentially rent.
At first glance, most music fanatics would scoff at the idea of not owning the music that they are listening to, but Spotify might actually be worth considering, especially if you like discovering new music.
Spotify seems to have figured out how to make your music listening very social as well, with a very simple Facebook integration built into the computer app that allows you to easily see what your friends are listening to (another great way to find new music).
If your friends have made their playlists public, you can easily select them for offline use on your own mobile devices with a click of the mouse.
If you know anyone that has paid for an account, they get five invitations to send to their friends, so start searching your Facebook friends to see who you need to cozy up to!
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org