Why does Spotify (also) want to become TikTok?

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Spotify has announced significant changes to its mobile app that might undermine the user experience of listening to music. What’s all the uproar about, what do new functionalities bring, and will Spotify lose some of its loyal users?

Spotify entered the Croatian market in 2020, delighting many users, including me. I listen to music often on Spotify (podcasts sometimes), and I do that typically in two situations:

  • I use the mobile app as I run or walk – to the office, city center, or anywhere else, and
  • I use the desktop app while I work.

Running was my first incentive to try Spotify. Previously I used YouTube, and with the free account, I couldn’t lock my phone screen if I wanted to continue listening to music. The moment that Spotify became available, I downloaded the free app, but they have a good tactic to make users pay – the ads are long and repeat often. That bothered me the most while running, so I quickly upgraded to a subscription.

UX issues of the current version of the mobile app

The current version of the mobile app has its own UX issues, and I’ll list just a few here  because they deserve a separate post:

  • You can’t reorder playlists according to your own criteria, nor can you choose which playlists appear on the home screen.
  • There’s no way to add the same track to multiple playlists simultaneously.
  • If you play a playlist from the home screen, it’s difficult to find it again by tapping on the track currently playing; you have to go back to the home screen and find the exact playlist again.

However, if I put aside some of these issues that annoy me, I’d say I am a happy user overall. We’ll see if that changes after the upcoming new functionalities roll out.

New functionalities, new issues?

In March 2023, Spotify announced significant changes in the app, limited to the mobile version for now. They’re introducing a feature they call Previews, an infinite-scroll video feed on the home screen.

The feed will include recommendations for music, podcasts, or audiobooks in the form of short videos, similar to the feeds on TikTok or YouTube Shorts. 

The new version still isn’t available to everyone; they’re rolling it out slowly globally, but the dynamics are unknown.

Here are some of the reasons for the big change Spotify mentioned:

  • They want to be a one-stop shop for content.
  • The company doesn't want to depend on other platforms for new music discovery – they want a larger share of the so-called foreground discovery. Many songs have become hits thanks to TikTok videos, and Spotify wants people to discover new hits and authors via its app.
  • Spotify wants to provide space to content creators through Spotify Clips.

On the other hand, there’ve been reports that ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, is in talks with music labels on introducing the music streaming service, something that would make them a great competitor to Spotify. Let’s not forget that Spotify has often been criticized over how little they’re paying to authors. This has created a great deal of negative publicity for Spotify.

All apps are starting to look like TikTok

Reactions to Spotify’s announcement have been mixed, but a lot are negative. Many users are considering uninstalling the app and going for Apple Music or other apps. Most comments are related to the fact that more and more apps are starting to look like TikTok (Instagram and Facebook are just some of the examples), compounding the effect on our concentration and focus and extending the time users spend glued to screens consuming irrelevant content.  

An additional backlash has been created by the fact that Spotify announced a Hi-Fi option some time ago. This option would enable “lossless audio”, improving the sound quality compared to what we get with the compression to the mp3 file format. Many users want this option, but Spotify hasn’t introduced it yet. Spotify is still standing behind its commitment to roll it out, but the company is refusing to pinpoint when that might happen.

No more heart

In the new version, the heart icon will be replaced with the plus icon. This has also prompted a lot of reactions and users have taken to social media, demanding the return of the old icon. This UX change doesn’t have to be bad (even though many users have gotten used to the heart as a mark of something we want to save for later – it’s the most commonly used icon in e-commerce to add a product to a wishlist), but time will tell if users will get used to it or if Spotify will consider bringing the heart icon back.

Here are some of the user challenges I see coming with the new functionalities:

  • Data usage will increase significantly because of video loading,
    Phone batteries will drain faster.
  • It’s unclear if we’ll be able to turn off Preview videos.
  • It’s also unclear if we’ll be able to hide certain segments, for example, if you’re not interested in audiobooks and you don’t want them in your feed.
  • How disruptive the videos are going to be when you’re listening to music.

Users who already have access to the new version say that, if you go to the home screen while you’re listening to music, the music stops because of the videos playing on the home screen. That would be a very bad user experience and I can already sense that I’m going to be very annoyed if it turns out to be true.

We want music, not trends

I talked to friends who are regular Spotify users and they’re not interested in new functionalities at all. The most common reason is that they – like I do – use this app while doing something else, meaning it’s playing in the background, and they’re not interested in videos or similar content.

Considering that I haven’t gotten the latest version yet, it remains to be seen how the new user experience will feel. What interests me the most is if there’s an option to turn off the video feed and reorganize the home screen, or we’ll have to put up with what they play for us. In the current version, it’s possible to turn off videos and limit their resolution in settings.

I can understand that Spotify is introducing new functionalities to try and wrestle more market share from TikTok and similar apps and to increase user interaction within the app, but they’re losing the basic functionality we all love – and that's listening to music without distractions.

UPDATE: At the beginning of May some of the users in the Spotify community reported that their home screens were reverted back to the previous version. This means that they don’t have the TikTok like version anymore. The Spotify team hasn’t, yet, published anything about this. The plus icon still replaces the heart icon, and it seems it won’t be brought back.

This post has originally been published in Croatian language, at a leading local tech news site Netokracija.

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