Side by side: Spotify and Rdio for iPhone

I thought I would be stuck in iPhone/iTunes for music for a long time. I had been for five years. Then Spotify’s iPhone app came out, and I moved my music listening habits into the cloud in an afternoon. On my new laptop I have one album as MP3. 1,000 songs are starred and synced in Spotify on my phone.

I thought I would be stuck in Spotify for a long time. I have been for one year. Rdio is a newer cloud music service preparing to launch in Europe so I thought I would take a sneak preview. It looks promising, and almost identical to Spotify. But Rdio looks like a second design iteration of Spotify.

The competition is in the details, it seems. So let’s take a deeper look. Click the images for full Retina Display marvel.

Launch image

Quite against Apple’s guidelines, Rdio chooses to ….

… go all branding on us when the app launches.

Because users are likely to switch among applications frequently, you should make every effort to cut launch time to a minimum, and you should design a launch image that downplays the experience rather than drawing attention to it.

Apple iOS Human Interface Guidelines Launch images

Not very nice of them considering the up to 10 seconds it takes users to orientate after a context switch. That’s quite a while when it comes to delaying us in finding out if PJ Harvey’s latest album is in the hot box or not.

Spotify on the other hand shows us a screenshot of the interface so we can decide what to do when the app is ready for  input. But why the dim? And why the black ‘restoring’ box that often comes up? Show the interface and most users won’t even notice they had been waiting because they’ve spent the time orientating.

Both apps support Fast App Switching, so once the app is launched, returning to it instantly leaves you with what you saw last.

My cognition prefers Spotify.

Landing view

I thought I would be able to add shortcuts to playlists and artists to the Rdio dashboard, but so far I can only rearrange and move icons to a second page. I like the acknowledgement that there are multiple ways into listening.

Spotify thinks playlists must be the epicenter of choosing what to listen to. Even though the size of the Offline Playlists button suggests that is what they think all users will do in this view. Seems odd.

My diversity prefers Rdio.

Search results

I’m looking for PJ Harvey. Let’s break it down in very loose GOMS units for average-to-slow users. They are [M]entally preparing, [P]ointing, [T]apping, waiting for [R]esponse to get this job done.

My lost patience prefers Rdio.

Artist view

Spotify definitely shows more albums, and thus decreasing the need to scroll. Rdio provides a one-click ‘I chose an artist, now just freakin’ play ‘ option with the “Play Artist Radio” button – although it also plays other artists.

To me, the year an album was released is key. I almost never know the titles of even my most favorite albums. But I know when they came out. And in getting to know new artists the year is key to tapping into the band’s development over time.

My mental model of music prefers Spotify.

Album view

Album view. Note how the two have now switched positions. Spotify has the ‘just freakin’ play’ button, and Rdio shows more content on a screenful.  The whitespace below the album name does seem to be wasted though.

I prefer Spotify.

Now Playing view

The Now Playing views are strikingly similar. In fact, so similar that I got them in the wrong order. It’s Rdio on the right, Spotify on left.

However, the slider tricks me into thinking that it’s a volume control – and using it as one. I keep asking myself if skipping x seconds into a song is really that frequent a use case to justify the always visible slider.

One that that is not similar is how the user gets to this screen while a song is playing. Rdio has a “Now playing” widget on the bottom of all screens, allowing quick access from anywhere. Spotify has it at the far right side of the menu structure.

I prefer Rdio.

My collection

The notion of ‘my music’ is probably one of Spotify’s biggest pain point at the moment. They seem to mean it in a “Your collection is all the music in the world” kind of way. Which is a great vision, but in real life it turns out to be less so.

I’ve seen people do three things in coping without an actual music collection: 1) Create a playlist for each album. 2) Make one playlist for the entire collection 3) Use the star. None of them great in the long run: Album-specific playlists mess up the playlists list. Starred songs and collection playlists just go into one long list, and getting an overview of ‘my albums’ means scrolling the wheel out of your mouse.

I prefer Rdio.

New releases

I made reviewfy.com to compensate for not having a strong enough signal on what’s new in Spotify. Rdio does this a bit better, but what’s up with not filtering for my taste?

I prefer Rdio.

Social activity

Not sure what I think about either. They seem a bit irrelevant both of them. The people in the Rdio screenshot are strangers to me.

All in all Rdio wins 5, Spotify wins 3. As you’ll probably agree after seeing these screenshots, Rdio has a more polished, matured look. A clearer sense of direction, which is often what happens in a second iteration. We can hope Spotify’s next iteration will be a third, and that they’ll be able to let go of what doesn’t really seem to work for most users.

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