Spotify's announcement this week about their new Play Button kind of overshadowed their other announcement that they were releasing a few new apps into their collection. It should be a simple matter to run through a list of a dozen apps and find something that you like. But Spotify's apps get challenging.[Note: All the apps reviewed below are available from within Spotify itself. Go to the App finder on the left side of the program.]
Remember how there used to be a whole load of iOS apps that did little more than open Safari and send you to the webpage of the company behind the "app"? Sometimes that's what Spotify apps are. They are nothing more than playlists that a company, label, etc. puts together. They could just as easily publish the playlist on their website (or use the new-fangled "Play Button widget). But, no. They cook up a package of menus and links and call it an app. These are disappointing because, once you listen through what they have to offer and star or re-list the stuff you like, there is never a reason to visit that list again. The app gets stale. Now, if they curate that app with new stuff, fine.
Digster is just such an app. I have little use for this thing past the first few minutes. It's a collection of someone else's playlists. They're just saying, "Hey, listen to what we compiled." Which is likely another way of saying, "Hey, listen to the artists we're promoting." Boo.
The Warner Sound app is another one. Guess what this thing is. Yep, a bunch of playlists and new releases by people on the Warner labels. They're ok for browsing through for a bit to see what's up. But they serve no useful purpose beyond the first browsing. Delete.
And I'm not just griping because it's a major label. The app called Domino is really just promoting the indie Domino label. Artists on that label make playlists of music that influenced them, etc. Nothing dynamic.
There are things to like in the Spotify app listing. We'll get to that. there is a bit more to grouse about first.
Some apps have dynamic social capabilities built in, and that could be good. But these require you to sign in with Facebook. So while I may be missing out on a rich cornucopia of music by refusing to do that, I'll take my chances.
You see, there are other ways to do this socially. For example, Tweetvine is an app that dynamically collects the tunes that have been mentioned on Twitter with the hashtag #nowplaying. This is an opt-in way of sharing what you want others to see. Nothing to approve or permissions to give.
PIAS (Play It Again Sam) is another playlist collection. Again, good for sifting through to find what you like and then moving those to lists of your own. But it's not an app I would stay in, discovering and grooving on a regular basis.
One of the flashier, but most useless, apps I have seen in the new batch is called The Complete Collection. It supposedly brings artists' "complete collections" together in one place. The trouble is, Spotify already does that. Just click on the artist name and, bam, their whole catalog. Even sillier is that The Complete Collection only has twelve artists listed. So it is a basic Spotify function that must now be curated for people who never noticed that their mouse pointer turned to a hand when they moved over an artist's name.
It's not all dark in the Spotify app world. Some apps really show the others how it's done.
One of the best apps in the new round of releases is one that I would not use all that much myself, but the layout and design really need to be adopted by others. It's the best of the bunch, actually. It is called Classify and is for classical music. I dig classical, but I don't spend my day listening to it while I write, etc. If the interface from Classify was applied to rock music, it would be my favorite app.
What Classify does that outpaces every other app is to give you multiple ways to explore. It has recommended playlists, sure. But while most apps stop there, Classify gives you more choices. You can listen to playlists by composer. Explore Bach for a while, then Mozart, then Liszt, etc.
But wait, there's more. You can explore by era. The seven distinct eras of classical music are available: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century and Contemporary.
You can explore by mood (romantic, sad, dark, relaxing, happy, fast). You choose by instrument (cello, clarinet, flute, etc.) you can choose by theme (opera, chamber music, soloists, symphonies).
This thing is like six apps in one. Somebody do this for rock! Imagine being able to explore rockabilly one minute, opera rock the next, then on to protest songs, punk, emo, etc. Sure, Spotify already has a "radio" function, but that always seems to go stale fast.
And to be able to get lost in bands that have legendary drummers (Rush, Tool, Led Zep), then guitar gods (Page, Hendrix, Van Halen). An app like that would be worth something. Pay attention developers.
Another new app that is curated and must be kept up to be worthwhile is The Legacy Of. There are only 4 artists in it right now but the potential is amazing. You can peruse the biography, pics and discography of the featured acts. But the additional material is what really makes this app worthwhile. The Top Tracks, Influencers, Followers and Covers playlists are brilliant additions to this collection. See who influenced them, who they themselves influenced, listen to playlists of all of that. Could be one of the best apps out there if they keep adding to it.
Another handy app that is not in the latest release batch but still deserves recognition as useful is TuneWiki. If lyrics are available for the song you are listening to, TuneWiki will put them up for you, even advancing through them as the song plays. This is available as a mobile app, as well. But it is nice to have right here within the desktop interface of Spotify.
Of course, it takes all kinds in this world. Maybe some people just want to just read reviews and thumb through others' playlists, and that is fine. But it seems a bit of overkill to buil an "app" around such basic functionality that is already served by the Play Button or within Spotify itself. But, keep 'em coming, Spotify. Just get rid of that Facebook-only signup. Blecchh.