Spotify Says Apple Still Has a Long Way to Go Before It’s a ‘Fair Platform’

Spotify Apple Music Credit: nikkimeel / Shutterstock
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A little over a year ago, Spotify filed a complaint against Apple, alleging that the iPhone maker was engaging in anti-competitive behaviour across the board, effectively using its dominance to bolster its own Apple Music service by keeping Spotify as a disadvantage.

As part of the filing, Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek shared a laundry list of complaints which basically boiled down to the usual railing against Apple’s policy of taking a 30 percent cut of all app and subscription purchases made through the App Store as well as accusations that Apple was blocking “experience-enhancing upgrades” to the Spotify app and preventing it from playing at all with Siri, HomePod, and the Apple Watch.

In a rare public response, Apple fired back by suggesting that Spotify wanted to “have its cake and eat it too” by taking advantage of the benefits of the App Store without actually expecting to give anything back. Apple later shared that it takes a revenue share from less than 1 percent of Spotify subscribers, since the majority of its customers use the free, ad-supported version, and those that do subscribe are far more likely to do so outside of the App Store, where Apple doesn’t receive any cut at all.

Apple also addressed Spotify’s complaints about hardware lockout by pointing out that not only was the Spotify app available on the Apple Watch, and was approved by Apple without any problems, but was at the time actually the number one app in the Apple Watch Music category on the App Store.

A Long Way to Go

In an interview this week, Ek told Bloomberg that a year after the EU antitrust complaint was filed, he’s been encouraged by Apple’s recent changes in iOS 13, which now allow users to make requests to Spotify via Siri; while Apple began opening Siri up to third party apps back with the release of iOS 10 back in 2017, until last year music-related requests were limited to Apple’s own third-party apps.

We’re very encouraged about being able to now finally use Siri as a way of building in voice support and also being available to build products for the Apple TV and Apple Watch, something that we haven’t been able to do until very recently.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

However, while Ek is cautiously optimistic and believe that Apple is “moving in the right direction” and he expects them to open up further, he believes that “we still have many, many steps to go” before Apple can be considered “an open and fair platform.”

Spotify’s Issues

Overall, it was our take from the beginning that Spotify was being somewhat disingenuous in its complaints against Apple, however, as the only seemingly legitimate issue that Spotify could raise concerned Apple’s restrictions on third-party apps, such as the aforementioned Siri limitation. However, Ek has also accused Apple of limiting Spotify’s apps in several other ways that simply aren’t accurate.

For example, Spotify has had an Apple Watch app available since late 2018, but despite Apple having opened up support for offline playback in watchOS 5, released to developers six months earlier, the new Spotify app fails to include this feature even today. Meanwhile, popular podcast app Overcast announced offline playback days after watchOS 5 debuted, and today Spotify is one of the few popular music apps that doesn’t support this feature, which is rather ironic considering that the third-party app that it acquired to built its own Apple Watch app actually did support offline playback, but for whatever reason Spotify chose to kill this capability, along with direct streaming to the Apple Watch — something else that other Apple Watch music apps like Pandora have long offered.

Similarly, while Spotify only recently released an Apple TV app last fall — the same point at which it added Siri support to its apps, competing music services have been available on tvOS for years, so it doesn’t seem likely that it was Apple preventing Spotify from expanding to the big screen, and even if Spotify chose not to release a tvOS app due to the lack of Siri support, that was still their decision.

So the bottom line is that Spotify isn’t in a very good position to claim that Apple is stifling it when even to this day it hasn’t done much to take advantage of the capabilities that have already been available for years. In fact, it makes it sound like Spotify is trying to point the finger at Apple to make excuses for the relatively sluggish pace of its app development. To this day, the Spotify Apple Watch app remains a remote control for Spotify on the iPhone, and there’s no way that Spotify can blame this on Apple when many of its competitors like Pandora have fully embraced the platform.

That said, Spotify’s complaints aren’t completely without merit, as Apple Music still has access to capabilities that neither Spotify nor any other third-party apps do. For example, while Siri can now be used with Spotify and other music apps, Apple Music still remains the default app unless users specify an alternative by name in each request, and Apple’s HomePod doesn’t yet support any services other than Apple Music at all, although with the smart speaker’s current market share, it’s hard to see that as much of a basis for an antitrust complaint.

That said, Apple does have plans to start letting other services, including Spotify, run on the HomePod, which could arrive as early as this fall with iOS 14, and the company has also reportedly been considering allowing users to choose their own default apps, which would not only allow Spotify to displace Apple Music on Apple devices, but also support alternatives for web browsing, mail, and even music services. In typical Apple fashion, however, this is likely to be a gradual process that may start only with messaging apps, gradually rolling out to other services in the way way that it’s taken three years for Siri to make it from messaging apps to music apps.

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