Although you’ve been able to listen to Spotify on your Apple Watch for a couple of years now, the service’s watchOS app has been limited to functioning as little more than a glorified remote control for the companion iPhone app or other Spotify Connect devices, but the good news is that it looks like that may finally be set to change.
Spotify first rolled out its Apple Watch app in late 2018 with a promise that offline playback for music and podcasts along with direct cellular streaming would be coming in future updates, but such updates never really materialized, and Spotify fans were left with an Apple Watch app that was basically useless unless they also had their iPhone nearby.
While Spotify has often pointed the finger at Apple as the reason why it can’t offer a full slate of features, the music streaming service also has a history of dragging its own heels as well. For example, after Apple added the ability for third-party music apps to use Siri in iOS 13 last year, it still took Spotify several months to actually add the feature to its own iOS apps, in stark contrast to other services like Pandora that had it working within days after iOS 13 was released to the public.
In the case of direct streaming and offline playback, however, the issue may very well have been out of Spotify’s hands until recently, due to limitations in prior versions of watchOS that would have likely preventing the music service from satisfying the music industry’s requirements for a streaming app.
DRM Copy Protection
While Apple and most other companies have long since abandoned DRM, or “Digital Rights Management” copy protection for purchased music, it very much remains a requirement when it comes to offering music through subscription services.
After all, with a streaming service you’re effectively renting your music for as long as your subscription continues, so no streaming provider — and especially not the big music labels — wants users to be able to sign up for a month and then cancel their subscription after they’ve downloaded everything that their broadband connection can handle.
So whether it’s Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube Music, the tracks that you listen to are copy protected in order to prevent them from being used without an active subscription. This all happens in the background, but basically these apps have to phone home on a regular basis to check that you still have a subscription and refresh the keys that are used to unlock your music; if your subscription has expired, you basically lose the keys and your music goes away with it.
Spotify on the Apple Watch
Although Apple has long offered support for its FairPlay DRM in the iOS and macOS operating systems, it’s actually been conspicuously missing in watchOS — at least in terms of being available to third-party developers. This is something that only changed this year with watchOS 7, which could very well explain why Spotify is only now getting around to offering direct streaming to the Apple Watch.
Without FairPlay DRM on the Apple Watch, the only way that Spotify would be able to stream content directly onto the wearable would be to send the tracks out in unencrypted form, which of course would negate all copy protection, as somebody could then intercept these streams and effectively download large chunks of Spotify’s catalog without any restrictions on it.
watchOS 7 solves this problem, however, by giving third-party developers access to FairPlay, which means that it’s now possible for any app to securely stream content directly to the wearable, also opening up the possibility that offline playback could soon be coming to Spotify for the Apple Watch as well.
We’ve heard several reports that Spotify has been testing this in the beta version of its app in recent weeks, but it looks like it’s now arriving for normal Spotify users, many of whom have spotted the feature appearing on their Apple Watch, according to 9to5Mac. While it appears to still be tagged with a “beta” label, it’s showing up in the normal App Store version of the app. Here’s how to check if you have it:
- Make sure you’ve updated to the latest version of the Spotify app from the App Store.
- Open Spotify on your Apple Watch
- From the Now Playing screen, tap on the phone or speaker icon in the bottom right corner.
- Choose your Apple Watch from the “Play on a device” list.
Streaming directly to your Apple Watch works over either cellular or Wi-Fi and requires a Spotify Premium subscription and an Apple Watch Series 3 or later. The rollout appears to be happening on the server-side, so it may not appear for you right away, but there’s every indication that it’s happening at a rapid pace and Spotify has confirmed to TechCrunch it will soon be available to all Spotify users.