Spotify now boasts over 40 apps, and soon I hope to develop one, too. Before I do that, though, I need to analyze the existing cache of apps and form some thoughts on why some have become more popular than others. Rather than keep such findings to myself, I’ve decided to document and share them so that anyone else who may be thinking of creating a Spotify app can take them into consideration.
The main things popular apps do is to solve a relatable problem and offer a useful solution, which often involves enabling discovery or providing curation. When put like this, it almost sounds easy to create a Spotify app that attracts and delights users, but meeting such criteria will likely be harder than I realize.
If you look at Soundrop, a popular Spotify app, it hits these marks. Soundrop helps users find what music they should listen to next, which can be a huge problem, and its solution — user-powered music listening rooms — is quite useful. Oftentimes I don’t know what I want to listen to, or I don’t have the time to figure it out, so I use Soundrop. Another app that I open regularly is Billboard Top Charts, because it has playlists of popular songs. The app is minimalistic, but it plays the music I want to hear. This is true of many popular apps: They don’t do much, but it’s okay so long as they recommend music that you like.
What makes a great Spotify app? Let’s examine four principles I’ve identified:
1. Solve a Problem.
The biggest problem that Spotify users face is they often have no idea what to listen to next. Prior to the introduction of apps, they could only stare blankly at their music library and grimace at the blinking cursor in the search box. Given that Spotify works best when you actively engage and seek out what you like, it can be disheartening if you want to lean back and be served music. Sure, you can tinker with Spotify Radio, but it can be pretty hit or miss, with few surprises.
Other simple and relatable problems include lyric syncing and concert listing. TuneWiki pairs your favorite songs with the words, allowing you to sing along or share them with friends. And Songkick Concerts helps you discover and keep track of upcoming shows by your favorite artists. Both of these apps are popular because they solve a real problem in an elegant way. The reality is, however, that there are only so many of these solutions needed. For many users, they either 1) don’t know what to play, 2) don’t want to work, 3) don’t know the lyrics or 4) don’t know what’s new. As these buckets overflow, new apps will attempt to solve niche problems, which many users will not relate to.
2. Enable Discovery.
This means placing unfamiliar songs next to familiar ones, and letting users “discover” them, or more accurately, stumble over them. Most users don’t enjoy this process, it seems, as it entails hearing music they’ve never listened to before in hopes that they’ll find one song so amazing they’ll love it forever. But such “discoveries” rarely happen, which can discourage app users.
There are four types of music discovery apps on Spotify: The social apps allow you to discover music with friends; the personal apps help you discover music based on your taste; the contextual apps serve you new music based on your activity or mood; and the general apps simply provide new music to listen to. Of the top 20 apps, 8 of them enable discovery, and each type is represented: Sifter (social), Last.fm (personal), Moodagent (contextual), and Digster (general). This suggests that users have an appetite for music discovery apps, and that while the space may seem somewhat crowded, there’s still room for innovation, and perhaps, more genre focused apps.
3. Provide Curation.
The most popular curation-driven Spotify app is Pitchfork; it displays highly regarded albums with a snippet of editorial. Picking and playing music you’ve never heard before is a lean-forward experience, but this app succeeds at streamlining the task and reducing the work compared to clicking around the Pitchfork website. This could broaden the appeal of Pitchfork as a tastemaker while exposing users to music and editorial that they may not have otherwise sought out. The same could be said for other curation-driven apps that tie music to writing that puts the music into context; by lowering the threshold of effort, they have the potential to broaden the user base that may adopt them.
4. Make a Utility.
What separates a good app from a great app is utility. The most popular Spotify apps don’t just solve a relatable problem, they offer solutions to problems that are particularly useful. This is the hardest status for an app to earn, because users determine it. TuneWiki, Soundrop, Last.fm, and Billboard Top Charts have established themselves as Spotify utilities: Users find them consistently useful and beneficial. Ultimately, developers can’t make a utility, but they can try. McDonalds would love to have the most popular Spotify app, but they don’t. Users are apathetic towards their app, LISTENIn, because it doesn’t tackle a relatable problem — charting what songs are trending among their friends — or, quite frankly, offer a useful solution. Many Spotify apps fail this simple test, and so they languish. Nothing backs the existence of the Warner Sound app. Users don’t have a “record label” problem; it’s not a brand with a distinct or unique sound. Because of this, its developers found the opposite of love in the Spotify ecosystem. They created an app that no one wants.