Photo credit: Spotify
At Spotify’s Stream On event in LA today, the company unveiled a major redesign of its app that capitalizes on its investments in personalization technology while using a similar short-form video feed to that popularized by TikTok. In the updated Spotify mobile app, users and subscribers get access to a handful of new features, including vertically scrolling “Discovery” feeds, a new “Smart Shuffle” mode for playlist recommendations, a new podcast autoplay feature, and more.
Some features, like Smart Shuffle, will only be available to subscribers, while others – like the new TikTok-inspired feeds – will be available to everyone. However, feature availability will reach some markets before others and will arrive at different intervals.
According to Spotify, the changes are intended to make the user interface feel more alive and interactive. But the move could also serve other purposes. Most notably, it introduces a new interface within the app where the company could later roll out ads, much like Instagram did with the addition of Reels. Officially, Spotify has nothing to announce today on that front, but in an email with TechCrunch it said it was “excited” about how the offerings might evolve over time.
Another benefit of an overhaul is that it could be a way to address some customer complaints that the app is too cluttered and difficult to use, which limits discoverability.
The new design builds on the updates delivered in August 2022, which separated music and podcasts into separate feeds. It will be immediately noticeable upon first launch of the updated app, as the main page – the app’s “Home” tab – has been updated with the new features.
Luckily, you won’t be dropped straight into the new TikTok-like experience without warning.
Instead, you’ll still find shortcuts to your personalized playlists and mixes at the top of the music feed screen. These aren’t new – Spotify has a long history of using personalization technology to attract and retain users, beginning with the launch of its flagship Discover Weekly playlist in 2015. In later years, it expanded its collection of personalized playlists to include users with a to cater to a wide range of music tastes and interests, in addition to playlists focused on activities like commuting or working out and more.
After first highlighting these playlists and mixes, the app will display the recently introduced AI DJ feature, which is currently only available to Premium subscribers in the US and Canada. The DJ uses generative AI and a natural-sounding AI voice to present his music selection and offers background information about the artist, song or album, among other things. (You can read more about the DJ function here.)
If you scroll down, you’ll have the option to start scrolling through the music previews. These are presented as full-screen videos that leverage the artist’s existing canvas video – the short, looping video clips that already play today when their music is streamed in the app. The format is already a success, delivering increases in streams, shares, saves and adds, Spotify claims.
Canvas also offered Spotify the ability to experiment with a TikTok-like feed — something it’s been testing for a while. (TechCrunch reported on various tests of a vertical feed in its app in 2021 and again in 2022. At the time, Spotify would dismiss these tests as just another of its ongoing experiments. More recently, a TikTok-like video feed was spotted during testing in Spotify’s mobile app, distributed to its TestFlight testers – as seen here on YouTube.)
The design, which Spotify has now opted for after its previous tests, presents a snippet of the track’s audio combined with video. The feature allows users to preview an album, playlist or single, according to the company. For playlists and albums, you can tap through the preview card to preview up to five songs. In some cases, users are also provided with contextual cues as to why these articles are being recommended to them.
The interesting thing about this format is that Spotify lets you listen to your music while silently scrolling through the recommendation feed. If you find something you like, you can tap the card to go to the full album or playlist view, or you can stop your own music and listen to the suggestion instead. You can also add recommendations to your favorite songs or other playlists to listen to later.
Similar to the music feed, the podcast feed has also been updated with a vertically scrolling interface. Except in this case, users don’t preview a repeating video—unless it’s from a video podcast, of course. Instead, they’re presented with audio snippets of podcast episodes up to 60 seconds long, with real-time transcriptions of what’s being said.
As with the music feed, users can scroll through the podcast recommendations vertically with the audio muted if they choose. When they see something they like, they can unmute and start playing, picking up where the preview left off by tapping Continue Listening. You can also tap the Plus (+) button — a button that Spotify recently updated to combine the “Like” heart icon and “Add to” functionality into one. With a tap, users can now add the episode to a playlist of saved episodes to listen to later, Spotify says.
The company also notes that its audiobook feed will be structured the same as these new music and podcast feeds. Audio books are a newer offering, with over 300,000 books recently available.
The Discovery feeds won’t just be accessible through the music and podcast pages, Spotify says. They will also be integrated into the app’s “Search” tab. From here, users can jump into personalized feeds for things like genres and moods.
The company says the algorithm behind these feeds ranks its suggestions based on individual user tastes and preferences, rather than overall popularity.
Outside of the new feeds, another change also focuses on detection, but is a smaller change.
The company introduced a feature called “Enhance” in 2021, which gives recommendations for songs to add to a playlist you create. Now Spotify Premium subscribers can automate this type of search without having to manually review the suggestions. It does this by toggling over a new “Smart Shuffle” option that queues Spotify’s suggestions while your playlist is streaming. (A sparkling icon indicates which titles are recommended). If you like a track, you can tap the plus button to add it to the playlist. And if you don’t, you can tap a minus button to remove it.
“Smart Shuffle brings new life to listeners’ playlists by recommending and visualizing additional songs that connect perfectly with the playlist,” said Spotify Co-President and CTO Gustav Söderström during the event. “It’s already being rolled out globally. So next time you’re ready to update your playlists, you can tap the shuffle icon and we’ll throw the right new songs into the mix.”
In addition, podcast listeners get a new feature that automatically starts playing a recommended episode when you’ve finished streaming an episode of another show. Spotify claims that such a feature will be in high demand among users and will boost discovery of new shows. However, those who don’t like autoplay experience can turn it off in the settings (Settings -> Playback -> Toggle autoplay).
The new features, combined with the recently launched AI DJ, focus on addressing one of the bigger complaints from fans, artists and creators alike: new content discovery. With the radio model dying, artists are now more reliant on services like Spotify to get their tracks featured in editorial playlists or insert their songs into users’ Discover Weekly. In theory, these updates could open a new window for finding fans.
But this update could arguably be quite controversial. There are those who are fed up with TikTok verification of all their apps, from Netflix to Reddit to Amazon and direct competitors from Snap, Instagram and YouTube among others.
However, Spotify says recommendations are key to its experience.
“Spotify Recommendations drive almost half of all streams from all users. Additionally, every time your music gets played on a program playlist like Release Radar, you get an average of three times more streams from that listener over the next six months,” noted Gustav Söderstrom, Spotify Co-President and Chief Product & Technology Officer. speak at the event.
At launch, Spotify’s redesign will be mobile-only, but it will be available on more devices in the future. It’s rolling out in waves to the company’s 500 million+ monthly active users, which means you might not see it right away, but you should soon.