When we finally saw Spotify's new iPad app in the company's New York City offices this week, we breathed a sigh of relief on behalf of all the breathless Spotify fans who have been demanding its release.
A web search for "iPad Spotify app" on the eve of the announcement revealed millions of matches, including at least one for a Facebook group dedicated to pressuring Spotify into releasing a native iPad app. Some even called for a boycott of the service, making it clear that this relatively young company, whose goal is to become "the OS of music," is already inspiring Apple-like adoration -- and the accompanying petulant demands -- from the public at large.
From what we saw, we don't imagine they will be disappointed when they download this thing starting today. Spotify's new iPad app doesn't include any whiz-bang features, such as navigating music in a 3D map, running third-party apps, or anything like that. But it's well-suited to the iPad's large screen and Retina display, taking advantage of the extra space, deeper color palate, and higher resolution without departing so far as to confuse or alienate users.
The main thing to understand about Spotify for iPad is the way it lets you venture "down the rabbit hole" of music, as Spotify director of product Charlie Hellman described it to Evolver.fm. By that, he means you can follow your curiosity from an artist you already know, to their discography, to another album, to a similar artist, to their bass player's side project, using one of the links in the biographies from the All Music Guide.
Because you can always retrace your steps by swiping from left to right, you can explore as much as you want without getting lost. Apparently, you can go hundreds of steps deep in this fashion and still swipe your way back, though we didn't have time to test that (understandably, we think).
This app does a lot, but it doesn't rub the extra features in your face. The design is fairly clean. Playlists can be grouped neatly into folders that are reflected on Spotify's other apps -- a feature we hadn't noticed there yet. In addition, a tap-and-hold feature bring up additional options such as the ability to add something to a playlist or star it, and a new search autofill feature lets you find artists by typing in the first few letters. You can hunt down songs, albums, and playlists from the same box.
We also appreciated the way messages from friends are now threaded, so that you can see your whole history of recommendations from each of your Spotify friends (in Spotify's seldom-mentioned internal social network) in one long list, rather than everything being presented in one long list.
The iPad version also includes the What's New view from the desktop version, which is as good a place to start your session as any. It displays not only new releases, but whatever songs and playlists are trending among your Spotify friends.
However, you won't find any third-party Spotify apps within this app. If you want to use third-party Spotify apps on the iPad, you'll need to wait for the developers to build standalone apps using its libspotify technology. Hellman said Spotify is not averse to adding apps to its iPad app in the future, assuming Apple doesn't consider that to be an "app store" within Apple's app store, or raise some other objection.
Overall, he said, the new Spotify app is designed to replace your home stereo system with a much better interface that's equally suited to the coffee table or couch plus iPad stands of both orientations. The app works equally well in landscape and portrait mode.
Album covers are presented at the highest resolution to date within Spotify (500x500 pixels), and by downloading songs at "Extreme" quality (320 Kbps) and streaming it to a stereo using the included AirPlay feature, you can achieve the best-sounding digital music available on mainstream digital music services.
This AirPlay integration lets you read up on bands while enjoying their music on the best speakers in your house, wirelessly. Or, using the iPad's native AirPort feature, you could also mirror everything mentioned above to your television via Apple TV.
Finally, Spotify users will be pleased to know, this new iPad app is Spotify's first to feature gapless playback and crossfading, just like on the desktop client. However, as with Spotify's other non-desktop apps, you'll need a premium account to use this app -- unless you have yet to try the 30-day free trial, in which case you can use it with that. As noted early in the Spotify saga, withholding the mobile version until a user pays is key to the company's strategy.