It’s time to consign the phoney war between Apple Music and Spotify over humans vs algorithms to history.
Over the last year, it’s been abundantly clear that Spotify has plenty of human curators (and smart humans working on its algorithmic playlists), just as it’s been increasingly obvious that for all Jimmy Iovine’s man over machine blather at launch, Apple Music also sees algorithms playing an important role in its discovery features.
Witness BuzzFeed’s latest access to Apple Music executives for a profile on the service, including a bullish tanks-on-lawn claim about its new, personalised My Favourites Mix and My New Music Mix playlists.
“Apple claimed a potential advantage over similar algorithmically personalised playlists, including Spotify’s Discover Weekly and Pandora’s Thumbprint Radio: deep historical knowledge of individual users’ tastes and habits, based on years of data carried over from iTunes.”
According to BuzzFeed, this boils down to the My Favourites Mix tapping into people’s review ratings for songs and albums in their iTunes libraries – at least, for those who gave such ratings – while My New Music Mix is based on the same kind of taste profile that was pioneered by The Echo Nest, before it was acquired by Spotify.
With Apple separately investing in machine-learning startups and staff (for several parts of its business, not just music), the Apple Music / Spotify battle is now partly a race to understand users’ tastes best.
Like Spotify, Apple Music is planning more personalised playlists, although Iovine struck a cautious note.
“We were too ambitious in the beginning — we probably put too much into it,” he told BuzzFeed. “But we’re getting there now, one foot in front of the other, and the stuff we’re creating I don’t think anyone is gonna see coming.”
From its original pitch that Apple Music had better humans, to a new message that it also has better algorithms. That should in turn spur more inventiveness from Spotify’s discovery team: the competition between the two will be good for pushing this aspect of the music-streaming world forward.