Until recently, if you used an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you were pretty much locked in to Apple’s music player software, but thanks to a few new iOS features and the streaming music service Spotify, those days may be over.
There are tons of reasons you might want to ditch iTunes–we’ve found ten already this year. Apple’s media player started off simple and lightweight, but as my colleague Nick Mediati pointed out to me, it’s based on a piece of software that was released 12 years ago (according to the iTunes Wikipedia page), and it has become a notorious resource hog in recent years.
When we last looked at iTunes alternatives in May, a few options were available, but they all had significant disadvantages compared with iTunes. Also, inherent limitations of iOS meant that you’d often have to open iTunes to update your software and back up your device, even if you didn’t use it as a music player. iOS 5 removed that last hurdle in mid-October, letting you update iOS right from your phone or tablet.
We’ve already discussed how iOS 5 lets you sync your iDevice wirelessly with iTunes, but that method still requires you to have iTunes open whenever you’re syncing. If you never want to use iTunes again, iOS 5 alone isn’t enough. Luckily, a new option lets you ditch Apple’s music player forever.
The New Kid on the Scene
Spotify made a splash when it finally came to the United States in July. The upstart service lets you stream music from its library of millions of tracks for free to your Windows PC or Mac, after you download a stand-alone application. Once you install Spotify’s app, though, you’ll quickly realize that Spotify wants to be more than just a streaming music service like Pandora. It wants to be your iTunes replacement.
When you open the application for the first time, Spotify automatically imports your iTunes library, so you can listen to your own music–in addition to the millions of songs Spotify offers via streaming–all from one program. That sounds great, but it can be annoying in practice if you still use iTunes to sync your phone or tablet. Instead of having just one music app, you’re forced to switch between Spotify for playing music and iTunes for syncing devices.
You’ll still need to have Spotify open when you sync your phone or tablet with your PC, just as you would if you were syncing an iOS 5 device with iTunes over Wi-Fi.
Fortunately, Spotify doesn’t appear to be nearly the resource hog that iTunes is: Although we haven’t done extensive testing, a quick look at the Windows 7 Resource Monitor with both apps running revealed that iTunes consistently used more memory and made heavier use of the processor than Spotify did, even when it sat idle in the background.
Spotify Can’t Do Everything…Yet
Spotify still isn’t a total iTunes replacement for everyone. After all, iTunes doesn’t do just music anymore: It also handles video, iOS apps and data, ebooks, and podcasts. And Spotify can’t play any DRM-protected music that you purchased through iTunes. If you rely on those additional features, you might have a difficult time finding a capable replacement that handles everything iTunes does. Spotify replicates iTunes music syncing capabilities–and it even adds a few new tricks–but if you want to sync your apps or back up your data, you’re out of luck without Apple’s music player.
iTunes is also still your best bet for syncing large video files to your iPad or iPhone. Some third-party apps, such as iPad Transfer (Windows only), will sync video without iTunes, but most of them aren’t as easy to use as iTunes is. To go 100 percent iTunes-free, you’ll likely have to stream your video from a service like Netflix.
Perhaps the most glaring problem with Spotify is that the company doesn’t offer a native iPad app. If you want to use Spotify to sync your music on your iPad, you’ll have to use the version for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which makes for a less-than-ideal experience.
Despite all those caveats, Spotify is the best iTunes alternative we’ve seen. Depending on your priorities, you may find that Spotify already does everything you need. And with just a few tweaks and the addition of a native iPad app, Spotify could finally let the average user delete iTunes forever.