Spotify revamps its app with TikTok-style discovery feeds, Smart Shuffle playlists and more
At Spotify’s Stream On event in Los Angeles today, the company unveiled a major overhaul of its app that capitalizes on its investments in personalization technology while introducing a short-form video stream similar to that popularized by TikTok. The updated Spotify mobile app gives users and subscribers 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 earlier than others and at different intervals.
According to Spotify, the changes are aimed at making the user interface more lively and interactive. However, the move may serve other purposes. Mostly, it introduces a new interface in the app where the company can introduce ads, just like Instagram did with the addition of scrolls. Officially, Spotify has nothing to announce today, but in an email to TechCrunch, it said it’s “excited” to see how the offering evolves over time. (In the meantime, artists can pay Spotify to use discovery tools like Discovery Mode and Showcase).
Another benefit of the overhaul is that it can address customer complaints that the app has become too cluttered and difficult to use, limiting exploration.
The new design builds on updates released in August 2022 that separated music and podcasts into their own feed. This will be immediately noticeable the first time you launch the updated app, as the main page – the app’s Home tab – will be updated with the new features. Instead of the usual page full of carousels, the main point of departure for exploration will now be a video feed.
Fortunately, you won’t be dropped into the new TikTok-like experience without warning.
Rather, you’ll still find shortcuts to your personalized playlists and mixes at the top of your music feed screen. These aren’t new—Spotify has long used personalization technology to attract and retain users, starting with the launch of its flagship Discover Weekly in 2015. In later years, it expanded its collection of personalized playlists to meet the needs of its users. a wide variety of music tastes and interests, in addition to activity-focused playlists such as commuting or exercise, etc.
After first highlighting these playlists and mixes, the app displays the recently launched AI DJ feature, which is currently only available to Premium subscribers in the US and Canada. DJ uses generative AI and natural-sounding AI voice to present music selections and offers background information about the artist, song or album, among others. (You can read more about the DJ function here.)
While scrolling down, you have the option to start scrolling through the music previews. These are displayed as full-screen videos that take advantage of the artist’s existing Canvas videos — the short, looping video clips that already play when your music is streamed in the app. The format is already successful, with streams, shares, saves and adds increasing, Spotify claims.
Canvas gave Spotify the opportunity to experiment with a TikTok-like news feed — something it’s been testing for some time. (TechCrunch reported various tests of a vertical feed in its app in 2021 and again in 2022. At the time, Spotify dismissed those tests as one of its ongoing experiments. More recently, a TikTok-like video feed was spotted during testing on Spotify’s mobile app (as seen here on YouTube)
Spotify’s design has now been settled, after its previous tests show a snippet of the track’s audio combined with video. The feature allows users to preview an album, playlist or single, the company says. With playlists and albums, you can preview up to five tracks by tapping the preview card. In some cases, users will also receive contextual cues as to why these items are being recommended to them.
The interesting thing about this format is that Spotify allows you to listen to music while scrolling through the recommendation feed in silent mode. When 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 start listening to the suggestion instead. You can also add recommendations to your Favorite Songs or any other playlist for later listening.
Like the music feed, the podcast feed has been updated with a vertically scrolling user interface. Except in this case, users won’t be able to preview the looped video — unless it’s from a video podcast, of course. Instead, they show up to 60 seconds of audio from podcast episodes, with real-time transcriptions of what’s being said.
Similar to the music feed, users can scroll vertically through podcast recommendations with the sound muted if they choose. If they see something they like, they can unmute and start listening. By tapping the “resume listening” button, they can pick up where the preview left off. They can also tap the Plus (+) button — a button Spotify recently updated to combine the “Like” heart icon with the “Add” feature. According to Spotify, users can add the episode to a playlist of saved episodes with one tap to listen to later.
The company also notes that its audiobook feeds are structured in the same way as these new music and podcast feeds. Audiobooks are another offering, and eventually more than 300,000 books were available.
According to Spotify, discovery feeds will not only be available through the music and podcast pages. They are also integrated into the Search tab of the application. From there, users can jump into personalized feeds for things like genres and moods.
According to the company, the algorithm behind the feeds ranks its recommendations based on an individual user’s tastes and preferences, rather than overall popularity.
Aside from the new feeds, another change focuses on discovery, but it’s a minor tweak.
In 2021, the company introduced a feature called “Enhance,” which provides recommendations of songs to add to the playlist you create. Now, Spotify Premium subscribers can automate this type of discovery without having to manually review suggestions. This is done by turning on a new ‘Smart Shuffle’ option that adds Spotify suggestions to your playlist’s streaming queue. (A shiny icon indicates which numbers are recommended). If you like a track, tap the plus button to add it to your playlist. And if not, tap the minus button to remove it.
“Smart Shuffle breathes new life into listeners’ playlists by recommending and visualizing additional songs that are perfectly connected to the playlist,” Spotify co-president and CTO Gustav Söderström said during the event. “It has already spread worldwide. So the next time you’re ready to refresh your playlists, tap the shuffle icon and we’ll throw the appropriate new songs into the mix.”
Additionally, podcast listeners get a new feature that automatically starts playing a recommended episode when you finish streaming an episode of another show. Spotify says that such a feature is in high demand among users, and that it will help discover new shows. However, those who don’t enjoy the autoplay experience can turn it off in Settings (Settings -> Playback -> Autoplay).
The new features, combined with the recently introduced AI DJ, focus on addressing one of the biggest complaints from fans, artists and creators: discovering new content. As the radio model has died, artists have increasingly depended on services like Spotify to get their tracks added to editorial playlists or get their songs into users’ Discover Weekly. In theory, these updates could open a new window to find fans.
But arguably, this update could be quite controversial. Some people are tired of TikToking all their apps, from Netflix to Reddit to Amazon to more direct competitors Snap, Instagram, and YouTube, among others.
But Spotify says referrals are key to the experience.
“Spotify recommendations account for nearly half of all users’ streams. What’s more, every time your music is played on a playlist in a program like Release Radar, you get an average of three times more streams from that listener over the next six months,” noted Gustav Söderström, Spotify’s co-president and chief product and technology officer. will speak at the event.
At launch, Spotify’s redesign will only work on mobile devices, but it will come to more devices in the future. It will be rolling out in waves to the company’s more than 500 million monthly active users, meaning it might not be rolling out right away, but it’s coming soon.