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Spotify revamps its app with TikTok-style discovery feeds, Smart Shuffle for playlists and more

At Spotify's Stream On event today in LA, the company introduced a significant redesign of its app, which capitalizes on its investments in personalization technology while also adopting a similar short-form video feed as the one popularized by TikTok. In the updated Spotify mobile app, users and subscribers will gain access to a handful of new features, including the 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 roll out to everyone. However, the features' availability will reach some markets before others and will arrive at different intervals.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Spotify says the changes are meant to make its user interface feel more alive and interactive. However, the move could serve other purposes, as well. Most notably, it introduces a new surface in the app where the company could introduce ads, much as Instagram has done with the addition of Reels. Officially, Spotify doesn't have anything to announce on this front today, but in an email with TechCrunch said it's "excited" about how the offerings could evolve over time. (In the meantime, artists can pay Spotify when using discovery-boosting tools, like Discovery Mode and Showcase).

Another perk of a revamp is that it could be a way to address some customer complaints about how its app has become too cluttered and difficult to use, which limits discovery.

The new design builds on the updates shipped in August 2022, which had separated music and podcasts into their own feeds. It will be immediately noticeable upon the first launch of the updated app, as the main page -- the app's Home tab -- will have been refreshed with the new features. Instead of a page filled with the usual carousels, the main jumping-off point to discovery will now be a video feed.

Thankfully, you won't be dropped directly into the new TikTok-like experience without warning.

Rather, at top of the music feed's screen, you'll still find shortcuts to your personalized playlists and mixes. These are not new -- Spotify has a long history of leveraging personalization technology to attract and retain users, starting with the launch of its flagship Discover Weekly playlist in 2015. In later years, it expanded its collection of personalized playlists to cater to users with a wide variety of music tastes and interests, in addition to playlists centered around activities, like commuting or working out, and more.

Image Credits: Spotify

After first highlighting these playlists and mixes, the app will display the recently launched AI DJ feature, currently available only to Premium subscribers in the U.S. and Canada. The DJ uses generative AI and a natural-sounding AI voice to present its music selections and offer background information on the artist, song or album, among other things. (You can read more about the DJ feature here.)

Image Credits: Spotify

As you scroll down, you'll have the option to start scrolling through the music previews. These are presented as full-screen videos that take advantage of the artist's existing Canvas video -- the short, looping video clips that already play when their music is streamed in the app today. The format is already successful, delivering increases in streams, shares, saves and adds, Spotify claims.

Canvas also presented Spotify with an opportunity to experiment with a TikTok-like feed -- something it's been testing for some time. (TechCrunch has 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 had been spotted in testing in Spotify's mobile app, distributed to its TestFlight testers -- as seen here on YouTube.)

Image Credits: Spotify

The design Spotify has now settled on following its earlier tests presents a snippet of the track's audio combined with video. The feature allows users to preview an album, playlist or a single, the company says. With playlists and albums, you can tap through the preview card in order to preview up to five tracks. In some cases, users will also receive contextual indications as to why they're being recommended these items.

What's interesting about this format is that Spotify will allow you to listen to your music while scrolling the recommendation feed on mute. If and when you find something you like, you can tap on 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 also can add recommendations to your Liked Songs or any other playlists for later listening.

Similar to the music feed, the podcasts feed also has been updated with a vertical scrolling user interface. Except in its case, users won't be previewing a looping video -- unless it's from a video podcast, of course. Instead, they're presented with audio snippets from podcast episodes up to 60 seconds long with real-time transcriptions of what's being said.

Image Credits: Spotify

Like the music feed, users can scroll through the podcast recommendations vertically with the audio muted, if they choose. If they see something they like, they can unmute and start listening, picking up where the preview left off by tapping "continue listening." They also can tap the Plus (+) button -- a button Spotify recently updated to combine its "Like" heart icon and "Add to" functionality into one. With a tap, users will now be able to add the episode to a playlist of saved episodes for later listening, Spotify says.

The company also notes that its audiobook feed will be structured in the same way as these new music and podcast feeds. Audiobooks are a newer offering and one that had, at last count, over 300,000 books available.

The discovery feeds won't only be accessible through the music and podcast pages, Spotify says. They'll also be integrated into the app's Search tab. From here, users will be able to jump into personalized feeds for things like genres and moods.

The company says the algorithm behind these feeds will rank its suggestions based on the individual user's taste and preferences, not general popularity.

Outside of the new feeds, another change is also focused on discovery but is a more minor tweak.

The company in 2021 had launched a feature called "Enhance" that would make recommendations of songs that could be added to a playlist you had created. Now, Spotify's Premium subscribers will be able to automate this type of discovery without having to manually review the suggestions. This will be done by toggling on a new "Smart Shuffle" option that will add Spotify's suggestions to the queue as your playlist streams. (A sparkle icon will indicate which tracks are being 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.

Image Credits: Spotify

"Smart Shuffle brings new life into listeners' playlists by recommending and visualizing additional songs that perfectly connect with the playlist," said Spotify co-president and CTO Gustav Söderström, during the event. "It's already rolling out worldwide. So the next time you're ready to refresh your playlists, you can tap the shuffle icon and we'll throw the right new songs into the mix."

In addition, podcast listeners will also gain a new feature that will automatically start playing a recommended episode when you finish streaming an episode from a different show. Spotify claims such a feature has been in high demand among users and will boost discovery of new shows. However, those who don't enjoy an autoplay experience will be able to turn it off in Settings (Settings --> Playback --> toggle Autoplay).

The new features, combined with the recently launched AI DJ, are focused on addressing one of the larger complaints from both fans and artists and creators alike: new content discovery. As the radio model has died, artists are now more dependent on services like Spotify to feature their tracks on editorial playlists or insert their songs onto users' Discover Weekly. In theory, these updates could open a new window for finding fans.

But arguably, this update could be fairly controversial. There are those who are sick of the TikTok-ification of all their apps, from Netflix to Reddit to Amazon to more direct competitors from Snap, Instagram and YouTube, among others.

Spotify, however, says recommendations are key to its experience.

"Spotify recommendations drive close to half of all users' streams. What's more, each time your music gets played on a program playlist like Release Radar, you receive on average three times more streams from that listener over the next six months," noted Gustav Söderström, Spotify co-president and chief product & technology officer, speaking at the event.

At launch, Spotify's redesign will be mobile-only, but it will arrive on more devices in the future. It will roll out in waves to the company's 500+ million monthly active users, which means you may not see it immediately, but should soon.