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Apple Music or Spotify: Which Is Better on the Apple Watch?

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The two leading music apps work similarly. But it’s the little differences that separate them.

Photo by Tucker Bowe

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Two highly likely things: 1. If you exercise with a fitness tracker, it’s an Apple Watch. (It’s by far the most popular smartwatch in the world.) 2. When you exercise, you listen to music. (It’s a great motivator, pumping you up for a better, longer workout.) 

One thing that’s not so predictable? Which music streaming service you use while working out. It’s likely Apple Music or Spotify, of course, as they have long been the most popular music streaming services, and both have dedicated Apple Watch apps. 

In the past few years, the experience of using Spotify and Apple Music has become pretty similar. Maybe the most significant change has been that, as of late 2021, both services support offline music; you can download playlists and albums directly to your Apple Watch and leave your iPhone at home. No cellular plan required. 

Of course, there are some subtle differences when using Apple Music or Spotify on the Apple Watch. You might assume that, being Apple’s service, Apple Music would be the all-around better option. And while that case can be made, it’s not the full story.

Below, we break down the key differences between using Apple Music and using Spotify on the Apple Watch.

1. Apple Music is a more visual experience on the Apple Watch

When playing tracks on Apple Music, it’ll show you the album artwork. Photo by Tucker Bowe

Spotify doesn’t show album artwork on the Apple Watch.Photo by Tucker Bowe

It might seem like a small thing, but one of the biggest differences between Apple Music and Spotify on the Apple Watch is the visual experience. It’s probably not a huge surprise that Apple’s own service, Apple Music, looks better. 

When you’re listening to a song, your Apple Watch shows the album artwork. By contrast, if you’re listening to the same song on Spotify, you’ll just see the song information and playback controls. There’s no artwork or vibrancy. 

It’s not a huge difference, but it’s probably the most noticeable one.

2. It’s a bit easier to your manage downloads for offline listening with Spotify

Apple Music subscribers: If you want to download music to your Apple Watch using your iPhone, you need to use the Apple Watch app. Photo by Tucker Bowe

Spotify subscribers: You can download music to your Apple Watch directly from the Spotify app.
Photo by Tucker Bowe

For Apple Watch wearers who don’t have a cellular plan for it — i.e. most people — and prefer to exercise without their iPhone nearby, downloading music directly to the Apple Watch is a big deal. The good news is, both Apple Music and Spotify support downloads on the Apple Watch for offline listening, but they go about it a bit differently.

Both music services allow you to download playlists and albums to your Apple Watch from either your Apple Watch or from your iPhone. It’s a lot easier to manage this downloaded music from your iPhone as its bigger screen is a lot easier to use. 

You can download Apple Music playlists directly on your Apple Watch, but it is a bit easier with the iPhone (and its larger screen).

Spotify makes it simpler to distinguish which playlists are already downloaded on your Apple Watch. Just check those bright green arrows.

When using your iPhone to manage downloaded music on your Apple Watch, Apple Music is actually a little less intuitive. You can’t do it in the Apple Music app on your iPhone. Instead, you have to open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone > select Apple Music > select Add Music. 

With the Spotify app on your iPhone, there’s actually an option to download a playlist or album directly to your Apple Watch. You simply go to the playlist or album > select the ellipsis (three dots) > select “Download to Apple Watch.” It’s refreshingly easy.

Of course, both Apple Music and Spotify also allow you to choose the playlists and albums you want to download to your Apple Watch … directly on your Apple Watch. You simply open Apple Music or Spotify on your Apple Watch, go to the playlist or album, and select the down arrow.

3. Surprisingly, Siri works mostly the same for both services on the Apple Watch

No matter which streaming service you choose, Siri can competently handle very simple playback controls. Photo by Tucker Bowe

For most advanced controls and finding specific playlists, you’ll need to be tethered to your iPhone (or have a cellular Apple Watch).Photo by Tucker Bowe

Siri is not surprisingly the only voice assistant available on the Apple Watch, and you can use it to control your music whether you’re listening to Apple Music or Spotify. With either streaming service, using Siri voice commands is a pretty similar experience.

When your Apple Watch isn’t tethered to your iPhone (or a cellular connection), Siri is pretty limited on both Apple Music and Spotify. You can ask the voice assistant to pause and play music, play the next or previous track, or ask the name of the song that is playing. And that’s pretty much it. If you ask Siri to play a specific song or a playlist, you’ll get the response “To do that, you’ll need to be online” — no matter which streaming service you use.

If you are online – meaning your iPhone is nearby or your Apple Watch has a cellular connection — Siri is more versatile. You can ask it to play a specific song, album or playlist, and it’ll do it for both Apple Music and Spotify subscribers. However, Siri is noticeably more accurate when using Apple Music. More times than not, Siri has failed to play my requested playlists on Spotify; its hit rate is much higher with Apple Music.

So while it’s far from a game changer, the Siri experience is a bit better for Apple Music users.

4. Navigating songs on playlists with both services can be a struggle

Navigating to specific songs within a playlist on Apple Music sometimes isn’t the easiest.Photo by Tucker Bowe

I ultimately find Spotify’s app easier to navigate to find a specific song on Apple Watch. Photo by Tucker Bowe

I frequently get the urge to listen to a specific song at a specific time during a workout. If you don’t have cellular Apple Watch or your iPhone nearby, it’s not the most intuitive experience with either Apple Music or Spotify — even if that song is on the playlist or album that you’re currently listening to. 

The truth is, navigating music on the Apple Watch can be frustrating, no matter which streaming service you’re using.  When listening to a playlist on Apple Music or Spotify, you can’t swipe down on your Apple Watch to see what track is next or scroll through the entire playlist to pick a certain song. It’s a little more involved. 

On Apple Music, to find a specific song on a playlist or album, the easiest thing to do is to select the ellipsis (three dots) in the top-right corner of your Apple Watch > select Playing Next. Then you can see the next five songs — but only the next five songs. You can also scroll further down and select Go to Playlist, in which case you can see a total of eight songs, but it’s never the entire playlist.

The last option is the most complicated. You can go all the way back to main Apple Music screen on your Apple Watch > select Library > scroll down and select the playlist you’re listening to. This is the only way I have found to see all the songs on the playlist, but it’s cumbersome.

On Spotify, doing the same thing is a little less intuitive, but it also allows you to select any song on a certain playlist. To find a specific song on a playlist or album, swipe right to find your Playlists and select a playlist. From here you can select any song on that playlist. It’s a bit weird having to select a playlist while already listening to said playlist, but it’s nice that Spotify actually lets you select any song on that playlist directly from your Apple Watch.

Verdict? It’s pretty much a toss-up when it comes to the Apple Watch. But digging into the details below may help you decide which service makes more sense for you in the big picture.


Apple Music

Apple Music really changed the game in 2021 when it introduced a lossless streaming tier at no extra cost. Now, you can get access to lossless and spatial tracks for the relatively price of $11/month. The service has a tight integration with Apple devices, especially its line of HomePod smart speakers.


Cheapest Subscription


Free Trial?


Number of Tiers



You have access to lossless and spatial tracks

You really need an Apple Music subscription if you have a HomePod smart speaker


User experience isn’t as great on non-Apple devices

You need to use a separate app to listen to podcasts



Spotify is one of the most popular music streaming services with a huge music catalog, arguably the best app experience (including integrated podcasts), and a proprietary tech (Spotify Connect) that makes streaming to wireless speakers super easy. The only real downside is that Spotify has yet to launch a lossless tier of its streaming service.


Cheapest Subscription


Free Trial?


Number of Tiers



Gives you access to a huge catalog of music and podcasts

A very intuitive app experience

Spotify Connect makes streaming to wireless speakers very easy


Still no tier for listening to lossless tracks

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