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Apple Music reportedly leads Spotify, Pandora in unique monthly users

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According to fresh market research data, Apple Music's three-month free trial helped push the service ahead of competitors Spotify and Pandora in terms of unique monthly users for the month of February.

In a report issued on Wednesday, market research firm Verto saw Apple Music amass 40.7 million monthly unique users in the U.S. last month, well above the 36.2 million users seen by second place Pandora. Subscription based streaming music service leader Spotify took the No. 3 spot with 30.4 million unique users over the same period, while iHeartRadio and SoundCloud placed fourth and fifth with a respective 28.5 million and 25.7 million listeners.

Due to its methodology, which tracks 20,000 users in the U.S. and UK via an app — Verto only accounted for Apple Music's mobile users, split between 36.9 million on smartphones and 7.7 million on tablets. Considering Apple Music is available on Mac and PC, the number of total users is likely much higher than the report's 40.7 million user claim.

That said, data suggests the smartphone is by far the most preferred platform for consuming digital music. A breakdown of user listening sessions shows smartphones' collective share ranges from 46 percent in the wee hours of the morning to a peak of 78 percent at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. By contrast, tablet listening sessions range from 5 percent to 21 percent over the course of a day.

Verto's global content marketing director Connie Hwong said Apple Music's success is in large part due to Apple's three-month free trial offer, reports TechCrunch. The demo period more than doubles the number of people using Apple Music on mobile, placing it far ahead of free-to-stream and hybrid premium products.

While Apple Music leads in total uniques, Spotify dominates in the field in average listening sessions. For February, Spotify averaged 51 sessions per user, more than four times that of Apple Music's 12 listening sessions per month. Pandora landed between the two with 23 sessions per month per user.

With high listening session metrics, Spotify managed a "stickiness" rating, which compares daily users against monthly users, of 25 percent compared to Apple's 19 percent. The metric is in line with Verto's assertion that Apple Music's numbers are goosed by trial users. Since the free-to-try service is opt-in, users can always jump ship after the three-month period is over, generating significant churn.

Apple last revealed Apple Music subscriber numbers in December, saying at the time that its streaming product had garnered 20 million active users. The company's official figures seem to fly in the face of today's published market research, as last year saw a slow climb for Apple Music's user base.

In April 2016, the service was at 13 million users, a number that grew to 15 million in June and 17 million in September. Drawing the trend out through to March 2017, normal growth rates would imply a base of 22 to 23 million users worldwide.