Spotify upgrades iPhone & iPad app with data-saving mode, new options for free listeners

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Spotify on Tuesday announced the gradual rollout of a redesigned mobile interface, accompanied by other improvements — with a particular focus on the ad-supported free listeners who make up the majority of the service's audience.

Free listeners will now be prompted to pick favorite artists as soon as they sign up, which are used to generate a set of customized playlists. And while most playlists will still be shuffle-only without a Premium plan, 15 of them — among them Discover Weekly and Release Radar — should let people play tracks on-demand.

For all listeners, the app will offer song suggestions under the search bar when building a playlist. Recommendations were already present, but buried towards the bottom of a playlist's page where they're less likely to be noticed.

Another global improvement is a data-saving mode which can cut bandwidth consumption up to 75 percent. Spotify said it's optimizing streaming and the app as a whole in order to reduce data and battery demands.

The overhauled app is rolling out worldwide in "coming weeks."

Though Spotify doesn't make as much money from it, the existence of a free tier may be the service's main weapon against Apple Music, which doesn't offer any free listening past a three-month trial. Apple has over 40 million subscribers and may even overtake Spotify in the U.S. this summer — but the latter has more than 159 million listeners, about 71 million of them on Premium.

Free customers have several incentives to upgrade to Premium, which typically costs $9.99 per month. The plan is ad-free, absent of shuffling restrictions, and optionally offers higher-quality sound. In some cases Premium is required to stream to external devices like the Amazon Echo.