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An interesting thing happens when a new product enters the game and attempts to sway users from existing products or services. Users have to make a tough decision, do they stay or do they go?
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmEMMyvZHcw]

There is so much that goes into this decision, we are often not aware of how we make our choice. UX and behavioural designers work hard using different methods to get us to stay with the service or tempt us to leave (whichever side you sit on). In this post I explore Spotify and Rdio’s greatest assets, in the fight for users against Apple Music and how (in my opinion) Apple will ultimately win the battle in the long run.

It all starts with picking our favourite genre, then our favourite band and so on. Over time our music apps are learning about us even when we’re not aware of it, by our song choices, when we play a certain genre of music, how long we play it for before changing the genre entirely and so much more. Sander Dieleman wrote a very thorough post on deep learning during his time spent interning at Spotify.

By collecting this data, they often know more about our music tastes than we do, serving up the right tunes for the right moments in the day. This knowledge of us and our tastes are what I believe is the existing music app’s strongest asset. The behavioural side effects of the connection we have to a product are extremely interesting to me, let’s look at the key factors…

Loyalty
We have built up loyalty with the app, we spend a lot of time using it (daily in most cases). We’re familiar with the UI and UX. The app becomes a consistent part of our digital lives, it becomes a habit and we all know old habits die hard.

Investment
From that very first pick of our favourite band, we have invested a lot of time in the product, curating all of our favourite tracks, creating playlists for different occasions and moods. The time investment is staggering when you think about it. This investment we make improves our experience the next time we use it.

Reward
As a result of the investment we make (and continue to make), we are rewarded with personal music suggestions, which (in some cases) are just right for us. You may even find a golden nugget, a song or genre you didn’t think you would be into, these are called variable rewards and they create desire. Nir Eyal puts it well in his book ‘Hooked – How to Build Habit Forming Products’ “The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix – suppose a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it – and voilà, intrigue is created.”

Consistency and Familiarity
We trust the app is going to serve us the right music suggestions and even if it doesn’t, we know it will eventually, because perhaps it’s helped us discover that awesome band in the past.

The above are just some of the key factors contributing to our connection with the product. There are other factors that I think come into play too…

Our Personality
Which product we choose will says something about our personality. For example, by switching to Apple Music you could be seen by your peers to have ‘sold out’ or seen as just another ‘Fan boy’. You may want to back the underdog and stay loyal to them because that is a reflection on your personality.

So why not just switch to the new big thing?
The main reason why users of Spotify and Rdio are not switching is due to fear, the fear of losing all of the hard earned playlists and the relationship (investment) they have with the product. No matter how shiny or how much cheaper the new big thing is, the cost of losing that investment is not worth the cost saving or experience you would receive if you switched.

The ability to lock users into using a tool like this is incredibly valuable – any product designer dream!

My prediction
I believe Apple will have a very tough job moving users away from existing products. However, for new users and the next generation, I don’t see how the underdogs will attract them unless they pull out something pretty special or pivot entirely.

Apple Music is now a native product and experience for iOS. This means, when a 16 year old gets their first iPhone for their birthday and turns it on –  its from that moment they are an Apple Music user. I don’t see how other music apps can compete with that! What Apple offers the new user is a chance to build from scratch what current users of Spotify and Rdio have now.

Who should be worried next?
Apple will soon release iOS 9, in that release there is an update to Notes which looks to threaten note taking apps like Evernote, except this service will (likely) be free. As with the Music app war, Evernote power-users are extremely invested in the product, years of personal and work related notes are stored in one place.

Services like Netflix/Hulu/etc should also be concerned, Apple has an extensive library of films and tv shows, a single Apple membership fee to access all of this content would shake up these services in a big way for sure. It will be interesting to see if these services start being pro-active, adopting more ways to hook their current users over the coming years (or perhaps there is an acquisition on the cards)

For now, it’s just interesting to watch it all happen and witness how great product design plays such a fundamental part in this battle for users.

Lewis Spearman is a UX Designer at Perfect, specializing in user retention and future proofing apps.

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