PlayStation and Spotify: Finally Getting It Right

What details did they nail that so many other apps and integrations have missed entirely?

I’m four minutes in and six places behind. The dim dawn light hasn’t yet reached over the mountains to reach the track twisting through the valley below. The headlights offer me their assistance too late on every turn making my braking into corners ill-timed. My opponents remain squarely in view, but may as well be miles away at this point. One more blink or snap of focus and I’m back on an all too familiar starting line. I’m in desperate search for that “zone” these technical races demand, but it remains blurred out of view.

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK on an experience you’ve had, it’s not one thing that makes you remember it fondly, it’s a culmination of things. Micro-experiences that add up to form something memorable.

The same can be said when it comes to products, apps, and websites. They may do one thing well, but if they’re not nailing other parts of the experience, your time with them will be short-lived and soon forgotten. As a user, you’ve probably asked yourselves many times why you’re muddling through something lackluster that keeps missing the mark. Eventually it misses so wide, you give up on it.

If there was ever a perfect example of this concept, it would be apps and their integrations with video game consoles (and TVs and media streamers, but let’s stay focused). Historically, these experiences have disappointed on just about every front imaginable: social media integrations, movies, and music. These half-baked experiences that barely scratch the surface of what they promise to deliver have boilerplate excuses at this point. Limited specs mean limited experiences. Limited audience means limited care and thought put into the details.

So when fellow designer and beard-spiration Tobias van Schneider dropped the news on Twitter that Spotify was now on PlayStation, was there anything else to think besides “I hope it’s good, but it probably won’t be”? It turns out that yes, there is; these two companies have created a new reference point for peanut butter and jelly partnerships.

Two great things that go great together.

To sort out how they’ve done this, let’s start where so many experiences go wrong: the login process. Truth is, the entry point for users is usually the least well thought out. A wrong password error state that wipes out the username — because that might be wrong, too? — is a fan favorite . Or how about those unhelpful “error — invalid” messages? Then there’s the added displeasure of the fact that you’re tapping all this out on your game controller.

The Spotify login process, using Spotify Connect, in comparison, only asks that you open up the app on your phone, tap the “sound” icon and select your PS4 from the list. There’s nothing to type in, no verification code to enter. A couple taps and your music pops into view.

Anyone familiar with the PS4 interface at this point will have no trouble navigating. Rather than cram their current apps’ look and feel in with a one-size-fits-all approach, Spotify has smartly chosen to give PS4 users an interface they’re already familiar with. Impressively, it’s instantly familiar to Spotify users as well since it uses the same imagery and iconography as their apps.

Familiar to Spotify and PS4 users alike.

This is another area where most apps get it wrong — anyone who’s ever had to explain to their spouse or parents why they have to double tap “Up” to search in one app, and then select the “Menu” option in another will appreciate this consistency. There should always be consideration of what a user expects especially in relation to already established interactions. Ignoring that consideration is ignoring an important part of a user’s experience.

The “Night Rider” playlist spins up a new tune and I mash the volume up button on a long straight. I don’t know the song and I don’t care — it’s exactly what I needed. Snaking through a couple opponents, the “zone” I was after sharpens into view. The sunlight finally pours onto my screen as I crest the hill. A tricky sloping hairpin fails to unseat my overtaking streak.

The neatest trick though, is the integration with the PS4 games. All the music Spotify has to offer is now available to you while you’re gaming.

With Spotify Connect, everything can be handled through your phone, which is another example of showing care for the users. Nothing can kill a good run faster than switching back and forth between the game and app, especially if you’re doing so repeatedly. Plus, tapping out a song you’re looking for is always going to be quicker on your phone.

Left: A stark reminder to get better at naming things. Right: Complete control right from your phone.

Furthering the seamless integration is the fact that the Spotify volume is completely independent of the PS4 volume. You don’t have to worry about game sound effects overpowering your Spotify music or vice versa; just change the Spotify volume on your phone or hold the PS button to change it there. This is another detail that could have easily been overlooked or ignored, but instead was thoughtfully handled in all the places a user would expect.

Another oft overlooked experience metric, performance, is stellar throughout. There’s no noticeable wait flicking through songs. Sound quality is as good as it gets. The PS4 app has yet to show an infinite loading throbber like so many others before it. If there’s a takeaway for other companies making apps, it’s this paragraph.

The music winding up, I have only one spot left to go. I mash the volume up again on another long straight. There’s only an S-curve and a long, inclining straight to the finish. Whatever song is playing pushes me ahead and I rocket next to my final opponent on the S-curve and go wide open throttle for the straight. Just as we cross the finish line the crescendo crashes down and I’m not sure if I’m first or second. Finally the times post: I’m one-hundredth of a second faster. A new song kicks in as I read this — whatever it is, it’s my new victory music.

Has the sins of past video game apps and integrations lowered our expectations of what a good user experience should be? No — as users, our minimum expectations are a constant. The feat here is PlayStation and Spotify have created something truly delightful divorced entirely from those previous efforts. Remember that it’s not any one thing that forms our experience; it’s numerous things. In the case of the PlayStation and Spotify integration, they’ve nailed those numerous things that so many others have ignored or dismissed entirely. If anything, our expectations have been raised. It’s time for everyone else to step up.