Apple Music was a service that I was incredibly excited about when Apple announced it last month at WWDC. I’ve written a lot about music here at 9to5Mac and every time I explain how big of a music fan I am. When I’m in my office, I always have music playing, whether it be radio or a specific artist or album. For the past two years, I’ve been using Spotify for all of my streaming music needs. I never had a problem with the service, especially recently as it has upped the quality of both its iOS and Mac apps to be both more stable and feature-rich. A combination that is hard to come by nowadays.
Being the Apple fanboy that I am, however, I obviously had to give Apple Music a try. For the past week, I’ve been using the service as my exclusive source for music. How does it compare to Spotify? Is it enough to make me permanently switch? Read on…
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Prior to the launch of Apple Music, I explained the biggest hits and misses of existing streaming music services and what Apple’s service would need to succeed. Those requested features included excellent support for my previously acquired music; well-designed, cross-platform apps; exclusive content; competitive pricing; and a killer radio functionality. Those five qualities are ones I’m going to address often in this review, for both good and bad.
To support Apple Music, Apple introduced a new Music app for iOS via iOS 8.4 and on the Mac via iTunes 12.2. I covered the redesign of the app earlier this year when it was still in beta form, and as you would hope from beta to stable, several aspects of the app have changed since then.
The biggest change, of course, is that everything that was once spread across the entire app is now relegated to a single tab labeled “My Music.” The app now has five tabs; one titled “For You,” another labeled “New,” a Radio tab, a tab for Apple’s Connect service, and one called “My Music.”
The For You tab is arguably the most useful in the app on iOS and the desktop. When you first launch Music in iOS 8.4, you’ll be presented with an interface that allows you to choose your favorite genres then your favorite artists within those genres. Apple will then use that data to customize the For You tab with suggestions as to what it believes you would enjoy. The tab gets more accurate the more you use the Music app and tap the “heart” option on radio and streaming content. The For You tab also takes into account what you listen to and what you already have in your music library.
I’ve found that the curation aspect of Apple Music is unrivaled by any other streaming music service. Spotify would often try to tell me what artists and songs it thought I should listen to, but often to little or no avail. With Apple Music, however, I’ve already discovered several new artists worth listening to, as well as several playlists that are great from start to finish.
Next is a tab entitled New that, as you can guess, showcases content that is freshly released. Here you can find the top charts for both songs and music videos, as well as new albums. You can also find more handpicked curated content from Apple and other publications like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and the NME. There’s also activity-based playlists for tasks such as running, partying, dancing, and breaking up. These playlists are all incredibly unique and include content from a variety of time periods.
One major playlist feature that is missing from Apple Music, however, is collaboration. You can’t start a playlist and invite other users to add content to it. Only one user or source can have master control over the content. It’s a feature that rival services like Spotify offer, as seen to the left, so it’s disappointing that Apple neglected to include it, but it’s nothing that can’t be added at a future date.
Next, and perhaps most importantly, is a tab for Radio. This tab houses both radio stations you create based on artists/albums/songs, as well as Apple’s new Beats 1 radio station. I’ll discuss Beats 1 more in a little bit, but everything is there and self-explanatory. One thing I wish was offered in iTunes 12.2 was a built-in schedule for Beats 1, which is offered on iOS. On the desktop, however, you have to visit Apple’s dedicated Beats 1 website to view that schedule, which seems like an unnecessary added layer of complication.
Connect is Apple’s latest attempt at a social network and so far, I don’t see any point in it. Artists I follow have rarely shared anything of interest on the platform, and when they have, it’s not unique and has also been shared on Twitter or Facebook. One thing it’s useful for, however, is following Beats 1 hosts. For instance, Zane Lowe shares his setlist after every broadcast, which makes it easy to go back and find a song that you may have missed. Lowe also shares the audio of his World Record every day, which is very useful for the tracks that he chooses that aren’t on Apple Music or iTunes yet. Other than that, however, Connect is yet another ill-advised attempt by Apple to enter the social networking arena.
Finally, you have your My Music tab. This is where all of your music lives. Whether purchased from iTunes, uploaded to the cloud, or obtained via Apple Music, you can access it from here. The My Music tab offers access to recently added content as well as playlists and the ability to search for other content on Apple Music. It’s a lot of features to cram into one interface and it certainly shows.
Overall, that’s a theme with Apple Music on both the desktop and iOS. There are a lot of features, all crammed into small amounts of space. For instance, the number of clicks required to create a new playlist on iOS is way too high, simply due to the fact that you have to narrow the interface face down so far before you’re actually presented with the option.
Just because there are a lot features doesn’t mean there still aren’t some missing either. One annoyance, which we’ve covered before, is the amount of effort it takes to shuffle an artist. For instance, if I want to listen to Coldplay on shuffle, I should be able to go to the Coldplay page on Apple Music and choose shuffle. Another feature that I miss from Spotify is the ability to jump directly from a song to the full album on which the track is featured or to the artist by which the track is performed.
That’s not to say there aren’t things I like about the interface, though. The new Now Playing interface is very nice and it’s convenient having the static bar at the bottom of the screen with now playing information and controls. One change I was happy to see from the initial iOS 8.4 beta is that when you tap on an artist in the artists view of the My Music tab, you see a list of all the albums you have sorted by release date. In order to view track listings for an album, you then have to tap on a specific album. Previously, track listings were shown on the initial screen, which made for an overwhelming experience in instances where I had a large discography of a single artist.
In iTunes, it gets confusing when trying to figure out whether or not it is best to right-click to reveal controls or choose the three dots that appear next to content. Both reveal similar options, but right clicking shows more options than the three dots. It’s a nitpick-y complaint, but something I noticed during my usage.
Putting the apps aside and focusing on the actual streaming service aspect of Apple Music, the service truly excels. First, its pricing is the best you’ll get from any service. The $9.99/mo individual plan is pretty standard, but the $14.99/mo family plan is unheard of. For comparison’s sake, 6 people on a Spotify plan would run you $35/mo. Apple Music also offers a three-month free trial, which is more than long enough to get hooked and build an impressive library of content. The only exception to Apple Music’s price advantage relates to student discounts. Spotify offers college students (or anyone with a .edu email address) access to its service for $4.99/mo.
As far as Apple Music’s catalog of content goes, I have been able to find almost every artist I have searched for. The reason for that “almost” relates mainly to some of the content Zane Lowe plays during his show. I’ll discuss this more later, but Lowe plays content that is so unknown – yet still amazing – that it’s not available on Apple Music or even iTunes.
The biggest selling point for me is Apple Music’s integration with the songs I already had uploaded to iTunes Match. While some users reported that the transition from iTunes Match to Apple Music/iCloud Music Library was rocky, mine was as flawless as I could have imagined. All of the live and ripped content that I had uploaded to iTunes Match prior to Apple Music’s launch remained exactly how I had left it after signing up for Apple Music, metadata and all. I love that any song I add from Apple Music to my library integrates itself perfectly with my existing content. Spotify never offered a feature like this. Adding local files to my library with Spotify was always much harder than it needed to be, especially on iOS, and even when I finally got the tracks added, they were neglected to their own “local files” tab and could not be added to my actual library of content.
Let’s talk about the standout feature of Apple Music: Beats 1. I wrote earlier this year that Beats 1 is what truly set Apple Music apart from the competition and I stand by that statement today. Between Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga, and Ebro Darden, the service has music for every listener. During the opening broadcast last week, Zane Lowe stated that “The genre of Beats 1 is great.” and that is beyond true. The station has no specific genre and no matter what time you tune in, you’ll almost always hear something worth listening to.
Zane Lowe arguably brings the most to the table with Beats 1. After one week, the host has given great interviews with popular artists like Eminem, Ed Sheeran, and Elton John. Lowe’s show, as well as Adnuga’s and Darden’s, is also a great source of content discovery. For instance, I’ve discovered a handful of new artists thanks to Beats 1, including Gavin James, Jack Garratt, Coasts, and The Beach. There’s a problem with hosts, especially Lowe, playing such new and up and coming content: some of it isn’t available on Apple Music. Jack Garratt’s new single “Weathered” isn’t available on the service. Neither is Gavin James’ track “Bitter Pill.” The same goes for From Above by The Beach. It’s frustrating and I really wish there was a way for any song played on Beats 1 to added directly to my library. Or at least an option to add a song not available on Apple Music to my wish list.
Another feature I wish Beats 1 supported is push notifications for shows. The Beats 1 and Apple Music Twitter accounts promote shows and interviews heavily before they take place, but I wish there was a way I could receive a notification directly to my iPhone before a new show was about to air or before an exclusive interview was about to take place. It seems odd that Apple doesn’t support something like that at launch. Could you imagine the engagement the service would get if Apple sent a push notification to users saying, “Zane Lowe’s exclusive interview with One Direction airs in 15 minutes. Be sure to tune in!”?
Apple Music isn’t without its bugs, however. Beats 1, of course, suffered from a 30+ minute outage the day of its launch and I have had several issues getting both it and Apple Music to load. Sometimes the issues are fixed by force quitting the Music app, but often I just have to wait for Apple Music to decide it wants to play the song I asked for. Another issue I have is speed in general. Spotify was almost instantaneous when I chose a song to play. With Apple Music, however, there’s often a few seconds of silence before the track actually.
- Excellent support for my previously acquired music
- Well-designed, cross-platform apps
- Exclusive content
- A killer radio functionality
- Competitive pricing
Regarding support for my previously acquired music, Apple Music excels in every way imaginable. As I mentioned before, all of my content is integrated together, as if it was all acquired from the same source. I have metadata for every album and every song and the transition from iTunes Match to Apple Music/iCloud Music Library was perfect.
Apple Music’s apps are certainly not without their flaws, but on both OS X and iOS they are good starting points from which Apple can build. The main issue with the apps is that there are so many features crammed into such small amounts of space that it’s overwhelming, especially at first use. There’s a high learning curve with Apple Music and that used to be something Apple was always against. Overall, however, I’m a fan of the interfaces of both the iTunes and iOS designs, but there’s room to grow.
As I mentioned earlier, Apple Music’s $9.99/mo individual plan is standard across most services, but the $14.99 family pricing is the best you’ll get from any service.
Exclusive content is where Apple Music shines. Beats 1 in itself is entirely exclusive to Apple Music. There’s no way that Spotify, Rdio, Google, or any other streaming music service can ever compete with what Apple has built with Beats 1. There is room for Apple to grow too. Beats 2? A news radio station? What about sports? There is so much potential to Beats 1 and the exclusive content it can bring to the table that it’s unbelievable. Beats 1 is Apple Music’s killer radio functionality.
Overall, Apple Music has more than enough for me to switch from Spotify. It’s certainly not perfect, nor is it without its bugs, but it’s fantastic as a streaming service and music storage service. Beats 1 is something I’ve listened to every day since it went live and I don’t see that habit changing anytime soon. Take my money, Apple and so long, Spotify.