I gave my first impressions of Apple Music on day two, and my main disappointment remains: despite putting both owned and streamed music into a single app, there is absolutely no real integration between the two. All the evidence suggests that Apple Music has no awareness of my owned music.
I’ll get past that in a moment, but bear with me first for a couple of paragraphs. Because this is, in my view, more than just a missed opportunity: it’s almost criminally negligent. iTunes knows more about my musical tastes than my girlfriend. More than my neighbours, who have sometimes been more familiar with my musical tastes than they might wish. More than any of my friends – even the one who kindly ripped all my CDs for me on his high-end PC with multiple DVD drives.
Think about that for a moment. iTunes knows every single artist, album and track I own. Not only that, but it knows which ones I have put into what playlists. It even knows the exact number of times I have played every single track! And Apple uses none of that data in guiding its Apple Music suggestions. That really is a huge fail, given what could have been.
Ok. I’m over it. I won’t mention it again, I promise. But seriously, Appl- Ok, sorry. That’s it now. So, let me set that aside, accept that Apple Music needed to learn my tastes from first principles, and talk about how well it’s doing a week in …
I’ve done my very best to feed Apple Music more than a typical month’s worth of data in a week’s use by religiously using the feedback options – Love, Add to My Music or Make Available Offline – on every applicable track. I’ve essentially treated Apple Music as a student at summer cramming school.
Unlike a teacher, I haven’t been able to offer it any negative feedback through iTunes – pointing out tracks I hate (not even for the playlist that included a Justin Timberlake track!). This is especially odd given that you can do so from a long-hold in iOS, and on the Watch. I’m just hoping that it draws the right conclusion when I skip a track a short way into it. I agree with Jordan that the very fact that Apple had to use The Loop to issue a (partial) explanation about how to provide music feedback shows just how messy and unintuitive it is.
But clunkiness of the feedback mechanism aside, how well is it doing? The answer is: rather well – and not quite in the way I expected it to.
Sure, it continues to recommend albums I already own, and to offer me to ‘introduce’ me to artists I already love, but I’m over that. (Really. Not a word. Honest.)
At first, I thought it wasn’t as good as Spotify at music suggestions, but I’ve since concluded that – if the primary aim of a streaming music service is discovering new artists – it’s actually much better. And Apple’s much-vaunted human curation is probably responsible.
Spotify has proven very, very good at learning which artists I like. It plays those artists a lot. A lot of a lot. Which is great for putting on a playlist and not having to touch it until complete. But not actually great for music discovery, as it only introduces me to a handful of new artists.
Apple Music, in contrast, has already introduced me to more than a dozen new artists that I really, really like. For someone whose tastes are decidedly non-mainstream, and very far removed from the Beats 1 fare that we have to assume represents Apple’s view of its primary target, that’s an impressive achievement.
The price of that has been a fair bit of skipping of artists I don’t like, but that’s the flipside of playing safe. If you don’t yet share my views of its ability to find great new artists, I highly recommend doing what I did and intensively schooling it, offering positive feedback on every single track you like.
The UK didn’t get iTunes Radio prior to the launch of Apple Music, so the whole Apple radio experience was new to me. For that reason, I can’t compare the pre- and post- Apple Music experience. But I can say that Apple appears to view Beats 1 as the main focus, a handful of other radio stations as worthy of their own icons and the rest – judging from visual appearances – it seemed to view as less than important.
Sadly, this visual impression was reinforced by the quality of the stations I tried. Singer-songwriter is my favorite music genre. It’s not a mainstream taste, so I was delighted to see that Apple has a music station for it. But was left very far from delighted when I listened to it.
I’m honestly not convinced that whoever curates the station even knows the genre, let alone likes it. I love singer-songwriter music because it’s about raw, honest exploration – but the selection here is mostly just bland.
The rather vaguely-named Alternative station was more successful. It made for good background listening – though I rarely wanted to add anything to My Music. Which was just as well as, on days 3 and 4, continuing glitches meant I couldn’t do so:
As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of Siri, and this was my primary means of interacting with the Music app on my iPhone. Mostly what I did was ask it to play more of artists I’d discovered through Apple Music on my Mac.
I did optimistically try asking Siri to play tracks I’d recently added to Apple Music, but it denied all knowledge. Again, this strikes me as an opportunity to make it feel like a more joined-up service.
Back to iTunes on the Mac, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the app. I actually really like it as a music player, but think it’s a horrendous, bloated mess as a device management tool. For those of us fortunate enough to live in countries with iTunes Match and enough bandwidth to rely on iCloud backup, we don’t often have to do battle with the device management side of it, but every time I do, I find myself astonished that a company normally so good at user interfaces could produce anything this bad.
Variety recently suggested that it was time for Apple to adopt the same approach for OS X as it does for iOS, with separate apps for things like videos and podcasts. I absolutely agree with that. Let’s have iTunes be a music player and manager. With the added complexity introduced with Apple Music, that gives it quite enough to do. Let’s give podcasts, videos, app management and device backup their own apps.
We’ll see in three months’ time, when I need to decide whether or not to fork over cold, hard cash, but right now I think I’m going to. I’ve cancelled my Spotify subscription, and (radio stations aside) am currently using Apple Music as my sole music streaming service.
Apple Music has introduced me to artists I really like whose existence might otherwise have passed me by. It has broadened my music world, and that’s something I’ve appreciated very much in this week. If it continues to do so throughout the trial, I’ll be a very happy customer.
For more of our views on Apple Music, check out Chance Miller’s hands-on and detailed review, Dom Esposito’s hands-on video, Jordan Kahn’s piece focused on the issues, and Jeremy Horwitz’s opinion of the UI.