After a rough start and a mixed early experience, I did finally press the button on Apple Music – a decision I’m grateful for at present as my main Mac is away for repair. This diary piece is as much about that experience as Apple Music, but I will get to music, I promise …
I love a large screen on a laptop, so have stuck doggedly to my 17-inch MacBook Pro, despite the fact that it’s now four years old. It’s a maxed-out late-2011 machine that has been very heavily upgraded over the years, with 16GB RAM and 2TB of SSD storage, and consequently still offers decent performance.
Until recently …
First, it started really struggling to drive my 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display, something it had done perfectly happily up until that point. That issue was rapidly followed by graphics glitches on the laptop’s own screen, and finally random crashes. I’m awaiting a diagnosis, but all the signs point to the infamous GPU failure thankfully now covered by Apple’s Repair Extension Program.
As soon as the graphics glitches started, I immediately supplemented my normal automated backups (Time Capsule, external drive and Dropbox) with a manual copy of my entire Documents folder to another external drive, so that I’d have more convenient access to files when I’d dropped the MBP 17 in for repair.
I have been accused of being surgically attached to my MBP 17. In addition to use for work, it also contains a big chunk of my life – all my photos and music, for example. I’ll admit I was concerned about how massive a hassle it was going to be without it for the week I’ve been told to expect the diagnosis and repair to take.
But, two days in, the answer appears to be less of a hassle than expected. I’m fortunate enough to have a second Mac: a Late 2013 Core i5 11-inch MacBook Air that serves as my main writing machine when on the move, and also comes in very handy for cycling holidays. For the moment, that machine is now my only Mac.
I’m extremely impressed with how well the MacBook Air is coping with its increased duties. It drives my 27-inch display perfectly – something the 12-inch MacBook can’t do – and despite only 8GB RAM, it chugs along quite happily with a dozen apps open at once. The external drive gives me access to all my documents.
I miss my 17-inch screen a lot. But one thing I haven’t missed is my music.
Thanks to first iTunes Match and now Apple Music, all of my own music is available in the cloud. I had literally nothing to do to get full access to it, exactly as if it were sitting on my MacBook Air. I simply opened iTunes on my MacBook Air and there it all was.
All my playlists are there. Every album, artist and track. Sure, all my own music has a little cloud icon next to it, but on a fast broadband connection, there is almost no discernible difference between the music being on my Mac and sitting thousands of miles away. (It will get rather closer in a couple of years, but still has to cross the Atlantic for now.)
The same is true on my iPhone. Usually I just load it up with a ton of music so I have access to it offline (the main reason I went for a 128GB phone), but if I want to stream or download anything not stored on the device, I can.
Granted, iTunes Match would have let me do all of that before Apple Music came along, but my music listening behavior has continued to evolve. Back when I used Spotify, I still listened to local music around 80% of the time. But as Apple Music’s ‘For You’ recommendations continue to get better and better as I continue to provide it with feedback, it’s now much closer to 50/50. That’s something I couldn’t have imagined when I first started listening to the service.
I don’t know why the out-of-the-box performance of Apple Music was so poor. As I wrote at the end of week one, Apple has so much data on my musical tastes, its recommendations should have been fantastic, right from the start.
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!
Yet somehow it wasn’t.
But that was then, and this is now, and I have to say that I’m blown away by how good Apple Music’s recommendations are now. Unless it’s listening to my own music library, I hardly ever leave the ‘For You’ tab. Its mood-based playlists are great. Its artist-based playlists are excellent. And since I decided to pretend that ‘Intro to’ really says ‘Easy playlist for,’ I’ve even enjoyed listening to quite a few of those.
The albums it suggests do still include more of my owned music than I’d ideally like, so I’ll give those a ‘Must try harder’ rating for now. But really that’s my only complaint.
I’d become an Apple Music fan before, but being able to switch to a different Mac and simply carry on as usual with both owned and streamed music has made me a bigger one.
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