The world didn’t need another streaming music service, but Apple Music came yesterday anyway. For the past day, I’ve been using Apple Music to replace my standard Spotify usage — testing out Apple’s discovery features, playlist building and listening to radio stations.
My first take after 24 hours: It’s a great service, but it’s not revolutionary like iTunes 99¢ songs or the iPod. And it’s probably not worth switching if you’re happy with your current music streaming service.
Apple Music is currently available on iOS and through iTunes. An Android version is coming later this summer. Users can get three months free from the date they sign up. After the trial period, the service costs $9.99 per month, the same as similar premium streaming services like Spotify and Google Music.
Apple Music’s catalog isn’t too different from its competitors. It does have a few unique streaming options, including Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Taylor Swift’s 1989, the latter of which was added after Swift called out the Cupertino company for not paying artists during the three-month trial period, and got Apple to change its habit. However, the streaming library doesn’t include everything on the iTunes store. The Beatles are notably absent despite Apple’s exclusive digital distribution deal.
You can add the streaming tunes to playlists and download them for offline listening, just like the premium tiers of many competitors. However, you can also easily integrate streaming songs with your existing iTunes library, so you can build playlists with streaming hits and more obscure songs you’ve purchased elsewhere.
Apple Music also has Pandora-like radio stations that use algorithms to pick songs based on your ratings, as well as human-created playlists based on genres, musical influences and moods. The radio stations are the only free options for listening to Apple Music.
The 24-hour Beats 1 radio station is another nice addition to standard streaming media setup. With a rotating cast of DJs, it might seem that Apple is just copying terrestrial radio. However, the strange mix of hip hop, classic rock, indie folk and pretty much every other type of modern music, played for the world to hear, is entertaining to put on in the background. During the rollout of the radio station yesterday at 9 a.m., my tech media-heavy Twitter stream was full of people all jamming out to the same music.
Is this what it feels like when the whole city is dancing to the same music in a commercial? Feeling genuinely connected to a ton of ppl rn
— james risley (@risleyjm) June 30, 2015
The stream’s mix can be jarring at times, playing Courtney Barnett’s Pedestrian at Best and Vic Mensa’s U Mad back-to-back this morning. But the banter from the DJs and the constant stream of new music is a nice way to get out of your musical rut and discover a new artist.
Apple Music pulls ahead with iOS integration
The best thing Apple Music has going for it, though, is the way it integrates with Apple hardware, something competitors will never be able to do if Apple keeps up its walled-garden approach. You can use Siri to start any song available for streaming, as well add songs to your playlists and switch to radio stations.
From my experience, Apple Music also stays paused longer than Spotify. If I paused Spotify during lunch while I checked Facebook on my phone, my aging iPhone 5 would dump Spotify from the memory, meaning I had to restart the app to get music to play. With Apple Music, I haven’t had to restart the app once, despite a long session of Alto’s Adventures that would normally kill all my other apps running in the background.
Apps are a bit messy
It’s nice using the Apple-blessed iTunes to listen to music again. The remote on my headphones now works to control my music, and getting into Apple’s once-flagship application feels more native than Spotify’s dark and ominous app. But the iTunes app is still bloated, and icon-based navigations means a lot of clicking around trying to find out how to do something.
For example, searching for streaming songs is complicated; you have to click Apple Music after clicking into the search bar, and then you’re taken to the New section no matter when the song you’re searching for was released.
The iOS app is better, but there are still some interface quirks. A heart button helps Apple learn what you like, but you can’t go back to those tracks you’ve “loved”; instead, you have to click the ellipsis button and then hit Add to My Music. Then it’s added to your existing library, which may contain thousands of other tracks, with no easy way to find what you just added. With Spotify, there is a “Liked from Radio” smart playlist and you can sort by date added to quickly find those last few songs you were jamming out to on the bus.
A couple of sections of the iOS app seem unnecessary as well. The New section contains new music, but isn’t tailored to your interests like the For You section. And the Connect section is Apple’s second try at a music-focused social network (remember Ping?). It shows you updates from artists you follow, but not many artists are using it yet. And I already have plenty of ways to get updates from musicians, so Connect seems superfluous.
Switching is hard
Apple Music is a strong competitor to other streaming services like Xbox Music, Rhapsody, Google Music and Spotify. All streaming service libraries are generally similar and offer similar capabilities. Users can choose songs or albums to listen to, build playlists and discover new music through rating streams and following artists.
There’s nothing to lose trying out Apple Music. Stream quality is good enough for me, and the selection is just as robust as I’ve come to expect from streaming services. If you’re already using Spotify or Xbox Music to stream songs, Apple Music isn’t an upgrade. But if you’re not on any streaming service yet or have a huge iTunes library, Apple Music’s integration with iOS and iTunes makes it an appealing option.
But overall, Apple Music is the best option out there for most Apple users.