Apple changed the way the world bought and listened to music in 2003.
While record labels were busy filing lawsuits against Napster, Apple had launched its iTunes Music Store, where listeners could buy and download music legally from the convenience of their own home. There was nothing quite like it at the time.
Now, about 12 years later, Apple is hoping to make a similar impact on the music world with its new streaming service.
There’s a big difference though — there are a number of services quite like it, and they have been offering their own options for years.
Apple now has a hefty task ahead: convince people to switch from the services they have already been using for years that already know their musical tastes and preferences.
Apple’s music service is surprisingly entertaining, captivating, and robust compared to some of its competitors, but it’s also really overwhelming.
Before we dive in, here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons that stood out to me the most:
- Great music curation
- Can mix tunes from Apple Music’s streaming library with the ones you already own when creating playlists
- Can use Siri to quickly launch songs
- Difficult to figure out little things (i.e. how to save songs offline, etc.)
- Can’t follow friends like you can with Spotify
Here’s what I came away with after using Apple music since its launch.
The basics and getting started
Apple Music, like Spotify Premium and Google Play Music, costs $US9.99 per month. You can also choose to pay $US14.99 for a family plan, which covers six family members, but there’s no free tier if you want to stream songs and albums on demand. Apple does offer its various radio stations, including Beats 1, for free though.
Apple Music’s library consists of 30 million songs, which is the same as what you’d get with Spotify or Google Play Music.
There are a lot of different ways to listen to music spread across the app, so it’s important to know what you’ll find in each of its five sections.
The first thing you do when you set up Apple Music is tell the app what kinds of genres and artists you prefer to listen to. You do this by tapping small pink circles that subtly bounce around the screen:
The first set of bubbles includes names of various genres. Once you tap a few and move on, you’ll see the names of artists and bands appear in these circles. Apple tells you to tap once if you like the artist, twice if you really like the band, and hold down on the circle if you dislike the band or artist. You can tap More Artists if you want Apple to show you additional choices.
I found this setup process to be quick, simple, and even a little fun — with one caveat. Since the bubbles bounce and move around the screen, some of them get bumped off screen. This means you have to scroll over slightly sometimes to see a bubble or two, which can be annoying.
One of the biggest advantages of Apple Music is that if you’re already an iPhone user, it’s extremely easy to get started. You don’t have to download an app. You don’t have to sign up for an account. All you have to do is login with your Apple ID and password, and you’re good to go.
Exploring Apple Music
Once you’re all set up, you’re ready to explore Apple Music. Here’s how the sections break down:
For You — This is where you find all the music Apple recommends for you based on the artists you’ve chosen and the songs you choose to favourite. It’s kind of like a news feed of curated albums, playlists, and music collections that changes and expands the more you use the app.
New — As its name implies, New shows you new music that has been added to the app, popular tracks, new artists, recently released albums, and frequently played albums.
But there’s also a lot more than that, and it’s all jumbled together in one feed without any particular organisation. For example, the New tab is also where you find the playlists that Apple’s music experts have curated and recommended music videos.
You can filter all of this information by genre, but it’s still a bit overwhelming.
Radio — This section of the app is home to all of Apple’s radio stations, including Beats 1. From here, you can browse stations by genre, listen to Apple’s featured radio stations, and listen to your recently played stations. It’s one of the sections of Apple Music that’s actually very straightforward and easy to navigate.
Connect — Connect is almost like a music-oriented Twitter feed that only shows your favourite artists.
Here, artists can posts photos of themselves, photos from concerts, recording sessions, and updates around tour dates among other things.
It’s a nice idea, but this is the section of Apple Music I tend to use the least. I’d rather see these elements mixed into each individual artists’ page, since I’m more likely to go there when I want to learn more about a band or artist anyway.
My Music — This is where all the music you already own and have stored on your phone lives. If you’re already an avid iTunes user, one of the best perks of Apple Music is that you no longer have to switch between apps if you want to stream and listen to music stored on your phone. You can even create playlists that mix your own songs with the ones you stream from Apple.
Apple music already knows me
I’m not really too big on music curation. I use Spotify as more of massive search engine for songs I want to listen to than a music discovery service. When I have friends over, I’ll throw on a radio station from Spotify or Pandora as background music, but I almost never listen to these curations on my own.
So you can imagine how surprised I was to find that the For You section in Apple Music ended up being my favourite part of the app. That’s because I don’t really have to go out of my way to actually look for new music. I don’t have to browse through stations or choose an artist that I want to base a station off of (although you can certainly do that in Apple Music if you want to). I don’t even have to think about what kind of music I may be in the mood for.
As soon as I open the app, Apple just shows me suggestions — and good ones at that.
I’m a creature of habit — I tend to listen to the same songs and artists all the time — so I appreciate that Apple shows me a mix of bands I already listen to frequently and new things I haven’t heard yet.
One of the ways Apple does this is through their introduction playlists, which include a mix of an artist’s popular songs from various albums. If there’s an artist that fits in with your taste, Apple will encourage you to listen to them.
For example, I chose Vampire Weekend as one of the bands I like when setting up Apple Music. But truth be told, I only know a few of their songs. So, one of the first playlists Apple suggested to me was “Intro to Vampire Weekend.”
You can favourite tracks, artists, and playlists by tapping the tiny heart icon within the app. Apple displays a cute little message when you favourite your first song, as shown in the screenshot to the right.
Another thing that makes Apple Music intuitive — it works with Siri. So you can say something like, “Play Taylor Swift” and you’ll be able to open the Music app by tapping Siri’s response. Once you do, it will start playing a random popular song by Taylor Swift.
It’s not a revolutionary feature — Google Now integrates similarly with Google Music — but it’s still convenient.
Apple is making radio cool again
The term “radio station” means something different today in the era of streaming music. Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius XM offer radio stations that are essentially living playlists — music that’s curated around a certain genre, artist, mood, season, or other theme.
But Apple has created its own version of a traditional radio station that revitalizes the classic radio broadcast. Because Beats 1 is hosted by actual DJs — Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York, and Julie Adenuga in London — it feels almost like a podcast. And despite its somewhat troubled launch, it’s actually pretty good.
That makes the listening experience really diverse, too. When I listened to Beats 1, I heard everything from hip hop to rock to R&B in a matter of minutes.
There’s just enough chatter and conversation to make Beats 1 feel human, but it’s not overwhelming. Growing up, I remember listening to local New York radio stations and wishing they would quit talking, skip the ads, and just play music already. And I also remember groaning at the fact that I would hear the same song about five times over the course of an hour.
That’s not what Beats 1 is like, at least based on what I’ve heard so far. There’s some commentary in between tracks but it’s mostly music and interviews with artists, like Eminem, who was the first high-profile guest on Beats 1.
But there’s one problem…
I seem to have encountered an odd and specific issue with Apple Music — it’s draining my battery.
I used the app sporadically for a few hours, playing a few songs here and there throughout the afternoon, and the Battery Usage section in my iPhone’s Settings menu said Apple Music was taking up 47% of my battery. The next day, I didn’t use the app at all, and it was still occupying nearly 30% of my iPhone’s battery. It wasn’t until the day after that it finally dropped down to 8% of my battery usage.
A few other Apple Music users have also tweeted that they have been experiencing the same issue, as Cult of Mac points out.
But for what it’s worth, other colleagues I’ve spoken to said they haven’t noticed Apple Music impacting battery life in any way. When asked for comment, Apple also said there aren’t any issues with the app that cause it to drain your iPhone’s battery, and the company hasn’t heard any complaints related to that type of issue so far.
A beautiful but cluttered interface
Apple designed a crowded albeit beautiful interface for its music app. If you’re accustomed to using something sleek and simple like Spotify, Apple Music will seem like a considerable change. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting.
Even after you become familiar with the various sections of the app, it does take some time to figure out how to access certain features. I had to noodle around a bit to discover how to save tracks for offline listening (You tap the song currently playing at the bottom of the screen, click “Add to My Music,” and then from “My Music” you tap the three little dots to launch a menu that includes an option for “Make Available Offline.”).
Apple has crammed a lot of information into very tight spaces, and this is most evident in the New tab. It’s not immediately clear that this is where you need to go to find the playlists made by Apple’s music experts, and it feels a little disorganized. New music, popular albums, music videos, and playlists are all jammed into one feed. It feels like it might as well be called Miscellaneous rather than New.
That being said, the app itself is colourful and vibrant, which makes it fun to flip through. The artist pages, for example, are gorgeously accented with bright colours, with different shades for font. They also include helpful little paragraphs that tell you about a certain artist or album.
The beauty in Apple Music isn’t that it simply has all of the music you want — it’s that it reminds you of all the music you want to listen to. It’s fun to open the app and see what types of music options Apple has to offer. Once you set up the app, you don’t really have to put in any effort to see these suggestions.
Even so, it’s hard to say whether or not Apple will lure people away from Spotify. You can’t follow your friends and see what they’re listening to, and you can’t send another Apple Music user a playlist that you made directly within the app (although you can share songs and playlists to Facebook, etc.). There’s no social element to the app, and for some people that’s a big part of the experience.
iPhone users that store a lot of music on their phones will benefit the most from Apple Music. You no longer have to switch between one app for streaming and another app to listen to the music you already have. And, if you’ve been listening to music you already own in Apple’s standard Music app for a while, it already knows which tracks you listen to the most, making it an even better music curator for you.
Will Apple Music change the industry like iTunes and the iPod? No. But it’s a really fun way to discover music and it’s enough for me to consider switching from Spotify.
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