First Look: Apple Music

2 July 2015AppleMusicRadio

Jim Dalrymple, writing for The Loop:

Music is an important part of my life. I care about every aspect of music, from creating to mixing, playing to listening, and seeing bands live. I feel music in my soul. Music has the ability to make me sad, angry, happy and every emotion in between.

I sat down yesterday with Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, and Beats Founder Jimmy Iovine to talk about Apple Music. I also started using the new service myself, so I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I found so far, good and bad.

Jim provides a thoughtful and thorough overview of Apple Music. Having used the new service for the past two days, I really like it. I had some strange issues signing up1, but overall the service is great once you have it up and running.

My two favourite features thus far are:

  • the way Apple Music seamlessly merges my existing iTunes library of 10,000+ songs with the Apple Music catalogue, giving me quick access to the stuff I like most while providing unlimited access to 30 million other songs
  • playlists from third-party curators such as Shazam and Rolling Stone found under the ‘New’ section

Apple advertised early iPods with the tagline “1,000 songs in your pocket” and I think of the new Apple Music service as “every song in your pocket.”2 It is mind-blowing the first time you realize that you don’t have to carefully select which songs or albums to purchase because they are all included. I realize other streaming services have provided this ability for some time, but there’s something different about Apple Music – I used Spotify’s free tier for several months but disliked the user interface and never fully understood how to discover new music. Having tried Apple Music, I’m confident that I can delete the Spotify app without any regrets.

If there’s a common criticism of Apple Music, it relates to complexity. The service consists of several ambiguously named sections such as ‘For You’, ‘New’, and ‘Connect’. What lies beneath these simple titles is essentially several different streaming services wrapped into one:

  • For You: provides customized playlists and album recommendations based on your musical tastes, constantly updated as Apple Music learns from your listening habits and the songs you mark with the “Love” symbol throughout Apple Music. Think of this as a replacement for Beats Music.
  • New: a combination of new releases, top charts, and editorialized playlists from Apple and select third-parties. Think of this as a replacement for Spotify.
  • Radio: a combination of genre-based radio stations featuring hand-picked songs from Apple, a traditional live radio station called Beats 1 produced by humans, and algorithm-based radio stations that you create based on a particular song, album, artist, or genre that you can then further customize to your preferences by telling Apple Music to “Play More Like This” or “Play Less Like This”. Think of this of this as a replacement for Pandora and traditional radio.
  • Connect: a social network that artists can use to post content for the fans that follow them.
  • My Music: a ‘treasure chest’ containing your original iTunes library and items from the Apple Music catalogue (including playlists) that you opt to “Add to My Music”. Think of this as a replacement for the original iTunes combined with a bookmarking utility.

So yes, Apple Music is complex, but with that complexity comes a lot of flexibility and powerful features. You can go from selecting every single song you want to hear by playing content from ‘My Music’, to selecting a genre and letting Apple’s editors pick the songs using the curated playlists in the ‘New’ section, to giving up all control by letting the producers and DJs of Beats 1 select everything you hear. That you get all of this for $9.99 a month ($14.99 for a family) is pretty impressive.

  1. I signed up members of my family for Apple Music using the iPhone app. Between selecting the Apple Music Family plan, accepting new iTunes Terms & Conditions, validating credit card security codes, and entering Apple IDs, I would estimate that the sign-up process took between 5 and 15 steps for each family member. Sign-up for the Family Sharing organizer account was relatively straight forward, but adding additional family members required several steps that I’m sure were bugs. Ultimately, each additional family member would get to a sign-up screen with all buttons greyed out and the only option was to force-quit the Music app. Luckily, upon restarting the app, the registration process was complete and the family members were able to start using Apple Music. 
  2. Apple Music doesn’t include ‘every song’ but there sure are a lot! While some big names (like The Beatles and Prince) are noticeably absent on day one, Apple Music has some exclusive content not available on other streaming services. Hopefully the catalogue improves over time, and even if it doesn’t, it is still quite comprehensive.