Apple Music has exploded all over Apple devices like a burst musical salami, and now demands exclusive access to your ears. But is it any good?
Well yes it is. Very good in fact, especially compared to most newly launched bits of software.
That doesn't mean it's quite perfect yet though - so here's our list of the things it gets right and those it gets a little bit wrong...
5 THINGS WE LOVE ABOUT APPLE MUSIC
1. It has playlists with a human touch
It turns out at the heart of Apple’s aluminium-framed iRobot, locked in the White Room, is the beating heart of a human.
We were pretty sceptical when Jimmy Iovine rambled on at WWDC 2015 about people being at the heart of Apple Music, and Apple’s claims that algorithmic playlists are a bit obvious and rubbish. It turns out Apple may have a point.
We’ve aleady spent a quite frankly ludicrous amount of time delving into playlists based around other things we like, and they’re full of greatness.
More to the point, they feel like they’ve been made by people who love the same music you do. And even indie bands get a look in — Wire, for example, have a bunch of Apple-curated playlists at launch. It's not just about U2 versus Coldplay.
2. It's really well stocked
Safe to say, we weren’t really expecting Apple Music to launch with only Trent Reznor’s albums, but there had been all the usual rumours about labels grumbling, and then there was Taylor Swift facing off against Apple SVP Eddy Cue (and winning).
As it turns out, Apple Music’s catalogue is huge. It has holes: The Beatles and Prince, for example. But there are 30 million or so other tracks to serenade your ears with.
(And if you get desperate, there’s always Glee Sings The Beatles, and, er, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. We’re pretty sure those are similar to the aforementioned missing artists.)
3. Beats 1 is actually pretty good
Unsurprisingly, Apple apes every other streaming service by providing the means to create a radio station based on an artist. There are also loads of genre stations.
But the big news during WWDC was Beats 1, a worldwide 24/7 radio station with (presumably) living DJs.
We’ve only spent about 90 minutes with Beats 1 so far, but it seems pretty good, offering a fairly diverse selection of tunes that straddle the gap between mainstream and indie.
It also might turn some people on to radio, if they can stop complaining on Twitter that people are “stupidly talking all over the music”. You know, like they do on radio.
4. It's really good at finding your own music
Apple is a big fan of sucking you into its ecosystem. It rather cunningly did this with the original iTunes (combine stuff you’ve bought elsewhere with items purchased from iTunes) and iTunes Match (match - obviously - your existing music).
Now, Apple Music happily merges what’s in your iTunes app with what’s on the iTunes Store. This works across Macs and iOS devices, and makes Spotify’s desktop-only optional inclusion of local content look a bit rudimentary. Mind you, there is the tiny snag of having to upload a shed-load of music to get this fully working. You’d better have fast broadband.
5. It's a skinflint’s paradise
When you sign up to Apple Music, you get three months for free. Frankly, we reckon the 30 days you get with other services is pretty generous, but this is an entire summer of music, for nothing at all.
And due to Taylor Smith suitably guilting Apple, it turns out artists will get paid and everything. So that’s a win-win-win.
(Don’t think for a second Apple won’t gain from this. If Apple Music doesn’t self-combust during a particularly hot August day, plenty of people will happily pay a tenner a month to keep the service come September.)
...AND 5 THINGS APPLE NEEDS TO FIX
1. The interface is crazy
Apple Music might be more human than its rivals, but it at times feels like said human's been at the sauce.
The on-boarding process for Apple Music is borrowed from Beats and it’s really weird: you prod little bobbing circles to denote what you like, thereby selecting artists and genres so the system can make recommendations.
Far be it for us to suggest a basic list might have worked better.
(The nadir: tap-holding on an iPhone to make ‘Paula Abdul’ disappear, and our sausage fingers being approximately one pixel out and therefore removing Underworld instead. THANKS, APPLE.)
2. Connect is a wasteland
Apple made quite a big deal out of Connect, the music-oriented social network it decided to glue to Apple Music. On its announcement, we thought it looked like it’d turn out similar to Twitter, but entirely populated by musicians who would almost certainly avoid talking to the kind of fans who’d leave brainless two-word comments underneath some random photo or other. And that’s pretty much what it is right now.
So far, we’ve experienced Tom Vek pimping vinyl, photos of Giorgio Moroder looking far too cool for someone in his seventies, and a video from Maroon 5. We had no idea we even had Maroon 5 music in iTunes, but Apple auto-follows artists on your behalf, so something must be lurking somewhere.
Regardless, we’re strongly considering unfollowing everyone apart from Trent Reznor, who’s at least having a heroic crack at making Connect work by sharing some interesting music.
3. It needs some New thinking
Just a small point, but it does feel like Apple focused on For You (interesting stuff you might like!), Radio (radio!) and Connect (iffy social network!), and then realised it had ran out of tabs. Thus New is where someone chucked everything else and hoped it’d do.
It’s in New that you find interesting new things, recent releases, charts, spotlights, people discovered on Connect (hmm…), playlists from editors and curators, videos, essentials, and the A-list. We don’t even know what some of these things are — we just know that it feels like there are far too many of them.
4. It's buggier than a bucket of beetles
We’re going to give Apple a bit of a pass on this one, since Apple Music is a hugely ambitious project that’s totally new, but it is a wee bit buggy.
We had connection issues for a while, which fortunately disappeared when the USA went to sleep. But we had to turn on iCloud Music Library about 20 times on an iPad before that setting finally stuck; also, loads of people are spitting mad that Apple Music’s overwriting meta-data and encrusting iTunes Match collections with DRM, and that unplayable grey tracks are dotted about.
5. It needs a better bit-rate
On Twitter, Eddy Cue cryptically stated that Apple Music’s bit rate “depends on whether you are on WiFi or cellular”. On 3G, we’ve found Apple Music bounces between merrily ronching through data and being unusable.
On Wi-Fi, we suspect you’re getting streamed versions of what’s on iTunes (256 kbps AAC — broadly comparable with Spotify’s highest quality setting). But there’s no manual switch you can prod if you’re on a particularly rubbish connection, and no Tidal-style ‘if I don’t have lossless music, I will hurl my iMac out of the window’ option.
Super bonus middle-ground sitting-on-fence extra
1. It needs fairer pricing
In the US, Apple Music is pretty good value. It price-matches its rivals by default — US$9.99 per month — and then provides a family membership package for an extra five bucks. This allows up to six people to listen at once.
But in the UK, Apple simply swaps the currency symbol. This still price-matches rivals (and thereby makes us wonder if we're living in a music cartel) but feels at odds with Apple’s pricing structure elsewhere. (A US$9.99 app, for example, becomes £7.99 in Blighty, not ten quid.)
Still, if you’re elsewhere in the world, you might do rather well out of Apple — in India, the monthly fee is a fifth of that in the USA, and Brazilians effectively get a 50% discount. So we’re off to the accounts team to try and expense a plane ticket to Rio, to ‘just check’ this is the case. Wish us luck!