On the day Apple Music launched, I wrote a first-day “review” of sorts, based on my first few hours with the service. Now that several months have passed (and I’m about to cross over from the three-month free trial to being a paying customer), I thought I’d revisit my thoughts on the service, and talk through how I’m actually using it today.
I’m not listening to Beats 1
As I mentioned in the first day review, I didn’t feel like Beats 1 was for me, and nothing has really changed in that respect. The reality is that I haven’t regularly listened to normal linear radio since I was a teenager, when I used to listen to it as I got ready for my day in the morning. Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve essentially listened just to the music I want to, rather than allowing my listening to be driven by others. I’ve dabbled with Pandora from time to time, but with that and other services I’ve generally found that they take too much training to be useful, or simply don’t have a high enough percentage of music I like to be worth the time. Beats 1 falls into the latter category – my tastes in music continue to be too narrow/specific for what Beats 1 offers. Apparently, many others love it, but not me.
“For You” has become much more useful
The “For You” tab is the place where you’re supposed to find things that are relevant to you and your tastes. When I first started using Apple Music, I found this tab to be somewhat lacking – the playlists and albums recommended either felt random or too literally connected to albums I already owned or tastes I’d explicitly specified. The recommendations were either things I already knew I liked, or they were too out there. But since that time, the recommendations seem to have got better, as I’ve tried quite a few of the playlists out, and I’m liking more of what’s recommended.
“Add to my music” is the key
To my mind, the most important feature of Apple Music is the “Add to my music” button (often just a little plus sign, and where that isn’t present, as a menu item behind the three little dots). As someone who still listens to a lot of the music I own, I like the idea of adding to that library far better than having to recreate my library from scratch, or simply search every time I want to listen to something. As such, the Add to my music option in Apple Music is a perfect fit.
However, I’m not just using it as a “permanently add this to my collection of music” button, but rather as a way to quickly bookmark something for later listening. For example, when I browse through that For You tab, and a playlist or album looks interesting and worth checking out, I add it to my music, even though I haven’t listened to it yet and might not get to it for a while. But everything I add in this way shows up in the Recently Added section on all my various devices, and as such the next time I’m listening to music it’ll be right there. If I like it, then it stays in my library, but if I don’t, it’s simple to remove it again. My music library has grown quite a bit this way over the past few months, and especially as the For You recommendations have been getting better.
Playlists are useful in several ways
I find playlists very useful, and they’re a key part of how I’m using Apple Music. But I’m using them in a few different ways. First off, Apple Music suggests various playlists in For You, some of which look interesting enough to add. In some cases, the playlist itself is good enough that I just keep that in my library as something to listen to again. But in other cases, I only like one or a handful of songs in the playlist, and in that case I typically click through on the song or artist and start playing more of their songs and albums, often adding those to my library while deleting the original playlist. I might also check what other playlists those songs or those artists are part of, and add those to my library. This is often a good way to find similar music and/or artists, as is the Related Artists section.
The other thing I’m really enjoying is the “Intro to…” playlists Apple Music has for many artists. These are almost like a new take on the Greatest Hits albums many artists throw out after they’ve produced enough albums, but they’re not quite that straightforward – they often combine well-known songs with other more obscure ones. And then there’s often the option of a second, “Deep Cuts” playlist for the artist if you want to go deeper. Using these playlists, I’ve rediscovered (rather than discovered for the first time) artists from my past and especially my childhood, and in the process introduced a number of them to my kids too.
Things I wish were better
Although I’m using Apple Music a lot, there are still things I wish were better. For one, I wish the Music app on my iPhone would give me more information about artists and albums than it does, more in line with the desktop version of iTunes. I typically use the desktop version to discover new music and add it to my collection, but I do a lot of my listening on my phone. Sometimes I want to learn more about an album or an artist, and it’s either unintuitive how to get that information to display in the app, or impossible to get it to display at all. I quite like the artist descriptions and album reviews Apple has always provided in iTunes and now in Apple Music, but these can be hard to get to or missing entirely in the mobile app. (Artist descriptions are available if you click on artist names enough times, even though there’s no visual indicator that this will happen, while album descriptions are totally missing as far as I can tell.)
My other main complaint is that Apple Music doesn’t seem to deal with caching and streaming all that well, especially on weaker cellular connections. Sometimes, when I’m in the car, if I skip too quickly through songs in a playlist or album that I haven’t downloaded to my phone, things just seem to get stuck – the song is ostensibly playing, with the progress indicator and time still moving, but no audio is heard. I imagine this is just a bug, but for a service which now majors on streaming, it needs to be fixed.
Apple Music probably isn’t for everyone
As I mentioned in that first-day review, Apple Music is a great fit for me – the combination of my own library and new music I discover through the service is just what I’ve always wanted from a subscription music service. But the more I talk to people in real life and online through Twitter and Facebook and so on, the more I realize it’s not a great fit for everyone. Obviously, there’s a substantial number of people who simply don’t listen to that much music, who aren’t a good fit for any music service. But I’m talking about people who do care about music. Unless you care a great deal about mixing your library and new music, there’s not a huge amount in Apple Music to convince you to switch from another service. In fact, if you’ve made a heavy investment of time in another service, switching can seem daunting – Apple Music doesn’t offer a way to import playlists from Spotify, for example, which could dramatically smooth the way for switchers. But there also aren’t that many unique features that would draw you over from another service. And unless you’re buying one or more albums a month at the moment, there may not be that strong a reason to start paying for a subscription music service either. Beats 1 – one of the most unique aspects of Apple Music – is free to anyone, and many of the other features are relatively undifferentiated from other services.
Apple at this point has two fundamental problems with Apple Music – relatively few people have even tried the service (something I wrote about here for Techpinions Insiders), and of those who have, there’s anecdotal and survey evidence that many are turning off the auto-renewal and allowing their subscriptions to lapse before they become paying customers. So far, I’m not seeing a great deal of action from Apple that would meaningfully change either of these things, for all the value I’m getting out of the service personally.