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Wednesday, August 5, 2015
One month in, is Apple Music worth it?
It was only a matter of time before Apple AAPL0.58%released a streaming music service. I mean, this is the same company that revolutionized the music industry by launching the iPod, and has repeatedly touted music as a core part of the company’s DNA; often ending keynote events with live performances from the likes of The Foo Fighters and U2.
In June, the company launched Apple Music alongside a 24/7 streaming Internet radio service called Beats One, which users can try out for free during the three-month trial period.
Since Apple launched its music streaming service things haven’t gone exactly to plan: Outages have kept users from accessing their music libraries, Apple support forums are overrun with various complaints (such as random songs appearing on devices and playlist errors) and the press has raked the company over hot coals for its confusing user interface.
For the past month, I’ve used Apple Music every single day for various reasons: to keep me motivated, the kids dancing, and entertain dinner guests. The music catalog has yet to come up empty when searching for new content, and I’ve discovered a handful of new artists I can’t stop listening to. Although, my overall experience has been mixed: Going from being utterly amazed by Siri’s suggestions to endlessly frustrated with how to add a song to my Up Next playlist.
‘For You’ isn’t always for you
The “For You” section of Apple Music is a unique combination of suggested playlists and artist recommendations based on your personal listening profile, which is always changing and adapting to new artists. During the initial setup, Apple helps curate a unique music selection by asking users to choose a variety of genres and artists they love and hate. Additionally, those selections change over time when users tap on a small heart placed next to songs they like.
Initially the curated playlists were a bit off at first, but as I continued to “heart” new artists and songs my selections started to better hone in on my taste and display better results. Playlists range from a selection of new artists to a collection of songs featuring a user’s favorite artists.
As I write this review, I’m listening to a Maroon 5 playlist, which includes some of the band’s biggest hits. Apple Music inferred, based on other artists and songs I “hearted,” that I would enjoy the band’s music—and it was right.
The only issue I’ve noticed so far with this section is the service’s multiple attempts to “introduce” me to artists already in my library. For example, at one point, Apple Music suggested I listen to an “Introduction to Vampire Weekend” playlist. The only problem is, my personal music library—which Apple Music has access to—is already full of the same songs.
The bigger (and arguably most important) feature offered by Apple Music is its ability to let users access personal music libraries from any compatible Apple device. Once Apple Music is downloaded on any iOS, OS X, or Windows device, Apple begins matching your local collection to its music catalog. Any content it doesn’t recognize is automatically uploaded to your Apple Music account, where it’s then made available for streaming across all of your devices.
For those unaware, the “My Music” tab is where users can find any music they’ve uploaded, along with any content they’ve subsequently added using Apple Music. Listeners can tap on the “+” sign to add any playlist from the For You section to their own personal library. The same goes for any song found on Beats One, or any content found within the Music app on iOS. To be clear, you don’t own the content you add from Apple Music, but going forward it will show up alongside the rest of your library as if you did.
It all seems very straightforward, but in practice it’s the most frustrating part of the service. Launching Apple Music on a new device starts the matching process all over, duplicating playlists you already had in your library, and in some cases duplicating individual songs. After activating my iPhone, iPad, and Mac, I had three copies of every playlist in my personal library.
I’ve experienced a lot of the same issues that caused notable Apple enthusiast Jim Dalrymple to swear off ever using Apple Music again. I’ve found duplicated songs or playlists, and mislabeled tracks that were treated as a standalone single instead of as part of an album collection or compilation… and the list goes on.
Dalrymple later met with Apple about his issues, stating “[t]he missing and duplicate song issues that we’ve all seen in Apple Music are being fixed shortly. They are certainly aware of what’s been going on, I can assure you.”
Siri’s cool new tricks
Searching for music using the service is a weird experience as well. When using the search function, you’re given two catalogs to search: Apple Music or My Music. Apple Music should have a single, unified search option. The service gives off the impression that all content is equal, be it content you’ve added to your library or content you’ve yet to discover. So why then do I have to declare where I want to search?
I’ve all but stopped switching between the two search options, leaving Apple Music as my go-to option and have yet to come up empty-handed.
One great aspect of the search function, however, is Siri. Apple’s digital assistant instantly responds to a slew of commands, making it all too easy to play music you want to listen to.
“Siri, play the top ten songs from 2001.”
“Siri, play that song from the movie Titanic.”
“Siri, play John Mayer radio.”
My family and I have sat for hours—not an exaggeration—testing Siri’s musical prowess and end up amazed each and every time.
Apple’s confusing new interface
By and large, the loudest and most common complaint about Apple Music is its unintuitive interface. Regardless of whether or not you’ve accessed it through an iOS Music app, or iTunes via your computer, navigating the interface is confusing. Further complicating the application is when features you expect to be present have disappeared, which is a problem that continues to plague the Up Next feature.
Up Next allows users to create an on-the-fly playlist and queue up songs with limited hassle. Unfortunately, trying to add content from Apple Music to this selected playlist isn’t always easy since the “add” option is sometimes nowhere to be found. I’ve also experienced this particular problem in my own personal library, and other Apple Music features several times as well. I don’t know what the magic recipe is to ensure every single time I want to add a song to the ephemeral jam session the option is there, but this is just one example of the many odd behaviors that simply don’t make sense in Apple Music.
For a company that prides itself on how many times executives say “no” to a design idea, invention, etc. in order to create the perfect product Apple didn’t say “no” nearly enough times when designing Apple Music.
Apple has two months left in its trial run to get things right before users are faced with the real question of whether or not the service is worth paying for. As of right now, it’s clear Apple Music needs more work and not worth the $10 per month price tag, although it shows a lot of promise. Other competitors (such as Rdio Songza or Spotify) can offer better service for the same—if not lower—prices.