Apple Music almost got me


Apple debuted its new music streaming platform–Apple Music–on June 30th to mixed reviews. As an avid Apple fan and user, I closely followed the buildup to Apple Music’s post-WWDC launch. I was immensely underwhelmed by the introductory keynote, so much so that I considered not giving the streaming service a try at all. Then came the Taylor Swift controversy. I had yet to agree with Taylor on her opposition to music streaming services before, but I found her to be very much in the right when it came to paying artists fairly during the trial period. At that point I was positive I wouldn’t be trying Apple Music. We all know the result, artists are now getting paid. So in turn, I decided I’d give Apple Music’s free three-month trial a shot.

A little preface on myself: I’ve been a religious Spotify user for 3 years now, most of it under the premium tier. I loved Spotify so much that I gave up the 6,000 song iTunes library I had amassed in favor of rebuilding my collection from the ground up in Spotify. According to my Spotify’s “Year in Review,” I had listened to nearly two and a half months of music throughout 2014. Needless to say, I take my music listening very, very seriously.

On the morning of June 30th, I became one of the–what some would call–insane early adopters of the iOS update that brought the new Music app to iTunes. Much to my surprise, the update went through without a hitch and I was up and running in around ten minutes.

The very first step in Apple Music is to pick genres and bands that you may like out of a bubble-laden UI. I really enjoyed this method of picking and choosing, as it gave me a visual representation of how much I liked (or didn’t like) a genre or a band. After I completed my music personality test, I was taken to a rather cluttered screen full of recommendations. Most of the recommendations were spot on, and I found the curated playlist recommendations to be pretty worthy of my musical taste.

There’s a separate section for new music, which seems to focus on larger name acts who’ve released new material. Large ad-like images of Taylor Swift and Pharrell greet you at this screen. I had to scroll pretty far down this section to find something that appealed to me. Nothing really exciting here.

Next came the section for radio stations, which houses the new Beats 1 radio station headed by Zane Lowe and two other well-known DJs. Having not listened to an actual radio station in years, I had no interest in this section at all. However, I did give Beats 1 a shot, and throughout the hour or so I listened to it, I found it to be enjoyable. Zane Lowe’s schtick of super loud and sound-effect-filled interludes gets old really fast, but he does pick some really great tunes.

The Connect section is by far the biggest head-scratcher of this experience. Connect is supposed to be a place where artists can post new videos, photos or songs that users can “Love,” comment on or share via the traditional iOS share menu. My Connect section consisted of some really boring photos and videos from a handful of bands I was following (follows are based on who you chose in the initial music personality test). Since launch, only two artists have posted something. There’s also no notifications for when an artist posts anything new. With Twitter, Facebook, Bandsintown, etc. already dominating the social aspect of music, I doubt that there will be any room for this feature.

The last section is My Music, which is your home for your personal collection of existing iTunes music and tracks you add from Apple Music. Nothing new here.

What really drew me into the Apple Music ecosystem is its integration with Siri. In just two days, it has completely changed my listening experience at home and in the car. While plugged into a charger, I can say “Hey Siri, play the newest album from Jamie XX” and with only a delay of a few seconds the first track from that album is playing. Theres so many great commands for Siri and Apple Music that have made it almost indispensable. It works just ok in my car, but that– unfortunately–is due to my cars outdated bluetooth technology. Is it weird that Apple Music has made me want to get a newer car?

An updated version of iTunes was made available to Mac users later in the day on June 30th as well. As with Spotify, I do all of my power listening and playlist creation through the desktop app. The desktop app is where Spotify wins by a very wide margin. Spotify has made it so incredibly easy to create playlists and share tracks with friends. Apple has inexplicably made this difficult to do with iTunes. It takes a minimum of three steps from an initial search to get a track into a playlist on iTunes. On Spotify, you can either select to add to a playlist through a menu or simply drag and drop a song in 1 to 2 steps.

There are so many things that Spotify offers over Apple Music that I can’t justify switching completely to Apple Music. The social aspect alone is enough to make me not switch. Being able to share tracks and see what my friends are listening to has been invaluable, and it’s something that I can’t see myself living without. While Spotify lacks a hearty ‘New Releases’ menu, they make up for it by creating a personally curated list of newly released songs each Tuesday that provides way more than just big name artists. Even the little things, like displaying the newest release from an artist prominently at the top of that artist’s profile and being able to control your desktop app with your phone app, have become staples in my music listening experience.

Apple Music has a very long way to go before it can catch up to Spotify. The music catalog may be marginally bigger on Apple Music, but that and Siri integration alone are not going to make me switch just yet. I’m certainly excited to see improvements and new features get added to Apple Music over time, but for now, my allegiance remains with Spotify.

For more on Apple Music and other streaming services, listen to the episode of Tech Table embedded below.

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