Apple Music review: It's good but is it great?

The music streaming service has been in the works for over a year, ever since Apple acquired Beats Electronics for $3 billion (£1.9 billion) back in May 2014..

It brings streaming, internet radio, and social networking altogether in one application, but the real focus is on exploration, recommendation and curation.

Music for all

Hitting the Music icon for the first time, Apple Music seems like a gargantuan service. It doesn’t stick to one focus point like Twitter or Spotify, but like a crowded market points you in the direction of all the luxury products on offer - making the experience feel overwhelming at first.

Apple Music

The sheer amount of content on Apple Music means settling down to one album is hard, unless you turn the screen off and don’t look at Apple Music until the album is finished. The amount of curated playlists; top of the charts and recommended music is insane, a testament to Apple’s large investment in music.

In my first two hours with Apple Music I went from Keane, to the Rolling Stones, to Nicky Romero, to Florence and the Machine and ended listening to the top five tracks in the alternative genre.

That is something that never happens on Spotify, because on Spotify curation is not front and centre, and the curated playlists aren’t that great either.

Apple Music’s curation system offers a wide range of content, but the investment into recommendations and new releases is also very apparent. Apple wants to make its music streaming service larger than the rest, but that isn’t always a good thing.

Building a profile

To achieve a strong variation of content, Apple Music listeners need to dabble. At the start, Apple will present a list of bubbles, first song genres, second artists. One tap will add an interest in the genre, two taps makes the genre or artist a favourite.

This will build an Apple Music profile and we would advise picking quite a few genres and a lot of artists. It gives Apple Music more to work off. When listening to music, users can give it a heart, which adds more information into the curation and recommendation system.

Apple is using algorithms for the main For You curation page, but it also has guest editors from NME, DJ Mag and Rolling Stone. It is pushing the fact it has human curators, but for the most part algorithm playlists and top of the charts is the main bulk of music.

Interface issues

One of the most common problems on Apple Music is the lack of user interface harmony. The search bar, for example, is not a universal search, instead there are five search menus inside each page. This means searching for an artist in For You will not show up on New, but will remain on For You until the user backs out of the search. That is terribly confusing, keeping the search in a dormant mode until you return the page.

The My Music page is particularly frustrating, with a list of pre-loaded playlists that have no music, and serve no purpose. Apple does this a lot, not just on Apple Music but iOS in general, auto-creating things they believe users will enjoy, which really serve no purpose other than to clog the screen.

Apple Music

The extremely small Edit and New buttons for playlists are another annoyance, considering the buttons are the most important on the My Music page yet the smallest. Apple just does not understand clean design sometimes, shoving too much nonsense while not focusing on the functions that matter.

Going into the Currently Playing overlay, Apple again stumbles. It has a share button in the bottom left, yet also has a share button in the bottom right menu. Again, why does Apple need to have two of the same buttons on the same page, when users will naturally gravitate towards pressing one if they want to share?

Apple Music does have some areas where it manages to keep the interface clean. For You is the best example, with a long list of albums and curated playlists for users to enjoy.

Beats 1

It is hard to say Beats 1 has been revolutionary in any sense, although the music selection is engrossing for people that enjoy Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga. Apple is also padding out the lineup with a large list of guest stars, although this can only last so long before they become underwhelming.

Beats

The problem with Beats 1 is the lack of advertising leads to a lot of promotion for Beats 1. At the beginning, end and sometimes middle of a song, there will be a “BEATS 1, ALWAYS ON” segment that becomes irritating after a few hours.

There’s also the issue of Beats 1 being the only radio station outfitted with DJs, with BBC World Service the only other non-playlist station. We would love to see some variety, like Capital or BBC Radio 1, to fill out the service in the UK.

It's a social network...for music

Connect seems to be Twitter without all of your friends and people outside the industry. It is a good source of high quality photos of live performances, but right now artists are not actively using it to promote behind the scenes footage or unreleased tracks, things that will hook the users in.

The whole point of Connect is to have fans get closer to artists, by receiving unique content unavailable anywhere else. The problem is when all of this content is photos, it starts to become less and less valuable, especially when fans want videos, long posts and unreleased material.

Depending on the success of Apple Music, we might see artists start to become more active on Connect.

Conclusion

Apple Music does a good job at providing a million ways to find music, and that is not a bad thing as users can listen to music whatever way is more comfortable. Discovering new music is easy, listening to older playlists is available in bulk, and creating your own is also available albeit hidden away with a confusing interface.

The interface problems should be solved in upcoming updates. In time, we will see more radio stations appear unless Apple wants some monopoly on internet radio. Most of the features that are a current mess can be fixed by external sources, if the service becomes popular enough.

Competition

The competition Apple faces includes: Tidal, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play All Access and Deezer.

Deezer and Spotify have a limited amount of tracks due to most indie labels not accepting freemium models. Rdio is slightly different and offers a free, ad-supported internet radio.

Another quirk with Rdio is their tiered system that offers Radio free ( the ad-supported streaming radio that is automatically customised around any genre, activity, mood or region) Rdio Select for $3.99/month, which provides ad-free streaming radio, and on-demand song downloads (25 new songs a day), Rdio Unlimited for $9.99/month which does what it says on the tin.

Tidal and Google Play All Access both come for $9.99, the same price as Apple Music. Tidal has similar music related content, like tickets, early exclusive content and video, but lacks the depth Apple Music has added to its own platform.

Google Play All Access does not have the off-topic content, but does off a fantastic user interface for finding music and storing it over a large variety of platforms. Apple Music is planning to launch on Android, but it still lacks the interface Google has built.

Overall, Apple Music is on the upper end for music streaming. It is the definite winner when it comes to family accounts, costing $14.99 for four people.

Rdio have also catered for the family and offer Rdio Unlimited Family which ranges from $14.99/month for two accounts up to $29.99/month for five Rdio unlimited accounts.

This article was first published by GosuTech.