Apple Music: One month later

We've been living with Apple Music, Beats 1, and Connect for almost a year. Here's what's working — and what's really not.

Since its debut last June, Apple Music has had its fair share of raves, critiques, and utter frustrations. The service's attempt to blend subscription music with your own tracks has come at a rather confusing cost — so much so that we ended up writing a book about the process.

We've been using and living through Apple Music's ups and downs since launch: Here's what we're still thinking, nine months in.

Bullet points first: What do you like about Apple Music?


Serenity

For You is the service's pride and joy, and it shows. Mixtapes have been part of our culture since we could buy recordable media, and Apple's digital iterations are smartly-made, full of great selections, and great at exposing you to new music.

I'm also still enjoying Beats 1 — I don't listen to it daily, but it's a great way to ease into the work day or listen to some new and interesting selections while I'm in the car. Sometimes, the online radio station knocks it out of the park —  as when I turned it on after Prince's death and got a 3+ hour mix of his music, followed by artists inspired by the performer.


Rene

For my use case, it's close to perfect. All I've ever wanted is to think of a song and be able to find and play it almost instantly. Apple Music + Siri give me that. I can say "Play Smooth Criminal", "Play Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm", "Play Smooth Criminal by Glee" and it just plays.

I left the movie theater after watching Straight Outta Compton a couple of months ago and asked for Ice Cube song after Ice Cube song on the drive home, and they just played.

Magic.


Bader

Apple Music has been consistently good at surfacing music, through its For You playlists, that I already love or am confident will grow to love. I spend most of my day listening to music, and since subscribing to AM have rarely been wanting for tunes that are just right for that moment. Moreover, the general themed playlists, be it Jazz or Indie, are always worth checking out.

Elsewhere, from album availability to sound quality, Apple Music is competitive with, but not superior to, the rest of the industry. Besides Tidal exclusives (hey, Bae!) I always look forward to what Apple Music has in store on the New tab every Friday.


Mikah

I LOVE Apple Music playlists. Whether they're playlists featuring a specific artist (intro to artist / artist: deep cuts) or lists curated for specific activities (there are some damn-good playlists in the "Getting It On" category), Apple Music playlists are a great way to discover new artists, resurface old favorites, or just find familiar tunes.

I also used to be quite fond of the For You section of Apple Music, but I've fallen out of the habit of heart'ing music I enjoy and tossing music I don't. Because I don't routinely tell Apple Music what I like and don't like, it's not as smart about recommending music I'll enjoy.


Lory

I really like the For You feature. The more I like and dislike tracks, the more I listen to specific genres, the more better the playlists get. I've discovered a lot of bands that I didn't know I would like, and rediscovered bands I had forgotten all about thanks to recommended playlists in Apple Music.

I'm also a fan of downloading songs for offline listening and then removing them from my device later. I will stack my iPhone with my favorite albums for a long road trip and then remove them all when I get back. It saves space and makes the shuffle feature so much better than having thousands of songs to go through.

Probably my favorite part of Apple Music is being able to listen to music the day it is released. I like to listen to new tunes on Apple Music, and then if I like what I hear, I can run out to my local record store to buy it on vinyl.

What's still frustrating you?


Serenity

I have many gripes with the service, top of the list being its incomprehensible container applications. iTunes has been in terrible need of a redesign for years, now, and the Music app's rethinking in iOS 9 was, quite frankly, a dud. There are good parts — the mini-player is excellent, as is easy access to For You — but if it's too complicated for me, it's definitely too complicated for my non-tech friends.

My other big quibble: Matching. I have had to explain how Apple Music matches your local library on at least three separate occasions, and people are still confused. I understand that Apple wants to give you your music library on all your devices, and it's a noble goal. But matching rather than uploading that library leads to more hurt than it's worth: Apple Music's files are DRM-encumbered, and that can lead to all sorts of madness if your primary library gets compromised.

Apple has a great matching service that works with DRM-free tracks: iTunes Match. If people want all their music on all their devices, why not make that Match's selling point, and silo Apple Music to music subscriptions? Matching your files to DRM-locked streaming content is just a terrible idea.


Rene

Music.app on iOS is incoherent, which is ironic given its stated design goal. It tries to serve too many use cases which ultimately means it serves none well. I totally get that Apple didn't want to leave any legacy customers behind, but the best Apple is the opinionated one that relentlessly—even ruthlessly—pursues the future.

Music.app, at launch, was the equivalent of shipping a MacBook with a floppy drive. And that doesn't end well for anyone.


Bader

While Apple respects the album, it's clear it doesn't love the album. I came from Rdio, which truly understood how to package and convey full albums as individual works of art, with professional and user-submitted reviews, and curated artist views. As someone who spends a lot of time descending through the canons of particular artists or bands, I find Apple Music wanting in that regard. Perhaps it is the lineage of iTunes, which normalized the purchase of singles over albums, but there needs to be a greater deference to the format that, I still believe, deserves the kind of human-curated attention given to other aspects of Apple Music.


Mikah

I still run into weird issues when I'm setting up a new device or syncing content across my different iOS and OS X devices. By "weird issues," I mean my music library sometimes fails to download, sync my hearts, and keep track of the playlists, albums, and songs I've added from Apple Music.


Lory

I hate the search engine. When I search for an artist, I'll get all manner of suggestions. Then, I'll select an artist and go to the album list. Albums are all whacked out and don't make any sense. An album that originally came out 20 years ago will be listed as having come out five years ago just because Apple Music is using some remastered version. I like to look at bands' discographies in chronological order and will go through music from first to most recent to listen to their growth and progress over time. Apple Music makes that pretty much impossible without having to go elsewhere to find out the album listening.

Beats 1: Always on? Or kind of off?


Serenity

I listen to specific shows, though it's rare I'll turn it on randomly. Folks like Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga, and Josh Homme all have interesting tastes and a willingness to play all sorts of fascinating music you wouldn't normally hear on the station, and I really like tapping into their brain now and again.

Beats's big problem right now is reaching the folks who aren't fans of popular music and want a more eclectic feel all the time — not just when one of the specialty shows is on. More Beats stations would be a welcome addition, especially if they focused on classical music and the like; Apple's pre-made algorithmic radio stations just don't do it.


Rene

Love it. Whenever I want music but don't know what I want, Apple Music is there.

It reminds me of how I used to listen to terrestrial radio back when that was still a non-terrible thing.

If Apple did a Beats 2 or Beats 3, I'd be down.


Bader

Never on. I dig the idea, but too many times didn't vibe with the music. I'm not averse to giving it another go, though, and hope the Beats Radio brand receives attention at WWDC.


Mikah

Nope, nope, nope. I've listened to it a couple of times, but Beats 1 just isn't my style. Firstly, I'm not keen on someone cutting into my music-listening experience while I'm trying to work or just jam. Secondly, I'm embarrassingly picky (though relatively eclectic) when it comes to the music I like to listen to.


Lory

I've only listened to Beats 1 for more than a few minutes once, and that was the day Prince died because they were playing all of his songs and influences all day. I find that most of the content on Beats 1 is too broad and easily digestible. I can admit that I haven't given it enough of a chance. Maybe there is something out there for me, but I prefer handpicking my music, even if it is from a suggested playlist.

Do you use iCloud Music Library? And if so, Apple Music, or is it coupled with iTunes Match?


Serenity

I use iCloud Music Library with three backups (local copy on my Mac, offline copy on an external drive, and a cloud copy via Dropbox), and with iTunes Match. I hate that iCloud Music Library is also paired with Apple Music, and wish Apple would separate the services — it's too complicated for pretty much anyone to understand. I've had no real problems with my mostly-mainstream local library, though I did have a few Beatles mis-matches in the early days.


Rene

I subscribed to iTunes Match the moment it was launched. Back then there was no Apple Music, Amazon didn't—and still doesn't—care about Canada, and there were no real alternatives to sync, store, or stream music between devices. And iTunes Match worked flawlessly for me.

So now, I guess, I use iCloud Music Library. I say 'I guess" because I'm not sure what iCloud Music Library does. Apple hopelessly conflated it with iTunes Match to the point where I don't think even they were able to explain it at launch. (Thank goodness for one Ms. Serenity Caldwell.)


Bader

Yes, and yes. No issues so far, though my collection, eclectic as it is, was not carefully manicured the way many peoples' are, and I love having all of my music accessible from the cloud, on any device. In fact, I am thinking of unsubscribing from iTunes Match this year, as the $27.99 CAD I pay annually no longer benefits me in any way now that The Beatles have uploaded their albums to Apple Music.


Mikah

I pay for iTunes Match and I have iCloud Music Library turned on. Honestly, I'm not sure what any of them do anymore. OK, so I'm being a little dramatic, but there are just too many syncing/storing/downloading services tied to my Apple Music and iTunes libraries.

As Serenity has noted, it'd be nice for Apple to decouple iTunes Match and Apple Music. It could help simplify the complex, arguably bloated system Apple currently has in place.


Lory

I use both Apple Music and iTunes Match with my iCloud Music Library. I actually only have about 300 uploaded albums (burned from CDs) because the majority of my music is on vinyl. So, I didn't have any problems with adding content to iTunes Match. Like Bader, I also didn't go through and meticulously tag, rename, or otherwise identify music after I uploaded it. About a third of my albums didn't even have artwork until I subscribed to iTunes Match. Much of my personal collection is obscure enough that Apple doesn't have it in the catalog, so I didn't experience any issues with getting mismatches for albums. I've been happy with the combination of iTunes Match and Apple Music in my iCloud Music Library.

Apple Music's streaming catalog: Does it suit your needs? Are you saving songs from it to My Music?


Serenity

This is one aspect of Apple Music I'm consistently impressed by, and really enjoy. I probably wouldn't have bought Radiohead's new album sight-unseen, but because of Apple Music, I was able to rock out to the siren sounds of Burn the Witch and feel confident dropping $12.99. I do wish finding new artists and albums was a bit easier than just randomly stumbling across something in For You, though.

Anything I want to find again, I save — in part because Apple's search features are so painful.


Rene

The Apple Music catalog seldom disappoints. When business gets in the way, like with Beyonce's Lemonade, I just buy it in iTunes, and it automagically becomes available through Siri just like the streaming stuff. It's the bomb.

I don't save songs, though. I find that interface, again, incoherent. Save and download are one too many options. I'd be happier with some single caching system that just kept stuff local for me and used on-demand resources to manage it. Yeah, some people would complain the song they pinned six months ago and never listened to since suddenly isn't available on a plane, but the simplicity would be worth it to me.


Bader

It's excellent, though my favorite album ever, Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, has some problems, including a live version in the place of the album's studio-recorded eponymous title track.

I do save songs to My Music, mostly in the form of beloved albums or nicely-curated For You playlists.


Mikah

Apple Music has never let me down, actually. It always has the music I want to listen to — except, as Rene noted, in cases where business gets in the way.

I'm constantly hitting that little plus sign to save music from Apple's streaming catalog to My Music. Most times I go ahead and hit the download button, too. I don't have a huge data package for my phone, so it's nice to save data for when I need it.


Lory

I've got fairly eclectic tastes when it comes to music. Much of what I'm looking for can be found on Apple Music, and anything that can't be, I'm not surprised by because that's been the case since digital music existed. When I search for rare, hard to find genres I'm always pleasantly surprised at how much Apple Music has. I think Spotify has a better selection of uncommon bands, but I'm still overall pleased with the Apple Music catalog.

I add songs to My Music all of the time. Whether it's an album I loved as a kid, but don't own anymore, or a playlist that Apple Music has suggested to me, my library is full of Apple Music tracks. I also use my "Recently Added" section to help me when I'm record shopping. If I really like an album, I'm going to try to find it on Vinyl and the Recently Added section is like my shopping list.

How's For you working… for you?


Serenity

As I said above, it's my favorite part of Apple Music and why I originally subscribed to its predecessor, Beats Music. Lots of great suggestions, and the catalog is constantly improving on the fly as I listen and rate more songs. I do wish I could ask For You — or Siri — to recommend me For You-style playlists when doing certain activities; you can dive into the full Activity Playlist section in the New tab, but it gives you every single driving playlist, rather than driving playlists you might personally enjoy.

Beats Music had a feature called "The Sentence" that was really quite wonderful for building you activity-based playlists; I'd love to see something like that pop up in Apple Music 2.0.


Rene

It's pretty great. Before For You, I only discovered new music if I heard it playing somewhere and Shazam'ed it, or if someone told me to listen to it. (Thanks for the Hamilton rec, Ren!). Now, if I'm bored and tapping around, I almost always find great stuff there.


Bader

It's my favorite feature, by a kilometer (that's a Canadian mile)! As I wrote in my first column for iMore, For You playlists have reduced my reliance on albums, since there always seems to be some set of tunes worth listening to. As a lover of mood-based Songza playlists (RIP, sweet Songza!), I find For You to be the best alternative. (Don't get me started on Google Play Music's so-called Songza integration — it's just bad.)


Mikah

As I noted before, For You used to be a fantastic discovery tool for me, but not so much anymore. You get out of For You what you put into it — I haven't been putting much into it.

That said, if you do regularly like or heart songs and carefully curate your For You tab in Apple Music, I can almost guarantee you'll get music you love and music you're bound to love.


Lory

Absolutely love For You. It's my go-to place for finding something to listen to while I'm working. If I don't know, for sure, what I want to hear, the For You list will present me with a bunch of options that I know I can get into.

The only issue I have with For You is that it periodically sticks in music that I am definitely not into. Artists that I've never played and don't have in my music library will show up, like Drake (no offense to Drake fans). How is this recommended for me when I've never expressed an interest in it before?

The New tab: do you use it?


Serenity

Only to find Activity playlists, honestly.


Rene

Sometimes. Not as much as For You but that's probably just because of my personal habits. I'm going to take a page from Bader's book and check it on Fridays.


Bader

Yep, mostly on Fridays. Unfortunately, as Apple is wont to do, the New tab heavily favors pop (and popular) albums and tracks over the lesser-known stuff that I tend to gravitate to. I'm not calling myself a music snob, but when Andrew Bird's excellent Are You Serious was released in March, it was nowhere to be found in the New tab. Spotify, however, surfaced the album near the top. I'd love Apple to use some sort of algorithm, as Rdio did, to bring the new albums it thinks I'd want to hear closer to the front of the list.


Mikah

The New tab is a confusing tab. See, it's not just new music, it's also where Apple's placed the many different playlists I was going on about before. If you scroll past the top section of New, you'll find Apple Editors Playlists, Activity Playlists, and Curator Playlists — there's gold in them thar playlists!

So short answer: Yes, I use the New tab. But I'd argue I don't use it quite for its intended purpose (i.e. discovering the latest tracks to hit the Apple Music catalog).


Lory

Not really. I'll check it out every once in a while, but I tend to only look up new music when I know from a different source that an album has dropped. I don't just browse the New section.

Connect or disconnect: How's the social stuff?


Serenity

Blechhh. Connect's not a bad behind-the-scenes idea, but I hate it as a prominent primary tab. Fine, let us subscribe to artists to get alerts for their new content, but don't make it show up in a social feed. And do let us subscribe to our friends' playlist-creations.

Ideally, Connect would work in the background, only visible when you tap on a specific artist or search for a user. And if you really wanted to follow that person's content, you could press a button to have their unreleased demos and photos show up in For You, instead.


Rene

I looked at it at launch and a few times thereafter, saw very little happening, and never went back. If Apple had wanted to venture into social music networking again, they should have hired a small army of social media people to literally sit with the biggest artists and Connect for them on a daily basis. Nothing short of that would have ensured even a base-level of success.


Bader

Hahahahaha.


Mikah

New phone, who dis?


Lory

I've literally never used Connect. I don't even know how to access it. I think I hid it when I first signed up for Apple Music. Out of sight, out of mind. I'd rather follow my favorite bands and artists on Instagram. That's funnier.

The Music app: What's working—and what's not?


Serenity

Mini-player's great, lots of ideas have promise. But the app itself is cluttered and confusing, with overly gigantic artwork and terribly small touch targets. It needs an iOS 10 rethink.


Rene

D'oh! I answered this above.


Bader

I mean, it's fine, but nothing special. The four-tab system works if you forget that Music is also meant to be the primary portal for locally-stored music. I no longer partake in such onerous activities, so the Music app is, for all intents and purposes, Apple Music, but I can see how the disparity would frustrate some people — as iTunes has been for years.


Mikah

Well … see … so the thing is …

On Fire by Gunshow "On Fire" by Gunshow

I kid, I kid. I think most of Apple Music is working — it's a streaming service that lets me listen to music on demand and has most of the music I love at the ready. That said, there's a lot of bloat and far too many nebulous syncing and storage settings — half the time I don't know exactly who/what/where/why/how my music is … mostly where.


Lory

I don't think I can be authoritative enough to say what's working or not in the Music app. I use it every day to listen to tunes on Apple Music or my personal collection via iTunes Match and the iCloud Music Library, but I also listen to my records every day. I'm way more concerned with whether a turntable has a decent needle, so it doesn't dig into my vinyl grooves, or whether the belt needs replacing. I still think of digital music as this sort of throwaway product. If I can't hold it in my hand, smell the dusty cardboard, feel the weight of the record, then it's just temporary, and I'm not that concerned with it.

iTunes and Apple Music: Dare we ask?


Serenity

Burn it to the ground, start over. Seriously. iTunes no longer needs to manage ten different things. Separate it into solitary apps, and it will be a lot less of a headache.


Rene

iTunes has an impossible job. It needs to satisfy a ridiculous amount of use cases, transit billions of dollars of transactions and be bundled in a way that it can easily be ported to Windows to sync iPod nano and shuffle

It's Apple's Windows XP—a legacy support nightmare that needs to be woken from without coding and never waking again.

Hopefully, Apple Music wasn't just one more convolution but a step towards breaking iTunes dependency.


Bader

I'm not saying that iTunes is good, but it's considerably less the tire fire it once was. On my Mac, the app loads quickly and rarely gets bogged down by my enormous music library, which is north of 35,000 songs.


Mikah

Do you mean the Mac app? Are you nodding your head right now? Who's actually asking these questions anyway?

So assuming you mean the Mac app, iTunes isn't all that bad in my (unpopular, I'm sure) opinion. In fact, I've had way more trouble with the iOS Music app than I ever have had with iTunes on my Mac! I feel like I've got more control of my music library on iTunes — I know the who/what/when/where/why/etc. when I'm viewing and interacting with my music on iTunes.

So maybe be nice to iTunes? For me?


Lory

I have no strong opinion about iTunes because I can count on one hand the number of albums I've purchased from it. I'm just not into buying digital music. See my answer above.

Are you using (or contemplating using) any other streaming services?


Serenity

I have Spotify (for the Amazon Echo and Discover Weekly playlists), and Amazon Prime Music (because of Amazon Prime. And also the Echo.) I think Apple Music's overall the better service to use, but I really like aspects of Spotify — specifically user playlist sharing, Discover Weekly, and its widespread support across various media devices.


Rene

No, but I'm a simple fellow and I don't listen to much music. Now video is a different story...


Bader

I also subscribe to Spotify, and I constantly go back and forth between the two services. I prefer Spotify's genre playlists, which are more granular and rarely play a song I don't like. I also love Discover Weekly, which is singlehandedly keeping many of my friends invested in the service.

But I tend to find myself drawn back to Apple Music for the short editorial blurbs written about special albums and playlists. It's not the better service, but now that Rdio is gone, it's the lesser of two evils.


Mikah

I'm one of those terrible humans who thinks it's necessary to subscribe to multiple music streaming services. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Look, I love Spotify. I was using Spotify before Apple Music ever came out and I've curated a bunch of playlists, ratings, albums, etc. on the service. There's no way I was going to give that up. So I use both Apple Music and Spotify on my iOS and Mac OS devices and use Amazon Prime Music on my Amazon Echo. COME AT ME, HATERS!


Lory

I used to listen to Spotify all of the time. I still think it is one of the best music streaming services around, especially because you can do so much with it for free. I'm also a fan of Amazon Music and Pandora. However, I'm so deeply tied to the Apple ecosystem in my house that it makes the most sense for me to subscribe to Apple Music. And, since I pay for it, I use it the most.

The bottom line


Serenity

Apple went all-in with features on Apple Music. Unfortunately, as with the Apple Watch, all-in was maybe a few too many features to go in on. Apple Music's core promise is wonderful: For the future, the company needs to focus on that, and not trying to do everything for everybody. It's okay to have separate services and options.


Rene

Apple bit off more than they could chew with Apple Music. Making one coherent thought around music was an impossible job that put unfair expectations and pressure on the service right out the gate.

It's gotten better over time but still needs a rethink. Music.app needs to be simplified and made opinionated. Apple did it with Final Cut and iWork, it can do it with Music. Apple Music should also never—not ever—touch personal music collections. Put them in a separate directly and lock them behind a unified view. Make data loss, even accidental, architecturally near-impossible.

And triple down on Siri. Natural language voice paired with ubiquitous music feels like the future. That's what Apple Music should feel like.


Bader

Apple Music is fine. It gets the job done. I have to admit, I don't listen to nearly as much music as I did in the Rdio days, and find myself wandering back to Overcast to listen to one of my many podcasts at the end of an album or playlist. I don't know whether it's the lack of a vibrant social community (which Rdio had) or the way it treats albums, but I treat AM more like a utility than an experience — which is disappointing, because it has the potential to be both.


Mikah

When it's all said and done, there are truly times where I contemplate ditching my Apple Music subscription and just sticking with Spotify. But — much to Serenity's dismay, I'm sure — I'm kind of afraid to unsubscribe. I'm worried it's going to royally screw up my carefully crafted (OK, not that carefully) music library. Plus there's the effort involved in searching and gathering all my saved Apple Music content on Spotify — avoiding that, alone, is worth the $10 a month.

I'm hoping Apple makes some serious, tough design decisions for Apple Music 2.0. Things need to be cleaned up, swept away, locked down, and simplified. That said, power features should be available for the people who want them. I know it's a lot to ask, but I think things could stand to be both simpler and, at the same time, more detailed. I want to be able to see information about where my music is being kept, what belongs to which service (Apple Music track? Purchased from iTunes? From Amazon? Ripped from a CD?), and what music is on which devices. Again, I know that's a lot to ask.

All in all, I'm not going to stop using Apple Music. It works for me, I just wish it worked better for me.


Lory

I love Apple Music. I always have a great experience using it. I can hit the Play button and just let the music flow. For someone like me, someone who has spent thousands of dollars on vinyl, Apple Music is great. It's not something I have to worry about or take into consideration. I can grab a half-dozen albums or playlists, downloading them for offline listening, and take them on the road. Or, I can stream the crap out of music while on Wi-Fi. It lets me spend more time fussing over whether those mylar sleeves I just bought are good enough quality for my records. Spoiler alert: they're not.

How is Apple Music working for you, nine months later? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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