Apple Music review: Is it worth picking up?

2 Jul 2015

As many iPhone owners are now aware, Apple’s update to iOS 8.4 saw the release of Apple Music, its effort to establish itself in the music-streaming market. But how does it fare against the established competitors?

It seems we can’t get enough of paying for music these days, what with Apple Music coming on to the scene to join Google, Spotify, Deezer, Pandora and even Jay Z’s Tidal, which has massively misjudged the market with its €20 per month subscription fee.

The only problem that is becoming abundantly clear from all these services coming online is that they are all getting rather similar both in how much they charge users per month (€9.99 per month across the board) to how they curate their music.

So what does Apple hope Apple Music will offer ahead of the granddaddy, Spotify, with its 20m paying subscribers?

As a disclaimer, I’m going to say straight off the bat that I own an iPhone but for the last few months have been using Google Play Music.

Apple Music and setting it up

First of all, it has to be made clear that all those MP3 files you’ve stored on your phone since time immemorial are still there, so don’t fear that it’s going to completely mess with your music catalogue.

So in terms of what’s new, ‘For You’ is where you dive straight in to tell Apple Music what type of music you like, much like any of the other services.

But, it has to be said, the process of curating your genre choices looks more like an online mini-game as the more you tap a genre, the more it grows in search results.

Similarly, by holding down a genre it makes sure it never pops up in your suggestions (bye, bye country music) so that made the usually laborious process that bit more enjoyable than just picking from lists.

And then you come to curating specific artists like all the other music streaming services and, just like those, I don’t really like selecting artists as it tends to shoehorn in one band a little too much.

This seems to be the case again with Apple Music with only a handful of options to choose from, leaving me with a playlist of John Lee Hooker and Coldplay in a rather awkward combo.

Apple Music UI

Image via Connor McKenna

Apple Music UI

One of the biggest reasons for me deciding to go with Google Play Music is its UI, which is pretty to look at, but also makes it pretty clear what everything does, unlike Spotify, which I feel is obviously functional but a little too dark for my liking.

With Apple Music, I feel that again it’s completely functional and looks fine, but doesn’t pop out at you and looks more like what I’d imagine the equivalent of a music-streaming spreadsheet would look like.

It all follow the same format, with the clickable ellipses to access the options, including downloading for offline listening as well as including a short blurb on the artist or album’s history.

Apple Music does improve in the ‘New’ section, however, with some colour and nice photography behind the genre headings.

Apple Music suggestions

And it is in the New section where I feel Apple Music has something of an edge over competitors in that its human-curated playlists actually look like they’re put together by people who know something about music, whereas Google Play Music’s is a little bit sterile.

‘Intro to…’ followed by that band name gives a good platform to try out a new artist and see if they’re to your taste as well as ‘Family Tree’, which offers a historical look at a band’s history, such as its playlist of The Rolling Stones’ side projects.

Other services offer supposedly curated services, but this is something I’d be happy to stick on during an afternoon with the knowledge I’m probably going to like what I hear.

It also has a rather large catalogue behind it, including this little-known artist called Taylor Swift…

Apple Music Family Tree

Image via Connor McKenna

Apple Music and Beats One radio

Probably what Apple think is its USP is Beats 1, the first music-streaming radio station that’s actually a radio station, with DJ Zane Lowe as its figurehead.

This is something I’ve always felt was lacking from the likes of Spotify or Google who, despite having the market, failed to take advantage of the fact they have millions of people tuning into their services daily, as well as accessing podcasts on other services, so why not offer them in one?

As a 24-hour radio station, I’m firmly behind the concept, but I have to admit most of the music I’ve heard isn’t to my taste and is quite similar to one of Lowe’s old employers — BBC Radio 1.

Yet I’m quite willing to admit that not being to my tastes means absolutely nothing to the millions of people who are more into pop and R&B than me, who appear to enjoy it, albeit with a few repeats during the day.

Apple Music colourful menu

Image via Connor McKenna

Apple Music: verdict

Like I said at the very beginning, it’s very hard to dismiss one music streaming service over another with many of them offering almost the exact same products for the exact same prices.

It’s a fine music streaming service and, for many people, the addition of an actual radio station and some obvious human touches give it an advantage over others.

I definitely think it’s better than Spotify but would personally find it hard to be convinced to move from Google Play Music just for a radio station, which people on the internet have found a way around anyway.

It’s a solid service that will likely get better as time goes on so a firm recommendation from me (if you haven’t already got Google Play Music, that is).

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic