When Spotify released a few years back, I was skeptical as to what influence it would have on music. I was stuck on the idea of “owning” the music that took residency in my iTunes library. This held me back from joining Spotify’s streaming service. I kept telling myself that I would freak out if it crashed, but eventually I caved and joined in on the phenomenon that is music streaming. I was hooked by the idea of making playlists available offline. That’s what did it for me. And for years, Spotify seemed the best option for streaming your music. Those days are over. This is our first look at the newly released Apple Music.
July 1st marked the release of Apple’s new streaming platform, and already, it has received mixed reviews. Of course we’re going to compare it to Spotify, but is the software really that much better? I’ll look at a few factors to assess its benefit.
The Platform itself
As you download the update to OSX or iOS, you find the new colourful iTunes icon beaming up at you. Opening it, you’re faced with an option to instantly personalise your Apple Music experience. Red bubbles float on the display as they ask you to pick out your favourite genres, delete ones you hate, double clicking those you absolutely love. On the next screen, artists pop up in bubbles, for which you follow the same process. You can refresh artists until you come up with a list personalised just for you, according to your genre preferences selected earlier.
I liked this touch, though it was a little clunky. As I was thrown straight into a personalised experience, I was glad to not be bombarded with classical and heavy metal new releases that I couldn’t care less about. The platform focuses on what you, and you alone, want to hear. So, that’s a nice feature.
The interface itself is separated into seven sections. My music, which looks much the same as the iTunes library you were once familiar with. Playlists, which lines up the format you will be able to easily recognise as traditional to iTunes. For you, in which you will find suggested artists, albums, playlists constructed by the “music experts” (our guess is coders) behind the scenes at Apple: this isn’t one of the huge 200 song playlists Spotify often create, but a succinct 20-30 song playlist, with strict themes suited just for you. New, is a section which looks much the same as the iTunes store, but allows you to select albums and songs you like by “Add to My Music,” and straight off the bat, you’ll find the selection dropped straight into your iTunes library (which operates entirely in the cloud). You can do the same for music videos, and iTunes sessions, and so on.
The section Apple touted as the main feature to the platform was Radio. Again, they’ve collaborated with the Beats brand name (which they acquired for an icy three billion last year) to create radio stations which run along similar themes, 24/7, 365 days of the year. You can tune in and out as you wish. Themes vary across charting now to op hits, all the way to hip-hop, blues, classical - then there’s Beats 1, which runs ALL of the time. Tuning into Beats 1 picks up from where it is left off. Meaning everyone around the world tuning into Beats 1 is listening to the same track, in real time.
You can also get amongst the social media aspect with their new Connect section, in which you can share, comment and like what you, your friends or artists you follow, are doing on the platform.
And, of course, the iTunes store is still available. They don’t push you as such to purchase, but the option is there if you’re like me, and like to “own” the music you’re listening to.
How will it fare compared to Spotify?
The platform is a little hard to use at first. You’re jumping between new and for you sections constantly, without even knowing it. Transitions are sharp and fast, so they need to do some work on perfecting the feel of using the platform. But it competes with Spotify on every other level apart from the social aspect. You can make artist’s entire discography available offline; the selection of available music is far more comprehensive. Being able to save music to your library is a nice touch too. However, Spotify has an amazing platform, which I have grown used to, and it will take me a while to adjust to the new platform. I also liked that all my friends were on Spotify, sharing playlists was a big thing for me personally. Hopefully Apple will bring this in with updates to come.
The three month free trial period will probably help ease a few people into the swing of things.
Cost, usability, and the road ahead
Mainly, I’m concerned with the cost. You can jump in as an ‘individual’ or ‘family’. Individuals pay $13 a month, which is cheap as chips. Families, with up to 6 members, share a cost of around $20 a month, which not only reduces the cost significantly, but still allows individual account access for each member.
The platform runs across my iPad, iPhone, and Macbook. It’s comprehensive, and all stuck in the cloud - but I can bring playlists down to be available offline on any of these platforms whenever I wish.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with what Apple have done here. Yes, it will take me a while to get used to the platform, but I have the same problem every time a new iOS or OSX is released. They’re a few years behind on the trend, and it almost seems like Apple has caved to keep up with the pace Spotify set, but I have no doubt that with a few updates, some consumer feedback, and a touch of creative flair characteristic of the Apple design team, Apple Music will become bigger, and better, than anything Spotify can produce.
Even Taylor Swift is on board with this one.