- 35 million track catalogue
- Access to Beats 1 24/7 radio station
- Integrated iTunes Match support to add own music collection
- 256kbps AAC audio quality
- Apple Connect social network platform
- Works only with iOS devices
What is Apple Music?
Launched back in June 2015, Apple Music is an all-you-can-fit-in-your-ears streaming service that’s designed with iPhones in mind. But it also works via an Android app and on desktops.
While the iTunes Store revolutionised how people bought music, here Apple is playing catch-up with other streaming services from Google and, in particular, Spotify. But does its closer integration with Apple’s hardware make it a more tempting proposition over rivals?
Apple Music – Usability and design
On desktop, Apple Music is part of iTunes. That will immediately put off a lot of people; Apple’s ageing jukebox software can be pretty clunky, but the streaming service is quite neatly integrated.
At the top of the page are five tabs: Library, For You, Browse, Radio and Store. On mobile, Store is replaced by Search (there’s a whole separate app for buying songs).
The Browse tab functions as a homepage, showing newly added music, playlists, popular songs and videos. For You and Radio will be discussed in more detail later but they’re fairly self-explanatory, offering personalised suggestions and traditional live radio shows respectively. The Store is where you go to buy individual songs or albums outright.
The search bar in the top-right now gives you the choice to look through your locally stored files or search Apple Music’s library for a song, artist, album or playlist. Annoyingly, it doesn’t separate albums and singles, so you often find yourself trawling through lots of singles even to find the most recent record.
If you listen to something regularly on Apple Music and want to add it to your own selection, you must first turn on iCloud Music Library, which essentially replaces any locally stored music with downloads from Apple Music.
It means your library and playlists are synced across devices but, when activated on mobile, removes your ability to manually transfer any obscure b-sides or live mixes that aren’t part of the Apple Music catalogue. That won’t be an issue for everyone, but it’s worth being aware of.
Why buy an Apple Music subscription?
As with a lot of Apple services, Apple Music makes most sense if you commit to it wholeheartedly. Without turning on iCloud Music Library you lose a chunk of important functionality, but doing so also restricts how you can use your phone to listen to your existing music library. It’s needlessly prescriptive and requires the user to make a compromise in one area or another.
While Apple Music does sound better than Spotify, these restrictive usability issues really spoil it. There’s no guarantee this will forever be the case, but while Apple continues to force users to turn on iCloud Music Library just to download songs to their phones, and its discovery features lag behind, Spotify will be the better choice for the majority of music fans.