For nearly three months now I have pushed aside my beloved Spotify and instead relied entirely on Apple Music for all of my music needs. To say it has been a rocky relationship is probably an understatement, but while there have been some real lows, there have also been some great highs. Now though, at the end of the three month free trial, I need to decide whether I commit fully to Apple Music, and start to pay £9.99 a month for the service, or whether I return to the comfort of my existing Premium Spotify membership. Three months ago my Apple fanboy instinct would have predicted that this would be an easy decision, but now, I'm simply not so sure.
Let's start by looking at what's holding me back, and then we'll take a look at the good aspects of Apple Music.
Reliability. When it comes to a music streaming service I want something that I can just turn on and listen to. I don't want to have to jump through any hoops. With Apple Music this has been the case some of the time, but not always. For the first few weeks of Apple Music I had major issues with getting even simple things to work. In iTunes on Windows for example it was impossible to change the genre on the 'New' page (this is where you go to discover new music), and in OS X this also didn't work for the first few days. I've had other issues too from songs refusing to play at all, to the app 'loosing' music that I've added to my music. As time has progressed this seems to have improved and for the most part everything now works just as you'd expected. I guess that some of these teething troubles are to be expected with a brand new service, but I worry that they may have scared away new users who only stuck with Apple Music for the first few days or weeks.
Offline listening, or maybe not. Late last month and early this month I was away on holiday in the US, and while I was away I used the Three Feel At Home service to continue using my normal UK data plan abroad (if you go on holiday a bit you should really take a look at this). For the most part this works really well, but from time to time the connection can be a little slower than it is in the UK, although this is to be expected when you think about it. This seemed to cause big issues for Apple Music though and at times rendered it almost completely useless. Now the answer to this is offline syncing which allows you to store songs from Apple Music to your device so that you can listen to it without an internet connection. Before leaving I went through the service and synced about 30 albums to my phone so that I could listen to them while I was away, but when I actually got to a place without an internet connection I found that only half of those had actually synced to the device. I had to restart the app, and the phone, and then re-sync those albums just to get them to download. Eventually everything worked out and the albums were successfully saved to my device, but it's confusing behaviour like this that really turns me off a service.
Ease of use? Typically Apple products are known for their ease of use. Usually you can pick up an Apple product and in no time at all know exactly how to use it. With Apple Music this is a little different, and it really takes a little time to truly figure out how to use it. This is a major downside for Apple Music though as it means for people who look at it only quickly, they may not realise how powerful it can actually be. You could easily miss how you can add music to you 'My Music' section so that it appears as if it is part of your normal library, or you might not know that you can save music to your device for offline listening. I'm sure this will improve as time goes by, and Apple figures out what people want from this service, but right now it's still something that needs work.
Beats 1. I'm not really sure if this is a con, but it's a point I want to make anyway. I don't really like Beats 1. I've tried a few times to get into it, but the variety of music they play just isn't my thing, and as I've said on the podcast before, as soon as a song comes on that I don't like I almost immediately turn it off. My issue with this isn't that they aren't playing the music I want to hear, after all my tastes are maybe not the most mainstream, but more that a lot of emphasis has been put on Beats 1. For example, the Music app on the Apple Watch now has a shortcut right to the Beats 1 radio station allowing you to easily play it in very few steps. What I hope to see is Apple start to diversify their Beats radio station brand, maybe with the introduction of additional radio stations that play different types of music. Hopefully if that happens I'll be able to become part of this worldwide radio station phenomenon, but until then I'll stick to my own music.
Playlists and radio. A couple of months ago I would have said that playlists were one of the major advantages that Spotify had over Apple Music. With time though the curated playlists of Apple Music have improved and become much more diverse, and from the looks of it it seems like this is going to continue. They still aren't quite as good as the playlists of Spotify, but they are certainly getting there. What makes up for this though are the genre radio stations that Apple Music provides. Unlike Beats 1 these are not 'manned' radio stations, but are instead essentially automated never ending playlists of music. This isn't a feature that is unique to Apple Music as Spotify is also able to do this (both also allow you to create a radio station for a particular song/artist), but the variation of music Apple Music radio station provides seems to suit me a little better. Like everything else this is something that I think Apple is going to continue to work on as time progresses, and I'm very excited about this.
Music discovery. Alright, I admit it, I was wrong about this. At the start of the Apple Music trial I never thought I'd use the music discovery services of Apple Music, but I was wrong. Over time the 'new' tab in my Music app has become increasingly more tailored to my taste, and I've actually found myself listening to the albums and playlists that it suggests. There's still the occasional odd item in there, but for the most part the suggestions it makes are actually relevant. I'm hoping that as you use the service more these suggestions will continue to improve, especially as Apple gathers more and more data about the musical habits of it's users.
Library: Essentially everything I've wanted has been on Apple Music. Admittedly there have been a couple of situations in which albums I've been looking for haven't been on Apple Music, but these have been albums from small groups that I would be more than happy to buy to support the artist. In one of these situations the album I was looking for was on Spotify, but in the others they haven't been. Like Is said at the start of this paragraph, the short story here is that the music library for Apple Music has pretty much everything you could want, at least in my experience.
Integration. Apple Music is Apple's own thing, and it's because of this that Apple Music is integrated right into the native experience on OS X, iOS and even Apple Watch. I can do things like ask my Apple Watch to play the newest album by a particular artist, and the music will just start playing on my iPhone. I can use Spotlight on iOS to search for my favourite song and it will pop up right there ready to be played with just a single tap. I can launch iTunes on my Mac and search for a song, just as I would if it was in my library, and results from Apple Music will be displayed as if my library suddenly contained every song ever written (alright, that's a bit of an exaggeration). This, for me, is the major selling point of Apple Music. Spotify, and other services like it, just aren't as well integrated into the whole experience. I hope that over time these services will become more integrated by releasing their own Apple Watch apps and using the new features of iOS 9 to tie in more closely to things like search and Siri, but honestly I doubt they'll ever be able to match the system level integration of Apple Music. As I mentioned before, right now if I load the Music app on my Apple Watch there is a shortcut to let me play Beats 1 with just one tap.
For me then, as someone who lives quite happily inside the walled garden of Apple-ness, it's that last pro that seals the deal. I'm going to take the leap and switch to Apple Music. From my three months of testing I've found that Apple Music is able to do pretty much everything else that the competitors can, all while being part of the native experience. Sure, it's had it's problems, but at the end of the day I know that I'll still be able to use Spotify if I need to, albeit as a free member and with the occasional add. I'm not exactly 100% sure my future with Apple Music will be without issues, but I have a good feeling that as time passes the services is just going to improve, and as we see future versions of OS X, iOS and watchOS I have no doubt that Apple Music will become ever more integrated.
For you this decision may be a little different. I'm already someone who is sold on music streaming services as they allow me to listen to both the music I listen to regularly, and the songs I listen to every once in a while, all while costing me less than buying an album or two a month. That made this decision just a case of choosing which streaming service to go for. The other music streaming services are all good alternatives though, be it the free or premium versions of Spotify, Google Play Music, Rdio, or even Amazon Prime Music if you already have a Prime subscription. If you aren't already sold on music streaming it's something that I would definitely recommend giving a go as the flexibility it provides is really very nice. At the end of the day it's all a case of finding what fits you best. I think I've done that, but I guess only time will tell.
I may have made my decision, but have you? Let me know in the comments if you think that Apple Music is worth the £9.99 a month subscription, or if you'd go with a different option. You never know, you might even be able to change my mind!
Music Apple OS X iOS iTunes 2015