Apple Music

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For those of you who have followed the many, many outlets I’ve used in the past for blogging, you may remember a few years ago the difficulty with which I managed to get a Spotify account. Signing up & paying for a service from Ireland had never been so tortuous. Luckily they eventually, legitimately, came to our shores & for the last few years I’ve been a paying customer.

I pay Spotify €10 per month because I love music. I love discovering new music. I love Spotify’s playlist functionality. I setup playlists for car journeys, airplanes, work, etc.

So, I was on vacation last month in California and took the opportunity to watch the WWDC keynote from Apple in Twitter’s office. While chowing down on a breakfast burrito being washed down with a Mimosa, I watched a horribly awkward (by Apple standards) presso featuring the brand new Apple Music service. An anticipated and expected update to iTunes featuring streaming music.

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A few weeks later, Apple bestowed their Musical goods to our devices through an update to the Music iOS app and iTunes on the Mac.

How does it compare?

Well, it compares quite favourably for the most part. I’ve never been a fan of iTunes’ design and this doesn’t change in this update. I reckon it’s very convoluted and a bit confusing. I can see some elements being obvious, but Apple’s choices in design & navigation within the app (on both iOS & OS X) obfuscates some elements of it. For example, it’s really difficult to find playlists and content posted by followed artists or curators. Spotify definitely trumps Apple on this.

One thing Apple absolutely trumps Spotify on is curated lists. Their playlists are amazing. You definitely get the sense that they spent a long time thinking about what kind of music people will listen to. Everything from the obvious (‘best of’ Jamie xx etc.) to the more obscure (metal workout). I wish it was a little easier to make my own playlists and find them easily thereafter. That said, thanks to these curated lists I’ve been discovering more new music (or old music I hadn’t heard before) than I would normally through Spotify’s discovery pieces.

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The other big win for Apple is their ability to parse my ‘likes’ (a heart that appears everywhere, even on the lock screen on iOS), listens and added playlist content into useful music recommendations. They recommend albums as well as curated playlists that might be of interest to me, based on prior interactions. Whatever algorithm they’re using is working well for me, because m my music tastes range quite dramatically so getting the right set of recommendations can be a bit difficult – and has been a challenge for Spotify for sure (Spotify seems to only care about the last 10-or-so things you do).

On top of curated lists to discover music, Apple including a radio component (as in, you don’t choose the music & a DJ talks occasionally) is genius. Someone I’ve followed for years has been Zane Lowe. I remember his old shows on MTV introducing me to new music, especially when he had a heavy focus on hard rock & metal (I’ll always remember his irrational hate of Tool). When he flicked to BBC Radio 1 his show was a source of so much new music for me. Now he, and others, present shows every day (repeated 12 hours after initial broadcast – which actually puts Lowe’s show at an awkward time for me). Even better, Apple Music puts all the music featured on their shows in playlists after the show. But this has, by far, been the best way to have background noise and even just really solid music discovery in the app. And it’s the kind of thing only Apple could have executed upon properly.

The big question is fairly obvious at this point: is Apple Music good enough to cancel my Spotify subscription? I reckon so. My gripes are small compared to the overall service offering provided here. Plus, Apple is free for the next two and a half months, so it feels almost criminal to not take advantage of that, to the detriment of Spotify.

And a cursory poll of my friends & cohorts suggests that my attitude is the prevailing one. I reckon a lot of people are going to abandon ship from Spotify. Even worse for Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and anything else that exists out there, all iOS/Mac devices out there will have Apple Music heavily baked into every device from the moment they’re turned on. Apple will undoubtedly disrupt the existing music streaming markets, but they’ll also expand it quite heavily. Spotify – and everyone else’s – job is to find a niche they can comfortably sit into to avoid Apple.