I switched from a paid Spotify account to a paid Apple Music family plan earlier this month. Since doing so I've used the service nearly every single day via my Mac desktop, my iPhone, and my iPad. I've created playlists, downloaded tracks, loved and disliked albums, followed artists, used Siri's built-in "What's this song?" feature, and more. So I think I have had enough experience to jot down some observations of the service so far.
If you work at Apple and are reading this right now; first, thanks for listening to your customers. Second, you've doubled-down on Apple Music once in the past when you realized it wasn't good enough. I hope you do so again because the service could be excellent.
Here are my observations in no particular order. They are mostly negative, not because I dislike Apple Music overall but because the things I make note of the most are the things I expect to work well that haven't. And at the moment, I'd say that Spotify is "better" than Apple Music. That said, I see a lot of potential in Apple Music becoming incredibly good.
- Apple Music via iTunes is incredibly slow, difficult to navigate, and feels like it is on the cusp of being replaced. Slow may not even be the right word, because there are times when choosing an artist in Apple Music's search results in a blank screen in iTunes. It happens regularly. This leads me to believe that Apple will break apart the monstrosity that is iTunes sometime in the very near future and give us an Apple Music app.
- Apple Music via iOS is quick, easy to use, and even fun to play with. I'd wager the vast majority (like, 95%) of Apple Music's use is on iOS. If it were not, they already would have given us the standalone Apple Music Mac app.
- Song history sometimes doesn't sync between devices. I listened to a song that was suggested by Apple's "For You" algorithms at work in iTunes on my Mac. Later that evening I wanted Eliza to hear it so I looked it up while I was at home on my iPhone and I couldn't find the song. I know I listened to it. But the history didn't have that song in it. I fired up iTunes, looked through my history, and sure enough it was there.
- Music streaming overall is good quality and quick. Via iTunes songs can take a few seconds to begin but on iOS they seemingly start instantly.
- Trying to watch my friend Gary's new Apple Music show Planet of the Apps wasn't very easy. I couldn't stream it to my Apple TV from my iPad (unsure why) and looking for it on my Apple TV didn't yield any results. I'm one generation behind on Apple TV and so I think this is Apple's way of telling me that I need to spend more money. We ended up watching it on my iPad.
- Connect, the feature that allows you to follow artists like you would on Facebook or Twitter, is a joke. I honestly do not know why Apple even tried again. (They used to have a similar feature in iTunes called Ping.) They should consider showing the artist's most recent activity on other social media platforms, but creating Apple Music's own network is worthless. It didn't work before. It won't work now. Most artists have only posted once or twice to Apple Music Connect. And most of the time the posts are the same as the ones they put on Facebook. Artists post to where most of their fans are. Some artists have tens-of-millions of followers on other networks. The Apple Music Connect feature should simply be replaced by the ability to "Love" an artist the same way you "Love" a song or album. This way it can still inform Apple's algorithms for suggesting music to you. Other than that, show their most recent tweet and be done with it.
- Apple Music's "For You" playlists are OK but nowhere near as good as Spotify's. I remember when Spotify released their Discover Weekly Monday playlist feature. Each week you'd get a curated playlist (presumably curated by bots) based on what you've listened to recently. It was incredibly good. I constantly read tweets where people were surprised at how good this was. Almost every week I felt as if someone created a mixtape for me. I've never had that same reaction to Apple Music's playlists. In fact, just writing this makes me want to switch back to Spotify.
- Speaking of playlists. Spotify has huge collections of playlists based on mood, or if you're exercising, or genre, or just random crazy things. Apple Music doesn't have anything like this at all. It might suggest a "90s playlist" or a "new music" playlist. Other than that, the selections are thin. When a catalog of songs is as large as Spotify's or Apple's... the only way to surface new stuff to customers is to slice that information 1000 different ways and keep putting it in front of people.
- Many of the artist's pages on Apple Music seem lacking attention. I'm sure their creative team is working hard on making sure that every single artist has an excellent looking page. I think every artist, from old to new, deserves an amazing artist page with images, bio, etc. I hope they have a ton of people assigned to this. It is worth giving people the experience that every artist is important to Apple.
- Creating a playlist in Apple Music in iTunes is very, very odd. I think it is due to the fact that Playlists end up in your Library - which, to me, feels like the old days of having your own collection of MP3s. Perhaps a younger crowd doesn't even see this as an issue because they've never purchased, ripped, or downloaded MP3s. On Spotify this issue doesn't exist because "Your Music" is just a collection you've created. Again, if iTunes is disbanded it would alleviate this weirdness I think.
- Beats Radio is fun to pop into now and then but it hasn't been something that I listen to regularly. I don't have any specific suggestions for how this could change other than to say that I wish the best segments from these programs somehow popped up from time-to-time so that I'd see them.
- Using Siri's "What's this song?" feature is fun. It makes it easy to find a song that you've heard, add it to your library for later, and be able to listen to it again.
- However, Siri in general to interact with Apple Music is less than good. Siri, in general, as I've said before, is just bad at this point. So as Siri improves so will its ability to interact with Apple Music.
- One last comparison to Spotify; Spotify has an "easter egg" that if you're playing a Star Wars album the progress bar turns into a lightsaber. Silly? Yes. But it shows that they put time and effort into making the experience fun. I'm sure there are other similar features that I simply haven't stumbled across. I don't see any of that whimsy in Apple Music yet. Perhaps because they are still playing catch-up but I'd love to see some "fun" thrown into the app itself.
I believe Spotify is winning on many fronts right now save one; integration. Apple will always hold all of the keys to iOS and macOS. As a result they'll always be tightly integrated with Siri, the devices and hardware, etc. But even at that disadvantage Spotify proves itself to love music, to have found many interesting ways to surface music you will like, and is easy to use. But I do believe that Apple Music still has a chance to catch up.
Whether you use Apple Music or Spotify you're in for a treat. You can pay just a few dollars per month (far less than a single album used to cost) and play any song you want at any time. Or, have music constantly playing while you cook, clean, shower, drive, etc. There is no limit on usage. If you like music, subscribing to one of these makes so much economical sense.