Over the past 10 years I’ve collected a large digital music collection. Since getting my first iPod, I have been one of the many who have abandoned physical CDs as my main way of adding new music to my library. Although I haven’t completely stopped purchasing physical media for music, it’s certainly a rarity now. In many ways this has made enjoying music even better. No longer do I have to buy a whole album to get the songs I want. So when music streaming started becoming more popular, I viewed it more as way to find more music to add to my collection, rather than a replacement for buying music. Spotify was only just made available in Canada last year, and Songza has been my go-to for great and unique playlists, but again as a extension of purchasing experience. If I ever found a song that I thought about adding to my collection, I’d head to iTunes to try and find it. It’s been a system that I’ve found very fruitful over the last few years. I’ve been exposed to a great amount of music that I’m happier to have had the chance to listen to.
So when Apple announced that they would be providing a service similar to Spotify, I was skeptical. Sure the concept sounds cool, especially if you’re already a heavy iTunes user, but I couldn’t help but feel a nagging sense of doubt. With Apple Music made available to the public last week, I decided to take part in the three-month trial that they’re using to promote the service. What I have found is that I both love and hate Apple Music. Actually, hate might be too strong a word. Extremely annoyed is more appropriate. I’ve enjoyed several of Apple Music’s features: the massive library, the Radio feature, and the music history. But, there’s plenty to be disappointed in as well. There’s a lot that’s awesome about Apple Music, but there’s also a lot that’s annoying.
Apple Music is Awesome
On the one end of my feeling towards Apple Music is excitement. It only took me 10 minutes of listening to the “Canadian Indie” radio station and I was hooked. Now, it’s not like Songza and Spotify don’t also have great playlists (definitely more unique ones at least) and huge libraries of music, but the sequence of tracks that came up was just that good. Clearly the music discovery features work well, at least in my experience with the software. Not to mention that the support for the 5000+ songs that I’ve gained over the years all have a home in Apple Music, meaning that I can just keep adding to the library, in many ways at much faster rate than before.
In addition to the legacy support and the new music discovery features, the expanded music history functionality is a feature that while under-advertised (at least as I see it), is proving invaluable as I jump from playlist to playlist. The fact that it’s kept track of the exact order of what I’ve played over the last several days is a great selling point for anyone who listens to a ton of music in a single day. Combine that with easy playlist creation and Apple’s massive music library, you’re spoiled for choice. And in many ways that’s all music lover needs.
Except when it’s not presented well.
Apple Music is Annoying
As much as there is to love about Apple Music, there’s a lot that irks you as you use the streaming service. For starters, the interface is incredibly unintuitive. Yes, it looks cool and once you get the hang of it’s not so bad. But when you first load the app it’s not clear how things are supposed to work. It’s especially confusing if you’re just trying to access your saved music on whatever device you’re using. Through iTunes on the desktop, the app is still easy and straight forward to use. But the iOS version is incredibly convoluted, with features either missing or buried in menus. In fact, to get access to the awesome music history feature I described in the last section, you have go through a crazy process: open your music, start playing a song, click a dropdown list, then you have access to your history. This is a function that should be a menu option from the start screen. Consistency is key when having an app on multiple platforms. Apple Music is a tad off-key is in this department.
On top of the interface confusion is the bugs. Nothing critical, but some are big enough that you wonder how it wasn’t flagged earlier. For example, if you start playing a song and attempt to start a radio station from that track that it can’t use due to the lack of metadata, the music just stops with no warning. What should pop up is “We couldn’t start a station from this track” with the music still playing as if nothing happened. It’s jarring and makes you wonder if the entire Radio feature is broken. It’s not, but it seems like it with a user experience like that.
From features that are hidden or removed from the old music player, to an interface that is both too simplistic in some areas and overly complicated in others, it makes me sad that Apple Music has such issues.
Apple Music is Young
I do however have to keep in mind that Apple Music is (as of writing) almost a week old. Spotify, Songza, and the other major streaming services on the other hand, have had years to get their acts together. As far as first impressions go, Apple Music makes a good one, just with some issues. Is Apple Music worth trying for at least the trial period? Absolutely, it’s great that’s free for that long. Is it going to be worth it beyond that? We’ll have to wait and see. I hope that Apple is listening to the feedback and critism to improve the service over the next three months. Otherwise there will be a lot of people who will probably cancel their subscriptions before their free trial ends. I hope I’m not one of them.