How streaming music on the Apple Watch 3 made me listen to opera by a lake

I’m standing in Queen Caroline’s Temple, a delightfully arched structure in London’s Hyde Park, looking at ladybirds and listening to opera. And I’m having such a lovely time that I don’t even care how utterly stupid this opening sounds.

The reason I’m here is the culmination of my test of streaming Apple Music on the new Watch 3. Before we get into me and the ladybirds, let’s roll back a second. Apple Music streaming on the Watch - which is part of the WatchOS 4.1 update - was announced in September, alongside the new Apple Watch 3 and iPhone 8 / X range. 

But it’s only just now being added to the Watch 3, where it should have been enabled at launch - the trend for brands to announce a feature at launch and add it in at a later date is infuriating.

I just didn’t get that excited when it was announced. It’s not like this was the first time we’d had Apple Music on the Watch, and streamed music didn’t seem that much of a big deal. It would eat data and battery life, and simply syncing playlists ahead of time would solve all the issues.

Beats Radio on your arm has suggested stations ready to go

So what’s actually changed? Well, apart from being able to listen to any of the 40 million songs Apple’s touting with the update, you can also access Beats Radio (with different stations and personalized feeds) from the Watch 3 and Apple has added Music complications to the Watch faces.

Quite quickly, one thing becomes apparent: to get the most out of the Apple Music streaming experience, you need to be embedded in the service already. 

That sounds obvious, but it’s much easier to have control of your music from the wrist if you’ve already got loads of playlists saved - telling Siri to shuffle a certain playlist feels more tailored than just asking it to ‘Play Today’s Hits’.

But when Apple Music was announced, I was already a heavy user of Spotify, so my experience with trying out the new streaming capabilities has been limited to playing a few playlists I’d already set up, or begging Siri to play different genres of tunes to complement what I was doing.

Your music master

Siri is the main portal to your musical experience on the Apple Watch - while you can open the apps from your wrist, tapping is fiddly and just asking your timepiece to play music is far more intuitive.

But Siri is both facilitator and denier - still the Apple Watch 3 struggles with connectivity at times, with Siri telling you that you’ll need to wait while it connects before it can start playback.

This doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it’s an irritant at a time when the process needs to be slick. That need is influenced by the fact most networks/carriers will require you to pay an additional sum each month to use the data from your contract on your smartwatch. 

You’ll probably get a little extra data to offset the new device sucking from your artery of bytes, but there’s still a cost for owning the Watch 3 with data capabilities.

But let’s say that you’ve accepted the cost, can handle a little bit of Siri hesitation and just want to go out and run with your Watch 3, unencumbered by a heavy phone tethered about your person. 

There’s a magical moment where you fire up Siri, ask it to play your personalised radio station and get trotting, and within a few seconds (the streaming isn’t instant) you’ll have music flowing into your Bluetooth earbuds, with the Watch tracking your heart rate, motion and updating your with calls and messages where needed.

Some glitches still exist, but they do work through

This is a world away from the first iteration of the Apple Watch, which could barely work out when you were running and had an outburst whenever you stepped away from the phone - the current Watch 3 is much more accomplished as a standalone device.

So once I was away and running, I realised that I had to rethink things. Where I’m used to locking a large smartphone to my arm to keep me entertained on long jaunts, with the Apple Watch 3 you’ve got a barely-perceptible device on your wrist with any song you’d like. It’s pretty futuristic stuff.

Instead of just chucking on a playlist and battering out at the same pace, I tried to alter the mood based on what I was doing. Relaxing songs to warm up to then a Nike ‘Breaking 2’ playlist for the harder moments.

Imagine a man standing here that you kind of hated. Credit: Wiki Loves Monuments

By finding it so easy to switch up the music and alter the mood, I began to take in my surroundings a little more - smells and sights in this iconic park suddenly became more obvious, culminating in standing by the ornate Queen Caroline’s Temple, quietly standing inside the arches and asking Siri ‘play me some meditation music’.

It led to a really great moment where I just looked out over the lake, the smell of the damp leaves wafting on the breeze and the softer music combining my breath slowing… it sounds utterly pretentious (and, let’s be honest, it is) but it highlighted to me the benefit of having such easy access to so much music on the go.

A specific experience

However, while I found a moment of tranquility thanks to the Apple Watch 3’s music streaming capabilities, it was a very unique set of circumstances.

Most of the time we’ll have our phones with us, and using the Apple Music app on the handset is so much easier. There are no suggestions on the smaller Watch Music app of playlists you might enjoy, and the Beats radio options are limited too.

You’re basically at the mercy of Siri understanding your intonation, and you need to be very clear and direct with the assistant when walking or running. I instantly accidentally called a friend when trying to open one of my playlists, and the time taken for Siri to fire up and be ready to use varies.

Personalised feed. Needs more face.

Battery life also takes something of a hit, but not to any great degree. You’ll still get around a day’s use if you head out on a run with full streaming music, so that’s pretty decent… but things do get a bit dicey towards the evening if you’ve listened to music for more than an hour,

In my review of the Apple Watch 3, I recommended that you go for the non-LTE-connected version, as it’s so much cheaper to buy outright and doesn’t need a data plan to get the full use.

I still stand by that choice, but there is something incredibly cool and free about being able to ask your wrist to play any song you fancy. The voice recognition is generally pretty accurate and the variety of genres impressive.

While very specific in its use, the moments where you do decide to ditch the phone and head out feel much more complete - if only Apple would get a podcast app on the Watch, we’d have far fewer qualms leaving the phone at home these days.