Apple Music review

A good but not great start for Apple's adventures in streaming

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I'm going to say it - I really don't like the design of the Apple Music app.

It's an incredible service in many ways, and it is beautiful - I particularly like the now playing screen which bleeds the colours from album art into a thematic background.

But the overwhelmingly messy design makes it bizarrely un Apple-like. Many of the screens are very cluttered, with too much going all at once.

It almost feels like it's been designed to be different from the competition just for the sake of being different. It's far easier to navigate Spotify or Tidal. Particularly as some of the interactive elements in the Apple Music app are so teeny tiny - even on an iPad you have to be super precise a lot of the time to ensure you select the option you want to select.

I found myself having to tap more than once most of the time in order to get a response out of the app. I'm pretty sure I don't have fat fingers.

It's a million miles away from the design philosophy that built iOS - in fact it feels like it was programmed by a different company altogether.

navigate

On top of questionable design choices, too much clutter and a sometimes confused navigation system, there's also a plethora of rough edges that need sanding down. One thing that really frustrated me was the lack of visible cues when I was trying to download some albums and playlists for use 'offline'.

When I do so, I can't see a single indication of progress - how much of the album has been downloaded? How many tracks have yet to be downloaded? How long until the download finishes?

Even when the downloads are finished, there's no indication next to an album or playlist that its songs have been stored locally. The only way to see what you've downloaded is to filter the My Music page - it's poor.

These are the sorts of little bugs and flaws you find all over the place and I'm positive they'll be fixed in short order but it doesn't change the fact that they combine to give Apple Music a 'launched three months before it was truly ready' feel.

Apple has made a concentrated effort to make the Apple Music for Apple Watch layout clean in the recently announced Watch OS 4 update. Not only will the app now support more playlists with a cleaner scroll up and down layout, it'll integrate properly with Apple's Airpods too.  

itunes

Social listening

Apple is making it easier to find new music in iOS 11 with the introduction of a Spotify-like feature that highlights what your friends are listening to. You can set your Music profile to public or private but if it's pblic you can determine exactly what playlists you'd like to share and show your friends what you're listening to. 

This means if you have one friend whose music taste you admire, you can get suggestions from them without even having to ask. 

iOS 11 will also bring in a new feature called 'Up Next' which will prove to be very useful for parties. With this feature you can set up a playlist and invite your friends to add their favorite track on their own, without interrupting the flow of the music. 

iTunes

Unexpectedly, I find Apple Music to be much easier to enjoy when using iTunes. That I wasn't expecting because me and iTunes have had a hate-hate relationship for many years.

The latest update, which you'll need to download to get access to streaming, has placed Apple Music at the very heart of the interface. The iTunes store is now shunted off to one side, in favour of all of the streaming sections we've already discussed.

Clearly, Apple wants to convert all iTunes users to the streaming way.

It's easy to find what you're looking for in iTunes, but honestly it's still not as intuitive or easy to use as the other services out there. You feel like you're browsing the iTunes store rather than plundering an infinite abyss full of 'free' music and so in that way it feels... unfriendly.

On top of this, the internet is full of iTunes users complaining about metadata issues with existing MP3 and AAC tracks - album art is going missing, music is being mislabelled. It's all gone through a blender, basically, with some people affected more than others.

If you're spotting a trend here - messy design and bugs in iOS and in iTunes - you're not alone.

apple music review

Library

Apple Music has a launch library of 30 million tracks - the same number boasted by Spotify and Google Music. That's impressive because it's taken those services a long time to build up to 30 million.

So most of the music I searched for was present and correct, but as with all music streaming services, there are also some glaring omissions. Apple has exclusive access to Taylor Swift's latest album, and other rare titles like In Rainbows by Radiohead. But it's also missing some albums that are available elsewhere.

It's par for the course in this territory, when you stream music you have to accept that not everything you look for will be available on your chosen service.

Extended API

With Music Kit, Apple is opening up Apple Music to more third party developers which should make it more useful as a part of your overall mobile experience as it'll be integrated into more of the other apps you use every day.

Examples of apps that will integrate Apple Music given at WWDC 2017 were Nike and Shazam. The Nike app will be able to intelligently work with Apple Music to get the best music for your workouts, and Shazam will now be able to automatically add the songs you find using it to your Apple Music library, saving your the trouble of finding it twice.