As everyone began buying music online, I was one of the holdouts, sticking to my mp3s and CDs in defiance. When I finally went digital in 2013, I sided with the biggest player (and the only existing legal option at the time): Apple iTunes. I had already used the software to manage my old iPods, but not for purchasing songs and albums. A few albums by Fiona Apple, Up Dharma Down, Franco, Foo Fighters, P.J. Harvey, and Daft Punk (Get Lucky‘s already two years old?) were added to my library, and I was quite happy for a while.
Then Spotify came along in 2014. Music streaming became mainstream and affordable. iTunes, my mp3s, and my CDs were quickly shown the figurative door. More than a year later, Spotify is running on all my devices including Linux, all day, every day: while writing, doing the usual house chores, stuck in gridlock or during road trips, and even trying to sleep—I swear by its “Sleep Playlist.”
Apple has now hit back with Apple Music, going up against Spotify and other music streaming services. And in a surprise move, Apple Music was made available to Android users in November, with a three-month free trial period and a US$2.99 (around P140) monthly fee after that. I just had to have a go at it!
Use your Apple ID to sign in or create a new ID straight from the Apple Music app. You’ll also go through the usual processes like e-mail verification and settings tweaking. For new users, you’ll be asked to select which music genres and artists you like (single tap) and love (double tap)—your choices will help Apple Music make recommendations via the For You tab.
Apple Music offers five additional tabs on the menu. New shows you the latest songs and albums available on the app and custom playlists from Apple’s editors and consultants. Radio goes from iTunes to Music, with the Beats 1 station and genre- and activity-specific stations offering hours of continuous music, interviews, and commentary. Connect contains news and updates from all the artists you follow on Apple Music; and Playlist and My Music hold your custom playlists, downloaded music, and past iTunes purchases.
Like Spotify, Apple Music shows you which song you’re playing and wherever you are in the app. It also gives you the option to play that song next, add it to a playlist, or download it to your device for offline listening.
The pogi points
The first things I noticed are that all my old iTunes purchases were automatically added to My Music and the app had followed the aforementioned artists and bands for me. It got me to listen to the songs I used to love, and see the latest artist-issued updates. Nice move, Apple.
That three-month trial period is also big plus, as Spotify and other services offer only 30 days of free use. The monthly fee’s in the expected range as well, although a bit higher than those of Spotify and Deezer, with both at P129 per month.
As expected, Apple Music’s recommendations were a bit off at first. But it’ll improve the more you use the app. The playlists were also fun to browse through—the “Intro to” and “Deep Cuts” playlists got me acquainted with The Black Keys, Florence + The Machine, and Saint Etienne; and reacquainted with old favorites like Jamiroquai and Amel Larrieux. Some playlists are also sponsored by honored publications NME, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork, all worth a look and listen.
While Apple and Spotify have catalogs of a similar size, there are some surprising finds with Apple Music. Among others, it has Up Dharma Down’s first album Fragmented, Jetta’s single “Start a Riot” (albeit with additional lyrics), and Taylor Swift’s latest album 1989 (don’t judge me), while Spotify doesn’t. Well, both don’t have The Beatles and Prince, so that’s a rare tie.
Lastly, I also prefer Apple Music’s design and look over Spotify’s. It’s clean and colorful as opposed to Spotify’s brooding black, white, and green scheme.
Apple Music may win in aesthetics, but Spotify takes the crown back for simplicity and ease of use. Apple Music’s so-called organization is actually one hot mess: playlists are scattered through other tabs within the New tab, and even a scroll down the For You tab can be overwhelming at times. It’s harder to discover new music here, unlike Spotify’s neatly organized Browse function and Discover Weekly playlist.
Oh. “Handcrafted” and “curated” playlists, Apple? Stop that s**t. Please de-hipsterize, thanks.
As I leave streaming apps on for hours for background music, I found Apple Music’s available playlists to be much shorter than Spotify’s. While the latter’s can go for three hours or longer, Apple Music’s seem limited to 10 songs or a bit over per playlist, good for only an hour or so. Not a deal breaker, but not enough for me, either.
And while I often laugh at and mock Spotify’s content localization efforts with playlists like “#Hugot,” “Sappy and Senti,” and “Music for Malling,” I’ll admit it’s a passable attempt to give Filipino music and artists the same attention as foreign artists. With Apple Music, I had to search for local artists one by one to see where they are or if their songs are even available on the service. Cantopop, K-Pop, J-Pop, and Mandopop playlists are a good start, but how about some OPM and #PinoyPride?
Apple Music scored high with me on several aspects: design, automatic addition of past purchases to My Music and Playlists, longer trial period and affordable monthly fee, the availability of select artists material not found on other streaming services, and its Radio function.
It has a lot going for it, but it also has the disadvantage of entering the streaming market really late. Even during my test period, I found myself switching back to the familiarity and organization of Spotify. I’m not sure if I’ll go through the full trial period and keep Apple Music on my Android device. Probably not. But Apple has two more months to convince people to stay—and maybe improve on the app.