A long time ago, when music CD sales were slowing and the amount of music piracy was increasing, Apple brought a solution to the music labels. Instead of consumers needing to buy entire albums, Apple proposed individual track downloads through iTunes at the low price of $0.99. Soon, music sales were back on the rise and Apple was the industry hero. For years after that, when Apple said “jump”, the music industry said “how high?” iTunes quickly became the number-one source of digital music sales. But that didn’t last.
Years later, consumers started shifting their tastes from wanting to “own” there music, to wanting to “rent” it via numerous pay-per-month streaming services. Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, and lastly Beats all quickly began to take sales away from iTunes. The industry waited for Apple to respond. The first sign of Apple switching to a streaming approach was their release of iTunes Radio. This was more of a Pandora competitor (song shuffle with commercials) than a Spotify killer (choose your own music). Next came their acquisition of the Beats music service. One year later we see the fruition of that purchase with the newly released Apple Music service.
Apple Music is the company’s first serious attempt at offering a full streaming service. It obviously has Spotify centered in its cross-hairs. Subscribers will be able to stream any music offered in the library at any time for the monthly price of $9.99. That means you can search for and listen to any music you want that resides in Apple’s massive streaming catalog. You can also download any of these songs or even entire albums to your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch for listening when you don’t have internet.
It may be tempting to dismiss Apple Music as an also-ran product. But there are some key features that none of the other streaming services provide. So, rather than this being an extensive review of the Apple Music service in general, I want to show you some of these standout abilities that raise Apple Music above the noise, at least for me.
Siri is Apple’s digital assistant interface that was introduced on the iPhone in 2011 and iPad in 2012. By now, you’ve probably used Siri to some degree for creating reminders or getting directions. Well, Apple Music just got a siri-ous shot in the arm. Unlike any other streaming music service on the iPhone, Apple Music can be controlled by Siri. Yet, its more than just saying “play song…” or “skip song” as you might imagine. The following video will show you some of the amazing things you can do with Siri and Apple Music. These include:
- Play the top songs from a year or decade
- Play songs from movies
- Play your playlists
- Rate and favorite songs
- Play similar songs
I would suggest playing around with Siri commands for Apple Music. If you find something cool that we’ve overlooked, leave it in the comments below.
Playlists are sets of songs that you build for yourself. Apple Music is no exception. You can add songs to playlists by tapping on the elipses “…” icon of the currently playing track. Then choose “Add to a Playlist…” and pick the one you’d like to add the song too. Any time you want to listen to these songs, you can tap the “My Music” tab at the bottom of the Apple Music app. Then tap “Playlists” at the top. Here you will see all the playlists you have created. Granted, every streaming service provides a way to build these collections. But one feature none of the others provide is smart playlists. iTunes has offered smart playlists for a long time. What makes them different than regular playlists? They are automatically populated with songs based on criteria you set. For example, I have a smart playlist called “Best of 2015” which automatically includes songs that I added to My Music in 2015 and that I’ve rated above three stars. Another smart playlist is “Best of Coldplay” which similarly automatically adds any Colplay songs that are in My Music and rated above three stars. One last smart playlist idea is “100 Most Played”. This collection is built with songs I listen to most and is sorted by frequency. Just from these examples, you can see how powerful smart playlists can be. These smart playlist must be created on iTunes on your PC or Mac with Apple Music and iCloud Music Library turned on. But once you’ve created them, they will be populated from your iPhone or iPad. The fact that no other streaming service includes smart playlists sets Apple Music on a pedistal. The following video will show you how to create smart playlists with Apple Music.
Apple Music allows you to share your playlists with friends. Spotify and Rdio do this too. But these other services fail when it comes to sharing individual songs. Spotify sends your friends a crazy link that opens the song in their browser (unplayable from there, mind you) and not in the Spotify app itself, even if they have it installed. The advantage of Apple Music is that every iPhone and iPad running iOS 8.4 or higher has the app. Any song, album, or playlist you share immediately opens in your friend’s app. Apple Music uses the familiar share menu to initiate sharing. That means your song can be sent via iMessage, Mail, or any other app that offers a share extension. Sharing music is wonderfully integrated into iOS thanks to Apple owning the hardware and software.
Discovery – Curation and Radio
I don’t want to get stuck listening to the same songs over and over. Discovering new songs and artists is my favorite part of streaming music. Apple hits a homerun here by offering excellent curation and radio services. Apple Music started life as Beats Music. Beats was praised for its awesome playlist curation. Beats playlists were so good because they were individually handcrafted by a real person, not a computer algorithm. Apple bought Beats for having such a unique ability. Now this human element is part of Apple Music and it’s the best way to discover music chosen personally for you. The people are not the listeners. They are people in the music industry that Apple has hired to find and suggest the best music. Apple Music then pays attention to what music you’ve indecated you like by tapping the heart button on a track, giving it a star rating (tap on the track name), or adding it to a playlist. The “For You” tab at the bottom of Apple Music responds by offering up human-surated playlists of songs that the curators beleive you will like. If there happens to be a playlist that you don’t like, tap and hold on it and select “I Don’t Like This Suggestion” and Apple Music will learn from that too. Radio is another feature I find myself listening to more and more. While I personally don’t like the Beats 1 station, there are others that I do like which are also curated by a human. And you can start a Radio station from any song you’d like by tapping on the elipses “…” icon of the currently playing track. Then choose “Start Station”. This is another great way to discover music.
So now you know my favorite parts of Apple Music. For me, these are reason enough to switch from Spotify. Are they enough for you? Let us know what you like or don’t like about Apple Music in the comments below.