If you haven’t already heard, Apple has just released a major update to its native music app. And I mean MAJOR update.   The details around it are no surprise as it was originally announced at Apple’s WWDC conference earlier this month in San Francisco.  Rumors of a launch date were buzzing around the internet since then, but as of June 30th, Apple has released it to all iPhone users.

So what is Apple Music?  Essentially it includes three major additions to the app: Access to every song and album in the iTunes library, a 24/7 radio station and a social network dedicated for keeping in touch with your favorite artists.  But all of this does not come free (well, the first three months does at least).  To access all those features, Apple Music is charging its customers a $9.99/month subscription fee. Yup! You heard it right.  iTunes is now a subscription service!  And this change in model may have Steve Jobs rolling in his grave.  If any of you remember Apple’s Keynote in 2003, you may remember what Steve thought about subscription based music services…

Apple is not the first player in the subscription based music service. In fact, they’re pretty far behind.  Services like Spotify, Tidal and Pandora have been utilizing this model for years now and have seen some great success with it.  According to Spotify’s blog post earlier this month, Spotify reached its 20 millionth subscriber and 75 millionth active user.  Stating “that’s an average of one new subscriber every three seconds over the last year.”  So you can imagine why Apple has decided to follow suit.

I happen to be one of those 20 million Spotify subscribers and I must say, it’s one of the best $10 I spend every month. The app is fantastic. The user experience is enjoyable. And the ability to discover new music is effortless.  I am by every definitely an advocate for Spotify.  So I was skeptical when I downloaded the Apple Music update.  Apple would really need to impress me in order for me to devote my music dollars back to them.  So without further ado, here is my review of Apple Music:

Apple_Music_IconSo for starters, Apple Music comes with a new and improved app icon. I must say I enjoy this app icon much better than the ones previously, but I still feel like the musical note symbol is a little cliche and outdated.  The white background and tie-dye look within the musical note does give it a really nice feel though and it definitely stands out on my iPhone screen. So overall, nice work on the app icon update, Apple.

When you first enter the app you’re presented with a really colorful scene of a music concert with the Apple Music logo at the top. At the bottom are options to “Start a 3-Month Free Trial” or “Go To My Music”  When I first landed on the page, it kicked me out of the app and rebooted me back in to the page.  Seems there may be some technical difficulties with V1 but nothing major.  I opted in to the 3-month free trial as I’ll most likely cancel at the end of the 3 months. (Remind me to do that).  You are then taken to a page to Choose a Plan.  You can select an Individual or Family plan.  Family plans allow up to 6 subscribers for only $14.99/month instead of close to $60/month.  Not a bad deal.

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Once I breeze past the updated Terms & Conditions (because who actually reads those things anyway) I am taken to a tab called My Music.  This is the page where all of my songs I’ve “purchased from iTunes” in the past exist as well as my Playlists.  At first glance the UI seems pretty similar in terms of the coloring.  It’s mostly a white background with bright red font and icons.  Something I never really liked about the app’s aesthetics.  Spotify has a beautiful UI with a consistent black background with white lettering that gives my eyes and the app a relaxing feel.  The brightness of the Apple Music app fails to do that for me.

Checking out the rest of the tabs at the bottom of the app I see there are four new tabs that are included in this update: For You, New, Radio and Connect.  I decide to take a peak at For You. Landing on the page I am shown a screen full of red bubbles with genres written on them. The page asks me to tell it “what I’m into” by selecting the genre bubbles that fit my music style.  Tapping on a bubble once means I like the genre while tapping on it twice means I really like the genre. Once I’m done I select next and I’m taken to a new page with more red bubbles. This time with artists names written on them.  I select the artists I like and really like and press “Done.”

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I’m then taken to a page that is supposed to give me autogenerated music suggestions from some fancy algorithm.  It’s supposed to tell me what music I want to hear based on the genres and artists I just selected in the previous steps.  This is a very important page for me because I am very critical when it comes to music software recommendation.  I think Spotify does a fantastic job at this.  The music I discover through the recommended songs on Spotify is spot on. No complaints.  So I was very disappointed to see that Apple’s recommended music fell way short than what I was hoping it would deliver.  Apple’s For You recommended music was playlists like Tiesto, Rihanna and Coldplay.  Three artists I typically don’t ever care to listen to unless required. I give the For You recommended music engine a C- at best.

Next I moved over to the New tab. This tab shows exactly what you would expect; a page full of new songs, albums and videos from well known and new artists.  I love finding new music so I can foresee myself spending a lot of time in this tab. Scrolling down this page I noticed something critically important that separates Apple Music from Spotify. Taylor Swift’s music.  If you haven’t been following along Taylor Swift has beef with Spotify and has gone as far as to have removed her music from the music streaming service all together over royalty disagreements. Miss Swift also almost removed her music from Apple Music last minute over some dispute via an open letter to Apple on her Tumblr.  But Apple, not wanting any bad blood (sorry, I had to), quickly backed off and bowed down to the queen of pop.  The fact that Apple Music has Swift’s music and Spotify does not, proves that Apple is looking out for the artist’s interests and we may see more and more artists take after Swift’s decisions.

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I then bounced over to the Radio tab.  Having a radio in the app is nothing new for Apple.  The previous app version had a radio option that allowed you to select an artist and listen to a stream of music similar to them.  Very much like Pandora.  But Apple has taken the radio concept to a whole new level by introducing a 24/7 global radio station called Beats 1.  With studios in Los Angeles, New York and London, Beats 1 is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week in over 100 countries worldwide. Apple hired world-class DJs to run this program including Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga. This is a whole new take on radio by providing a station ad-free and playing music that people will love, not just what is cool or popular at the time.

Last, but not least I went over to Connect.  This page in the app is probably my most favorite.  Connect is basically Myspace in a tab. Essentially you follow your favorite artist’s accounts, and they post updates (videos, pictures, tweets, etc) of them being awesome on tour or in the recording studio.  At first glance it looks like a great way to keep up with your favorite artists all under one stream instead of having to filter through posts of your family and friends on places like Facebook and Twitter.  Apple Music had already automatically followed OneRepublic and Maroon 5 for me since I noted that I liked their music during the onboarding process for the app.  One of the first posts I saw was Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic showing us his awesome hotel room in Istanbul that used to be an American Embassy.  It was really cool to see a personal video from him that I could like and comment on.  I see this feature being one that is of great value to Apple Music and one I wouldn’t mind paying money for access to.

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Overall Apple Music has a lot of great features.  Endless amount of music and videos, a 24/7 global radio station and the ability to connect with my favorite artists.  But there was nothing that really wow’ed me enough to force me to cancel my subscription with Spotify and make the move to Apple Music.  The experience of Spotify is 100x better and their discover/recommendation engine works for me. In the end I am going to stick to Spotify. But good work on producing a decent subscription based music service, Apple. I didn’t think you had it in you. (Now get to work on doing the same thing with TV/cable!!)

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Dave Polykoff

Dave Polykoff is a tech enthusiast and entrepreneur located in both Philadelphia and New York. Dave runs multiple tech start ups including NewsLauncher.com, Completed.com, and TheStreamApp.com.

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