Music Streaming services have existed for sometime now. These services gained immense popularity after the introduction of Mobile App Platforms, the idea of listening to any song at any time for a nominal cost is extremely convenient to a lot of people.
To me though, the idea has always been a distraction. The entire music library? Na! That’s too much of music to take care of. At best, Music Streaming services are a good discovery tool. It’s good to be able to hear complete songs a couple of times before I go on to Purchase them and take them wherever I want to!
Music Streaming Services often post another problem. Rents. Why would I want to rent my favorite Albums every month!?
Why would I want to rent my favorite Albums every month!?
The idea of Renting music feels a bit like Uber. It’s good to travel around the city in a Uber sometimes, on days when being driven is more important. But it’s an impractical arrangement to sell your own car and use a Uber everyday. The experience of staying in control of your car is just not there. This is the same with Renting out music. The experience is plastic. It feels as though a service made for those who don’t even have an inkling of a relation with their music.
Does Apple do anything better here? Or does it just provide the same morbid experience that others subject me to? Well, for one, I’m still buying my music, since Apple Music Libraries won’t sync with my iPods. But let’s have a deeper look.
Apple Music as a Streaming Service
Apple’s Music Streaming service is top of the line. The sound quality is great, it’s way better than my previous (part-time) streaming service Saavn. Streaming is basically about three things: The first: Internet Streaming, Second: Curated Playlists and Third: Recommendations.
Apple Music’s Internet Streaming is basically similar to the what other platforms offer, the music quality being streamed is at par and better than some of the other services, there’s a fair amount of content to be streamed for a subscription and it also offers Music Videos to be streamed, something that’s inherently better than the YouTube model of handling such videos, if it gets that level of music content. Music Streaming in India, however is a slight let down, in the current three month trial period, some of the major music labels like Eros Music (Understandable. Eros wants to promote its own music streaming service and is holding back on exclusivity at least for Apple Music) and T-Series (There are just slow to adapt I guess. Or Maybe they are still hanging on to their little used Hungama Music service!) are missing which is slightly annoying because currently, the difference between the Apple Music catalog and the iTunes Store catalog is jarring, with Apple Music not getting a lot of new content. This I hope, changes when Apple Music starts charging its users and goes cross platform in September. Add Content to it, and Apple Music streaming is frankly better than all of the other streaming service currently in India.
If Apple Music is lacking in content, it’s Curation more than makes up for it.
If Apple Music is lacking in content, it’s Curation more than makes up for it. The thing is, even without the major labels, Apple Music has huge amounts of good undiscovered music. And Apple has done a fabulous job at compiling all of this into curated playlists for a host of occasions, genres and activities. So, if you tap on a studying playlist section there are around 20-30 playlists ranging from instrumental to Bollywood mixes for you to choose from. Then there are the “Intro to Artist” playlists, which basically offer you 10-15 amazing songs from the particular artist, again beautifully compiled. I tried the “Intro to A.R. Rahman”
playlist (Didn’t need an Intro to him though, being a huge fan of his) and the songs were pretty nicely selected. The same was true for most of the other artists. As a localization for Indian music, there are Intro to Actor playlists too. The playlists are so far Apple Music’s best feature. This is where Apple Music is Strongest. This is also a place where Apple Music is way ahead of the competition. Other Streaming services rely on Algorithms for this kind of work, Apple Music however is doing human curation too and the results are visibly better.
What tops the Playlists is the recommendation engine that Apple’s using to suggest you playlists and albums. This is probably more about Machine learning than Human Curation and for that reason, it’s not absolutely accurate all the time, as in, it’s not always that I like the the music being recommended to me. Having said that, a lot of Apple Music’s recommendations are accurate and have helped me discover new music.
I’ve almost formed a treasure-chest of awesome music that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across.
The three parts of the streaming service combined, together form a pretty good discovery platform. In the one month that I’ve used Apple Music, I’ve almost formed a treasure-chest of awesome music that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across.
Apple’s killer feature for the music service is Beats 1. It is a global Internet Radio Station that has real DJs curating music , a pleasant departure from the current local radio scenario where spots are basically bought to promote new Albums or new Movies (In India, at least). With three DJs and a host of guests on different Radio Shows Beats 1 features quite an assortment of English music to listen to. Personally, I don’t really listen to English Music, and have only listened to Beats 1 for a few minutes at max, the talk shows are great and indulging and the songs I heard didn’t really make me listen to more English music but I can see the novelty in such a radio service which offers a right mix of new and upcoming music along with other good English music in an environment which isn’t painted with Ads or A lot paid promotions.
There are of course, other radio stations by Genre, Activities and Artists. I tried the Bollywood Radio for some time and while the music being played was a much better collection than the local radio stations, but the lack of Beats 1 like DJs and Curation was slightly disappointing. The Radio stations in their current state aren’t amazing, as they basically use some sort of a recommendation engine and currently the content is too little to cater to the diverse needs of a user in a meaningful way. The stuff will probably get better with time and perhaps we might even see a Beats 1 Hindi Station some day if and when Apple plans to expand to territories which don’t listen to English music much.
Perhaps, Apple Music’s riskiest feature yet, Connect is a social network for Artists to upload exclusive content. Admittedly, this is something that will only catch steam if the artists join in and share content.
But Apple Music is much more than Shanker Ehsaan Loy sharing behind the scenes concert photos with their fans. It’s also about discovering independent artists in an easier way. In some form at least, Connect is a competitor to SoundCloud, or more precisely an alternative for Independent Artists to share their music with a wider audience. The current experience for uploading content, however, is less than desirable for Independent Artists and frankly there aren’t many indie artists showing up on my connect tab. The experience of following them, isn’t exactly great either.
In some form at least, Connect is an alternative for Independent Artists to share their music with a wider audience.
But what Connect is good at is, catching up with Artists, primarily of use to fans. There’s tons of backstage footage available, One of the artists I’m following even disclosed a bit of information of one their much awaited movie albums (Confirming the movie in the process too!). Connect is a nice feature to have but it isn’t necessarily essential for the service, or to say, a need feature.
Apple Music the App
Apple Music v1.0 is a good service but it has some serious app issues. The iPhone App, iPad App and OSX App are all marred with bugs and crashes. The experience isn’t great. It just barely works.
The experience isn’t great. It just barely works.
To start with, I’ve had a few problems with the way Navigation on the new Music app is designed. Apple Music’s Navigation seems to be more concerned about promoting new features than making everything easily discoverable. Placing the Search option at the top right corner of the display clearly seems to be an attempt to promote playlists, radio and curation over searching for specific content. Every Album and Playlist recommendation is stashed under the “For You” segment, and all of “My Music” is shoved under one tab at the bottom right. Why is this annoying? There are three different navigation tabs to discover Playlists and Albums but none of them clearly demarcate the line between content available on my device and that on the Internet. Shoving every piece of music under the My Music Tab and every little inch of recommendation under “For You”, makes both of the views Heavy, and slightly suffocating.
Personally I’d have gone for a bottom navigation that had Playlists, Albums, Radio, Search, and Connect, with the For You, New and My Music segments showing up as Segmented Controls.
Apple Music also has it’s share of minor bugs, such as the feedback issue with the Repeat and Shuffle Buttons. Placed at the bottom of the Now Playing Interface, both Repeat and Shuffle have an extremely dim feedback on whether they are in on or off state. On one occasion I accidentally pressed the “Repeat 1” state and it took me almost a day to figure out why Apple Music wouldn’t Play my playlists and instead repeat a random song from them, or why my Up Next Queue had only one song repeating 20 times. It initially felt like a bug, on close observation however it was the Repeat 1 mode switched on. I’d have liked better feedback on that. I faced a similar issue with adding playlists and songs to my library initially. It took me days to figure out why the music that I had added to my library wouldn’t show up. Eventually I figured, it was a setting, hiding under the My Music tab that needed to be switched on. A minor case of setting wrong defaults put forward a frustrating experience in the beginning.
To be Honest, Apple Music feels like a beta software at present, the last time I saw these many crashes in an App was when I was using the iOS 5 Beta 1 to test an app!
To be Honest, Apple Music feels like a beta software at present
In this post, I’ve had little to praise about the Apple Music iOS App, truth be told though, none of these issues are such that cannot be fixed with a single software update. And I feel most of the annoyances will probably be gone once iOS 9 releases.
iCloud Music Library
None of these problems though, hold water to the biggest problem with Apple Music: iCloud Music Library. When Apple came up with iCloud back in 2011, they also introduced something known as iTunes Match. For years, iTunes Match has been slightly buggy and sometimes an inaccurate solution to putting music on the Cloud. Destroying Meta Data, mixing tracks, adding duplicates have been a frequent annoyance with iCloud Music Library, the service behind iTunes Match. With the introduction of Apple Music, iCloud Music Library being a key component, one would have hoped Apple would fix these issues like they fixed Siri’s Voice Recognition before the Apple Watch release. This didn’t happen.
This is what iCloud Music Library does: It takes your Library and matches the songs you have to those on the iTunes Store, it then replaces your music with a better quality iTunes replica of the same. However, sometimes the Match isn’t accurate, sometimes there are more than one version of a song and the songs get inaccurately matched, in the process, destroying the Song’s metadata (like Play Counts) and sometimes even deleting music from library.
iCloud Music Library feels like a switch of destruction, which when switched on could potentially blow up my iTunes Library. Which is actually worse than having a frustrating experience. The experience is no less than terrifying
At the moment, iCloud Music Library feels like a switch of destruction, which when switched on could potentially blow up my iTunes Library. Which is actually worse than having a frustrating experience. The experience is no less than terrifying. Personally, I kept a good distant with the button that turns this on, on my primary desktop, which hosts about 10 years worth of Valuable Music Data, something I’m not willing to give away for any service, whatsoever. But being a key part of Apple a Music, it’s annoying to not be able to use the features like Adding Playlists or Adding Music to Library associated with it, on my Mac.
DRM is a problem for all kinds of Internet Streaming Services, not just Apple Music. But with Apple Music, it’s moving from a DRM Free system to one that’s closely guarded with DRM. DRM is basically a technology that ensures that the music obtained is playable only on Authorized Computers and Devices.
Currently, Apple’s Music Catalog is split in two. First, the New Apple Music Service which offers DRM Music for a Subscription and iTunes Store which, for years, has been giving away DRM Free Music. So if you download a song from Apple Music, you can only play it on the iCloud Enabled devices associated with your Apple ID, like your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac and PC. This doesn’t even include the new iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano.
It is perfectly understandable as to why a subscription service would do this. No one wants the music to be pirated and with these albums being offered for Free on Apple Music, it would make it tough to keep a check on Music Piracy without a DRM.
Currently, it’s next to impossible to switch platforms without spending hours on getting back all the playlists and music.
Having said that, we have had DRM free Music for years now and are used to having the convenience of carrying music anywhere and not being locked down to one Eco-System. Currently, it’s next to impossible to switch platforms without spending hours on getting back all the playlists and music. Let alone playing music on any platform, this eco-system lock-in doesn’t even have room for a universal playlist format. There’s a reason why DRM was hated all along.
Discover and Buy
Apple Music is a great music discovery platform. In the last one month, I’ve discovered Albums that I love listening to and forms of music which I had not even heard of before moving to Apple Music. Despite v1.0 issues with the Music Apps, it’s a rock-solid service, which in India, is miles ahead of any competition.
So, Am I willing to switch to a subscription model only? No Way! I’d much rather buy my favorite album than rent it every month. Will I use Apple Music in the future, after the three month free trial ends? I might. I definitely want to use more of Apple Music’s Playlist Curations and Music Recommendations to discover more music but I’m not willing to embrace DRM-lock in just yet. (Apple Music just wouldn’t sync to my iPod). For now, I’m sticking to the Discover and Buy formula, where I discover music via streaming and buy the albums I’d like to listen more often.