Apple’s long-awaited music service is going live today — free to everyone who upgrades to Apple’s new iOS for three months. After that, it will cost you $10 per month, or $120 per year.
Apple’s also made general free upgrades to its music app, some of which complement its paid music service. So what’s the deal with the changes? Here’s a quick rundown, based on the five sections of the new app.
My Music: The service first and foremost gives you access to your own music — music you’ve bought or…otherwise obtained throughout the years — streaming, over the Internet. It’s kind of hard to believe that Apple didn’t have this exact capability before (you could download your music, and it would play while downloading, but that’s about it).
Still, it’s a nice perk, and one that comes regardless of whether you pay for the service or not. If you’re already paying for iTunes Match, that music will also show up in the My Music section of the app and is streamable.
You can also look up songs you want to listen to and stream them, even if you don’t own them. So if there’s an ear worm that won’t leave you? Pay for Apple Music, and you can scratch that itch. Keep in mind, though, that not every artist agreed to go streaming on Apple. Notable streaming holdouts such as the Beatles are still not on board (plenty of Beatles cover bands, though.)
For You: The company’s really selling the possibility of customization with a “For You” tab that combines Pandora-like algorithms with recommendations from Apple’s music editors.
Curation was one of the strengths of Beats’ streaming music service, and that has certainly carried over into this incarnation. When you set it up, Apple asks you to pick a few genres that you like, and a few artists that you like and then suggests playlists that you may like. For me, these were pretty spot-on, based on the choices I plugged in, which were clearly gleaned from my library.
For example, there was a station recommended for me called “Dancing in the Mirror,” with hits from Whitney Houston, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Uh, #nailedit.
Radio: Another aspect of Apple Radio that Apple’s playing around with is the ability to listen to the radio — both stations that are picked partially by algorithms as well as live radio stations. Without paying, you can listen to Apple’s Beats 1 radio as well as stations such as NPR News and ESPN Radio.
New: If you do decide to pony up the cash for the full-blown service, you can also stream new music that you don’t own, just to get a taste. This is a deep menu that goes beyond just listing the greatest hits of the moment. There are a lot of options for picking and choosing what you want to experiment with. You can dip into curated playlists from Apple staff, or writers from Rolling Stone or Pitchfork, as well as playlists curated for specific activities — i.e., chilling out.
Connect: This is Apple’s nascent social network, a sort of light attempt to do to Tumblr what Tumblr did to MySpace. It’s light on content for now — understandable given that it has just launched. I was auto-subscribed to two artists — Alison Krauss and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra — who had one post each. That speaks more to my library, though, than the Connect service at large. You are automatically subscribed to artists whose music you have in your library, though you can turn that feature off.
Apple also lets you subscribe to other artists that may not be in your music catalog, as well as its own “Apple Music” curation team.
Why this and not….? So far, you may think, this sounds pretty much like other music services, apart from that whole “live radio” thing. And you’d be right. A lot of what Apple is offering here is a mash-up of what you find on other services such as Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Google Music, Amazon Prime Music and other services. If you’re already giving a Hamilton to one of those companies each month, why would you change or add on Apple Music?
Apple's argument is that none of those services will understand you quite like it does. The company’s really selling customization and curation, perhaps hoping to market to a world of weary streamers who feel paralyzed by the choice they have when tapping into catalogs with thousands and thousands of songs.
The customization options here do help narrow down your choices, and the recommendations are pretty solid. Whether that alone is worth $120 a year? That’s up to you.