We review the good and the bad of Apple Music to see how this 6-year-old streaming service stacks up against the rest of the competition.
Apple and iTunes revolutionized the way people consumed music in the early 2000s. It allowed consumers to purchase music from a single (legal) source. It also gave them a platform that allowed them to integrate purchased music with personal music collections on their computers.
With each update, Apple became more ambitious in its attempts to provide users with varied in-app features, such as podcasts, movies, and games. This eventually resulted in a congested, disorganized app plagued with design problems.
It was clear that Apple needed a new solution to streamline its content. One of those solutions was Apple Music.
Apple Music was introduced in 2015, following the acquisition of Beats Electronics and Beats Music in 2014. Thanks to the mutually beneficial partnership, the service gained 11 million subscribers in its first year. As of June 2020, their user base has expanded to 72 million subscribers.
The app is currently available in 168 countries at the time of writing (April 2021), which makes them the second most accessible music streaming app next to Spotify.
- »Extensive music library
- »Clean, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing User Interface
- »Option to watch music videos, concerts, and original shows on the app
- »Access to three 24-hour live radio stations
- »Access to artist-led radio programming
- »Available in 168 countries as of April 2021
- »Multi-platform availability (desktop, mobile, tablet)
- »Option to download music for offline listening
- »Option to upload local files to the app
- »3-month free trial
- »Disappointing music discovery algorithm
- »No seamless playback when switching between devices
- »No high-quality, lossless audio
- »No podcasts or audiobooks (requires a separate app)
- »No unlimited free version
Quick LinksClick on the links to jump to the relevant section.
- What Is Apple Music?
- Apple Music Plans and Pricing
- How Is Apple Music’s Stream Quality?
- Apple Music Content Library
- Ease of Use
- Music Discovery
- Additional Features
What Is Apple Music?
Apple Music is a premium on-demand streaming service developed by Apple. It started as a service purely dedicated to music, boasting a large collection of tracks and a host of live internet radio stations, such as Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits, and Apple Music Country.
Some of its early exclusive deals include Drake’s music video release for Hotline Bling, Taylor Swift’s The 1989 World Tour Live documentary, and an adaptation of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.
As of February 2021, Apple Music has amassed as many as 70 million songs in its library. In addition to live radio programming hosted by Apple Music 1 presenters, the app also currently has a huge selection of radio shows hosted and curated by top musical artists like Billie Eilish, Elton John, and Travis Scott, among others.
Apple Music Plans and Pricing
Apple Music currently offers three different types of subscription plans geared towards individuals, students, and families. Here’s a breakdown of what each tier offers:
|Name||Price||What you get|
|Apple Music Individual||$9.99/month or $99/year||● Access to the entire content library|
● Download songs for offline streaming
● 100,000-song download limit
● Add-free playback for music and videos
● Accessible across multiple devices
● Live radio programming
● Original shows, concerts, and exclusive content
|Apple Music Student||$4.99/month||● Same inclusions as Individual plan|
● Available to college students only and subject to verification.
|Apple Music Family||$14.99/month||● Same inclusions as Individual and Student plans|
● Available to 6 people using the same iTunes Store region.
- No free, ad-supported plan: Apple Music only offers three tiers of subscriptions, whereas most of its competitors offer at least four. Instead of a free plan, Apple Music gives users a 3-month free trial for all plans, which is still quite a substantial amount of time to get a real feel of what the service can do.
- Different Family plan requirements: Unlike other streaming services, Apple Music does not require Family plan subscribers to reside at the same address. As long as they’re using the same iTunes Store region, they can avail of the same Family plan.
- No special discount plans or perks: Apple Music doesn’t offer plans for two people, like Spotify, nor do they offer special discounted plans for military or medical personnel, like Deezer and Tidal. It also doesn’t offer additional perks in its subscription plans. Spotify, for example, gives students access to video-on-demand services like Hulu and SHOWTIME.
Other Apple Music subscription options
Aside from subscribing directly to Apple Music, there are other ways one can avail of an Apple Music subscription.
- Apple One: Apple’s 6-in-1 subscription gives you access to six Apple services – Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, iCloud, Apple News+, and Apple Fitness+. It’s available in three different tiers – Individual, Family, and Premier. Six people in total can share one Family Plan, with each person provided private access to all six services.
- Apple gift cards: If you don’t have a credit card, you can easily avail of an Apple Music subscription with an Apple or iTunes gift card. You can buy them digitally or physically and reload them as needed. What’s great about these gift cards is that they come with perks depending on where you buy them. For example, an Apple gift card from Best Buy will get new subscribers 6 months of free access on Apple Music.
- Apple + Verizon: You can also avail of Apple Music by getting a phone plan from Verizon. Their Start Unlimited, Play More Unlimited, and Do More Unlimited plans get you a free 6-month subscription to Apple Music on top of other perks. Their best plan, Get More Unlimited, comes with a permanent subscription to Apple Music.
How Is Apple Music’s Stream Quality?
At its highest quality, Apple Music streams AAC files at 256kbps. This is generally considered acceptable quality for most casual listeners.
Like other streaming apps, Apple Music audio quality varies between 64kbps, 128kbps, and 256kbps, depending on the strength of your connection. With a solid Wi-Fi connection, your audio quality will automatically default to its highest bitrate setting of 256kbps.
Unlike other streaming apps, however, Apple Music doesn’t provide the option to manually toggle between the different quality settings.
How fast does the music load?
To offer some perspective, streaming a 3-minute song at 256kbps on Apple Music consumes anywhere between 3 to 6MB of data. This amounts to roughly 72 to 112MB of data per hour.
While Apple Music consumes fewer data in comparison to its competitors, you’ll still need a good data connection for seamless playback. In our trials, we were working with a fairly decent (but inconsistent) internet speed of 82Mbps. Music playback was relatively smooth, with songs taking a second or two to load. There was, however, more noticeable buffering between songs while skipping tracks.
If data usage is a concern for you, there are a couple of ways to make sure Apple Music isn’t recklessly eating away at your mobile data plan. One is by turning off the High Quality on Mobile Data option and streaming songs at lower audio quality. The other is by turning off the Mobile Data option altogether.
To access these features on the mobile app, just tap the three dots in the upper right part of the screen and select Settings. Choose Mobile Data, and simply toggle the switch next to Use Mobile Data or High Quality on Mobile Data.
How does it sound?
My listening habits swing from casual to mildly obsessive. There are times when I just want to enjoy a song for what it is. And other times, I want to listen closely and dive deeper into all its instrumental layers.
I’m no audiophile. I don’t need that “professional studio sound.” I just want my music to sound good. So, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be happy to know that Apple Music’s 256kbps will fulfill that basic need just fine.
Overall, whether you’re a casual listener or a bit of a music enthusiast, you’ll be in good hands with Apple Music’s stream quality.
In fact, I did a quick comparison with Spotify’s 320kbps using Blind Guardian’s Battlefield and my trusty pair of Sabbat E12 Ultras. While some aspects, especially the vocal clarity, sounded slightly better, keep in mind this was also me sitting in a dark room in the middle of the night, straining to listen as closely as humanly possible.
In other words, if you’re listening to music in a busy office or while commuting home, you really aren’t going to notice these differences that (I think) I was able to perceive in total silence.
Apple Music Content Library
As mentioned earlier, Apple Music has quite an expansive library amounting to about 70 million songs. That number, however, doesn’t include the other types of content that are available to subscribers.
Here’s a breakdown of all the good stuff you can find on the app:
The bulk of Apple Music’s content can be found in the Listen Now and Browse sections in the main navigation bar.
The Listen Now section shows personalized recommendations based on music and artists you like. It’s also home to your Top Picks, which gives you a quick summary of your recent activity and current faves. This feature allows you to quickly jump back into your last listening session and keep the vibe going.
The Browse section is where discovery and exploration begin. There are a ton of categories on this page, with each one leading to a collection of well-thought-out playlists. You’ll also find that there’s a great mix of old, new, indie, and mainstream offerings.
Here’s a rundown of what you can find in this section:
- Hits By Decade: This features hit songs from the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s. What’s great about this is that the songs aren’t just lumped together into one generalized playlist. They’re further broken down by genre. So instead of just a generic “90s Hits” playlist, you’re getting “90s Pop Essentials”, “90s Hip-Hop Essentials”, “90s Country Essentials”, and so on.
- Music By Mood: This section contains 12 mood-based categories such as Chill, Feel Good, Focus, and Sleep, to name a few. Each category features curated playlists, stations, and a few little extras suited to the genre. For instance, in the Sleep category, you’ll also find bedtime stories for kids and ambient non-music tracks. And in the Fitness category, listeners get hour-long DJ mixes and radio shows.
- Daily Top 100: Features the top 100 most played songs in 115 countries.
- We’re Loving and Must-Have Music: Features playlists loved and curated by Apple Music editors.
- Just Updated: This contains a quick summary of recently updated playlists, which is convenient if you want to find out if there’s new music to be found on playlists you enjoy.
Aside from curated content, Apple Music also partners with artists to provide exclusive content for its subscribers. In 2020, for example, both Justin Beiber and Coldplay released exclusive videos accompanying their most recent albums, Changes and Coldplay Reimagined.
In 2019, Apple Music also inked an exclusive partnership with French rap duo PNL, which included “co-branded videos and promotions.”
You’ll also find a pretty impressive Indie category on the app. The section is quite exhaustive, filled with Essentials playlists, new and upcoming releases, and international picks, all expertly put together by Indie labels and publications.
So, whether you’re a mainstream fan, an indie loyalist, or somewhere in-between, you’re bound to find the music you love without a hitch.
When it comes to music streaming apps, video isn’t exactly a feature I look for. But still, I have to appreciate Apple Music’s effort to offer users unique and interesting video content.
Music videos have a dedicated section, which can be accessed from the Browse tab. There you’ll find videos sorted by artist and genre, or organized into playlists. You’ll also find a selection of lyric videos, live performances, snippets from music documentaries, and behind-the-scenes extras. On the radio side of the app, you can watch exclusive video interviews with your favorite artists, as well.
Apple Music has also ventured into producing original shows. Some notable ones include Carpool Karaoke, which originated from a segment on the Late Late Show with James Corden; and VICE’s series The Score. If that wasn’t enough, Apple Music also launched a 24/7 music video station that can be accessed via Apple Music and Apple TV.
The new addition is designed to give users a steady stream of music videos, much like the old days of MTV. It’s also meant to be a platform for exclusive video premieres, fan events, and chart countdowns.
As plentiful as Apple Music’s video offerings are, they aren’t prominently advertised on the app. For instance, music videos are tucked away at the bottom of the Browse section, and most of the other content needs to be searched for. Since they’re not under any specific category, you’ll have to take a stab at what search term to use.
Undoubtedly, one of the cornerstones of Apple Music content is radio. Apple Music 1 (formerly known as Beats 1) provides 24/7 radio to listeners in 165 countries.
In terms of programming, there is a lot to digest and choose from.
Apple Music’s main spotlight stations are Music 1, Music Hits, and Music Country, which broadcast live around the clock. Beyond that, there’s a vast amount of radio shows to explore, some formatted to include discussions, guest appearances, and artist interviews.
Most shows are led by savvy music hosts and DJs, but there’s also a selection of shows led by musical artists themselves. These include Elton John’s Rocket Hour, Ciara’s Level Up Radio, Snoop Dogg’s Uncle Snoop’s Army Radio, and The Weeknd’s Memento Mori, to name a few.
If you want a little more variety, perhaps some news or sports updates, you can tune in to several international and local radio stations as well. Thanks to the recent partnership between Apple Music and TuneIn, a free internet radio streaming service, you can do so straight from Apple Music.
Apple Music is no stranger to controversy. In 2015, the music streaming giant earned the ire of Taylor Swift due to a company policy that essentially left artists uncompensated during its complimentary 3-month free trial. The disagreement compelled Apple Music to quickly rethink its policies, to the benefit of all music artists on the platform.
In 2016, the streaming service hit another snag – this time with album releases. When singer-songwriter Frank Ocean entered into an exclusive album release deal with Apple Music, he did so without the knowledge of his record label Def Jam Recordings. The affront led to UMG (Def Jam’s parent company) ceasing all exclusive music release deals with streaming services in general, deeming that they negatively impacted their artists’ streaming numbers.
Because of these, Apple Music made the decision to cut back on album release exclusives. This led to more focus on other types of exclusives, such as music videos and live performances. For instance, Justin Beiber released a series of music videos for his album Changes. Coldplay also released a short documentary on the platform, alongside their new EP Coldplay Reimagined.
Ease of Use
Typical of Apple aesthetics, Apple Music’s UI is clean, polished, and straightforward. On the web player and desktop app, there’s a stationary navigation bar to the left side that houses all the main sections found on the app: Listen Now, Browse, Radio, Library, iTunes Store, Playlists, and Search. The sidebar not only makes it easy to jump between sections but also makes playlist creation easier and quicker.
On the mobile app, the navigation bar can be found at the bottom of the screen. On the tablet app, the navigation bar auto-hides, but can be quickly recalled by pressing “< Music” at the top left portion of the screen.
What I like about this is that you can customize the sidebar to show more or fewer sections, depending on your preference. However, this only works on desktop and tablet apps.
Creating playlists and adding songs are pleasantly easy, and can be done from anywhere on the app. Whether you’re on the Listen Now page, or deep within the Browse section, you can literally grab and drag any playlist, album, or song from that section and drop it straight into one of your own playlists in the sidebar. On the mobile and tablet app, you can also do this by long-pressing any album, playlist, or song.
While other streaming apps have a similar function, the process of doing it felt faster and more seamless on Apple Music.
What could be better
As intuitive as Apple Music has become, there are things that either could be improved or could cause confusion in users who are unfamiliar with the app. Here are some of them:
- Love and Add to Library: On other streaming apps, if you “Like” a song, it automatically gets added to your Library. On Apple Music, clicking “Love” on a song, album, or playlist simply works to refine your recommendations on the Listen Now section. The “Add to Library” is a separate function altogether. It may feel inconvenient and confusing at first because of the extra step you need to take to “Love” and add songs to your Library.
- Seamless Playback: For the purpose of this review, I currently have Apple Music installed on my laptop, my Android phone, and my iPad. One thing that quickly stood out (and irked me) was the lack of seamless playback. This means that if I’m playing music on my phone, and switch to my laptop, the music stops and doesn’t smoothly transition to the new device. It’ll also notify you that another device is trying to play a song, and prompt you to get a Family subscription, which can be quite disruptive.
Apple Music is not exactly known for its music discovery prowess.
And while it does provide a number of “New In (Genre)” playlists, it would’ve been better to see more personalized recommendations.
As a Spotify user, I found myself sorely missing the Discover Weekly and Tastebreakers playlists. It’d be great to see recommendations within playlists I’ve created as well. And the Similar Artists section could also do with some work. It’s simply unacceptable that Apple Music, with its extensive library, can only give me 8 artist recommendations to check out.
Apple Music’s discovery algorithm is often cited as one of the app’s weaknesses that prevent people from making a decisive switch. Despite that, Apple Music does have some features designed to deliver new music to users – though most of the time, you need to go looking for it yourself.
Let’s look at some of them:
The Listen Now page is essentially your Home screen and is the first thing you’ll see when you open the app on any platform. As mentioned before, it shows all your recent listening activity and recommendations based on the music you enjoy. You’ll find genre-based recommendations, Stations For You, and New Releases here as well.
By making diligent use of the “Love” and “Dislike” functions, you can help train the discovery algorithm even more and further streamline your recommendations.
Must-have Music / New Music
If you like keeping on top of what’s new and fresh, the Must-have Music section on the Browse page is the place to be. There you’ll find your general “top hits” playlists consisting of popular tracks we all know and love. But it’s there that you’ll also uncover curated playlists dedicated to fresh finds, like New Music Daily, Future Hits, Viral Hits, New in Pop, New in Hip-Hop, and New in Indie.
You can also check out New Music on the Browse page to see a collection of all newly-released albums across all genres.
All Apple Music artist profiles have a Similar Artists section at the very bottom. This is where you’ll get recommendations for other artists with a similar sound or musical style. The section, however, is quite limited as it only gives you a maximum of 8 recommended artists. And they’re usually the popular ones who you probably already know.
For an app with such a diverse library, this feature hardly does the artists any justice in terms of helping them reach a wider audience.
BASE:LINE is a playlist resulting from a collaboration between Apple Music, UnitedMasters, and the NBA. The playlist is curated by Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s director of hip-hop and R&B, and features music from emerging independent hip-hop artists who create music “from outside the system.” The playlist can be accessed on Apple Music and the official NBA website.
Apple Music’s social features center more around sharing music than collaborating on them. On the app, you can create your own social profile where you can share what music you’re listening to and show off some of your playlists. You can also follow friends to see what they’re listening to as well. As mentioned, you can share playlists by sending your friends a link, but no one else will be able to add or edit them.
Apple Music Replay
Apple Music Replay is essentially meant to be Apple’s answer to Spotify Wrapped. It features an auto-generated playlist containing 100 of your most listened to songs. It’s also available and constantly updated throughout the year, unlike Wrapped, which is only available at the end of each year.
Apple Music Replay, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Subscribers criticized the feature for not offering anything else aside from a literal playlist of songs. There’s no added insight into your listening patterns, no fun graphics or slick animations, and no option to share it on social media.
Song lyrics are powered by MusixMatch and are available on all platforms of Apple Music. On the mobile app, lyrics have a full-screen display option with automatic synchronized scrolling. Users can also easily jump from one portion of a song to another by simply tapping on certain lines of lyrics. If you’re having trouble recalling a song title, you can also search for using a phrase or a line from the lyrics.
The same functions can also be found on the desktop and tablet app and can be accessed by tapping on the icon with the quotation marks.
One thing to note is that the feature is inconsistent throughout the app. Finding lyrics to more popular songs, whether in English or another language, isn’t a problem. But this doesn’t seem to be the case for less popular songs. Additionally, some songs also don’t feature the fancy auto-scrolling feature, while others are just completely blank. And translations? Forget about it.
Smart Playlists are a great feature that allows you to create playlists without having to manually add all the songs yourself. By simply specifying certain “rules” and parameters within the playlist settings, you can program a Smart Playlist to automatically do it all for you.
For example, if you want to see all the songs you “Loved,” you can set a rule in the Smart Playlist settings, and the AI will filter only those specific songs into the playlist. The only catch is that the songs need to be saved in your Library for them to appear on a Smart Playlist.
Saylists are a new addition to Apple Music’s catalog. The new feature is a result of a collaboration between Warner Music and Accenture Interactive. It’s designed to supplement speech therapy for children suffering from speech-sound disorder, or SSD.
This feature different playlists containing songs that focus on specific speech sounds, like ‘Z’, ‘S’, ‘K’, ‘R’, and the like. By using popular music, Saylists are meant to encourage kids to practice these sounds, while staying immersed and having fun.
If you want to give Apple Music a go, here’s how you can get started:
- How to create an Apple Music account?
- How to download the Apple Music app?
- How to subscribe to Apple Music Premium?
- How to cancel Apple Music Premium?
- How to delete an Apple Music account?
- Can I upload my own music to Apple Music?
How to create an Apple Music account?
Signing up for an Apple Music account can be done from the web player and the mobile or desktop app.
Via web player or desktop app
- When you open the web player and desktop app, you should see a sign-up prompt that says Try it Now or Try it Free.
- If you have an existing Apple ID, you can simply sign in with that and then choose which plan (Individual or Family) you want to avail of, and you’re good to go.
- If you don’t have an Apple ID, just click “Sign Up with a New Apple ID”.
- Fill in your personal information and payment details. You’ll then be asked to verify your email address. When that’s all done, you can select an Apple Music plan, and you’re ready to start listening to music.
- When you open the mobile app, you’ll be prompted to a free trial for Apple Music. To proceed, just tap Try it Now.
- In the next window, you’ll be asked to choose what plan to sign up for. Pick your plan and tap Start Trial.
- You’ll be prompted to sign in with an existing Apple ID or create a new one. After making your choice, you’ll be asked to fill in your personal information and payment details, and then you’re done!
How to download the Apple Music app?
Apple Music comes pre-installed on all iOS devices, so there’s no need for any manual downloading. If you’re an Android or Windows user, here’s how you can download the app to your device.
To get the app for your Android device, just download it from Google Play.
How to subscribe to Apple Music Premium?
Since Apple Music does not have a free version, when you initially sign up for a new account, you’re already enrolled into its Premium service on a 3-month trial. After that, you can choose to either continue your subscription or cancel it altogether.
How to cancel Apple Music Premium?
You can cancel your Apple Music subscription through the desktop or mobile app. Here’s how to do it:
- Open the Apple Music desktop app. In the menu bar, click on Account and then View My Account.
- On the Account Information page, scroll to the bottom until you see Settings. Look for Subscriptions and then click Manage to the right of it.
- On the Subscriptions page, look for Apple Music and click on Edit.
- On the Edit Subscription page, just click on Cancel Subscription, and you’re done.
- Open the Apple Music mobile app and tap the three dots on the upper right corner of the screen. In the menu that pops up, select Account.
- In the new window, tap on Manage Subscription.
- In the next window, tap on Cancel Free Trial or Cancel Subscription, and that’s it!
How to delete an Apple Music account?
If you want to completely delete your Apple Music account, you need to delete the Apple ID connected to it. Here’s how:
- Log in to the Apple ID website. You’ll be asked to verify your identity through a 2-factor authentication procedure.
- Once you’ve logged in, scroll all the way down to Data & Privacy, and click Manage Your Data & Privacy.
- In the new window that opens, just click on Delete your account. This prompts a message with an access code that you can use to retrieve your account should you change your mind about deleting it.
Can I upload my own music to Apple Music?
Adding music you have stored on your computer into the Apple Music app is an easy process. Here’s how to do it:
- Open the desktop app and click on File in the menu bar, and then Import.
- Choose the music files you want to upload and select Open. After they’re imported, you should already be able to see them in your Library.
Apple Music is a strong option to consider if you’re deciding between streaming services. This platform evenly matched with its competitors in terms of pricing and amount of music content. It provides decent sound quality and offers a variety of other content like videos and radio.
After using Apple Music quite heavily over several days, I’ve come to realize that if there’s one thing Apple Music is exceptionally good at, it’s music curation. Its thoughtful, detailed, and specific playlists struck me the most. Competitors have a similar approach as well, but for some reason, the genres don’t feel as fleshed-out as they do on Apple Music.
Presentation is topnotch as well. I definitely have to give points for those eye-catching animated playlist cover images. It has nothing to do with music, but it sure is pretty to look at.
All in all, Apple Music has me convinced. Some kinks certainly need ironing out, like their abysmal music discovery algorithm. But with a company like Apple behind it, it isn’t a stretch to believe that they’ll further develop that feature in the future. Ultimately, the good outweighs the bad on this app. And with a bit more improvement, they just might make a subscriber out of me.