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Mu Tech Corner

Does Apple Music live up to the hype?

Apple Music was released on the 30 June amid much fanfare and its fair share of controversy, including a very public spat with Taylor Swift that catapulted its PR people into some pretty quick damage control.

As with any new Apple product or service, expectations were sky high in the run up to its release. There was also much speculation on the effect it would have on the competition, and especially on streaming giant Spotify. Indeed, Spotify stepped up its game considerably in the months leading up to Apple Music’s release, including with a fundraising effort that has seen its net worth soar to over $ 8 billion.

So it was with much curiosity that I signed up to see how it actually stacks up.

Predictably, Apple Music uses the already well-established and familiar iTunes infrastructure, and takes the form of an iTunes add-on rather than being a standalone app. This works very much in Apple’s favour, as a simple OSX / iOS update makes Apple Music instantly available to millions of Apple users worldwide. Sign-up is similarly effortless, taking less than ten seconds via your Apple ID.

It is instantly and abundantly clear that the Apple Music catalogue is extremely well populated, relying as it does on iTunes’ market leading digital library. I easily pick up my listening experience right from where I left off with Spotify with virtually no gaps in availability. If anything, there seems to be more content on offer, including a “Beatles collection” (The Beatles remain conspicuously absent on the streaming market) and even music videos.

The audio quality is top notch. Streaming is fast, smooth and easy on the 3G plan, which is just as one would expect from a streaming service that aspires to lead the market. So far so good.

The first surprise is that Apple Music does not offer native scrobbling. This would seem to be a minor issue, but many users have taken to the Apple community forum to express their annoyance. Native scrobbling does seem relatively easy to implement, so the lack of such basic functionality in a service that has been touted as a leader and game changer feels like a bit of a cop out.

The app is also hard to navigate and often feels clunky. Returning to the artist screen or even the now playing menu, for instance, requires multiple clicks or swipes and a search for inconveniently small and hidden drop-down menus. The app also fails to resume playback from where it left off if you close it. This is quite annoying, because in order to continue listening to an album later you have to leave the app open, or otherwise search for the album anew. Spotify’s interface is, by contrast, much more fluid and intuitive and its search functionality much better organised.

I’m also not a fan of the app’s design, which feels like it was put together far too quickly. Apple Music arguably allows more freedom to artists, as they can customise their page using their own images and colour-schemes. Unfortunately the result feels disjointed and haphazard. Spotify’s streamlined black and green interface looks sleeker and is much more pleasing to the eye.

Considering that Apple has made user experience one of the cornerstones of its brand identity, it is quite incredible that it fails to deliver on design and functionality.

These issues might not be deal-breakers yet, given the vast amount of content on offer and the three-month free trial period. They might however become deal-breakers when the trial-period is up and the playing field has been levelled.

Overall, Apple really needs to pull up its socks and make some drastic improvements to the app’s functionality if it truly intends to become king of the crop. At least for the time being, it seems like Spotify has dodged a bullet.

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