Apple Music Hands-On: I Can't Tell You if it Works But it Looks Cool

By Sean Hollister on at

I don’t use Spotify. Or Rdio. Sometimes I want to hear a particular song; mostly I just want a good tune that’s relevant to my interests without thinking about it. Basically, I’m the perfect customer for Apple Music, which promises to be the one music app to rule them all. Is it? I can’t tell.

Apple gave us a behind-closed-doors look at Apple Music at WWDC, and I got to spend roughly ten minutes with the app. I couldn’t take any pictures, I couldn’t take down any quotes, I can only tell you what I saw there. What I saw was a crazy-colourful interface absolutely jam-packed with different ways to listen to music. And at this point, the biggest compliment I can pay Apple Music is that I genuinely wanted to explore all of it.

Apple Music is supposed to get to know you, to intelligently suggest music for you; except with a human touch instead of just a cold, lifeless algorithm. This is how that happens:

1.) When you start using Apple Music, you can specify which genres and artists you like by tapping on little bubbles that represent them. Tap once if you like a genre or artist, tap twice if you really really like them. That gives Apple Music a basic idea of your tastes. (Plus, it takes into account music you’ve already bought on iTunes, in case that’s a thing you’ve done.)

2.) The more you use Apple Music, the more it’ll know what kind of music you like to play.

3.) Somehow (it’s not clear how, yet, but I’m pretty sure it involves algorithms) Apple Music will match you up with playlists of music curated by actual human DJs to suit your tastes.

All of this shows up on the For You tab, which is where the Apple Music experience begins. But it’s only one of five different tabs in the interface. Want to just know what’s new and hot, without any personalisation? That’s what the New tab is for. Tap the Radio tab if you’re looking for a non-stop radio experience. Connect to see updates from your favourite artists, such as a band-member showing off their hotel room after a recent concert, or better yet a sneak peak at an unreleased song. Then there’s the My Music tab, which gives you more traditional iTunes-like access to your saved playlists and songs. And there’s enough content in there that each tab could practically be an app all on its own.

For You isn’t just playlists, but also entire new albums from artists you like and ones you might like if you give them a try. New isn’t just a top 100 chart, it’s an entire curated store-like page of the latest albums, singles, and curated playlists too. You can dive into playlists recommended for particular music genres, or particular types of popular activities (need some music for your summer BBQ?). Plus charts for tunes, albums, even music videos. Radio isn’t just the premiere Beats 1 channel with its three big-name DJs, including ex-Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe: you can pick a genre there, too.

Honestly, it’s a dizzying array of choices, but hopefully it means I’ll always be able to find some music no matter my mood.

The problem: I wasn’t able to personalise the service one bit in my ten-minute demo, so I couldn’t really tell if it would suggest new and interesting things I’d like to hear on a regular basis. Or if my favourite artists will actually use Apple’s proprietary little social media service on the regular, either. It doesn’t just pull in content from their Twitter or Facebook accounts, they actually need to use the app to publish their updates. Which requires those artists to sign up and get verified: it’s a curated experience, not a YouTube or MySpace where anyone can set up an account and potentially get discovered; you can’t share your own playlists with other Apple Music subscribers, either.

I can’t even begin to tell you if the service is worth $10 a month, or $15 (UK-localised pricing to follow) for your up-to-six-person family, because from a pure features standpoint Apple Music isn’t all that different from Spotify. What matters is how smart the app (and its human curators) will be. Thankfully, there’ll be a free three-month trial to help us answer that.

I’m looking forward to June 30th, when I’ll begin to find out if Apple Music is the one for me.