Last week, Apple finally had its opportunity to entice its WWDC audience and their millions of users worldwide with a glimpse into the new operating systems and platforms planned for this Fall when their new products normally arrive. The focus seemed magnified on packing a well amount of new features into the software of Apple’s four major product lines, which gave consumers an opportunity to build excitement with the new plans for AppleTV, Apple Watch, Mac and iPhone. A service that was birthed at last year’s WWDC was one of the ten focal points of this year’s iOS update – more importantly, a service that has accomplished an incredible amount since the opening of its doors on June 30, 2015.
Apple’s first attempt at a streaming service, subtlety named Apple Music, is close to reaching its first anniversary after acquiring Beats By Dre’s streaming service, Beats Music, two years prior in 2013. Within months, the company has assisted in propelling their service within the realms of two other streaming giants: Spotify, the service that continues their experience in streaming dominance, and TIDAL, a rival service supported by JAY Z whom also wants a large piece of this market. The lingering issue with this scenario, unfortunately, lies in the previous sentence – normally, one would be able to pinpoint this level of immediate success to the amount of quality the service contains, but the pleasures Apple Music provides has been accompanied with just enough ignorance and mystery to make one come to the opinion that its name has held more weight than its features.
It’s not an unfair critique, nor do I believe it is too early to voice confusion or vent frustration. My experiences have been interesting, to say the least. The excitement from the positives in its beginning stages triggered me to don the proverbial shiny logo on the right side of my chest, thus becoming the facetious spokesperson for the streaming service I believe has high potential to reach the gold standard it has the capability to. As much as it was beautifully presented, however, the millions upon millions of songs Apple claimed within their catalog also came with a few side handshakes that illustrated Apple Music’s average attempt at dominating the streaming business. Nevertheless, they managed to keep me on board with artist-exclusive releases, extremely valuable radio broadcasts through their Beats1 platform and the comfort of not having to deal with the headaches of any third party applications that would claim to provide similar services.
The announcement of Apple Music’s redesign (or overhaul, as they described it) left me with a notion that the overseers of this product knew there was still a quality amount of areas that can be attended to. Mainly, I needed assurance in knowing that many of the elements to the personal streaming described in its initial three-month trial were fixed and worked properly – anything vanity related in the application sat backseat to performance fixes and announcements of new products within the application itself. Rumors of Apple’s plans tend to spread quickly, so the reports of a brand new look and a possible new Beats radio station infiltrated blogs and rumor sites with ease. Anticipation grew for what was to be announced at the WWDC developers conference, and what I hoped to be groundbreaking advancements ended up being less than what I expected, but thankfully enough to pique my curiosity in exploring the new layout presented this past Monday. Frequent users were able to quickly note the manicured look, noting the new font and the shuffling of information into new tabs. What drew me in the most was Apple’s main objective in this update: a response to the complexities voiced by new users when attempting to use a streaming app of this stature for the first time. The content that previously looked like a hassle to navigate is now simplified to a more tranquil experience.
Unfortunately for me, I never like viewing any music related application without being able to view it through my own personal files in my library. After obtaining the iOS 10 beta to personally indulge, I threw my current go-to library onto my phone to explore.
Eddy Cue made sure to put an emphasis on the beauty within the new design, with its purpose being a bolder emphasis on the most important features of Apple Music. When the application is opened, it now instantly heads to your library for simple access to your library. A return to the classic layout of the iPod menu is more than welcomed – although I adjusted to scrolling through an entire list of albums and artists by selection through the current drop down menu, I would much rather shuffle through my selections the old (well new, I suppose) way. Scrolling down on the Library tab will give you a glance at your Recently Added projects, and a click of the Edit button in the upper right corner provides you the ability to select what you would like to highlight in your Library field. Not bad – the dark pops of bold are pretty hard on the eyes, especially due to the fact that the bold holds an impact throughout the rest of the tabs, but outside of that, there is not much to hold a grudge about.
The Artists screen has changed a small amount, but nothing too large to boast about. The square shaped artist images from iTunes have been swapped out to a circular crop, and selecting an artist will provide you an alphabetical selection of the albums you have for that artist. I currently only have four projects from The Weeknd on my iPhone, and they appear with a large cover art, which I approve of 100%. Anyone who has put more time than they would like to admit into making sure their library is tagged up properly will be very proud to witness their library shine on any of their Apple products.
Albums comes out separated by artist, although you can always head to Settings and change Apple Music to separate your albums by album title. It appears the same way that it does in Artists – rich, large cover art. Apple has done a quality job in making these fields look more appealing than they did for the past year.
The Now Playing screen is a little revamped with larger, bold text and a drop shadow underneath the album art. It looks very nice on the phone, although I’m starting to become a little bothered by the fact that it does not fill up the entire screen – the display at the top still shows from the home screen. Bozoma Saint John (Apple’s head of global consumer marketing) debuted the Lyrics screen that accompanies your music playing, but I have yet to see it included in the iOS 10 beta. The movement of the Replay/Shuffle buttons to the bottom of the page has been a struggle since I was very comfortable with their current placement, but I do like the addition of “Up Next” instead. Let’s hope this doesn’t disappear in future beta updates.
Those who have enjoyed using 3D Touch on their iPhone 6S will appreciate the new controls when selecting a song or album – a Dislike button has been added to send a hint to Apple to NEVER play this trash again, along with a few other fields that exist in today’s Apple Music build.
The improvements to the Library tab are worth displaying and worth being hopeful about once the improvements are solidified for September, and yet, it still feels like Apple takes a step forward before doing a mysterious regression. All of the music photographed within my personal library are files that are physically downloaded onto my iPhone, as opposed to living within the cloud profile Apple debuted last year with the entire streaming service itself – iCloud Music Library. Originally, this was intended to elevate the positive success Apple had with iTunes Match, but instead, provide an opportunity for those to have their entire iTunes library in the cloud to enjoy and interact with amidst the new discoveries that Apple Music provides to you. Those who built an immense collection throughout the years were ecstatic to finally have a cloud-based platform that showed love to the libraries that inched closer to the 100,000 mark. iTunes Match capped their libraries off at 25,000 – therefore, the news of a service that is willing to assist you with four times the songs was something that was too good to be true. However, based on poor performance and terrible response to errors, this continues to be something that is just a dream.
A well amount of iTunes users who found immediate interest into Apple Music found issues with iCloud Music Library early in its circle, with errors ranging from iTunes’ match-based formula matching clean songs instead of the explicit ones in your library, all the way up to iCloud Music Library actually altering iTunes libraries from the Mac application. If you have the time (and the high amount of patience) to follow through with workarounds reported by frustrated consumers, more power to you – the fact remains that this should not be necessary if this is an important pillar in a paid subscription.
Because of this, I have had to turn off iCloud Music Library due to my paranoia of having my personal tags rearranged. Nothing would give me more happiness in life than knowing I can essentially have a 100,000 library in my pocket, but not at the expense of non-reversible errors that can appear at any moment. Without any attention given to these issues, building immense libraries through Apple Music will become lethargic and, quite frankly, solidify the consumer mindset that this service does not differentiate itself from its competitors at all.
The current For You tab has quality intentions to expose you to new sounds and playlists that would assist in sharpening your music taste, but it ended up running into two main issues. One of the issues that kept me away from the For You tab involved the fact that Apple continued to suggest albums I already have, while the other issue revolved around the fact that there was never a tie-in with any of their suggestions. It left me assuming that if I listened to a Stevie Wonder song in my library, the iTunes lightbulb lights up and swings me a few key albums from the 1970’s. As much as this tab was designed to cater to your tastes, it came off as the usual awkward algorithm that Spotify users sometimes vent about.
Thankfully, Apple stayed true to their objective to make their recommendations a little more personal by quickly giving me playlists based on the songs I’ve played. The top of the screen begins with the date, along with my Apple Music photo (not sure why we don’t have personal profiles yet, either), and the tab begins with a few playlists. Three of them are pictured above, indicating the reason these playlists arrived was from my recent Rihanna selections or the large amount of hip-hop in my library. The addition of the date gives me an idea that their featured playlists will be similar to Spotify and Songza, two applications that have curated enjoyable playlists based on the weekend or specific holidays – a lane that has lacked within Apple Music. Adding a hint of personality to these playlists will more than likely lead me to play more of their recommendations this year, but time will tell if these get repetitive.
Taking a scroll further down will bring you into the Heavy Rotation area, which looks like a mixture of what is currently being played the most by the Apple Music community, along with the projects that you have continued to revisit in your own personal rotation. Apple takes the wheel over when you dip into Today’s Albums, encouraging you to try out some of their recommendations based on what genres they’ve noticed you’re listening to. It may be a coincidence, but I noticed artists with high energy in rap and artists that are more uptempo R&B during their Friday recommendations. The main issue with these fields feed off the issue I currently have with their recommendations, which shows albums I’ve had for years and already ran into the ground. I would love to see choices of artists and albums I’ve yet to hear, so hopefully that type of algorithm is in the works before the official Fall release. The final two areas that appear in the For You tab are the Artist Playlists that sometimes appear, and a New Releases For You column at the very end, which…for some reason…was nothing but dancehall picks for me? I didn’t choose any dancehall to play while playing around with the beta, so I’m not sure how Apple pulled these for me, but let’s hope the choices differentiate in September.
Those who love to stay current on the latest music lived within the New tab for the past year, indulging in new releases, top chart information and curated playlists from the publications that had their own personal hubs within Apple Music. One difficulty that could be pinpointed, however, was that this tab normally looked cluttered and overwhelming if you weren’t familiar with it. Now, the Apple Music team has redesigned this to the Browse tab, separating all realms of information into four tabs: New Music, Curated Playlists, Top Charts and Genres.
The New Music tab has stayed similar to what Now looks like with split sections for this week’s Hot Tracks, new albums that released, A-List selection playlists for each genre, music videos and more recommendations of who you need to listen to. Curated Playlists can be viewed above – not much has changed here as far as content. The same Activities/Moods playlists, and the Curators that were on board last year, can be enjoyed once again.
Top Charts can be viewed above. I developed a habit of viewing the charts about twenty times a day throughout the past year, and while Top Songs has followed the same format, Top Albums stays in sync with the Library tab by showing the albums in large, rich album art.
The Genres tab looks a bit cleaner! If you’d like to explore based on a specific genre as opposed to the entire Apple Music catalog, you can select a genre and dive into the hottest tracks, the newest music, genre-specific playlists, and of course…more recommendations, because, why not?
Splitting these into four choices should alleviate the issues of those who find complications from enjoying the application to its full potential, and hopefully will lessen the complexities.
Arguably Apple Music’s greatest accomplishment lies within Beats1, a 24-hour worldwide radio station anchored in New York City, Los Angeles and London. A subscription is not needed to listen, which has assisted in its popularity across countries. This tab has received the same manicure the previous three tabs received, but Apple has made sure to give the Beats1 stations a much larger stage to shine.
Before the iOS 10 update, users would have to click the center of the Beats1 logo to reveal information for upcoming shows on the hourly schedule, as well as the specific show pages for each station that would contain past episodes in explicit content. A quick tap on “Explore Beats 1” now shows you everything necessary to keep up with all of your favorite shows, whether it is the daily radio shows from the three anchors of Ebro Darden, Zane Lowe and Julie Adenuga, or the highly successful artist-based channels like DJ Khaled’s We The Best Radio, Q-Tip’s Abstract Radio or Drake’s OVO Sound Radio.
Apple has built up a quality amount of artist-exclusive content to provide for its first year, so one can only hope they continue to build upon these stations. Reports have stated that patents were submitted for a “Beats2” and “Beats3”, but the WWDC presentation stayed silent on any of these indications. Subscribers have voiced their interests on what they would love these stations to play, especially a explicit-based channel to combat the current edited atmosphere of Beats1, but this information may be kept on ice until September.
The fifth tab, Connect, had a very short life after what one would assume as a small amount of interaction between subscribers and the artists they followed on Apple Music. What once seemed like an interesting follow up to the failed Ping project introduced a few years ago, eventually ended up being a dull Part 2. Nevertheless, Apple has stated the Connect information will be shrinked into any of the previous tabs (either For You or Browse, I would assume) – this leads to the new tab of Search!
Normally, you would be able to see the trending searches by clicking the magnifying glass in the upper corner of your phone, but apparently, an entire tab was needed to make sure a search option was visible. Searching an artist, album or song will immediately split you into two separate areas: In Library, where Apple Music digs through the crates of your personal collection, or simply Apple Music, where you search their database to stream their collection. Each option moves at a quick pace, and I’ve yet to have any issues with finding a song I need. One opportunity I would love is the ability to find a song I randomly heard out and about with my voice, the melody I picked up and maybe the one/two words I remember, but for now, third party apps will have to suffice.
OVERHAUL RATING: 6/10
To close this out…if I could just go on a rant for ooooone moment…
I can gladly state that Apple is aware of its strengths, as well as its weaknesses and opportunities, so the positive aspect is acknowledging that there is a move into the right direction. However, I am not too inclined to oversell on the change of atmosphere and beautiful, simplified content like the Apple Music team did last week in WWDC. Few things can be fixed as far as presentation, but the overhauls consumers are waiting for are fixes in the buggy, nerve wrecking cloud that this application feeds from. Google Play Music, for example, skips all of the complicated algorithms and allows an upload of media files to their cloud server. Even if they boast a 50,000 song cap, which is literally half of what Apple Music provides, there aren’t any odd matches that mix my live albums with studio albums, album cover art does not get mixed into a choppy Datpiff rendition, my explicit songs do not get matched with clean – it’s a dream come true! Unfortunately, those whom are in my position reside in annoyance as the minority, while areas that didn’t really need to be updated are included in the overhaul.
…But outside of that, when stripping down Apple Music to the root, we’re looking at an application that has accomplished pretty impressive amounts in a twelve month period, thriving in a streaming business that just recently began to find its wings. Their artist-exclusive projects have added to their ability to boast about the incredible library they provide, and may end up as the closest streaming service to catch Spotify’s consistent user growth. This type of success has not come without celebrity controversy, nor has Apple truly been able to explain if their streaming investment will eventually cannibalize their revolutionary iTunes Store, but one can be hopeful that the answers will fall into place in due time. As far as this Fall’s rollout is concerned for the revamped Apple Music, it has its bright spots, but the glaring omissions they continue to shelve to the side will limit the separation they need to break away from their competitors and claim dominance.