Apple Music is a subscription service looking to break Spotify's tight grip on the audio streaming market. The program offers millions of on-demand songs, live 24/7 radio and dedicated social hubs for artists, though many questions remain about its ability to dethrone the current king of music streaming.
Is Apple's take on streaming more of a rebirth or a reheat? Does Apple offer enough exclusive content to warrant all the headlines? Most importantly: are audiences already ferociously loyal to Spotify, or are they open to change?
Time will decide the latter, but, for now, here's everything you need to know about Apple Music.
What is Apple Music?
Apple Music is a $10 per month subscription service that offers access to live radio, social listening and a streaming music library with 45 million songs.
How does it compare to Spotify (and the rest)?
While its music library is largely comparable to that of Spotify (which claims "more than 35 million"), Google Play Music (40 million) or Tidal (more than 40 million), Apple Music also provides deep integration with your iTunes library, allowing you to access the music you own and any streamable tracks in one convenient location.
The service also offers a social media network for musicians called Connect, and puts a focus on expert-curated content. Apple Music does not have Spotify's tight integration with Facebook, nor does it have podcasts built in (those live in Apple's Podcasts app).
Apple does not publicize the bitrates for its streaming music, but since iTunes purchases are 256 kbps AAC files, its possible that Apple Music uses a similar rate. By comparison, Spotify offers bitrates as high as 320 kbps, while Tidal offers lossless 1411 kbps audio. Apple earned headlines early on by buying exclusives to albums from the likes of Taylor Swift and Chance The Rapper, but the company has seemingly stopped that practice.
How can I get it?
Apple Music is found in the Music app on iOS, watchOS and tvOS, as well as in iTunes under the For You and Browse tabs. It's even on Android devices via the Google Play Store. While all streaming music services can be played through Apple's HomePod speaker, the Siri assistant only supports Apple Music.
How much does it cost?
New users can take advantage of a free, three-month trial, but Apple Music costs $9.99 per month (just like Spotify Premium and the entry-level package at Tidal) after the trial is over. Unlike Spotify, Apple doesn't offer an ad-supported free tier for users. Both Apple and Spotify offer the same Student ($4.99 per month) and Family ($14.99 per month for 6 accounts) pricing.
How does it work?
Users can stream music from the Apple Music library through the Music app or iTunes, with options for creating playlists and saving songs for listening offline. The Apple Music staff will provide curated playlists, including the Favorites Mix and New Music playlists, which it builds to your tastes, just like Spotify does with its Discover Weekly playlist.
To give it a greater sense of your favorites (which it does learn based on what you listen to), tap the For You tab, tap your account photo, scroll to the bottom and tap View Account. Then, tap "Choose Artists For You" to fine tune your preferences.
If you use an Apple Watch with LTE, you'll use the Radio app to stream music to your wearable.
What are the social listening features of Apple Music?
Apple Music doesn't have as tight integration with social media as Spotify, but you can still share your favorite tunes. To see what's available for you, tap the For You tab, tap your profile photo in the top right corner and create a profile for sharing.
Here, you'll also see if you have any follow requests, and a tap of the Find More Friends button allows you to connect your Facebook and Instagram accounts, so you can see which of your friends also share their music.
Once you've connected with friends in Apple Music, the For You tab will show a "Friends Are Listening To" section. Also, throughout the app, you'll start to notice small badges on the bottom right corner of album art if a friend has been listening to that album.
What is Beats 1 Radio?
While internet radio is nothing new, Apple made a big deal out of the Beats 1 radio station, which launched aside Apple Music. Beats 1 streams music 24/7 from studios in New York, London and Los Angeles, and users can tune in regardless of whether or not they subscribe to Apple Music. Beats 1's stations will be directed by popular radio DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga.
Lowe is perhaps the most well-known of the bunch, thanks to the years he's spent breaking records and interviewing the biggest names in popular music at BBC’s Radio 1 station. Beats 1 also features programming hosted by artists such as St. Vincent, Elton John and Drake.
Beats 1 isn't Apple's only streaming radio option, as the company has been offering audio streams since September 2013 with Tunes Radio. Originally an ad-supported set of streaming music channels with an option for shareable user-created stations, iTunes Radio wasn't a a massive hit. As of January 2016, you'll need to be a paying Apple Music subscriber to keep listening to iTunes Radio and hold onto any stations you've created.
What else is in Apple Music?
Under Browse, tap TV & Movies to see Apple's original content that it only provides to Apple Music subscribers. Currently, these include music documentaries and episodes of Carpool Karaoke that Apple commissioned, though the series' creator James Corden is not in most episodes.
What is it missing?
For a while, Apple Music was missing support for Sonos' home audio systems, but they've since remedied that deficiency.
Right now, the biggest thing that Apple Music is lacking is a major unique feature outside of its HomePod support. Until it offers something major that Spotify (which has a free tier) doesn't, its appeal may be limited to those ensconced in the Apple ecosystem.
As of March 2018, Apple Music is demonstrating solid growth of its paid subscriber count, currently boasting 38 million, 2 million more than it had during the previous month. Spotify is still in the lead, with 71 million paid subscribers, and 159 million overall. While it's not a traditional feature, Spotify's lead in the subscriber count battle is one of its major weapons, as some don't want to leave their friends and their friends' playlists behind.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.