Apple Music One Month Later: Does it Hold Up?

It's been a little over a month since Apple Music, the company's music streaming service, debuted to a lot of attention and a handful of problems. While it didn't challenge Spotify's social strengths, it aimed to solve the need for a seamless home for both users' iTunes collections as well as Apple's own music library.

Apple told USA Today that the service has garnered 11 million users, which isn't a huge surprise considering it launched as a three-month free trial. Now is a good time to see how far Apple Music has come; Customers have less than two months to decide whether or not to actually pay its monthly fee, which is $10 a month for one user, or $15 a month for up to 6 users.

MORE: How To Install Apple Music and Start Your Free Trial

For You Is Treating Us Better

The primary "For You" section of Apple Music, which presents you with albums based on the genres and artists you select, started off half-baked. I was frequently shown greatest hits playlists from artists I had told Apple Music I liked, but with names like "Intro to Wilco." That's like telling a coworker about your childhood best friend, and the colleague then asking if you'd like to meet your own buddy ... again.

Image: Apple MusicImage: Apple Music

Fortunately, that's changed and those playlists, which are made by Apple Music staffers, are now presented in a much more informal manner. Titles like "The Rise of Frank Ocean" and "Best of Aftermath Entertainment" are more likely to get me to try a playlist out.

New, Improved

Our big complaint about the New tab in Apple Music was its poor organization of features that obscured Apple's highly touted playlists. Customers looking for that curated content  organized by music genre, activity and taste-maker (from Alternative Press to Grand Ole Opry to Vogue) had to scroll 5 or 6 screens down into this section. The playlists have been great for me so far, but how are people going to find them if they have to dig deep for them?

Image: Apple MusicImage: Apple Music

After a week or two, Apple modified the section so that the banners for this content are there immediately when you scroll down in the New tab. I'd like to see those playlists get more prominent screen space in the future, since they are one of the service's top features. 

The Beats [1] Go On and On

In my experience thus far, the best aspect of Apple Music is the Beats 1 radio station, which is actually free and does not require signing up for a trial to the service. Baked into the latest versions of iOS's Music app and iTunes, the programming on Beats 1 is excellent, and far surpasses what Apple initially sold it as. The service outperformed my expectations thanks to three programs: St. Vincent's Mixtape Delivery Service, WRTJ and One Mix (a weekly programming set that features the best producers and DJs in Electronic music today the sets from Hudson Mohawke and Jamie XX were amazing).

Image: Apple MusicImage: Apple Music

The first two are hosted by St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark, the guitar-shredding & David Byrne-collaborating rocker) and Run The Jewels (Brooklyn's El-P and Atlanta's Killer Mike, arguably the best duo that the hip hop world has seen since OutKast). Both make for excellent radio hosts, though I may be biased as I'm a fan of both. On her show, St. Vincent makes a playlist is based on what's going on in a fan's life, and on WRTJ, the rappers who are as close as collaborators come these days have a fun time debating inane topics and playing songs they like while trying not to curse. Both shows are appointment listening for me.

That brings me to the one major flaw in Beats 1: there is no explicit version. While that's how normal (read: awful) radio works, it's not necessary. Apple Music streams explicit music, so why can't there be a toggle to turn on the foul language? This is Apple at its puritanical worst, much like how it bans certain provocative content from the App Store.

I'm Losing The Connection

One month in, Connect Apple's social network for musicians is still my least clicked tab of the app. I'm following more than a dozen artists, but they're not posting content regularly. For now, Connect is just a place for Apple to highlight content that you can find in all of the other sections of the app. A Cliff's Notes for the app, if you will.

Image: Apple MusicImage: Apple Music

In that time, Twitter continued to be the place where artists interacted with their audiences, as well as entertained them with public disputes like the feud between Drake and Meek Mill.

I'm Keeping My Music Safe and Out of Apple's Cloud

As you may have read, Apple's requirement of using iTunes Cloud Match in order to save music for offline led to a painful hell for my iTunes Library. I'm not the only one to experience these horrible problems, as Apple's Cloud deficiencies have wreaked havoc on other libraries including that of prominent mac blogger Jim Dalrymple. Sometimes the My Music section of the app incorrectly shows artists and content that aren't on my device, or mismatches photos to musicians, repeatedly draining me of my trust in Apple to handle cloud data correctly.

Image: Apple MusicImage: Apple Music

Even though Apple claims to have fixed this bug, I haven't found the time or the trust to try iTunes Cloud Match again. On a recent road trip, though, I had an easy time adding songs from Apple Music's library to my Up Next queue, which was mostly composed of songs stored on my device's local storage.

Going Forward

Apple Music has improved, but in its debut month, Spotify added video, podcast and weekly personalized playlists in order to reach feature parity. Without Spotify's social playlists, and with trust in iTunes Cloud at a low point, you're going to need a strong desire for live radio, or a fandom for the artists Apple is working with, for the service to be worth paying for once the trial is up.

Henry T. Casey is a staff writer at Tom’s Guide covering security and music. In his personal time, you can find him at local concerts or tinkering with his cold-brew coffee method. Follow him at @henrytcasey.

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