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iOS 10 Music: All the New Features and How to Use Them

iOS 10 Music: All the New Features and How to Use Them

I've long wanted Apple Music to be great. Thanks to iOS 10, it may finally be there.

At first glance, the major change to Music in iOS 10 centers around a redesign, suggesting that Apple focused on solving only cosmetic issues. But the people behind Apple's streaming music service have quietly tackled Music's other major problems, such as uploading your library to iCloud.

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Since the release of the iOS 10 public beta, I have been testing the updated Music and found it to be near perfect. But there's still one annoyance that holds me back from an enthusiastic endorsement. Here's what you can expect from Music in iOS 10.

So fresh and so clean

It's amazing what a new look can do. Apple Music is one of several iOS 10 apps to benefit from a redesign that focuses on bigger text and images. Also, Music in iOS 10 eschews the album-art-specific colorway designs found in the previous version for a black-and-pink-on-white aesthetic. This new look makes text easier to read, especially because it prevents the awkward color combinations in which lightly colored text appeared with a background that didn't provide enough contrast.

And while iOS 10 loves to make things like emoji and headlines bigger, it draws back on album art size in the Now Playing view for a good reason. In iOS 9, Music would slightly obscure the art in this view with a navigation arrow and icons at the top of the screen for time, battery and service bars. Now, album art has a small, white frame and a minimize arrow that take up a little space but presents the art without clutter.

Also, Apple Music finally adopted horizontal scrolling for navigating rows of albums — a change that should have been introduced in iOS 9. This shows that Apple paid attention to how competitors such as Spotify design their apps, and wanted to make the design familiar to users.

As much as this version of Music is easier to use, it does contain two quirks that take some getting used to. The Shuffle and Repeat buttons are now only accessible by sliding the Now Playing pane up, and you now have to slide the control panel to the left in order to find playback controls. These aren't problems, but they may leave you scratching your head for a minute while trying to find them.

A tale of two libraries

Because of Apple's history with iTunes, Apple Music has to allow for two collections: the service's own catalog of albums, singles and playlists, and your library of music made up of both iCloud Music Library songs and tracks stored locally.

The Music app accomplishes this in a smoother way than it did in iOS 9, and it starts by treating Playlists as a section of your library, instead of as a different view of your library (which it did a year ago). Apple's Music is stored in the Browse tab, while your own collection is kept under Library.

The Library tab in iOS 10 Music replaces last year's My Music and swaps the drop-down-menu interface for a simpler and shorter list view. Here, you get buttons to see your music by Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs and Downloads. (Say goodbye to that hard-to-find "Only Downloaded Music" toggle.) You can add views based on Music Videos, Genres, Compilations and Composers, but Apple figured out that it doesn't always need to show those options.

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The Browse tab now offers what used to be found in the New section, and it's a wise change. This section may feature new hits, but it also contains Apple's entire library, which includes more than just the latest and greatest hits. This section still starts with the same big image and promoted content, but it then gives you buttons that include New Music, Curated Playlists and Top Charts, rather than the Hot Tracks list.

Moving the Curated Playlists section closer to the top of the app is a smart move, as this is one of Apple Music's marquee features. In iOS 9, you had to scroll two whole screens down in the New section, which basically hid these playlists.

There's currently one hiccup in the process of adding music from Apple's Library to your device. If you click the Add button while browsing tunes in the Apple Music library, the app automatically downloads those files to your device. But it pauses before turning the cloud download buttons into spinning progress widgets, or doesn't even show that the process has begun. That seems like a beta issue that Apple is likely to work out before iOS 10's final release in the fall.

All for you

I don't know how often I've ever clicked on the For You tab in iOS 9, but I expect that to change going forward. This section used to be the home of suggested albums and curated playlists, but it's now the home to both your recently played songs, and two playlists curated just for you.

The first of those playlists is My Favorites Mix, a collection of songs pulled from your listening history that the app believes you already love and will want to hear again. You can either tap on its album art tiles to view the playlist, or hit the pink play icon to start listening. Slide My Favorites to the right to you'll reveal the My New Music Mix, which consists of new tracks that Apple Music selects based on your history.

During my testing of the app, both playlists provided solid jams, which is similar to what I hear from those who use Spotify's personalized playlists.

Buried at the bottom of this section is content from the widely ignored Connect social network. Its placement too low on the page means that you can continue to forget that Apple's social network for music exists.

Radio's duality dilemma

Did you know that Beats 1 isn't Apple's only radio offering? Apple announced its hypercurated 24/7 Beats 1 online radio station in 2015, and it's thrived with shows hosted by the likes of Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Skrillex, St. Vincent, DJ Khaled and Charli XCX. But iTunes Radio continues to exist, even in iOS 10.

Not much has changed in the Radio tab: You can still easily access previous episodes, but it still houses Apple's category-driven iTunes Radio station (such as Pure Pop, Country and Chill) nearby. This isn't the biggest problem, but it still seems weird for these two to intermingle. I'd like it fixed by simply calling iTunes Radio channels Genre Stations, but this can definitely go at the bottom of the Apple Music team's priorities list.

Search remains, though moved

In iOS 9, Apple put the search function in the top-right corner of every Apple Music tab. Now that Apple has buried Connect deep within For You, Search took its place in the bottom tab row. I can't say which corner makes it easier to find, and I do have one annoyance with the current implementation.

Music in iOS 9 presented a clock icon that you could click to see all of your previous searches. Now, it only shows the three most recent. I get that it's easier to present these three, but why not add an option to show all searches?

iCloud Library: an improving work in progress

I've had so many issues with Apple's music service that I'd given up on it ever improving. With iOS 10, it appears that I've been proven wrong. While testing the public beta, I reset my iCloud Music Library and reuploaded my collection, and to my pleasant surprise, songs are correctly matched and sounding great — a 180-degree turnaround from my previous experience with Apple Music.

There's still one problem, though: Music still stumbles at matching album art. For example, some albums, including Future's "Monster" mix tape and Frank Ocean's unreleased "nostalgia, ULTRA," which show up with the wrong covers when viewed in album mode. Again, this feels like something that the folks behind the app can and should improve, and now that Apple has tackled more pressing problems, I have faith that it can iron out these lingering frustrations.

First impressions

While I still pay a monthly fee for, and rely on, Google Music, Apple may have turned Music into an app and a service I could believe in. Sure, there are bugs to iron out, but Apple appears to have taken a year of criticism to heart, and we're starting to see the results.