Apple Music Has Become a Top Music Streaming Service: A Review

screenshots: Apple Music in iOS 11

The Good

  • Virtually unlimited selection
  • Tight integration with iTunes and iOS
  • Long free trial period
  • Smart recommendations and playlists
  • Great radio offerings

The Bad

  • iTunes is getting outdated
  • No free plan

The Price

  • 90-Day Free Trial
  • US$9.99/month for individuals
  • $14.99/month for families up to 6 people

After a slightly rocky launch in 2015, Apple has steadily refined all aspects of Apple Music, from its interface to its recommendations to its ability to unify your music libraries across devices. At this point, with its combinations of huge selection, smart recommendations, and deep integration with existing music libraries, Apple Music is a leading contender for the title of world's best streaming music service, with Spotify as its only real competition.

Integrating with Existing Music Libraries Is Smart

I’ve used Spotify, Beats, Pandora, and other music services. The number one thing I always wanted was integration with my existing 10,000+ song music library. I want streaming music to act just like the music I already own, without having to go to another app or website. Apple Music is the first service to truly do this.

Because my Apple Music songs live in iTunes or my iOS Music app alongside everything else, I can use them in playlists, hear them when shuffling tracks, and listen to them offline and if I've downloaded them. Using Apple Music is simple, fun, and a terrific experience.

New Radio Features like Beats 1 Are Terrific

But Apple Music isn’t just about music you select; it’s also about radio. Apple still offers a version of its Pandora-style iTunes Radio. Its headline feature is Beats 1, the 24/7, worldwide streaming station created with star DJs like Zane Lowe. Add live shows, guest spots by top artists, and a much more eclectic and interesting selection than you’ll find on traditional radio and Beats 1 is a major asset for Apple Music (you don’t need an Apple Music subscription to listen to it).

Human-Powered Recommendations Point You in the Right Direction

Other music services use algorithms to guess what music you might like, but Apple is betting that expert curation by humans will lead to better results. I’d say that’s true.

The For You tab in Apple Music is regularly stocked with playlists and artist suggestions that more closely match my interests than any other music service I’ve used. While the feature was fairly rough at launch, Apple has improved it substantially since then. For You has helped me discover more than a handful of new bands or albums that I love, and it regularly offers me playlists that I would never think of (just this morning it served me Country Hits of 1978. I would never have sought that out, but on a morning when I was sick of my normal listening habits, it was the perfect change of pace and had a bunch of fun songs).

That said, the recommendations could still be a bit smarter. I promise you, Apple Music curators, I don't need you to introduce me to any Mountain Goats songs. My music library has over 100 albums and 1,000 songs by the band. I've got it under control. Apple Music should be smart enough to not recommend acts from whom I already have a ton of music.

Cross-Device Experience Is Smooth

When Apple Music originally launched, the service had a number of un-Apple-like rough edges, including the cross-device experience. Originally, it could take quite some time (often hours) for an album or song added on one device to appear on others using the same Apple Music account.

Not anymore. These days, it rarely takes more than a minute or so for songs added on one device to appear in my music library on another. This isn't an issue at all anymore.

Apple Music's Bugs Have Been Squashed

Part of what made the original release of Apple Music so rough was that there were so many bugs. For a while, my iPhone Music app would lock up for 30-60 seconds for no clear reason and then start working again, something that never happened before Apple Music.

This bug, and other bugs that were common back then, have virtually vanished. I encounter almost no bugs these days. The only one that I hit regularly involves shuffle mode locking up if I skip too many songs too quickly (and that may be the Music app itself, not the Apple Music service). Otherwise, all of the major bugs seem to be gone.

A Once-Crowded User Interface Is Now Clear

The original user interface for Apple Music was a crowded mess. As I wrote at the time: "I don't think I’ve ever seen an iPhone menu with as many options as what Apple Music displays after tapping the three dot icon. In one instance, the menu has 11 items and takes up about 75% of the screen."

Happily, that's not the case anymore. With iOS 10, Apple overhauled Apple Music's interface. The new interface emphasizes album art and big, bold text. It's appealing, uncluttered, and easy to use. Apple is continuing to tweak the interface in new versions of the iOS and the app and service are now smooth and pleasurable to use. 

The Bottom Line

When I reviewed Apple Music at its debut in 2015, I gave it 3.5 stars, writing "once the bugs are fixed and the experiences streamlined, Apple Music should be fantastic." Well, the bugs are fixed, the experience streamlined, and Apple Music is indeed fantastic. 

Lifewire no long awards stars on these kinds of reviews, but if it did, Apple Music would now carry a 5-star review from me. While For You isn't perfect, it's substantially improved. So, too, is the interface of the app. With those improvements and bugs fixed, using Apple Music every day is now a joy. It's well worth the $10/month.