Apple Music Is Good, But Not Great: A Review

Apple Music in iOS 10
The Redesigned Apple Music in iOS 10.

The Good

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

The Bad

  • iTunes is getting outdated
  • Many bugs
  • Confusing cross-device experience
  • No free plan

The Price

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

Apple Music is both everything Apple promised and a surprisingly unrefined, un-Apple work in progress. Apple Music has the potential to be the best streaming music service, but a lot of things need to be improved before it reaches that level.

Update: Original review was written in Aug. 2015. Many things about Apple music have changed since then. These notes update relevant aspects of the review with new information.

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 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 enjoy them offline. It's a terrific experience and makes Apple Music fun to use.

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. So far, 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. There are some kinks to be worked out—why recommend albums or artists I already like?—and some of the recommendations seem a little easy (been listening to this group? How about a solo album from one of its members?), but it’s much more useful than what other services offer. 

Update: For You continues to be strong and has helped me discover a few new bands or albums that I love. That said, the recommendation could still be smarter. I promise you, Apple Music curators, I don't need you to introduce me to any Mountain Goats songs. My iTunes 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 Confusing

Apple Music isn’t as polished as other recent first-generation Apple products. Take using the service across multiple devices. You can’t rely on what’s on one device being present on another. For instance, I added a Wolf People album to iTunes as I was sitting down to write this article. More than four hours later, it still hasn’t appeared on my iPhone. This sort of thing is too common.

Update: The cross-device experience is much improved. While new additions showing up on other devices isn't instantaneous, it's more a matter of a minute or three these days.

Apple Music Is Too Buggy

Recently, I’ve been finding that my iPhone Music app will lock up for 30-60 seconds for no clear reason and then start working again, something that never happened before Apple Music. Adding music can be similarly unpredictable. I recently tried to add an album to my iPhone and even though the Music app said twice that it had been added, it’s still not showing up. Apple will get these bugs ironed out, but right now, they detract from the service.

Update: 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. Otherwise, the major bugs seem to be gone.

The User Interface Is Crowded

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. That’s very unlike Apple and not simple to use. Apple is great at streamlining options and interfaces, boiling apps down to their essential tasks. It hasn’t accomplished that here. It’s not a major problem. You can learn what menus do, but the interface adds to the impression that this service isn’t quite ready for primetime.

Update: 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. A great change. 

Basic Features Are Too Hard to Find

With all of the new features crammed into Apple Music, some basic ones have gone missing. For instance, the button to shuffle songs is hidden under a handful of clicks, while you’d be forgiven for thinking that you can no longer shuffle all songs by a single artist. You can, but you have to get to just the right screen and tap album art, rather than an icon. That’s just obtuse.

Update: Finding features is better, but still not perfect. I'd guess it never will be, either. The combination of the Music app and Apple Music packs in so many features that it's bound to be complex. 

The Bottom Line

I've cataloged many problems with Apple Music, but I really like the service and think it has tremendous potential. Think about it this way: with it, you have virtually unlimited access to the tens of millions of songs in iTunes for just $10/month. That’s pretty amazing. Combine that with tight integration with the iPhone and the ability to keep using your existing music library and that’s really compelling.

Apple will solve the service’s problems. Until it does, I can’t give Apple Music more than 3.5 stars. But once the bugs are fixed and the experiences streamlined, Apple Music should be fantastic.  

Update: I've updated my score to 4 stars. If Apple could make For You a bit better—I regularly discover more new music I like through Pandora than Apple Music—the rating would be even higher. Still, more than a year later, Apple Music is fantastic and well worth the $10/month.