Everything You Need to Know About Apple Music

Streaming music, customized playlists, discovery features, and more

When the Apple Music streaming service was introduced at the 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple took the first step in leaving behind the music-selling business that iTunes dominated in favor of an all-you-can-stream model similar to Spotify.

What Is Apple Music?

Apple Music is a music service that provides four different ways for users to interact with music.

Streaming Music

The marquee feature of Apple Music is Apple's Spotify-style streaming music service. During the rise of digital music, Apple focused on the sales of songs and albums through the iTunes Store. It was so successful that it became the largest music retailer in the world, online or offline. But as streaming replaced buying music downloads, the iTunes model appealed to fewer people.

When Apple bought Beats Music in March 2014, it got access to the Beats Music streaming app and service. With Apple Music, it integrated the Beats Music concept—user-controlled streaming music, customized playlists, and discovery features, subscription pricing—with the iOS Music app and iTunes.

Users can stream unlimited music. They can also save songs and albums from the streaming service and mix them in with the music stored in their library so that streamed songs are handled the same way as those played from the device.

Apple Music Radio

Apple Music includes a modified version of iTunes Radio, which lets users create their own Pandora-style "radio stations." These stations are based on songs or artists and provide an ever-changing line-up of music Apple thinks fans will enjoy.

Crucially, Apple Music also adds a new 24/7 streaming radio station called Apple Music 1. It's programmed by DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga.

Curation

Apple rejects the idea that algorithms can figure out what music you like most and replaced it with expert curation. The curation shows up in Apple Music in the form of playlists created by experts and albums recommended based on your listening habits. Rather than targeting these playlists at users based on their information and demographics, it provides ones that curators think are great for different occasions.

Apple Music Connect

A pseudo-social network for fans to keep up with and connect to artists. In it, musicians can post content—music, photos, text, etc.—and users can follow their updates, comment on them, and more. Think of it as a music-focused combination of Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. Users can also follow their friends and use what they're listening to as a way to discover new music.

In October 2020, Apple announced Apple Music TV, a 24-hour curated music video stream. It's free to watch on the Apple Music app and the Apple TV app.

Lossless and Spatial Audio

Apple Music offers millions of songs in the Dolby Atmos surround-sound format, which combines lossless audio compression and spatial coding so you can enjoy tracks exactly the way they sound in the recording studio. Unfortunately, lossless audio is not supported on Apple AirPods, AirPods Max, and AirPods Pro. It also had issues where the Dolby Atmos and lossless audio would unexpectedly drop, although that was fixed in the iOS 14.7 update.

Is Apple Music the Same Thing as iTunes Radio?

No. Apple Music Radio replaced it.

While iTunes Radio was a component of Apple Music, it's not all of it. Users could create stations around the kinds of music or artists they like on iTunes Radio, but they couldn't control each song they hear. In this way, iTunes Radio was more like Pandora or other streaming radio options.

While they share some similar features, Apple Music is also not the same thing as iTunes Match. To find out how they're different and which you need, check out I Have Apple Music. Do I Need iTunes Match?

Is It a New Mobile App?

Not for iOS users. For iOS users, Apple Music replaces the existing Music app that comes with the iPhone and iPod touch without them needing to do anything. But it's different for users on other platforms.

Does It Work on Windows? What About Android?

For Android users, there is a standalone Apple Music app. It replaced the Beats Music Android app (and was the first time Apple released an app on that platform, though a few more followed later). Windows users can take advantage of Apple Music through iTunes.  

What Does It Cost?

Apple Music has three standard plans you can choose from. The normal Individual option costs $9.99 a month and unlocks every feature available on the platform. To let everyone in your household share the app and its features, it'll make more sense to go with the Family Plan for $14.99 a month for families of up to six people. Finally, the $4.99-per-month Voice Plan is another option for individuals who don't need or want all the features of the main tier. The Voice Plan doesn't include lyrics, music videos, or lossless audio, and it relies on Siri for searches.

Students at qualifying colleges and universities can also subscribe for $4.99/month.

Is There a Free Trial?

Yes. New users get a 3-month free trial of the service when signing up.

What If I Don't Want to Sign Up For Apple Music?

No problem. If you don't want Apple Music, you don't need to sign up. You can still use the Music app as you did in the past—as a library for songs you own and sync from your computer or iTunes Match. You won't have access to the entire catalog of tens of millions of songs from the Apple Music library.

Does Apple Music Use Apple ID?

Yes. To use Apple Music, you log in with your existing Apple ID (or, if you don't have one, you have to create one), and billing happens through the credit card you have on file with Apple.

Do Family Plans Have to All Use the Same Apple ID?

No. If you enable Family Sharing, each user in the family will use their own Apple ID with Apple Music.

Can You Save Music Offline?

As long as you have a valid Apple Music subscription, you can save music offline in your iTunes or iOS Music app libraries. If you cancel your subscription, you lose access to songs saved for offline playback. Apple limits users to 100,000 songs saved for offline playback.

Does Apple Music Include the Full iTunes Store Catalog?

Essentially yes. Apple says the Apple Music streaming service has over 50 million songs, roughly the size of the iTunes Store (though there are some exceptions). Some musicians or record companies may exclude their music from the service due to contractual issues, but you can expect to find most of what you get at the iTunes Store in Apple Music.

What Is the Encoding Rate of Music in Apple Music?

Songs from Apple Music are encoded at 256 kbps. This is lower than Spotify's high-end 320 kbps quality, but it equals Apple's quality in music purchased from the iTunes Store or matched with iTunes Match.

Curious about how Apple Music stacks up to Spotify? Check out Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which Is the Best Music Service? If you opt for Apple Music, you can easily transfer Spotify playlists to Apple Music.

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