Everything You Need to Know About Apple Music

woman listening to smartphone with big headphones

Westend61/Getty Images

When Apple introduced its Apple Music streaming service at the 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference, it 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 that offered by Spotify.

The basic ideas for Apple Music are fairly easy to grasp, but there are lots of details that people have questions about. In this article, you'll find answers to some of the most common questions about Apple Music.

Curious about how Apple Music stacks up to Spotify? Check out Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which Is the Best Music Service?

What Is Apple Music?

Apple Music is a music service that provides four different ways for users to interact with music. It is deeply integrated into the stock iOS Music app and iTunes. The four aspects of Apple Music are:

  • Streaming Music: The marquee feature of Apple Music is Apple's new Spotify-style streaming music service. During the rise of digital music, Apple had focused on the sales of songs and albums through the iTunes Store. This was so successful that Apple became the largest music retailer in the world, online or offline. But as streaming has replaced buying music CDs, the iTunes model has appealed to fewer people.
    When Apple bought Beats Music in March 2014, getting access the to Beats Music streaming app and service was one of the major reasons. With Apple Music, Apple integrated the Beats Music concept — user-controlled streaming music, customized playlists, and discovery features, subscription pricing — into the iOS Music app and into iTunes.
    Users can steam unlimited music. They can also save songs and albums from the streaming service and mixed them in with the music stored in their library so that music streamed from the Internet is handled the same way as that played from their device.
  • 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 will be enjoyed by fans of the music used to create the station.
    Crucially, Apple Music also adds a new 24/7 streaming radio station called Beats 1. Beats 1 is programmed by DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga. There are no limits to the number of song skips users can perform in Radio in iTunes Music. 
  • Curation: Apple rejects the idea that algorithms can figure out what music you'll like most and replaced it with expert curation. This 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 will simply provide playlists that curators think are great for different occasions.
  • 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.

    Is Apple Music the Same Thing as iTunes Radio?

    No. While iTunes Radio is a component of Apple Music, it's not all of it. ITunes Radio is a streaming radio service in which the user can create stations around the kinds of music or artists they like, but they can't control each song they hear. In this way, iTunes Radio is more like Pandora or other streaming radio options.

    That said, Apple dramatically changed iTunes Radio with the release of Apple Music. Gone are the user-created, algorithmically generated stations from the earlier version. They are replaced with Apple's new Beats 1 24/7 streaming station programmed by celebrity DJs and musicians. In addition to that, there are pre-made Apple Music radio stations, and the ability for users to create their own stations

    Is It a New Mobile App?

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

    Does It Work on Windows? What About Android?

    For Android users, there will be a new standalone Apple Music app. This app replaced the Beats Music Android app (and was the first time Apple released an Android app, though a few more followed later). Windows users can take advantage of Apple Music through iTunes. There is no native Apple Music app for the Windows Phone operating system and there has no talk of one. 

    What Does It Cost?

    Apple Music costs US$9.99/month for individual users and $14.99/month for families of up to 6 people. Students at qualifying colleges and universities can 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'll still be able to use the Music app like you did in the past — as a library for songs you own and sync from your computer or iTunes Match. You just won't have access to the full catalog of tens of millions of songs from the Apple Music library.

    Does Apple Music Use Apple ID?

    Yes. To use Apple Music you'll log in with your existing Apple ID (or, if you don't have one, you'll have to create one) and billing will happen 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 be able to 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 that the Apple Music streaming service has over 50 million songs, which is 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 the quality provided by Apple in music purchased from the iTunes Store or matched with iTunes Match.

    How Do I Use Apple Music?

    Convinced you want to try Apple Music? Here are your next steps: