Once Apple Music’s free trial ended, I deleted all my files and resubscribed to Spotify Premium. The turnaround was surprising; this is Apple we’re talking about here. From Macs, to an iPhone, an iPad, and an Apple TV, I’m a convert. But after several weeks of heavy Apple Music usage, I was done with the service.
I’m not alone on this turnaround. Though 11 million subscribers (in a free trial period) is a decent start, I’ve seen many across, tech and design migrate elsewhere. There’s several reasons why:
Apple Music’s navigational structure is the worst I’ve experienced on any streaming platform. That’s after prior usage of many streaming services: Pandora, Rdio, MOG, and Spotify. Granted, Apple adds a few nice touches like like warm colors throughout and a full banner treatment for new releases. Yet, as I wrote beforehand, the UI is too fragmented and inconsistent.
It’s also difficult to jump from one part of the app to another. Related artists, albums, and what’s playing now are unavailable or buried under extra menus. The lack of a global history is especially vexing. On Spotify or Rdio, jumping between states is as simple as a hitting back or forward. It’s easy to backtrack to find another playlist, album, or artist to listen to or add to your collection.
I also find the connection between My Music and the rest of Apple Music strange. For example, Rdio and Spotify consider playlists independent from collected albums or artists. That’s intuitive – a playlist for a friend, or a few saved tracks I heard on Beats One is just that, a distinct list. Yet Apple Music unceremoniously drops all playlist content into My Music. If I filter My Music by albums, I’m left with many one-off tracks from assorted playlists scattered throughout.
Apple Music prides itself on delivering more human curated content than its competitors. The breadth of curation is impressive; staff select every song on Apple Music’s radio stations and playlists. And on first impression, Apple’s more personal touch pays off. Recommended playlists are more focused and smartly sequenced compared to counterparts at Spotify. Also many playlists on For You matched my musical tastes immediately.
Yet within a few weeks, For You playlist quality dropped precipitously. Artist “introduction” and “deep cuts” playlists kept appearing for artists I already listened to. Other playlists trended broad, focused on a simple age demographic (“Indie Hits: 2006”) or obvious genre fare (“Drake’s Pop Culture Lexicon”). I’d even start getting repetitions of a playlist I listened to from a few weeks prior.
This underlines the limitations of human curation. Other services like Spotify and Rdio allow your friends and other users to generate playlists. But with Apple Music, Apple is the only source, and there’s just not enough output. Furthermore, when Apple misses the mark, it really misses. It’s more than an occasional bad track; entire playlists and radio station blocks didn’t match my tastes at all. Algorithms can remedy this problem by making small adjustments in a playlist or radio station along the way.
Apple’s strength has always been its tight link between its own hardware and software. That’s underlined with several nice touches like using Siri to pull up a specific track. Yet the flip side is weak third party support. Apple Music for Android will appear later this year, but I doubt we’ll see any sort of API for more freeform connections soon. Back with Spotify, I’m able to go beyond the Mac and iPhone to my PS4, to Sonos, random portable speakers, and the web. And thanks to their API, I can use an app like Djay to have fun mixing tracks from Spotify’s full library.
Apple Music feels disjointed around the core listening experience. Spotify’s UI just clicks better with how I like to navigate. Granted, if I were only invested in Apple’s ecosystem and cared less about my collection I might feel differently.
That underlines how similar music streaming services are. They share an almost identical streaming library, a $10 monthly price, and overlapping UI patterns. Effectively, The Next Web argued, Spotify and Apple Music are Coke and Pepsi. Apple usually excels in this scenario. They add critical design touches and functionality to make their products irresistible. It’s disappointing how much of this refinement is missing from Apple Music.