Apple Music: a desktop user's perspective

Apple Music in iTunes
Credit: Apple

After a rocky start, Apple Music finally arrived for desktop users sometime Tuesday evening. I spent most of the day yesterday listening to it and I'm ready to share some early thoughts.

Keep in mind, I don't own an iPhone. This is all from the point of view of a desktop (Windows, in my case) user. So is Apple Music right for those of us who spend most of the day tied to a desk?

The first bad news is that you'll have to install iTunes to use Apple Music. There's no browser interface. That may or may not be an issue for you. I jump from computer to computer pretty often and having to install a software package to stream music on each one is a pain. I also have a long-seated dislike of iTunes based on my belief that it is a bloated pig, but in all honesty that opinion may be out-dated. Once I jumped through all the hoops to get signed up (I think I had to enter my password six different times) iTunes seemed to run fine without bogging anything down. Still, an alternate web interface would be welcome.

The first good news is that there is a three month trial. No one can complain about that; it's an extremely generous offer.

There's been a lot of talk about Beats 1, the 24-hour live radio station that launched with Apple Music. The good news here is that it isn't actually part of Apple Music; you can listen to it without a subscription. I'm not sure why you would; listening to a DJ talk constantly is exactly why I stopped listening to radio. I had Beats 1 on for maybe 10 minutes before my office-mate asked if the DJ was ever going to stop talking and play some music. But hey, that's personal preference. I just find it amusing that Apple has taken something that all of us old people grew up with and they're spinning it as an innovation.

Of course Apple bought Beats Music a while ago. I was a subscriber to Beats (you can read my 'hands-on' from when it launched)  and I can see a lot of Beats in Apple Music. The on-boarding process is the same, for instance. You start by indicating which music genres you love, like or hate, and then do the same for a bunch of artists. Based on your choices, Apple Music will surface some recommendations under a "For You" tab.

But it doesn't surface very many of them. I got 3 playlist suggestions and 6 album suggestions, and that was it. I couldn't find a way to refresh these or get more recommendations. From what I've read, the mobile app lets you pull down on the For You screen and get new recommendations, but the only way I found to refresh the list on the desktop was to repeat the on-boarding process (the option is called "Choose artists for you" under the account drop-down). Tell iTunes you suddenly love an artist you used to just like and you'll get a new set of recommendations. There has to be an easier way!

If you don't want to jump through the "Choose artists" hoop, you're pretty much on your own when it comes to finding something to listen to. There is a New tab that lists new releases, top songs, hot albums, top albums (what's the difference?) and so on. That helps a little but I was surprised by how poor Apple Music was when it comes to discovering new (to you) music.

I'm hoping Apple tweaks this interface and gives us a way to pull up more recommendations. They do allow you to 'favorite' songs which is supposed to help them offer better recommendations. This seems like an obvious feature but not every streaming service offers it.

Overall, Apple Music seems like more of the same. There's nothing revolutionary here and I'm not finding a compelling reason to switch from Spotify. The three month trial is nice but it's not enough to be worth the hassle of recreating my Spotify playlists in iTunes. On the other hand, if you're an iTunes user who isn't yet involved with a streaming music service, Apple Music would be a logical choice to get started. There's certainly nothing wrong with it; it's just that in the end all of these streaming music services start to seem very similar to one another.

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