Apple Music – A Fresh Look

With the shifting allegiances in streaming music, I found myself re-enabling my Apple Music subscription. There are some benefits, and some less desirable aspects.

This is relevant as I again ponder the mix of music that I have in my collection, as well as the convenience of streaming. In the following post, I lay out the pro’s and con’s of Apple’s Music subscription plan. $9.99 a month, it is in the ballpark of the offers, between Amazon and Spotify. All three of them also offer family plans for the same price (alas, my Wife isn’t interested in sharing a plan.)

Without further ado…

The Pro’s

  • Music Match – for a modest fee, Apple keeps my entire collection in their cloud, and I can stream it at will. When this first launched, it was a good way to scrub my collection, and match many inferior, dubiously sourced tracks with their high quality versions on their servers. Since then, the convenience is amazing. But, alas, since then, the rise of streaming services coupled with huge catalogs reduces this value. Still, I no longer have my ~200GB collection taking space on my disk. Apple Music augments this, thus infinitely expanding my collection invisibly (well, mostly, wait until the Con’s section)

  • Monster Catalog – no question about it, Apple has probably the largest catalog. They were the first large scale, targeted at the masses music store, with contracts with all the rights owners. Hands down, if esoteric, eclectic, and obscure tracks are your taste, Apple wins.

  • Great integration with iDevices – If you are in the Apple ecosystem, this is the top reason to choose their subscription. Not unexpected, but a great experience if you are on your Mac and iPhone, and perhaps have their intelligent speaker (note: I don’t, and don;t even remember the name of the product.)

  • The “For You” recommendations – I used to be a subscriber to Pandora, because their music DNA thing was really good at nailing my tastes, and presenting track after track of audible bliss. However, whatever Pandora’s magic is/was (I’m no longer a subscriber), it has been eclipsed by the recommendation engine on Apple Music. I swear it is like they have wired my brain to get insight. I switch seamlessly between heavy metal, blues, jazz, punk, bluegrass, and copious amounts of progressive/classic rock. Apple “gets” this, and dishes up excellence, day in, and day out.

Plenty of strong traits there, so why is this even a question? Glad you asked. Not all is well in the Apple garden…

The Con’s:

  • iTunes – while this should be a strength, they do have complete control of the platform after all, it isn’t. If you are a Mac person, you have always had a better iTunes experience, but it hasn’t been great since the 10.3 days, and the iPod was originally released. iTunes has been a hot mess for a while, as Apple grafted different technologies and acquisitions onto it, starting with the original iTunes Music Store, and now it being the hub of the Apple Music Subscription service. In the interim, it was also their book store (the shit show that the decoupling of that was still gives me the shakes). This means that it is this giant, confusing amorphous blob of a program that will have you often scratching your head.

  • Mixed Music Libraries – this ought to be a strength, the ability to make playlists and match your esoteric tracks with the broad selection of the tracks in the catalog. It does work, but it is damn cumbersome. You have to switch between your library, and the Apple Music catalog, searches are for one or the other, and that keeps me scratching my head. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t have some 30,000 tracks in my personal library. Indeed, I do not experience this with either Amazon or Spotify.

  • Windows Support – many complaints I have heard over the years about the iTunes system, and its quirks were – justifiably – from Windows users. No question iTunes is a different, and far worse experience for Windows users (aka the bulk of the universe). This is still true, and in fact, I was prevented from installing on my work windows machine, as it’s patch level wasn’t high enough. Lame. But, if you are a iPhone person, and a Windows user, you have to suck it up. And if you spend about a quarter of your time in Linux land, well, tough titties, you are fucked. No option. (For the record, Spotify has an outstanding Linux client)

  • Cruftiness – Remember how I mentioned that iTunes has the detritus of past integrations? Remember when you bought and sync’d your tomes from the Apple Bookstore via iTunes? The Genius? Smart playlists (yeah, they still exist, but they are far less smart). Remember when you didn’t have an easy album view, so you created a playlist for each album you bought? Yeah, my 17 year collection is littered with bad ideas, good intentions, and messiness. The client as well. It really is time to completely reboot it, but as a product manager, I know how difficult (read: impossible) it is to really do that. So layers and layers of cruft keep getting added.

If you don’t have a library that has followed iTunes from circa 2003 until now, you will likely not have as many issues as I have had with it. Still, it is where my music is, and it does work well on the iDevices, and if you are newish to the ecosystem, you will have a much better experience.

Alas, I am pretty much stuck with it. It works, once I get it cleaned up the way I like. But I can grumble about it.

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