So in theory Apple Music debuted at 9:00 AM Pacific time in the U.S. In theory, but not for everyone. If you wanted to use the new subscription music service on your Mac or PC, you needed iTunes 12.2. But that release didn’t make its presence known until after 3:00 PM Pacific time, sporting a much improved icon influenced by the original Apple logo. If you’re using the iOS 9 beta, you’ll have to wait until beta 3 arrives next Tuesday. Apple TV and Android users will have to be patient until fall for gratification, and it will be interesting to see how fans of Google’s mobile platform will respond. It’s very much the equivalent of the launch of iTunes for Windows in 2003.
However, if you’re using iOS 8.4, released Tuesday morning, you had it first, and all the reviews about Apple Music were evidently based on experiences with the mobile version. The usual gang of favored Apple journalists got first digs, and the scores were decidedly mixed. One reviewer complimented Apple for the smooth, elegant user interface while complaining about some usability issues. As with the Apple Watch, it may take a while to become accustomed to the features and how best to use them.
Most of the other reviews were in the “that’s nice” category, meaning it works well, but it’s nothing special. The Connect social networking feature, which allows artists to post stuff and interact with their fans, wasn’t well fleshed out. It will probably take time for entertainers to take advantage of this feature. I’d hope it’s not another Ping in the making.
Regardless, I’m the last person to guess how the public will react, although there was plenty of publicity in the wake of the Taylor Swift dustup over royalty payments. The 90-day free trial will give tens of millions of Apple customers a chance to sample the service, and enough time for Apple to flesh out the offerings and fix the glitches. That some artists have already been persuaded to offer exclusives, not available from other services, is a plus. Apple has huge clout in the industry and would likely only need to add a few refinements to stand apart.
One big plus is human curation, even though it’s actually a mixture that also involves sophisticated computer algorithms. It’s descended from Beats Music, which garnered great reviews but not so much in the way of paying customers. Whether that technology is sufficient to cover the $3 billion Apple paid for the company won’t be known until total paid memberships are tallied later this year. It can’t be just the headphones, since Apple sold them even while Beats was a separate company.
But the Beats executives, most particularly veteran music producer and executive Jimmy Iovine, not to mention Dr. Dre, afford Apple a level of credibility with the industry that Spotify, Pandora and the other companies involved in this business just cannot duplicate.
It’s also good to know that Apple’s flawed iTunes Match, now limited to 25,000 songs, will ultimately grow to 100,000. That number ought to be sufficient to accommodate the needs of pretty much any music lover. However, I’d be more interested in seeing just how well Apple does in removing the service’s glitches.
You see, iTunes Match should, in theory, find the iTunes equivalent for your music library even if you ripped them from a CD or vinyl, or got them from someplace else, legal or otherwise. In practice, matches aren’t perfect, and some albums yield more accurate results than others. It does seem to have improved in recent months, but to add to the confusion, later versions of iTunes do not appear to display this information. When I checked, nothing was listed under iCloud Status, but I wouldn’t suggest Apple is hiding these results. It has, however, been vexing for some because of the hit or miss results.
In any case, I suspect most Apple customers haven’t been shopping around for the best subscription music service. Those who have, and are currently using another service, have to consider whether to just add Apple Music, or make that decision after trying it out for 90 days. If you switch to Apple Music, any playlists you’ve accumulated with another service will be history. They cannot be imported, so it depends on the amount of time you invested in another service and whether it’s worth the bother to attempt to duplicate that content. Or maybe just start from scratch and hope for something better.
The other issue is whether you really want to use Apple Music to supplement your existing music library, which it can do, or build a new library. Remember that once you make that commitment, if and when you stop paying the monthly fee, you’ll lose any content you’ve downloaded through the service. You’ll revert to your existing music library.
While my music collection isn’t huge, my CDs date back as long as 30 years, and I’ve made a decent investment in buying the albums I like. I know that, so long as a CD player can be found, I’ll be able to listen to those albums. I fully expect Apple to be around far longer than me, so this isn’t anything I’m actually worried about. The real question is whether yet another monthly payment makes sense. The jury is still out on that one, though I will give it 90 days to see. Sign up in iTunes is just a few clicks away.