Apple Music Had Its Chance

2020-11-17 ~700 words

With the announcement of Apple One in September, I decided to reevaluate my loyalty to Spotify. If Apple was going to offer me a (slightly) discounted rate if I went all-in on their services, I wanted to have a good look at Apple Music and see if it could replace Spotify for me.

After almost three months of use, my conclusion is that I could live with Apple Music, but I’d happily pay a small premium for Spotify instead.

For my first few weeks, I didn’t permit myself to use Spotify. This led to me stumbling around the Apple Music interface without much of an idea what I wanted, a feeling which would typically have led me to Discover Weekly or a Daily Mix in Spotify. I particularly missed the Discover Weekly and eventually happened upon Apple’s “New Music Mix” and “Ethan Swan’s Station”. Both were passable and, considering how little historical data Apple Music had on me, gave some pretty good recommendations. But even over a month later, they hadn’t improved much and didn’t compare to my typical experience with Discover Weekly.

I never did find a way to control Amazon Echos around my house using the Apple Music app, as I can with Spotify. It may be possible but apparently isn’t obvious, and I really appreciate that ability.

As a point in favor of Apple Music, its interface really does feel nice. It feels more native than Spotify’s, and as an Apple user it’s very easy to intuit some of the visual metaphors. However, I found much more of the UI real estate was dedicated to unpersonalized recommendations – artists and genres I’d never considering listening to. While I could imagine Apple pitching this as “human curation”, I just found it useless; I don’t have any interest in music picked for the average person. Not because I’m a music snob, but actually the opposite: I just want to listen to my 90s punk bands and don’t need to know about the hottest acoustic rap jazz wailing tracks. Apple Music feels a little more oriented toward people who are “into music” than Spotify, although perhaps Spotify has just done a better job personalizing for me and how much I am not.

An interesting observation I made was that Apple Music handles skip back and skip forward slightly differently than Spotify. In Spotify, you can add a song to your “queue”, which inserts it before the songs that were set to be played from the station or album you started on, but after any other songs added to your queue. After you get through queued songs and back into the original mix, skipping back a song will work as if the queued songs never existed at all, taking you back to the last song from the original mix that was played. This is obviously a very specific case, but it’s always bugged me, as sometimes I queue a song, listen to it, start the next one, and then want to rewind to the queued one I just played and hear it again – but that’s not possible. Apple Music seems to handle this “correctly” (i.e. the way I like it).

Still, Apple Music’s rewinding and pleasant interface were not enough to overcome its inferior recommendations. The only major point in its favor was that you can play Apple Music from the Apple Watch even when your phone isn’t nearby, which is ideal for running. And then Spotify announced standalone support for the Apple Watch, thus putting the nail in Apple Music’s coffin. It’s truly difficult to believe that Apple charges as much for its service as Spotify does ($10/month) – Spotify seems like the more mature product, has far more users and loyalty, and appears significantly ahead in music recommendation. As the challenger, Apple needs to convince people to switch away from a service that already has lots of music data on them and makes great suggestions, but somehow it’s charging just as much for a product with few advantages.

Goodbye Apple Music, I doubt we’ll meet again.