Well, it finally happened. After a few years of bouncing between Spotify and Apple Music (and even Google Play Music / YouTube Music for a bit), I’ve mostly moved over to Apple Music as my main music service. The cataylst turned out to be sales on both HomePods and Sonos One speakers, but I’ll address how I handle multi room audio in a future post. For a better understanding of what I value in a music service, a few older posts are still pretty relevant.
Reasons I switched to Apple Music
I switched back to Apple Music mainly because I find myself to be someone who likes listening to albums instead of playlists, and Spotify isn’t as good for that. Most of the streaming music features that align with that in my mind – queueing, library management and discovery – work better on Apple Music.
The biggest reasons I stuck with Spotify for so long was mood-based playlists, integration with Google Home / Chromecast, and the fact that the desktop app was so superior to iTunes at the time. Apple’s playlists have caught up (and in some places surpassed), I’ve switched to Sonos / Airplay 2 speakers, and I don’t really use the desktop for music given where I am in my career. I’ve never valued the social aspect of Spotify or the way its library works, so switching wasn’t too hard once I cleared a few hurdles.
Apple Music has tons of great playlists just like Spotify and others do, but where it really shines is the way that it allows you to do nearly anything you want with your music – you can tag it, change metadata, make smart playlists and manage your queue in ways that just aren’t possible in Spotify or others.
From a library management standpoint, I’ve been using Smart Playlists for years now, and it’s the thing that tends to bring me back every time I stray away. I have a few playlists that really help me feel more connected to my library and Spotify doesn’t really offer anything that matches this yet. Uploading my own music is still a differentiator compared to most other services, as it helps me to fill in the gaps any streaming service has with some unreleased / non digital releases.
Now hear me out. I think Spotify is actually the king of algorithm-based recommendations by a mile. When it comes to a robot telling you other new music you should be listening to, there’s still work to be done to catch up with the breadth and accuracy of what you get from Spotify. Add in the ‘Daily Mix’ feature, and Apple is definitely behind in a lot of places. However, where I think Apple Music shines is surfacing old favorites.
Apple has a weekly “Favorites Mix” that plays songs it knows you already love but haven’t heard in a while. It’s 25 songs long so every week it’s a perfect hour or two of old favorites. I also use the aforementioned Smart Playlists to do something similar, surfacing loved tracks that haven’t been played in the past year. More often than not, I end up using a Siri Shortcut to play the current track’s album in it’s entirety.
In general, the service focuses more on albums rather than playlist suggestions. Apple Music also does a great job of showing you the albums that friends are listening to, rather than the Spotify approach of an endless stream of songs flying by. And finally, 3rd party apps that focus more on albums (more on that below)
Integrations and ecosystem
Obviously, all of the Apple integration is a big win as well. Lyrics showing in Apple TV is like insta-karaoke mode, and my kids love having dance parties in the media room. The Apple Watch app is great for runs or walks outside as I can leave my phone behind and play directly from my watch. Spotify could do this, they just haven’t. Siri integration & shortcuts integration are a fantastic feature, too.
Another thing about Apple Music that I didn’t quite expect but have grown to love is the thriving ecosystem of apps around the service. I use a few of them pretty regularly, and it definitely helps fill some of the gaps in Apple Music. First up, I use an app called Albums for playing full albums and sorting them by genre, decade as well as criteria like play count. I love doing this during my workday as I have certain albums tagged by whether or not they have lyrics and it’s nice to just shuffle a few instrumental albums when I’m heads down. I use MusicHarbor to keep up with new releases. With direct Apple Music integration it’s super easy to quickly add new releases to my library so they’re waiting for me next time I open the app. In addition, I can add stuff I might just want to check out but not commit on to a playlist instead. Finally, there are a number of fantastic 3rd party Apple Music clients that have different takes on a music player’s UX (SongOwl, Soor, Marvis are the 3 best in my opinion). Marvis has a unique gesture based interface, more customization than you can image, last.fm integration, and a very active developer. Soor and SongOwl both focus on surfacing your library content in unique ways.
But nothing’s perfect
There are a few paper cut issues that still frustrate me after being on Spotify for so long, but I’m hopeful that most will be taken care of in short order.
The Mac app is still a bit of a dumpster fire compared to the iOS apps in my mind. There are countless times where it displays content incorrectly, behaves like a mixture of a web app and a desktop app, and just feels “flimsy” compared to the iOS counterparts. Honestly, it feels to me how I feel when I use Android apps – an uncanny valley situation where I can tell there’s a web wrapper hiding in there somewhere.
Fortunately, I do most of my interaction with the service on my phone, iPad and via Sonos speakers throughout the house. Things like smart playlist setup and a few other key features aren’t doable (yet?) on iOS so it’s something you have to keep around, but not use that often honestly.
There’s also a lot of small enhancements to the service that I hope to see as it matures. They’re still playing catchup to Spotify in a lot of ways as they’ve only really been around for about 4 years.
- Allow for collaborative playlists. This is by far the biggest request I have right now. I have a family plan and would love to have a shared family playlist we can all add to (generally, for songs my kids love)
- The ability to see all songs that I’ve liked, not just the ones that I’ve liked in my library.
- More “car friendly” actions would be nice (swipe for next track)
- Better integrated calendar in all apps/on the web for Beats 1 shows. I’d love to be able to pick shows I like and have them notify me when they are about to play.
- True last.fm integration at the API level so I don’t have to manage it from one or multiple apps.
- Something similar to the way that Spotify creates “Daily Mix” playlists based on genres you frequently listen to. We already get a number of pretty solid playlists a week, but nothing really broken down by genre.
- I’d like to be able to make and edit smart playlists on iOS.
- Better sorting options within the iOS app in particular. I’d love to be able to sort albums by release date, for example.
- Allow ‘For You’ to be the first page I see instead of ‘Library’.
- Filtering within my library so that I could easily go to the list of playlists, albums or artists and pull down a search menu from the top of that list. I could then quickly do a library search from there.
- Invest more in the Mac app. Using it is rarely something that sparks joy. There needs to be more polish around the entire experience, especially when it comes to things like polish around the navigation experience and consistency around keyboard shortcuts.
Overall the good about Apple Music’s system integration, album rediscovery and social aspects outweighs the things it’s missing. But just barely. I’m hopeful that iOS 14 brings more enhancements to the service along with a rethink of the Mac app.