Apple Music had an uncharacteristically shaky launch last month.
Typically, Apple swoops into existing categories — from digital music players to smartphones to smartwatches — and smothers the market with showmanship, a sense of native superiority and an admittedly simpler approach to things that is genuinely appealing.
The streaming music service Apple has aimed at Spotify in particular was more underwhelming. Surprisingly for Apple, the app interface was (still is) convoluted, with too much clutter and tabs that do not feel clear or distinct from one another.
Apple’s attempt to distinguish its streaming service with human curation and DJ presence is hit and miss, does not resonate much in the app itself.
Honestly, I listened to Beats 1 in bits and pieces over the last few days, and I still can’t figure out what is so special here. It actually feels a bit too polished. Listening to Dr. Dre’s “The Pharmacy” show yesterday, I was surprised to hear his swearing bleeped. Huh? The hodgepodge of musical styles appear through the day in shows that are poorly described in the guide and don’t seem available on demand (although its playlists are.).
The app is also buggy. On multiple occasions, it simply has stop playing while I have it streaming to our car radio. Its background play seems to be easily befuddled by other apps.
I will say that I do like the personal playlist recommendations in the For You section. Here, Apple seems to combine human curation with my own library and listening history. The product is a pleasing discovery experience that pushes albums and collections like musical influences on my favorites or introductions to new, related artists.
Apple Music is nicely integrated with the rest of iOS and Siri. That means that I can ask Siri to play almost any song, and it just plays it whether I own the track or not. I could see learning to like this.
According to industry trade Hit Daily Double, the whispers in the music trade indicate that a month into its release, Apple Music has about 10 million subscribers, which is roughly half the 20 million Spotify paid subs the rival has taken years to amass.
Apple is not sharing any numbers yet, but it has shared figures with music execs who are all under NDAs. According to these sources, some streams on Apple Music are already approaching the volume seen on Spotify.
Ten million subs is an unfair comparison to Spotify, of course. Apple Music launched with no subscriber fee for the first three months. Unlike Spotify, Apple Music does not have a free, ad-supported stream alternative. It is using its special presence on all iOS device as its play to achieve scale.
But the real appeal of the service won’t be clear until we all get hit with our first month fee sometime this fall. Apple is planning a marketing major push for the service kicking off with the MTV VMAs.
This column was previously published in Moblog on August 3.