I'm with Steve Jobs on this. I've never really understood the need for music streaming.
If there is a song I like, I buy it and store it on my iPhone or iPod. Then I can listen to it anywhere, even on a plane where there usually is no Wi-Fi. But I am starting to realise that I am in the minority.
Most of my friends and colleagues are on Spotify, Deezer or some other music streaming service. The industry is also moving towards music streaming. So much so that there is now Apple Music.
WHAT IS APPLE MUSIC?
It is an updated app in the new iOS 8.4 that combines:
• a digital music streaming service with 30 million songs including Taylor Swift's 1989 album;
• free customised radio stations based on songs you have or like;
• Beats, an Internet radio station curated by deejay Zane Lowe and "his handpicked team of renowned deejays";
• a Connect social network component that lets artists interact directly with their fans, and;
• the iTunes store from which you can buy music.
It is also available on iTunes 12.2 for both PC and Mac. Later this year, Apple Music will be available on Apple TV and Android.
PRICE: $$9.98 per month for individual use; $14.98 per month to share among family of six (free three-month trial)
PLATFORM: iOS 8.4 or iTunes 12.2
FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5
PERFORMANCE 1 2 3 4 5
VALUE FOR MONEY 1 2 3 4 5
OVERALL 1 2 3 4 5
When you sign up for Apple Music, there is a three-month free trial. After that, it is $9.98 a month for individual use or $14.98 a month for a family of six to share.
The subscription in Singapore is cheaper than in the US, where it is the same price but in US dollars.
Singapore has no Beats 1 radio station yet. But you do get the customised radio stations. I tried out Apple Music on my Apple iPhone 6 Plus and iPod Touch (5th generation).
Bear in mind that this is a review by a newbie who has never used a music streaming service before. There will be a more in-depth comparison of all the music streaming services later on.
STARTING APPLE MUSIC
Music is very personal. And Apple knows that.
At the start, the app will ask you to choose the music genres you like. You do this by tapping on moving red circles bearing the genre names. After you choose the genres you like (at least three), you will be moved to another page with more red circles, this time, bearing the names of artists.
Tap the ones you like and you are done. If there is an artist you dislike, press and hold down on that circle till it disappears.
The interface is like that of the old Music app (if you had that, you will notice that the icon has changed). At the bottom of the screen are five tabs: For You, New, Radio, Connect and My Music.
For You is a selection of playlists Apple has curated for you based on the music you own, and the genres and artists you like.
Each time I launch the app, there will be new artists or playlists showcased here.
New is the section where the new top songs are available, so you can keep up to date with the music scene. Great for oldies like me.
Radio is for radio stations, with genres categorised clearly. Tap Cantopop and you can listen to Cantonese songs being broadcast. It's free. You don't have to sign up for Apple Music to enjoy this.
Connect is for artists and fans to connect. Follow the artists you like and they may post something here. So far, only U2 has been active. None of the other artists I followed has yet to post anything.
My Music is where your own music library is sited. You can find and listen to the songs you bought and the playlists you created.
Some say the app is confusing. But I found it easy to navigate and I can get to where I want swiftly. Switching between sections is a breeze. But if the Internet connection is slow, it takes a while to load sections other than My Music.
When streaming a song, you can add it to My Music or make it available for offline listening. You have to enable iCloud Music Library for offline listening.
From here, there is a shortcut to find the song in iTunes Store and buy the track. Or you can also add a song to stream next.
I like the playlists and artists recommended by the app, as they are really the ones I listen to. For example, the app recommended Leslie Cheung and Shirley Kwan, great singers of yesteryear.
In addition, I found Ed Sheeran (yes, I've been living in a cave) and Korean boyband Big Bang's latest albums in the New section. Oh, and I finally got to listen to Taylor Swift's 1989 album.
SELECTION OF SONGS
It's often a hard slog to find the songs I love. As a friend said: "You listen to Mandarin songs when you write in English for a living?"
In fact, I listen to Cantopop, K-pop and sometimes J-pop as well. As I grew up on 1980s and 1990s music, the Singapore song movement, or Xinyao, is also one of my favourites. I was surprised to find a huge selection of "my" music in Apple Music. So imagine my delight when I could stream Your Reflection by Yan Liming and Hong Shaoxuan, or Encounter by Eric Moo and Liang Huizhen. Yes, they are super old songs. That's why it is amazing to find them.
I also found old songs by the Hong Kong rock band Beyond, Andy Hui and Dave Wang. It was quite a trip down memory lane.
On the downside, not all songs in the iTunes Store are available for streaming. Sorry, Beatles fans.
There are glitches. Sometimes, when I tap on one track, the streaming skips straightaway to the next track in the album.
When I tried to stream music videos from Girls' Generation or Psy, I would get error messages. But no problems with Taylor Swift's Bad Blood music video, though. Guess there is no bad blood after all.
Another problem concerns the iCloud Music Library seeking to streamline all your music and play lists. Turning it on lets you store streamed tracks for offline listening. But it will then ask you to merge or replace the playlist from your listening device.
If you opt to merge, you get repeated playlists. I opted to replace the playlist from my iPod Touch as it has my master playlists.
I am disappointed that some streamed songs I had added in my iPod Touch into My Music did not surface in my iPhone 6 Plus.
• For those already subscribed to Spotify or similar streaming services, switching to Apple Music may make no sense. But for long-time iTunes users who are, like me, new to music streaming, Apple Music may be late but still appealing.
In any case, your first three months are free. Worth a try.