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Apple Music – is it STILL my no. 1 choice? Great or a fallen hero?

The Music app is one of the most used apps on my Mac – but does it need some love?

Apple Music - still the best or could do better?

Old habits die hard

Apple Music is still the music app I reach for first.

I was recently on the MacRumors podcast taking audio, and during it, Dan Barbera and I mused the differences between it, and his preferred app – Spotify. I think it’s partly down to which platform you went to first. For Dan, he was a super-early adopter to Spotify. In my case, I only started to use it a few years back – and even then, only sparingly.

Nope, for me, it has always been iTunes, as it was originally, and now Apple Music. But, that is not to say it’s perfect.

Ripping a yarn

Where Apple Music really wins out for me, is that it has my music library in it.

The reason I first downloaded iTunes, on to a PC, funnily enough, was because I could rip my own CDs in to it. Being a collector of some very rare CDs and vinyl albums, that one feature was a massive win for me, and still is.

As soon as I buy a physical CD, it is ripped in to Apple Music so that I can play it anywhere, any time, on any of my devices. I can even upload ripped vinyl to it as well – bliss!

The streaming side of the app is only of limited use to me – generally I know what I want to listen to, and will search to find that album or artist.

Although Apple, and its iTunes was not the first digital, online music service, because of their ecosystem, and clout, they quickly became the standard-bearer. And, with rumours of Apple Classical circulating, I thought it worth taking a look at Apple Music, as it stands.

Apple are not typically one for taking their eye off the ball, and settling back, but with their music player app, they seem to have done just that!

In the mix

It was three years ago that Apple broke down iTunes in to three distinct, isolated areas – Music, Podcasts, and TV. By the end, iTunes had become a bloated mess, so the revamp was well-timed.

That was the point, that they could’ve grabbed the bull by the horns, and made some belt and braces changes to the app. Instead, what we got was a new name, logo, and an app that only now housed your music. Essentially, it was iTunes with Apple’s streaming platform thrown in for good measure.

Take your pick

As I said, the streaming side of the player is not that important to me. Dan loves the Spotify algorithm, and the suggestions it makes for him. Like with all AI lead learning, though, it feeds from data – the more you use it, the better it gets. And, as I don’t stream that much, neither Spotify nor Apple Music performs that well for me.

But, as I alluded to, even if I single out purely the ability to listen to, and find my music, it is still a bit of a lucky dip with the app as it stands.

I pay for the Match service, which, generally, works pretty well. But, from time-to-time, it has tripped me up. Even if I have added an album that I’ve bought, ripped, and uploaded, Match can sometimes get involved, and tell me an isolated track can’t be played, due to streaming rights. Look, I am all for musicians getting paid, but if I have bought the physical album, I’ve done my bit. It almost feels as if the music in your library, is not as important as the version held on Apple’s database. They seem to always prioritise that copy.

Similarly, it gets confused with live recordings. I’ve had instances, when listening to a live album, that suddenly, Match will throw in a studio version of the number instead. Very peculiar – it doesn’t happen often, but it really shouldn’t happen at all.

Problems from the get go

The most annoying fault, should be the simplest one to fix.

I can be listening to an album, as I am now whilst writing, but if I were to close down Apple Music, and restart it, my current selection would have vanished – no trace of it. Surely, as with podcasts, would the functionality to pick up from where you left off, not be an obvious option?

My search history is wiped clean too, instead I am offered what Apple thinks I want to listen to – and I can tell you, that often the machine learning on that feature is well off the mark.

Apple’s only effort to try to help me out with my history, is the Recently Played section – but in my mind, that should be the first row, or option that I come across. Instead, I am greeted with machine learnings offerings – Top Picks (which they are most certainly not!), New Releases, and the optimistically named made For You. It’s seriously a case of Apple trying to flex, and just being too clever for their own good. Keeping it simple is sometimes the way to go…just saying…

The albums they helpfully suggest I may want to listen to, again, often don’t tick the box for me. The only feature that seems to get it about right, is the Favourites Mix, which curates tracks I’ve recently listened to.

Missing a trick

With AirPods, you only have to bring them anywhere near a Mac or iPhone, for them to, summarily, attempt to connect. If only some reverse engineering was possible with Apple Music.

Why, is that if I’m listening to an album, on my Mac, my iPhone doesn’t know? If I launch the Apple Music app, as I’m heading out the door, wouldn’t you think the phone should know what I was just listening to, or, am I asking too much? And, whilst on the subject, why can’t I use Handoff to transfer music from iPhone to Mac? You can do it with FaceTime calls, and Safari, but not music – odd. The only time Apple Music offers you Handoff, is if you’ve got HomePods – then it works, and works really well, too.

But, again, the same lack of synchronicity holds true if you do use Handoff with a HomePod. With HomePods, it’s as if it has found the track for you – an internalised playlist, almost. The net result, again, is that if you pick your phone back up, it will not know what was just streamed from it. Cumbersome, and very un-Apple.

Not so recently added

Again, this seems to be a bit of pot luck.

Apple Music attempts to group by years when you add an album, yet it is far from failsafe. The album I’m playing now, I know was added in 2020, yet I cannot find it – the only way to find it, is by searching.

And, one more point about that homepage with your top picks etc, I’d love it if a search bar was top, front, and centre. Whether that is for my library, or to search Apple Music, I’d love to see search as the first option, rather than being tucked away in one of the corners.

I’ve never really got in to smart playlists, yet I feel I ought too. If they could make the set-up a little easier to use, that would help. In essence, I like the idea of smart playlists. I think they’d offer the kind of personal, individual tailoring I’d buy in to – something for me to check out.

And, did you know, Apple Music offers EQ per album? Yup, a hidden gem that helps tailor the sound better to your liking.

Click on the three dots at the right-hand side of a track, and then, get info. From there, click on options, and the bottom tick-box will let you select an EQ better suited to the track, or album you’re listening to.

Wrapping up

It’ll be interesting to see how Apple Classical looks when, and if, it comes out.

Will they have taken this opportunity, to right some of the wrongs, in launching a new service, or will it be more of the same?

Music, and Apple are synonymous – they just go together. It’s a shame, therefore, they don’t take a fresh look at their music player.

It’s able to offer fantastic quality audio, is unique, and they have a complete ecosystem in which it can be used, just waiting at their their disposal.

Apple Music just feels, even now, a little under-loved, lost and forgotten, which is a shame. It’s not far from being the real-deal. Come on Apple, bring it in from the cold and show Apple Music the love it needs.

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