Is Apple Music Played Out?

Why the Streaming Service Already Needs Something New

The following article was published in the September/October 2015 issue of iPhone Life magazine. Learn how to get the most from your iPhone by clicking here to subscribe.

It’s easy to forget the critical role that music has played in Apple’s historic growth.

When Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone in 2007, he described it as “an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator.” That’s how important music is to Apple—Jobs chose to describe the company’s flagship device as an iPod first and a phone second. It’s easy to forget the critical role that music has played in Apple’s historic growth. While the iMac may have been Jobs’s first big hit upon returning to Apple, it was the iPod and the iTunes Store that led Apple to drop “computer” from its name and start down the path to becoming the consumer electronics giant it is today. If it weren’t for those key products, Apple never would have released the iPhone or an iPad. With Apple Music, Apple hasn’t merely announced a new service, it is attempting to replace one of the cornerstones of its business.

Apple Music is a product that makes a lot of sense for Apple. Music streaming has already proven successful with services from big names including Google, Amazon, Rdio and Spotify. Spotify has been the clear industry leader, with over 75 million monthly active users and 20 million paid subscribers. In typical Apple fashion, the company has sat back and watched the music industry evolve while carefully plotting its next move and perfecting its software. Unfortunately, in this case, it may be too little too late for Apple’s new service. In my opinion, Apple Music not only fails to differentiate itself from the competition, it actually falls short in several key areas.

How Apple Music Falls Short

Limited Playlists

When using a music streaming service, it’s easy to feel unsure of where to start. It turns out that the ability to listen to (almost) any song in the world is a bit overwhelming. Therefore, a defining feature of any music streaming software is how well it facilitates the discovery of new music.

Apple only allows a select group of “music curators” to create public playlists, while Spotify allows anyone to create a public playlist.

The playlist is one of the most useful tools for music discovery. When Apple senior advisor and former Beats Audio CEO Jimmy Iovine announced Apple music, he spent quite a bit of time hyping up its playlist functionality. “The only song as important as the one you’re listening to at that moment, is the one that follows it” he said. “You need a human touch, and that’s why at Apple Music, we’re going to give you the right song, the right playlist, at the right moment.” I completely agree with Iovine that humans are better at selecting music, and playlists are what make a music streaming service so much better than an online radio service such as Pandora. The problem is that Apple Music doesn’t have nearly as many playlists as other services like Spotify. Apple only allows a select group of “music curators” to create public playlists, while Spotify allows anyone to create a public playlist. Not only does this mean there are less playlists on Apple Music, but there is also less diversity of playlists. On Spotify, for example, NPR Music has a playlist for “The Best Songs from SXSW” and a user named dansecaribe compiled the “Top 100 of the Most Beautiful Songs” as voted on by redditors. These are the types of rich musical discoveries Apple is lacking that come from allowing everyone to create playlists.

Connect Misses the People We Care About—Our Friends

One feature Apple hopes will differentiate its music service from the competition is Connect. With Connect, Apple is reviving the defunct iTunes Ping, which let users see status updates from their favorite musicians. Most critics viewed Ping as a major flop, so it’s curious that Apple is trying to revive it yet again. In my opinion, Apple gets social networking wrong with Connect. There is no shortage of ways for fans to connect with musicians: if you want to see what Taylor Swift is up to, go to Tumblr; if you want to get updates from Lady Gaga, go to Facebook. The real social interaction that people want from their music platform is with friends, not artists. One of the most important ways a music service can facilitate discovery is by allowing people to share music with their friends. Spotify allows you to share your playlists, as well as see what songs your friends have been listening to. This is a key feature that’s missing from Apple Music and is more important than being able to see photos from a band you like.

Beats 1 Radio Tries One Size Fits All

Beats 1 is supposed to be Apple Music’s killer feature. Adding live radio is something that no other music streaming service is doing. Algorithm-based radio services such a Pandora can’t quite replace the experience of listening to the radio. People are still better at selecting music and there’s still something nice about listening to a DJ. The problem with Beats 1 is that there is only one station. On a theoretical level, there’s something powerful about everyone in the world listening to the same thing. But in practice, musical tastes are too diverse for just one station. Every time I try listening to Beats 1, inevitably a song will come on that I don’t like and there’s nothing to do but turn Beats 1 off. In order for Beats Radio to grow into an important differentiator for Apple, it needs to have multiple radio stations so listeners can pick the genres they enjoy.


While I think the absence of some of those features hurts Apple Music, there’s no question that Apple has created a great user interface.

The High Notes of Apple Music

Convenient for Apple Users

The biggest advantage that Apple Music has over the competition is that it can integrate with the rest of the Apple ecosystem. One of the most common places to listen to music is in the car, so being able to access Apple Music hands-free with Siri is not only incredibly useful but will most likely save lives. Also, for those people who have spent the last 10 years building up their iTunes collection and creating the perfect playlists, having Apple Music integrate with their existing accounts is very convenient. There is a certain amount of simplicity that comes with trusting all of your core services to Apple.

User Interface

It’s likely that Apple Music isn’t as feature-rich as its competitors because of Apple’s desire to keep the service streamlined. While I think the absence of some of those features hurts Apple Music, there’s no question that Apple has created a great user interface. It’s not only easier to navigate than any other music service I’ve used, it’s also much more visually appealing. Apple Music is image-heavy and minimalist at the same time, and I rarely find myself wondering how to do something.



Rumor has it that Apple wanted to undercut the competition by charging $7.99 for its music service rather than the $9.99 the other services charge, but the record labels wouldn’t go for it. If Apple had been able to charge less, it certainly would have made a huge impact on consumer response, but even so, Apple has managed to undercut the competition with its family pricing. Spotify charges $14.99 for two users, $19.99 for three, $24.99 for four, and $29.99 for five users (although the company has alluded that it may soon drop its price for families). Meanwhile Apple Music allows up to six people to join a family plan and charges a flat $14.99 per month.


On the whole, Apple Music works well and looks great. Its competition, Spotify, has had a nine-year head start and has raised $1.1 billion in funding to invest into its software. Just as Apple did with its maps app, I’m sure it will improve its streaming service over time and add many of the features it currently lacks. The reason why I am critical of Apple Music is that I hold Apple to a higher standard than other companies. Apple has branded itself as the company that “thinks different,” the company that doesn’t make a product unless it’s “insanely great.” Because of this, when Apple creates a new product, I expect it to be truly innovative. With Apple Music, I think Apple has fallen short of that expectation. Apple Music may have been the right strategic move for Apple, but to me there is nothing particularly unique or innovative about it. While competition is always good for consumers, I hope that the next iteration of Apple Music has some truly unique features that move the industry forward.