I’m really looking forward to this.
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.
From @gravislizard on Twitter:
one of the things that makes me steaming mad is how the entire field of web apps ignores 100% of learned lessons from desktop apps
While the delivery is a bit too get-off-my-lawn for my tastes, this twitter thread by @gravislizard has a lot of points I agree with. For someone that makes a living on the web UI side of things, even I can admit that most web user interfaces these days are brittle, unintuitive and slow.
We will be shutting down all operations at 11:59 pm, PT, on May 28, 2020, and, as a result, your service will end at that time. All features of your Automatic service will remain active up until the shutdown. At that time, all features of your Automatic service, including Crash Alert and Real-Time Location & Sharing, will stop. We ask that you please discard your adapter by following standard electronic recycling procedures. You do not need to send your adapter back to Automatic.
Automatic, if you aren’t familiar, makes a little car adapter that sends all sorts of into about your trip (MPG, distance travelled, fast starts/stops and more) to a web service so you can track how you’re driving over time. This could be especially useful for folks that travel for business or folks like me that have an older car that doesn’t display MPG data.
I’ve had one of these in my car for nearly a decade now, and at the end of the month, it’ll be useless. I can only assume the reason they’re just shutting it all down and asking folks to dispose of the adapter is that the IP is more valuable to the company’s parent (Sirius) than it would be to open source the website and APIs.
Just another reminder that most smart home and IOT hardware is just pre-trash: it’ll be eWaste as soon as the company can’t keep growing or turn a profit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking more and more into IOT stuff that works with HomeKit and doesn’t require a web service to run.
Apple today updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro, improving the typing experience with the new Magic Keyboard and doubling the storage.
And thus ends the Apple keyboard dark ages.
Thought I’d give a quick update on something I’ve been spending a ton of time with in quarantine life. I’ve been a heavy podcast listener for a long time now – I can remember listening to podcasts even before it was part of the iTunes Store, using apps to side load mp3s into the app. My list of favorites has ebbed and flowed over the years, and being stuck at home has given me more time to listen than ever.
I’ve used a ton of apps over the years as well, but lately I’ve started using Pocket Casts more instead of Overcast. The reasons are varied but ultimately despite the fact that I like the way that Pocket Casts looks and “feels”. Overcast works extremely well, is built by an indie developer (Marco Arment) who I love to support, and he’s been on the forefront of a lot of the best features in podcast players over the last few years. He nailed voice boosting, silence trimming and sharing way before the competition caught up (Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher etc haven’t even tried yet).
However, despite the fact that Pocket Casts is a little more fiddly than Overcast is, I love the little details like the way the UI subtly changes to match the podcast artwork, the way you can modify the up next queue, and the multiple of ways you can listen. Pocket Casts supports Chromecast, Sonos, has a web app, a desktop app, and is on nearly any platform under the sun. They’re also owned by NPR and a few other radio stations, so it’s not like it’s some evil company like Luminary or Stitcher.
I’m not 100% sure that I’ll switch away from Overcast full time as it’s familiar and more “set it and forget it”, but I am growing weary of the app’s design, lack of multi-platform strategy and slower pace of development.
One of the neat things about Pocket Casts is that sharing what you’re listening to is pretty simple. There’s a built in interface that allows you to share some or all of the shows you listen to, which is a nice middle ground between the single-episode sharing in Overcast and some overly-aggressive sharing of everything you listen to.
I’ve been listening to mostly the same group of podcasts for years now. However, with additional downtime at home and more time doing things like yardwork, I’ve picked up a few new shows to augment my old favorites. I’m not a completionist by any stretch – I tend to look at the show notes and aggressively remove shows I’m not interested in.
You can find the full list here.
From Tech Reflect:
I don’t know if this is a macOS or iOS specific thing, but it’s a trend on those platforms in recent years that is very frustrating. It’s hard enough finding things on the internet but once you find them, it should be easy to find them again.
The order in which iOS shows you Siri search results is indeed puzzling. I get there’s a privacy v. convenience tradeoff argument that can be made but it’s not that this data isn’t on your device in these instances. I feel the pain of this whenever I dabble with Apple Maps in particular. Addresses of people I’ve taken the time to create contact cards for or based on areas it knows I’ve been to should be prioritized and used in search results, yet it rarely is (Apple has a TON of information in my travels on my local device and seems to completely squander it).
It’s been 3 years and I’m still in absolute shock that we elected this person to lead our country. Political beliefs aside, he’s not someone I’d want running my HOA let alone a country.
From The Next Web:
While Bloomberg suggests Apple’s inaugural processors won’t reach Intel-tier performance in higher-end models, the company remains confident it can leapfrog Intel’s technology in the long run. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
I’d guess the first round will be in things like the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, etc.
From Julio Vincent Gambuto:
Until then, get ready, my friends. What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw.
I’ve already started seeing some content like this on the web and on TV. I, like everyone else, want to get back to “normal”, whatever that is. However, I do hope we try to be a slightly better version of ourselves as well and not try to paper over it with frenzied consumer spending.