Apple Music, the new music streaming service from Apple, went live today - and while for now it's only for iOS devices, it'll be coming to Android later this year.
Apple hopes it'll be the Netflix of music, but rival streamers Spotify and Tidal might have something to say about that - and while Apple may make lovely hardware, its track record in delivering internet-based services is patchy to say the least.
Apple hasn't been the underdog for a while, but it'll need to deliver something amazing to make Spotify users switch and tempt audiophiles away from Tidal. Does Apple have a hit on its hands? Let's find out.
Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal: availability
Apple Music is launching in 100 countries and for now it's only available for iOS, OS X and Windows, although it'll be coming to Android later this year. It doesn't currently work with streaming devices such as Sonos, but that's coming later this year.
Spotify is available in fewer countries - 58 - but right now it's the king of streaming, with 20 million paying customers and nearly three times that amount taking advantage of its ad-supported free service. It's available on every conceivable platform including networked music players and some free-standing wireless speakers.
Tidal is currently available in 44 countries and works on iOS and Android as well as on desktop computers and compatible networked music players such as Sonos and Linn.
Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal: price
Apple Music doesn't have a free version, although its Beats 1 radio station will be free to listen to. The service is £9.99 per month, or £14.99 for the Family Plan. That enables you to share with up to six people. There's a three month free trial.
Spotify is free if you don't mind adverts, but to get the full experience including higher quality music, offline listening and Spotify Connect devices you'll need the £9.99 premium version. Spotify also has a family plan, but instead of a flat rate per family it's a 50% discount on additional Premium accounts. Spotify's trial period is 60 days.
Tidal comes in two tiers: the standard service is £9.99 per month with a 30 day free trial (or £8.49 per month if you pre-pay for six months), or you can have Tidal HiFi, which offers lossless audio for £19.99 per month (£16.99 prepaid). Once again there's a 30-day trial.
Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal: features
Apple Music is based on Beats Music, the well-liked music streaming service whose key selling point was its curated playlists. Apple Music promises to deliver that too, helping you find music you'll genuinely like, and it also has Beats 1, a global 24/7 radio station featuring DJs such as Zane Lowe and artist-curated playlists too. But the big feature is Connect, which Apple hopes artists will use to get closer to their fans: it's a bit like Twitter, with artists sharing thoughts, images and even the odd work in progress. If artists take to it it could be fantastic, but it's too early to tell right now. There's also integration with iTunes Match - our cloud-based library showed up instantly - and offline listening.
Spotify has offline listening, radio stations and Running, a new feature that matches the tempo of songs to your physical activity, and it's great for playing and sharing music on social media. The main draw, though, is the user-created and Spotify-curated playlists: there are millions of them, making it very easy to find music you'll like or discover gems you might not otherwise have heard.
Tidal does offline listening and radio stations too, but the main attraction here is the FLAC lossless streaming. It sounds great on high-end equipment, but you only get it in the HiFi plan. Tidal has some social sharing features too, but they aren't as exhaustive as Spotify's.
Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal: does it have Taylor Swift?
It does, along with 30 million other songs from the iTunes catalogue and any music you've stored in the cloud via iTunes Match. Tidal has Taylor too (but not her current album, 1989), along with another 30 million songs and 75,000 music videos, but Spotify is a Swift-free zone - although as of today it does have long-time streaming hold-outs AC/DC, so that's something to celebrate. Spotify says it has - yes! - 30 million songs, with 20,000 more being added every day.
With a few high-profile exceptions - good luck finding Thom Yorke's solo stuff on Spotify, for example - the services offer much the same music, because record labels want people to hear their artists and to generate royalties for those artists. It's worth checking that your favourite acts are on your chosen service, of course, but that's what free trials are for.
Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal: the apps
You'll be amazed to discover that Apple Music looks and works pretty much like iTunes and Apple's previous Music app, but the recommendation system is new. You're asked to choose a few genres and artists, and then the For You screen appears with some reasonably good recommendations. From there you can browse new releases, access Beats 1 radio, find artists to connect with or just browse your own library and playlists. It's a bit confusing at first - “Aaaagh! Everything's moved!” - but it doesn't take long to adjust.
We're not huge fans of the none-more-black Spotify and Tidal app designs, especially on iOS where everything else is neon, but they're both easy enough to use and they make it simple to find the music you want to hear, or the music you didn't know you wanted to hear until you heard it. One nice touch in the Tidal app is Shazam-style audio searching: you can get it to listen to what's playing near you and save the song to your Tidal library.
Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal: T3 verdict
All three services have their pros and cons. If sound quality is the be-all and end-all, Tidal is the service for you; if you want the best social features, the maximum choice of devices, a superb desktop player and lots and lots of user-created playlists, Spotify is the streaming service to beat. But if you're on iOS already, Apple Music is really nice - and if you're sharing with a family, it's good value too.
Liked this? Check out Why Apple Music has already won the streaming war