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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Apple Music Gets Steady Improvements; Works Well In CarPlay [Review]

Following its announcement at WWDC 2015, Apple Music was launched back on June 30. Apple announced a three-month free trial at the time, which means anyone who signed up on launch day will get to enjoy all the music in iTunes, free of charge until the end of September.

After the trial period ends, Apple will charge individual users $9.99 a month. The initial announcement had the expected response with competing services like Spotify, Rhapsody and Pandora One quite clearly feeling the heat.

Apple Music kicked off with a few issues though, many of which have been fixed since. With the recent release of iOS 8.4.1 a few days back, Apple has tried to improve the service even further. In fact, iOS 8.4.1 was primarily an Apple Music update.

Here's what to expect with Apple Music, especially when using it in your car with CarPlay.

Apple Music

I updated my iPhone 6 to iOS 8.4.1 last week. According to the release notes from Apple, the latest software update includes the following improvements and fixes...
iOS 8.4.1 
This release includes improvements and fixes to Apple Music. 
- Resolves issues that could prevent turning on iCloud Music Library 
- Resolves an issue that hides added music because Apple Music was set to show offline music only 
- Provides a way to add songs to a new playlist if there aren't any playlists to choose from  
- Resolves an issue that may show different artwork for an album on other devices 
- Resolves several issues for artists while posting to Connect 
- Fixes an issue when tapping Love doesn't work as expected while listening to Beats 1
Apple has gradually made improvements to the service but this is by far the biggest update. And the changes are obvious. Apple Music now works reliably (most of the time).

Beats 1 is Apple's 24-hour radio streaming station which is broadcast worldwide and is hosted by the well known Zane Lowe and his personally picked DJ's from around the globe. I really like listening to the station.

In case you didn't know, there's a Tumblr page created by Apple where you can browse through the Beats 1 schedule and get more information on what's playing and what's coming up. The site has information on the hosts, artists and news. Check it out.

You can also create your own streaming stations based on any song, artist or genre, just like you could with iTunes Radio. Apple also offers a few preset stations.

Apple Music & CarPlay

When connected to a CarPlay capable car or aftermarket head unit, the iPhone shows a blue bar at the top with a new CarPlay icon next to the battery meter. Also, remember you don't need to unlock your iPhone anymore for CarPlay to launch. You have to grant this permission when prompted.

The CarPlay interface has the familiar look as you might expect. Firstly, you will notice the new Music icon. On launching Music, you are brought to the standard home screen with tabs running across the top and a list of items to choose from under each tab. The tabs haven't changed (Radio, Playlists, Artists, Songs and More).

By default, Apple Music opens up in the Radio tab in CarPlay.

Beats 1 can be found as the second item under the Radio tab (after Featured Stations). Simply tap on it and the station starts streaming. The Now Playing screen of Beats 1 does not include a pause or scrubbing buttons (it is a radio station after all) but only a Stop button. Detailed song information is also displayed. The interface looks like this...

If you're like me and save your favorite tracks or albums for offline listening (this comes in handy especially if you have a limited data plan on your iPhone), browsing through your library is easy. You can browse by artist, song, album, genre etc.

Apple Music Issues

Although a lot of the existing issues in Apple Music have been fixed, there is still room for improvement. The biggest issue right now is duplicate songs being displayed in My Music or your offline list of tracks. The only fix for the issue right now is to manually remove duplicate tracks from your playlists or My Music.

It is rumored that the duplicate tracks issue won't get fixed until iOS 9 is released later next month with the new iPhones.

The other issue that many users have faced (including myself) is the Music app crashing every once in a while. Luckily, it doesn't happen that often anymore.

If you signed up for the family sharing plan ($14.99 per month), then it may take a while for you to set things up. There are instances when users have reported other family member's music appearing on their iDevices. Also, canceling the service has led to the music library getting messed up.

I should also mention, Apple's music suggestions under the 'For You' tab aren't always the smartest.

iOS 8.4.1 Issues In General

Like any other iOS version, iOS 8.4.1 is not free from issues in general. Existing problems like poor battery life, wi-fi connections dropping, screen rotation sluggishness on iPads, Bluetooth issues and third-party application problems have been reported but in isolated instances. Hopefully many, if not all, of these will get fixed in iOS 9.

We still are yet to see wireless CarPlay being introduced. According to Apple, the hardware to support the feature wasn't quite ready yet. But automakers (and hopefully aftermarket manufacturers) are working on hardware solutions in the meantime. Many believe iOS 9 could debut wireless CarPlay.

Do you use Apple Music with CarPlay? Let us know your impressions in the comments below.

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