Apple has release their latest non-hardware product, and the reviews have been mostly positive. While I haven’t opted to jump fully into the world of Apple Music (I’ve been an iTunes Match subscriber for a couple years now, and have been happy with cloud access to my music and iTunes Radio) the future of this service seems bright. Apple highlights its music app on all iOS devices and Macs, giving it an almost insurmountable lead in the millions who own their devices. While reports have come out recently of Spotify and Rdio both attempting to create value that Apple doesn’t offer, they aren’t the business that is most imperiled by Apple’s music service.
While I do use iTunes on my Macs regularly to listen to music (the addition of a bluetooth or Airplay speaker makes any device an instant personalized jukebox) my iPhone is my primary music device. iTunes radio and iTunes Match have made it almost perfect, as my full collection of music, audiobooks, and podcasts is too large for any but the largest capacity device (and I’d rather pay $25 a year for iTunes Match rather than the extra $100 to double the internal storage of my phone just for that one task).
All of that music begs to be listened to, and like most people that don’t live in a metropolis with a good transit system I do a good deal of my listening while driving. Most new cars feature bluetooth streaming to your car stereo, and almost all cars made within the last 10 years have an audio jack allowing music to be wired in.
My newest purchase- a 2015 Mini Cooper S- goes a step further, providing a USB input affording more control and information than bluetooth or a patch cable provides. Control of the music library, including playlists, podcasts, and my iTunes Radio channels have made plugging in my phone the second step after starting the car (seat belt comes first). The Mini Cooper’s large LCD screen and easy to control menus have made me opt for my iPhone over other options, including my complimentary Sirius XM radio.
At one time I considered Sirius/XM to be the pinnacle of automotive music. Immune to the limits of radio station range (perfect for long road trips) and offering a far wider (and mostly commercial free) selection of listening it seemed like an even better option than plugging in an iPod, provided you could afford the specialized stereo and subscription fee. This is my second vehicle with satellite radio, and to date I had been mostly satisfied with my experience.
I’m not sure if it was the better quality of the Cooper’s speakers or spending more time listening to music on my phone, but the quality of the audio listening to Sirius had become noticeably poorer. Talk-based stations like Comedy Central had noticeable compression sounds- much like MP3s downloaded when Napster first appeared, audio sounded distorted and ‘watery’. Certain tones in music betrayed digital compression as well; cymbals in particular sounded off. Switching to my iPhone to listen to the same song gave a noticeably better sound, even without turning off the additional compression the Music app uses when streaming via cellular (saving data is always a good thing as most of us aren’t on an unlimited plan).
While satellite radio did provide far more than terrestrial radio, it just can’t match the utility of even iTunes Match. The control and interactivity is a hard benefit to top; you can either listen to exactly the song you want in your library, or make an iTunes Radio station to match the mood you’re in. Add in the additional functionality of Apple Music and you have a service that Sirius really can’t match: access to curated playlists, a library that would take a lifetime to listen to (and new music added regularly), live radio DJed by some of the biggest names in music via Beats1, and voice control via Siri- all without needing to buy a Sirius-capable stereo and antenna. Some vehicles will provide additional perks like album art or additional track information.
Now compare the cost: Sirius/XM’s cheapest plan, giving access to 80 channels is $10.99 a month. For full access including streaming to your computer or portable device (more comparable to what Apple Music would provide) the cost jumps to $19.99 a month. That’s for a single subscription that can’t be shared with others or enjoyed in a different vehicle without resorting to streaming from a phone. That makes the $9.99 monthly fee for Apple Music seem a whole lot more affordable.
The only caveat with relying on something like Apple Music in your car lies in the fact that it uses a phone. You need cellular coverage to stream, and there are areas where this just isn’t available. Secondly, you have to pay for that cellular data. For those on an unlimited data plan or a carrier like T Mobile that don’t count streaming services against your data plan this isn’t a problem, but for most of us streaming hours of music each month could get expensive.
Even though its not a perfect solution, opting for Apple Music as the primary source of entertainment in your car is already a viable one that provides utility nothing else can touch. If you listen as much as I do, being able to continue the experience even when you leave your car provides the final deciding factor: Sirius just can’t do what I’ve become accustomed to.