APPLE MUSIC, the firm's long-awaited Spotify rival, has landed. Once you've updated your iPhone to iOS 8.4, Apple Music replaces the official Music app on iOS, combining your iTunes library with on-demand streaming, the live Beats 1 radio service and a new artist-centric social network called Connect.
There's a lot going on in Apple Music and, after a few minutes using it, we nearly threw in the towel and went back to Spotify.
If you've got a little more patience, and most do, Apple Music soon becomes simple and intuitive to use. It continues to feel a little busy at times, but Apple has done a good job of making it straightforward to navigate.
Design-wise, Apple Music is typically Apple, with a little added pizzazz. It feels more polished than the old Music app, and its light and translucent colour theme and meticulously designed artist pages make it a much more pleasant experience to use than Spotify.
At the bottom you'll find five options: For You, New, Radio, Connect and My Music, which we go through in more detail below.
Once you've selected your favourite genres and artists using the unique floating bubble-like UI, For You is essentially a hub of music that Apple thinks you will like - and it was spot on for us with the recommendation of its own Rock Hits: 1998 curated playlist, including hits from the likes of Rammstein and Korn. Oh, yeah.
We found that the more we use Apple Music, the better Apple's recommendations get, and it's a feature that puts the firm way ahead of the competition.
New does what it says on the tin, showing you the newest music to be released and/or added to Apple Music.
It offers some additional features too, such as Hot Tracks which showcases some of the, well, hottest tracks as chosen by the curators of Apple Music and by listeners, while a Top Songs section shows the, er, top songs, albums and videos according to playback and purchases.
As if in a blatant bid to prove it's got more on offer than Spotify, the New section also lets you browse the music being listened to by Apple Music editors and curators, and lets you look for playlists designed for specific activities such as working out or getting ready to go out. Our favourite is currently Cooking with Jazz.
This will probably be the feature we use least, although we can see the appeal, albeit reminiscent of Apple's failed Ping 'social network'.
The artist-focused social-network-of-sorts shows updates from your favourite artists (ours is currently full of Snoop Dogg videos), and has the potential for musicians to share things such as song lyrics and behind-the-scenes clips with Apple Music users.
A niggle we have with Connect is that it automatically subscribes you to follow every artist you already own, which saw us following some artists we haven't listened to in years. Thankfully, there's a switch to disable this completely.
My Music is, unsurprisingly, where you'll find all of your music, be it your iTunes purchases or stuff you've added from the Apple Music library.
Adding music to the library is extremely easy: simply search for an album, and hit the '+' button to add it to My Music, or add specific tracks to a playlist.
There's the option to save albums and playlists for offline listening (just like you can in Spotify), but there's no option to import playlists from rival services yet.
This might put off some considering a switch from Spotify, for example, which is not surprising given that it took us a good hour to re-compile our Hip Hoppin' playlist.
However, in doing so, we found that Apple Music isn't missing any of the tracks we had on our 115-song Spotify alternative. We also discovered that there's no option yet for collaborative playlists, one of Spotify's stand-out features.
Playback in Apple Music is 256kbps, which is the same as iTunes, and there is no lossless support at present.
We've been listening to Beats 1. A lot. Of course, this was partly for research purposes, but also because it's the first radio station that has appealed to us in a long time.
We soon got sick of hearing Pharrell Williams' Apple Music exclusive Freedom, but it feels like Apple is setting itself apart from the competition with a unique global radio station, and bringing something new to radio as a whole.
It helped us to discover new music rather than playing the same handful of already popular tracks on loop (apart from Freedom. Sigh).
There's no option yet to add a song playing on the radio to one of your playlists - a feature we hope arrives in a future update.
Beats 1 has some big names backing it too. Zane Lowe kicked off proceedings, revealing that the likes of Pharell Williams, Josh Homme and Dr Dre (!) will also have their own shows on the station.
Apple Music might sound like a 'me too' product on paper, but we think the firm has done much more, and that's after less than 24 hours using the service.
Yes, it's similar to Spotify in terms of general functionality, but Apple has given it an edge with Beats 1 and, while we've only been using it a short while, we're already finding the music recommendations better than those offered by Spotify after years of being a subscriber.
Sure, it'll take a lot to convince many people to switch, especially given the lack of functionality to import Spotify playlists, for example.
However, an offer of three months free gives people a chance to give it a spin while saving £30, news that could really hit rivals once it lands on Android later this year.
For now, we've cancelled our Spotify subscription and will give Apple Music a thorough testing throughout the three-month trial period. We'll report back. µ