Beats Music focuses squarely on playlists, employing a sharp user interface and restricted color scheme that allows a vast amount of content to shine through.
Both brand and interface rely heavily on iOS7 aesthetic - flat design, subtle navigation cues and circular icon sets, disregarding the skeuomorphic approach we’ve come to know and understand through erstwhile brushed chrome and faux veneers à la Apple’s Newsstand.
Both the web and mobile experiences are vibrant, mostly due to the sheer amount of content the product has to offer. A grid-based layout contains large type in very small amounts, making it easy to scroll through an abundance of featured or suggested content. And there’s lots.
There are suggested playlists based around genre and/or decade (“Indie Music from 1993”.) There are novelty playlists based around band or topic (“Songs about Sex by Pulp”, “Cool Jazz for Studying”.) There are so-called rarities added in for good measure (“Radiohead B-sides”.) And then, there are tappable full-length albums interspersed throughout.
Impressively, the app’s feature set doesn’t rely on an activity feed or filter set. There’s so much curated content custom-tailored to the user’s preferences that the social aspect, or even a searchable one, is rendered moot.
Curiously, the commodification of actual full-length records is almost cleverly masked within the music sequencing landscape. Songs are presented within a diversified yet continuous audio experience ripe with discovery and reconnoitre.
That’s not to say that the idea of an album is lost altogether. Browsing Beats Music is not unlike exploring a record store, vibrant and full of data points. There are sections organized by genre, varying formats with subsequent cover sizes (vinyl, CD, cassette, box), staff picks to read, end caps for checking out new releases, and featured albums.
If browsing playlists isn’t your thing, you can cut to the chase by filling out a mad-libs type sentence that generates a playlist based on how you feel at that particular moment.
In the same spirit, the last screen delivers playlists exactly two taps away from getting what you want, without even being sure what it is you want in the first place. The user can choose from a list of activities – “sleep,” “wake up,” “ work out,” “study” – with a second tap that takes you to a list of playlists for selecting the mood that suits you best.
Content wise, the playlists themselves are good. They contain predictable picks and fun surprises, throwbacks and other well curated material, encouraging the user to trust the DJ and literally forgive any passable songs along the way. These are playlists for people who know what they want…but not really.
Unlike Spotify, Rdio, and its competitors, Beats Music does away with recommending albums or providing “charts” upon launch of the application. As well, it performs well without everyone in your circle shouting at you with their suggestions or listening history from the sidelines.
The major differences in Beats compared to a Spotify or Rdio is plentiful. First, Beats is less of a straight-up jukebox. A user can create playlists but they’re hidden in the background. The emphasis lies less in crafting playlists and more on hearing what you’re in the mood to listen to – without having to do any of the work involved.
The player itself is also subtle, sitting on the bottom of the screen. There is no big play button or call to action. It’s 2013 and apps have been around for 7 years now – we know what to do.
As your average skeptic in both the music and technology mindset, I do have a few concerns.
The first is that the library itself doesn’t dig deep enough. The inclusion of new bands may be due partly to pending licensing deals, if any, that are too fresh to go through the programming process.
What about exclusives, covers, remixes, and other goodies typically buried somewhere in a dark corner of the internet?
Conversely, it is a safe presumption to make that Beats will eventually feature advance record releases – historically, a natural way for driving users to online streaming music service providers.
Lastly, how often will content be refreshed? Will I need to scrap my preferences and start over to get more?
Only time will tell as this sharp, resonant product continues to evolve.