Why this music junkie won’t be subscribing to Beats


Word cloud from Apple's press release on Beats acquisition. Larger words are more frequent.
Word cloud from Apple's press release on Beats acquisition. Larger words are more frequent.

I’m a streaming music junkie. I’ve subscribed to Rdio, Spotify and Slacker to rein in my tendency to hoard (and then not back up) music.  Putting a tenner on monthly subscriptions for an all-you-can-listen auditory buffet model appealed to me more than an album-binging approach, too.

Still, the Apple and Beats acquisition rumors (now fact) struck me as tone deaf – what does Beats bring that the other services don’t? So I decided to take the Beats app on my iPhone for good long spin.

Just to find a list of Radiohead albums takes too many taps.
Just to find a list of Radiohead albums takes too many taps.

After a week or so with the app, I’m still puzzled. For starters, the interface looks like a jumbled display at a used record store. Rdio was easy to figure out from the get go, and Spotify only took a little re-learning to find what I wanted. Beats Music, for me, takes more effort to find stuff than the other services.

There’s nothing here at first glance that the other services don’t already either do better — or at least as well. Let’s hope Apple isn’t banking on paying off the $3 billion acquisition price with the Beats Music subscription service alone. As we’ve seen time after time, walking into a crowded space to take over isn’t easy.

Celebrate, Cook, or Break up with Beats awesome curated playlists.
Celebrate, Cook, or Break up with Beats awesome curated playlists.

Beats Music does have one killer feature: human curation. The playlists are just sick good, created by people who know what they’re doing. There are playlists build around genres like Alternative, Americana, Classic Country, Opera, Hip-Hop, Family, Indie and many more, each one digging down farther into the genre than you’d guess. Better yet, there are a ton of activity-based playlists, so you can get your groove on while you BBQ, Chill Out, Get It On or Break Up.

For pure random discovery, there’s also The Sentence, a pre-built set of statements that you can roll together. Hear this: there’s nothing like “I’m fashionably late and feel like making bad choices with your mom to Hip-Hop” to generate a bunch of songs you probably haven’t heard before.

Despite these solid music discovery features, though, Beats has a tough climb ahead. Why Apple shelled out the weight of the entire continent in jukebox quarters for this purchase is still beyond me.

Beats headphones have had a huge cultural impact, regardless of their audio quality,  Iovine and Dr. Dre are both intelligent dudes with serious music business cred.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Paul

    Beats just doesn’t have the audiophile quality I like. After owning a pair of Beats Pros for a few months I quickly tired of the bass heavy sound ruining my wide music tastes. It was ok for when I listened to roughly 3 hip hop tracks in 6 months. Instead I upgraded to Bowers and Wilkins and enjoyed listening to full hi fidelity music reproduction how the artist intended. I hope none of the beats hardware finds it’s way to my beloved Apple hardware

  • zeekfizz

    Tried them app. Beats is by far the best. You wrote it yourself, the human, not algorithmic, curation is incredible. And it’s more about albums then making playlist after playlist picking song after song. Rdio and Spotify are just not good at discovering music. And the interface is phenomenal! You couldn’t figure it out? You’re going to have trouble in the near future. Gestures are not going anywhere. Been with Beats for awhile and bit going anywhere.

  • Jeff Maxwell

    I don’t understand why this deal is so hard to understand. As you pointed out, the music service is very good. Your only issue seems to be with the interface – which is something Apple can easily fix. As for the hardware, it’s already got a strong following and is a huge money maker. The hardware alone justifies the price. It’s not my thing and I accept that it’s not the best quality for the money, but it sells. My hope is that Apple engineers will improve them and make them as technically good as they are popular.

    It kills me how you people have been screaming for Apple to “buy something…anything!” And then the moment they do, you idiots scream “But not that!” I hope you understand why it’s hard to take any of you knuckleheads seriously when you write this crap.

    • PMB01

      The software fix is easy to see: Beats Music will be integrated into iTunes for iOS 8. The standalone app will be dead by the end of the year.

  • The Gnome

    I agree about getting rolling with Beats – it gave me too few choices and it took me too long to get into the content. Their content is weak right now as well, though no doubt Apple will fix this.

    The curation part sets it apart from other services, which boringly place you into the same old mode of selecting your music via search. I think with some tweaks this could be great, but as is now I wasn’t too impressed.

    From what I understand if just 3% of Apple’s iTunes customers subscribe to Beats in just one year the deal is paid for. Seems like a smart buy.

  • Chuck McGinley

    If you look at this deal with a simple view:

    1. From what I have read, the Hardware sale alone is 3x multiple revenues. Not bad. So this pays for the deal in a short while.

    2. Essentially you get the curation talents, the contacts and other benefits of the folks involved.

    3. The Brand has value. A lot. Especially with under 17 crowd.

    Google paid about the same for Nest (Which I own one BTW) and no-one batted an eyelash. If I can speculate: the revenues there are probably about a 400X multiple, the brand significantly weaker, and the talent beyond Tony Fadell is unknown.

    Time will tell…

  • aaa

    1st – Thanks to Cult for not being all “in love” with this circus. Apple Senior leaders look like a bunch of out of touch old dudes. They have totally bought into how great they are and have ignored what Apple fans really want. Google and Android give us way more choices. Once you’ve had a large screen Android phone, no looking back. Everything Apple touches does not “Just Work”. I bought into that crap for too long and really wanted it to work. They have lost their way….sad indeed to see $3,000,000,000 to buy an over hyped headphone company that can’t touch Pandora, Rdio or Spotify!! Meh Indeed!!

  • inknzvl

    Sign in process turned me away! Wth they want my phone number for? Ok, use twitter to sign in, they always require phone number. I don’t give my number that easy. Spotify fits nice in my needs.

  • sMalL hIlL

    Torrents Multisearch rocks

  • David

    It seems like a lot of people are basing their decision on whether or not Beats will work well with Apple based on the Beats Music app. I agree that it isn’t nearly as simple as Spotify or Google All Access and I’m not currently using it but are we assuming that the app will stay the same within the iOS ecosystem? I know the plan is to keep the Beats app going for Android and Windows phone users but part of me thinks that in iOS, they will fold the app into the current Music app (or some new version of that) so users can play both their purchased/ripped music and the new streaming music from within the same app. To me, that is critical for the success of the service because I don’t want to have to jump back and forth between apps to have access to all of my music collection. Guess we’ll see and hopefully soon.

    • PMB01

      This is going to happen. Beats Music will be part of iTunes for iOS 8. Standalone app (at least for iOS) dead by the end of the year.

  • Reece Conrad

    I tried beats for a day. On my mbp it stopped playing twice within an hour and I had to refresh the page to get it to respond, apparently a common problem. Also, there is no way to make a playlist on the desktop!

    I could overlook these issues but a big missing feature for me was no collaborative playlists. I’m probably in the minority, but I have a collaborative playlist each month with a friend on spotify, like a best hits of the month. Not possible with Beats.