Apple and Google were so late to the streaming-music party that we wondered why they bothered to show up. Apple Music launched in June 2015, and Google Play Music relaunched in its current form in October 2015, long after brands like Spotify and Pandora had polished their products and built a loyal fanbase. We weren't alone in that thought: Some analysts even decried that "Apple Music is doomed."

But now that Apple Music and Google Play Music have had some time to settle in, we -- Josh and Cliff -- decided to look at the fledgling music services to see if either offers compelling enough experiences to make you switch from your current streaming service. Also, how do they compare to each other, and is there a clear choice for you?


Apple Music

  • 10 million subscribers
  • 30 million-plus songs
  • $9.99 per month; $14.99 per month Family Plan for up to six people
  • 90-day free trial period
  • Runs on OS X, iOS, WatchOS, TVOS, Windows, and Android

Google Play Music

  • Google doesn't provide subscriber numbers
  • 35 million songs
  • $9.99 per month; $14.99 per month Family Plan for up to six people
  • 30- or 60-day free trial
  • Runs on Android, iOS, and Web browsers
  • With a Google Play Music subscription, you also get access to YouTube Red, which offers ad-free and offline video viewing and offline audio listening

The setup

We began by seeing how easy it was to set up each service, including marking off the boundaries of our musical tastes.

Apple Music

After starting his subscription, Josh was greeted by a page where he was asked to identify his favorite genres via a collection of balloons representing artists and genres. Click once on the ones you like and twice on the ones you love; click the X to remove the ones you don't like. However, Josh could never get any genres to go away on his Mac. On his iPhone, he had better luck. In the iOS version, go to Account and then Choose Artists For You. There you can press and hold the balloons you don't want. Do the same for artists on the next screen. Tap More Artists to get more choices. Tap Done, and you're ready to rock and roll.


Google Play Music

Setup is straightforward: Make sure you are signed in, either through the Google Play Music app or on a Web browser. On the Google Play Music's homepage, you may see a message asking if you want to personalize the service. Click the Get Started button to identify your favorite artists and genres. The list of artists seems endless, and Cliff stopped after about 20 pages of choices, when he got to William S. Burroughs. (Google says that when you listen to William S. Burroughs radio, you can hear the songs of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Who knew?) Click Next, and you are ready to go.

Google offers free and paid versions of Play Music, with a trial period in case you want to check the paid version before committing. Cliff saw free trial offers for 30 and 60 days while listening to music, so check both the app and browser version of the service to see if you can grab the longer trial period.

The playlists

Next we wanted to see how well the services understood our tastes and were able to present us with playlists we'd enjoy. Both Apple and Google offer over 30 millions songs, so we were sure we'd find new music. Our concern was, would it be new music we'd want to listen to?

Apple Music

After Josh made his musical selections, the tailored playlists Apple Music created were a great match for his likes and dislikes. Josh especially liked how the service assembled playlists in engaging ways, such as by songs that sample a favorite artist or by songs produced by favorite production teams. Josh also liked that if he came across an especially good playlist, he could save it and share it with others.

Google Play Music

After setup, Cliff was taken to a Listen Now page, where he could pick from curated playlists (thanks to Google's acquisition of Songza), artist and genre radio stations, and songs that he'd acquired through Google or uploaded from iTunes. Both the Web version and the app look similar.


Cliff tried the "I'm feeling lucky radio" station but skipped through the first six unlistenable songs it picked for him "based on [his] music taste." After a moment of examining his musical judgment, he launched a new "feeling lucky" station and got a more acceptable collection. Over several weeks of listening to tailored playlists, very few, to be honest, were absorbing.

Unlike Apple, Google offers an ad-based free version. If you go the free route, you can skip six song an hour, with audio and video ads every so often. You can start a new station based on new releases or top charts. With a paid subscription, you get unlimited skips and an ad-free music stream.

Song search

We delight when music services present us with unexpected songs we like. But sometimes we know exactly what we want to hear, so we looked at how well the two services helped us find songs and artists through search.

Apple Music

Apple Music offers a host of ways to uncover what you're looking for. When Josh searched for a song, he got top results and then other possibilities, including albums, music videos, artists, exclusive content, and stations. He could also ask Siri to identify songs he was hearing.

Google Play Music

The search field displayed a list of recent searches, and when Cliff searched for an artist, song, style, or musical period, it offered genre- and artist-related playlists. Google Play Music's search also offered a Shazam-like "Identify what's playing" option. (Google appears to be testing this search feature, so you may not see it as an option.) Cliff couldn't get the feature to work at all. Google, does, however, have two other ways to identify songs you are hearing: The Sound Search for Google Play widget and OK Google (asking "OK Google, what song is this?") both accurately identified songs Cliff was hearing.


Uploading and downloading music

Despite Steve Jobs telling us otherwise, we do like music subscription services. We do own music, however, so we wanted to see how the two services worked with our personal libraries.

Apple Music

Josh didn't have to bother much with uploading music to his account, because he used the same account for iTunes and Apple Music, so his music was automatically available. He had to make sure he had turned on iCloud Music Library so his songs were uploaded across all his devices. If Josh wanted to add non-iTunes music, he could upload 100,000 songs, and iTunes purchases don't count toward that cap. He could also download any song from the Apple Music catalog to as many as ten devices for offline listening.

Google Play Music

Google provides a music-uploading utility that helps shift as many as 50,000 songs from your computer to the Google Play musical cloud. Even easier, you can click Upload Music in the left column of the webpage and just drag your music into the window to upload it. (Upload speed either way is not snappy.) With a free account, you can download music to your mobile device that you've purchased or added to Google Play Music to listen to when you're not connected. With a paid subscription, you can download albums, playlists, and radio stations to mobile devices.


Making and sharing playlists

It's great to have a music service rustle up a playlist for you. But you also want to craft your own.

Apple Music

You can create playlists from the desktop version or from your phone or tablet. From your desktop, go to the Playlists page and tap the + button on the bottom left side. On your phone, go to the My Music tab on the bottom rail. Under All Playlists, tap the + New Playlist button. On either platform, just name and edit the playlist, which then enables you to add tracks. When you're done, you can save and share the playlist with friends. To drag and drop songs into playlists on your desktop, you must first save them to your library. For your recipients to enjoy your playlists, they must subscribe to Apple Music.


Google Play Music

From your computer, create a playlist by clicking the + next to Playlists in the left column, then drag songs into the playlist. On your computer or mobile device, add a song to a playlist by clicking the More menu and selecting Add to Playlist, which displays your playlists. At the bottom of the list is a New Playlist button if you want to start fresh. Sharing is limited. For example, you can share music with others, but they see only a preview of a song unless they decide to buy it. If you're a subscriber, you can share parts of your music collection with another subscriber but not songs from your personal collection.


Apple tried -- and failed -- to make iTunes social years ago with Ping, which let you follow artists and see posts from friends. So we wanted to see if either service could connect us to a community.

Apple Music

Apple Music's Connect feature offers a way for you to connect with both major and up-and-coming artists. Tap the Connect tab, and you'll see a Pinterest-style scrollable series of posts -- backstage shots, rough videos, song meanings, and creative inspirations -- from the artists. Tap any to favorite, comment, or share.


Google Play Music

Google's music service is largely missing community features, such as the ability follow a friend's activity, collaborate on playlists, and follow artists.

Family sharing

Families share everything: Stories. Sweaters. Drinking cups. Why not music?

Apple Music

For only $5 more than an individual subscription, Apple Music's Family Sharing plan enables up to six people to enjoy the service on all their devices. What's more, a Family Sharing membership includes access to all iTunes, iBooks, and App Store purchases for everyone in the family.

Google Play Music

The Google Play Music family plan offers full subscriber benefits to as many as six family members for $14.99 a month. You can start a family plan from scratch or upgrade an individual subscription to the family plan. Each member of the group can stream music at the same time on as many as ten devices each.

What did we learn?

In many ways, Apple's and Google's music services look more alike than not. Both let you quickly find songs and genres. Both let you easily create playlists and listen to curated playlists, although sharing with others was pretty limited. Both have song catalogs with more than 30 million songs.

However, the size of the catalog doesn't matter as much as the service's ability to pick appealing music. Apple Music did a much better job of creating engaging playlists for Josh than Google Play Music did for Cliff. Apple assembled a desirable songlist most of the time, while Google's tailored collections swung between obvious and random and left us wondering how it could at times make such erratic song selections. And with its Beats 1 live radio station, Apple brings a human touch to what can otherwise feel like robotic music curation.

Finally, Apple Music's social component was much better than Google Play Music's -- because Google doesn't have a social component. Although Apple's social ties aren't as strong as Spotify's, for example, Josh still felt part of a community, something lacking from the Google experience.

So, what's the final verdict? Google shines with its curated stations, tools for uploading music, and free access to YouTube Red. Apple does an even better job of tailoring playlists to musical tastes, integrating with your existing iTunes collection, and connecting fans with artists. The live Beats 1 station adds a human touch, missing from most music experiences today. If you are on Pandora, both Apple and Google offer plenty of reasons to switch, starting with the ability to direct your listening experience. If you are on Spotify, however, you already have most of what Apple and Google offer -- and more -- so you should stick with Spotify unless you're unhappy with it.

Joshua Rotter also contributed to this article.

Clifford Colby follows the Mac and Android markets for He's been an editor at Peachpit Press and a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWeek, MacUser, and Corporate Computing.