What is Apple cloud music?

Apple cloud music, also known as Apple Music, is Apple’s streaming music service. It gives users access to over 90 million songs that can be streamed on demand, as well as curated radio stations. The service works across a variety of Apple devices including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac. Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s cloud music offering.

How does Apple Music work?

Apple Music works by letting users stream music from Apple’s servers over an internet connection. The songs themselves are not stored on your device – instead, your device streams the music on demand. This allows access to a huge music catalog without taking up storage space.

When you sign up for Apple Music, you can choose to stream music or download it for offline listening. Downloads allow you to listen when you don’t have an internet connection. Streamed music obviously requires an active internet connection.


For streaming, Apple uses a bitrate of 256kbps AAC. This results in high audio quality, though audiophiles may still prefer lossless formats for optimum fidelity.

Streaming is convenient as you don’t need to manage music storage. You can stream any of the 90 million tracks at any time. However, you’ll need a stable high speed internet connection to avoid playback issues.


Downloaded Apple Music tracks use the same 256kbps AAC format. The advantage is you can listen offline such as on a plane. The disadvantage is downloads take up storage space.

Apple Music downloads are DRM-protected, meaning you can only play them within the Apple Music app. If you later cancel your subscription, you lose access to downloads.

Apple Music library

Apple Music grants access to a library of over 90 million songs. This includes all the major hits and popular tracks from top artists.

Apple has negotiated direct deals with record labels to allow extensive catalog access. You’ll find music from all the major labels and most indies.

The Apple Music library compares favorably to competitors in terms of song selection. Spotify also has around 90 million tracks, while Amazon Music Unlimited has around 90 million and YouTube Music around 80 million. Tidal has around 70 million as a point of difference.

Notable omissions

While Apple Music has an extensive catalog, there are some notable omissions:

  • The Beatles – you won’t find the Fab Four’s hits in Apple Music. This is because the Beatles have an exclusive deal with Spotify.
  • Jay-Z – most of Jay-Z’s albums are missing due to his ownership of Tidal.
  • Garth Brooks – the country star removed his catalog from streaming services in 2016.
  • AC/DC – the Australian rock band did not reach a streaming deal until December 2020.

For the most part though, Apple Music subscribers have a wealth of choice from a catalogue spanning many decades and genres.

How to get Apple Music

Apple Music is available as a standalone subscription, or free for 3 months with the purchase of select Apple devices.

Paid subscription

You can sign up for a paid Apple Music individual plan for $9.99 per month. This gives you full access to the Apple Music catalog and features.

There is also a $4.99 per month Apple Music Voice Plan. This gives Siri-only access, so you can request songs via voice but not browse the full catalog in the app.

Finally there’s the $14.99 Apple Music family plan covering up to 6 users.

You can try any paid plan free for 1 month as a trial.

Free with Apple device purchase

When you purchase select new Apple devices, you qualify for 3 months of Apple Music free.

Eligible purchases include iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV and Mac. The free trial is available even if you’ve used Apple Music before.

After the trial ends, you will be billed the standard $9.99 monthly subscription fee if you don’t cancel.

Using Apple Music

Apple Music is primarily accessed through the Music app available on iOS, iPadOS and macOS devices. There is also an Android app for non-Apple device users.

iOS and iPadOS

On iPhone and iPad, you access Apple Music via the pre-installed Music app. This features intuitive navigation to browse the catalog, playlists, radios and more.

You can also ask Siri to play songs from the service: “Hey Siri, play [song name].” Siri is integrated with Apple Music for hands-free control.

Within the Music app you can view artist profiles and albums, create your own playlists, share music and more. It’s a full-featured app tailored for music streaming.


The Music app on Mac provides similar Apple Music access and features as on iOS. You get the same library, playlists and recommendations synced across devices.

This allows you to seamlessly switch between listening on your Mac and iPhone. You can be browsing music on your Mac then continue listening on your iPhone when leaving the house.


While Apple Music is designed for Apple ecosystems, there is also an Android app. This brings Apple Music to Android smartphones and tablets.

The Android app provides access to the full Apple Music catalog. It also includes standard streaming features like playlists, radio and favorites.

However, the Android integration is not as deep as on Apple devices. For example, there is no Android Auto support or built-in Chromecast streaming.

Other devices

In addition to core platforms, Apple Music is available on other smart devices through AirPlay 2 support. You can stream to AirPlay 2 compatible smart speakers, TVs and more.

There is also an Apple Music app for select smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Vizio and Sony. And you’ll find Apple Music built into newer models of cars with CarPlay support.

Key Apple Music features

As a mature streaming service, Apple Music is packed with features. Here are some of the key capabilities on offer:

On-demand streaming

This core functionality lets you instantly stream any song in the 90 million track catalog. Just search for the song or album and tap to play.

Downloaded playback

You can also download music for offline playback when internet is unavailable. Downloads are DRM-protected for use only within Apple Music.

Curated playlists

Apple Music provides hundreds of curated playlists grouped by genre, mood, activity and more. Playlists are updated regularly by Apple’s team of editors.

Algorithmic recommendations

The platform learns your tastes to offer personalized music recommendations. The more you use Apple Music, the better recommendations become.

Artist radio

Apple Music offers unlimited streaming radio centered on particular artists. This provides a customized lean-back listening experience.

Lyrics view

Apple Music can display scrolling song lyrics in real-time as you listen. Lyrics view is available for many songs to enhance the listening experience.

Dolby Atmos

There is support for immersive Dolby Atmos Music on compatible devices. This provides a spatial audio experience with music all around you.

Lossless audio

Apple Music offers a growing catalog of lossless audio and hi-res lossless tracks. This caters to audiophiles with higher quality hardware.

How is Apple Music different to iTunes?

Apple Music may seem similar to iTunes – but there are some important differences between the two.


iTunes is Apple’s desktop media player for macOS and Windows. It lets you purchase digital music to own, as well as sync media to iOS devices.

iTunes stores your purchased music library locally for playback. You own the music files permanently.

Apple Music

Apple Music is a streaming service rather than a local media player. You pay a monthly fee for access to stream its catalog on demand.

You don’t own the music – if you stop paying, you lose access. But there’s flexibility to listen anywhere.

Key differences

iTunes Apple Music
Purchase model – own music forever Streaming model – monthly access
Local library limit 90+ million song catalog
Sync to Apple devices only Available across all devices

While iTunes is still available, Apple Music is now Apple’s focus for music. Most customers will opt for the streaming flexibility over purchasing.

How does Apple Music compare?

Apple Music competes in a crowded music streaming market against rivals like Spotify, Tidal and YouTube Music.

Library size

Apple Music has around 90 million tracks which is competitive:

Service Song library size
Apple Music 90 million
Spotify 90 million
Amazon Music Unlimited 90 million
YouTube Music 80 million
Tidal 70 million

Apple Music matches its main rivals in depth of catalog. Only niche services like Tidal lag behind due to fewer licensing deals.

Audio quality

In terms of standard audio quality, Apple Music streams at 256kbps AAC which is also typical:

Service Standard audio quality
Apple Music 256kbps AAC
Spotify 256kbps Ogg
Amazon Music Unlimited 256kbps MP3
YouTube Music 128kbps AAC

While encodings vary, competitors stream at roughly similar bitrates. But Apple Music also offers lossless audio and hi-res lossless for audiophiles.

Other features

When it comes to features, Apple Music ticks most boxes:

  • On-demand streaming – yes
  • Curated playlists – yes
  • Personalized stations – yes
  • Offline downloading – yes
  • Family plan – yes
  • Student plan – no
  • Annual plan – no

Most core features are matched by rivals. Unique extras like Spotify Connect, handoff to desktop and annual subscriptions are missing.

Ecosystem integration

The key differentiation for Apple Music is tight integration with Apple’s ecosystem. Using Apple devices you get the best experience in terms of:

  • Seamless setup with Apple ID
  • Siri voice control
  • Integration with iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV and Apple Watch
  • Playback via AirPlay 2
  • CarPlay support

No competing service can match the same level of Apple device integration. So Apple Music becomes the natural choice for many iPhone users.

Pros and cons of Apple Music

Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of Apple’s streaming service:


  • Huge catalog of 90+ million songs
  • Intuitive iOS integration and apps
  • Curated playlists and radio stations
  • Lyrics view and Dolby Atmos support
  • Lossless audio and hi-res lossless options
  • Family plan available
  • Free 3 month trials with Apple device purchases


  • No annual subscription option
  • No student plan discount
  • Limited social features
  • No equivalent to Spotify Connect
  • Less personalized recommendations
  • Clunkier Android experience

While very capable, Apple Music trails some rival services when it comes to personalized music discovery and social aspects.

Is Apple Music worth it?

Apple Music is a top choice for streaming thanks to its extensive catalog, nice features and Apple ecosystem integration.

The standard $9.99 individual plan has wide appeal. You get access to everything Apple Music has to offer.

The cheaper $4.99 Voice Plan appeals for basic use cases like Siri song requests. And the $14.99 family plan is nicely priced for sharing.

Free trials let you test Apple Music for yourself. But for any iPhone user, it’s an easy recommendation for the seamless iOS experience alone.


Apple Music brings Apple’s music streaming up to date. With over 90 million songs, intuitive apps, curated playlists and more, it’s a polished service.

While not the cheapest option, Apple Music integrates beautifully across the Apple ecosystem. Subscriptions come with generous free trials for easy testing. Overall Apple Music remains a top choice – especially for committed Apple users.