Spotify and Apple Music have finally met their biggest contender: YouTube Music. The Google-owned YouTube spinoff, which Google has been hyping for several weeks, is more than just a Spotify or Apple Music clone. In fact, YouTube Music is backed by YouTube’s long history of being the most dominant music streaming service on the Internet for years, with Spotify and Pandora following by a long shot.
On Thursday, Google officially unveiled YouTube Music for Android and iOS, the third YouTube app to be spun off from the main app, after YouTube Kids and YouTube Gaming. It also takes on another Google music streaming app, Google Play Music, and while it may not make sense for Google to have two apps with the same basic purpose, YouTube Music is nothing like Google Play Music.
YouTube Music banks on the popularity of YouTube and offers access to the 30 million music videos — roughly around the same number of songs available on Spotify and Apple Music — in its repository to users who can play them as audio-only with the app running in the background, that is, if users have a $9.99 subscription to YouTube Red. It’s simple and easy to use. As with other music apps, users can search for songs, artists or albums and play them.
However, with YouTube being the most popular video content sharing website in the world, YouTube Music also has access to a wide collection of other musical content, aside from the official music videos licensed by record labels. These include live concerts, song covers from lesser known artists and even instructional videos about, say, how to play a certain song on the piano. That’s not something you can get from Spotify or Apple Music at the moment.
What is lacking from the service, however, is the user ability to create or share playlists, as Spotify and Apple Music users can. Instead, YouTube Music creates daily playlists based on the songs the user has listened to, the songs the user likes and the songs the app thinks the user will like. There’s a “Love” button that tells the app what users like, and when they listen to a song, the playlist will automatically tweak itself to fit the user’s tastes.
This is all done using Google’s AI-powered machine learning system in conjunction with a small team of humans making sure the machine processes the selection of music properly. The machine takes advantage of the vast repository of playlists curated by YouTube’s users over the years to learn what songs go together, while the human curators ensure the songs are woven tightly around the playlist. In essence, it combines Spotify’s algorithm-based technology and Apple’s human curation team to deliver better results.
“We do a lot of quality evaluations,” T. Jay Fowler, head of music product development at YouTube, tells The Verge. “Because when someone uses your service and asks for a certain style of music, when they expect something to play, that is an important contract you have [to] fulfill.”
For all the processes curation goes through, YouTube Music on the front end is extremely easy to use and intuitive. After installing the app, users will be automatically logged into their Google accounts, with all of the music videos they’ve ever watched on YouTube already loaded. The interface is sleek and simple, and it doesn’t take long for users to figure out where to go.
YouTube Music is highly integrated with YouTube Red. Users who already have a subscription will be able to enjoy all the premium features of the new app, including listening to audio-only in the background and offline listening. Users can still listen for free, but without the backgrounding and, of course, with ads. It’s a similar freemium business model that Spotify uses, which appears to be favorable to users but not to artists and record labels, who prefer Apple Music’s subscription-only model.