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Inside the betas: watchOS 4.1 adds Apple Music streaming
By Jesse Hollington | 09.29.17

When Apple unveiled the Apple Watch Series 3, one of the hallmark features for the new cellular capabilities was the ability to listen to “40 million songs on your wrist.” However, unlike the other new features of the Series 3 which launched in watchOS 4 alongside the new wearable device, Apple only said the Apple Music capabilities were “coming soon” without any further information.

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The good news, however, is that much like last year’s Portrait Mode feature on the iPhone 7 Plus, it looks like we won’t have to wait much longer — not even a week after the debut of the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple has already pushed out watchOS 4.1 to registered developers, which appears to have the primary purpose of enabling Apple Music support.

Unlike iOS, watchOS 4.1 actually divides the Apple Music capabilities into two separate apps. The existing Music app has been updated to include the content of your iCloud Music Library, while Beats 1 and other Apple Music streaming radio stations are now located in a standalone Radio app.

iCloud Music Library

Your iCloud Music Library appears in watchOS 4.1 simply as part of the content available in the Music app. The layout remains the same as in watchOS 4.0, but simply now includes everything that’s available in the cloud, as opposed to only those playlists and albums that have been specifically synced to your wrist. You can browse by playlists, artists, albums, or songs. For the most part items in each list are sorted alphabetically, with the notable exception being the list of albums by artist, which are listed in reverse chronological order.

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When viewing lists of individual tracks, a cloud icon will appear beside any tracks that are stored in the cloud rather than on the watch itself. Unfortunately, as of this first beta at least, no such designator appears for albums, artists, or playlists; since the watchOS 4 Music app begins playback as soon as you select an album or playlist, with individual track listings hidden behind a button on the Now Playing screen, this means there’s no way to identify potentially data-consuming music until you start playback. Further, the main “Songs” view doesn’t appear to show the cloud icons yet either — right now they’re only appearing on track listings within a playlist or album, as accessed from the button on the Now Playing screen.

Although you can still store music locally in the watchOS 4.1 Music app, this still has to be set up from the iPhone Watch app — there’s no way to download music directly to the watch over-the-air. Further, the predefined Apple Music “For You” playlists such as New Music Mix, Favorites Mix, and Chill Mix are only available on the watch if they are enabled in the iPhone Watch app.

As of this first beta, there also appears to be no way to disable the iCloud Music Library from appearing on the Apple Watch, although hopefully this will appear in a later beta for users who want to maintain a smaller wrist-based library.

Apple Music

To play a song from Apple Music that’s not in your iCloud Music Library you’ll need to use Siri to call it up in the usual manner. At this point, however, the music will only play on your Apple Watch if your iPhone is not connected, otherwise the song will play on your iPhone instead, much like prior watchOS versions. This of course could change before the final watchOS 4.1 release.

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If you’re playing a song from Apple Music that’s not in your iCloud Music Library and you want to add it, you’ll either need to use Siri (“add this song to my library”) or switch to the separate Now Playing app to find the + button in the bottom right corner. The love and dislike buttons also appear to have oddly disappeared in watchOS 4 — we’re hoping they make a return before the final release of watchOS 4.1.

Radio

Apple Music Radio stations have been broken out into a separate “Radio” app on the Apple Watch, although the user interface is very similar to that of the Music app. Radio stations appear in a flipping cover view in the same way as albums and playlists in the music app.

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A “Stations” button at the top allows you to browse the entire set of available stations, with featured stations shown at the top and a list of categories below. Tapping on any station takes you to a standard watchOS Now Playing screen and begins playing music from that station. Radio stations can also be called up with Siri, but as with the Music app, the station will begin playing on the iPhone unless it’s disconnected or out of range. As of this first beta, Radio playback is also not supported over cellular, although the release notes suggest that this is a temporary issue.

 

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