Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 8.4 + Apple Music

Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 8.4 + Apple Music 1

Apple’s iOS 8 development cycle has taken a more interesting direction from past releases, with more significant and rapid minor releases and fewer bug fix patch releases. For the first time, Apple had three versions in simultaneous development, released the first-ever public beta of iOS, and even released new versions while the beta cycle for the next version was already underway. iOS 8.2 brought with it support for the Apple Watch, while iOS 8.3 brought iCloud Photo Library out of beta to accompany the new OS X Photos app.

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This week’s release of iOS 8.4 marks another feature milestone, debuting with a completely redesigned Music app for the debut of Apple Music, some significant changes to the iBooks app, as well as the usual collection of other fixes and improvements. As with previous releases, iOS 8.4 comes out while the iOS 9 beta cycle is already well underway, and it’s also anecdotally worth mentioning that this is the first “.4” iOS version to be released — an indication of how much has been added since iOS 8.0 first debuted last fall.

Downloading and Installing

As usual, iOS 8.4 is a free update for all supported iOS device models. To download and install iOS 8.4, users can select the “Check for Updates” option found on the Device Summary page in iTunes, which should locate, download, and install the update automatically. In some cases, iTunes may have already discovered the update by itself, in which case you will see an “Update” button rather than a “Check for Updates” button. For an over-the-air (OTA) update, you can simply go into your device’s Settings app and choose General, Software Update to check for and install the update. Note that to receive OTA updates your device will need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network and should be plugged into a power source or have at least 50% remaining battery life for the update to successfully install.

Note that even if you’ve decided to skip prior iOS versions, you can still update directly to iOS 8.4 in the same manner — there’s no need to install iOS 8.3 first, for example, or even iOS 8.0.

The usual caveats and warnings apply here as with any iOS update: the installation may or may not preserve all of your existing data. It may result in the wiping of your device’s data under certain conditions, and it is therefore a good idea to make a full backup of your device before beginning. Be sure that all of your media content and apps are in your iTunes library, as these do not form part of the backups made by iTunes — Apple reasonably expects that you should be able to re-sync this information from your iTunes library following a full restore. You can check the status of your backup before beginning by visiting the “Devices” section in your iTunes Preferences.

Apple Music

The most significant new feature in iOS 8.4 is the introduction of Apple Music, Apple’s new on-demand streaming music and radio service, which is accompanied by a completely redesigned iOS Music application that makes some interesting UI improvements and adds some much-needed features even aside from the Apple Music service itself.

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“Apple Music” is actually more of an umbrella term for a collection of new services, although Apple uses it somewhat interchangeably both to refer to its single Spotify-like on-demand streaming service as well as the entire suite of new services that include iCloud Music Library, Beats 1 Radio, and Connect. Regardless, the entire collection of Apple Music services is baked into the new Music app, which sports a new white icon and sidelines most of the old standalone music functionality into a single “My Music” tab in the bottom right corner. The other four buttons lead to Apple’s new online services: “For You” provides custom, curated playlists built around your specified preferences, “Radio” provides access to the new Beats 1 Radio and other streaming radio stations — essentially a new and improved “iTunes Radio” available in 100 countries rather than just the U.S. — and “Connect” brings you to Apple’s new music social network for interacting with artists.

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Apple Music remains an optional paid service, although with a free three-month trial, it’s likely most users will at least want to check it out. The first time you visit the new Music app after upgrading to iOS 8.4, you’ll be asked if you want to subscribe to Apple Music, which begins the three-month trial and will automatically start billing you on September 30, 2015. If you’re sure you only want to take advantage of the free trial and not get any surprises at the end of September, you can disable the auto renewal feature for Apple Music in much the same way as any other app-based subscription, by viewing your account via either iTunes or your iOS device and disabling it from the “Manage Subscriptions” screen; there are several different paths to get to this screen, however the easiest in iOS 8.4 is to open the Music app, tap on the person icon in the top left corner of the screen, select View Apple ID and then scroll down and tap Manage under the “Subscriptions” heading. You should find Apple Music listed with any other in-app subscriptions associated with your account, where you can select it and simply toggle off the “Auto Renewal” option.

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When you first setup Apple Music, you’ll be taken through a couple of screens asking you to identify your favorite genres and artists so that Apple can provide you with curated playlists in line with your musical tastes. The UI here is kind of fun, presenting genres and artists as a series of red balloons that you tap on one or twice to indicate how much you like them, or tap-and-hold on to remove entirely. If you’ve already setup Apple Music from another iOS device or iTunes on your computer, these screens will be bypassed by default and you can just log straight in and be ready to go. You can, however, access them again by tapping on the person icon in the top left corner of the Music app to bring up your account settings, and selecting the “Choose Artists for You” option, which will show you your previous preferences and allow you to tweak them further. From the account settings screen you can also choose which artists you are following for the Connect feature of Apple Music, and whether to automatically follow new artists as their music is added to your library; you’ll probably find you’re already following a few here by default based on your existing library content, but you can remove any you don’t want to follow simply by tapping the “Remove” button. You can also customize your Connect nickname and add a photo to your profile if you wish.

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If you decide to forgo setting up Apple Music, even for the free trial, the landscape of the Music app will change somewhat, with “My Music” at the left hand side of the button bar and “Playlists” broken out into a separate tab. “Radio” and “Connect” remain, however — as free services these don’t require an Apple Music subscription, so they’ve been made available to anybody who wants them. Other than these two new sections and the general redesign of the Music app, however, everything works pretty much the same in principle as it did before — you’ll still be able to sync music from iTunes directly to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, can access previous purchases in iTunes in the Cloud, and get access to your entire personal library via the cloud if you subscribe to iTunes Match, which remains in place as a separate service.

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So even users who want nothing to do with Apple’s new streaming service still get to take advantage of some arguably long-overdue improvements to the core Music app. For example, the “Up Next” feature, introduced in iTunes 11 two and a half years ago finally comes to iOS, providing for a much more manageable play queue arrangement. This works just like it does in iTunes — when you start playing an album or playlist, it’s added to the Up Next queue, and from there you can pull up the queue from the Now Playing screen to remove or reorder tracks. Additional songs, albums, or playlists can be added while browsing through your library by tapping on the ellipsis menu button to the right of the track name and choosing either “Play Next” or “Add to Up Next.”

Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 8.4 + Apple Music 8

The new Music app also adds a MiniPlayer which is a conceptual companion to the equivalent feature from iTunes. Whenever a track is playing, a bar appears at the bottom of the screen with the current track information, a play/pause button, and a menu button. Tapping on the song title will bring up the “Now Playing” screen, or you can drag that bar up from the bottom and back down again if all you want is a quick peek at the album cover.

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A “Like” button also appears on the “Now Playing” screen in the form of a heart that can be tapped on to flag your favorite tracks. This is a handy simplified rating system for those who found dealing with star ratings too cumbersome, but for Apple Music subscribers it also serves to define your musical tastes to deliver customized playlists. The Lock Screen and Control Center playing controls have also been updated to include the new “Like” button to the left of the volume slider, as well as a sharing button on the right-hand side for quickly sharing a link to the currently playing track.

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Browsing through your library has changed as well, with a new “Recently Added” section that appears at the top of the “My Music” and “Playlists” screens providing quick access to recent content. The bottom part of the “My Music” screen shows an alphabetical list of artists by default, but tapping on the header allows you to switch to browsing by other categories. A “Music Available Offline” toggle is also conveniently tucked away here, allowing you to quickly filter out cloud-based tracks without requiring a trip into the Settings app. When browsing “Playlists” you can filter between your own Playlists and Apple Music playlists in the same manner, assuming of course that you’ve subscribed to the Apple Music service.

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Another small but great quality-of-life improvement in the Music app is the ability to finally add a track directly to a playlist — a feature that the original iPod had with its “On the Go” playlist that took eight years to come to the iPhone. For reasons known only to Apple, the iOS Music app always took the opposite approach to the iPod, somewhat counterintuitively requiring you to first select and edit a playlist and then find tracks to add, rather than taking the track you may already be looking at in your library and selecting a playlist to add it to. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s been a huge pet peeve of ours since the original iPhone debuted. Now, with iOS 8.4, it’s simply a matter of pulling up the menu for any given song, album, or artist, choosing the “Add to Playlist” option, and then selecting the playlist you would like those tracks to be added to. Of course, playlist editing still works from the other direction as well, and you can select and edit a playlist to add and remove tracks as before.

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In the Music section of the iOS Settings app, you can choose to toggle Apple Music on or off entirely, so even if you’ve already subscribed you can still disable it if you prefer to focus on your own music library. Varying toggles for either iCloud Music Library or iTunes Match also appear on this screen, depending on what you’ve subscribed to, as well as an option to enable “Genius” if you’re not using either of Apple’s cloud-based library storage services.

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A couple of other small features have also been tweaked in the Music app. Sharing controls can now be found on the Now Playing screen and in every menu, allowing you to share iTunes links to whatever song, album, or artist you like. Searching is now accessed from a spotlight button in the top right corner, and will allow you to search either your music library or radio stations if you’re not using Apple Music, or your own library or the Apple Music library if you’re an Apple Music subscriber. Also, in what will likely be a welcome change to many users, Cover Flow has also been removed completely, so you can now turn your iPhone or iPod touch sideways with impunity. 

Home Sharing

One of the more unexpected changes that came in iOS 8.4 was the removal of Home Sharing from the “Music” section, a feature that previously allows iOS users to stream music from their iTunes library located on a Mac or a PC on the same Wi-Fi network. Many users with lower-capacity devices found the feature to be a useful way of keeping their entire library available for on-device listening while at home, and although Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, and iTunes Match all arguably provide the same capabilities, these are all paid services with their own limitations, so it’s understandable that some users will miss this previously zero-cost way of approaching the problem. Even more unusual, Home Sharing is still available in the Videos app, allowing users to stream their movies and TV shows to their iOS screen.

Apple’s Remote app still provides the ability to control a connected iTunes library on your home network, but doesn’t provide any means to stream that audio directly to your iOS device, making it only practical for those who want to listen to music directly from their computer’s speakers or via an AirPlay device.

iBooks and Audiobooks

While Apple Music stole the spotlight with the release of iOS 8.4, this update also took the final step in a journey that’s been four years in the making — to create a separate Music app that would be a place for music only. Until iOS 5 came out in 2011, users had an “iPod” app which had been originally designed with the goal of incorporating most of the media functionality of Apple’s classic standalone players. The iPod app included not only music, but podcasts, audiobooks, and more all under the same roof. Apple renamed the app to “Music” in iOS 5, and then over the course of the next couple of years began breaking out functionality into standalone apps, first iTunes U and later Podcasts. Now, iOS 8.4 takes the last non-music component out of the Music app, moving audiobooks into the iBooks app, an arguably more logical place for them, but also thereby adding new audio playback capabilities to the reading app.

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Audiobooks are now mixed in with text-based books within the iBooks app, although the drop-down menu at the top adds an “Audiobooks” category that you can use to filter the view to only show audiobooks. iBooks also gains a “Now Playing” screen to control audiobook playback, including the variable speed controls that were previously available during audiobook playback in the Music app. One nice new touch as well is the ability to skip ahead or back 15 seconds by swiping left or right on the audiobook cover shown on the “Now Playing” screen.

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Audiobooks have also been moved into the iBookstore, accessed via iBooks. The “Featured” and “Top Charts” screens allow you to select either Books or Audiobooks from a menu at the top, and search results will display both books and audiobooks broken down into separate sections in the same way the iTunes Store app works. Audiobooks can be downloaded directly from the iBookstore — although we didn’t have luck finding any of our previous purchases — or synced via iTunes in the same manner as before. We had a bit more trouble getting Audible audiobooks to sync over, but considering Audible provides its own iOS app, it’s probably fair to say that Audible audiobooks have been relegated to legacy support.

Apple’s release notes indicate a few other iBooks improvements as well: most notable is iPhone support for “Made for iBooks” titles created with Apple’s iBooks Author tool. A new default Chinese font has also been added, along with accessibility improvements, a setting to turn off the auto-night theme, and the ability to pre-order a series of books.

Other Improvements and Fixes

iOS 8.4 fixes an iMessage bug that allowed certain obscure text strings to crash users’ iPhones, as well as problems with external GPS accessories, and deleted Apple Watch apps reinstalling.

Summary and Conclusions

As with most of the iOS 8.x releases, iOS 8.4 is focused primarily on adding a significant new feature — Apple Music — while providing other relatively minor bug fixes. Whether it’s worth jumping onto this upgrade will depend on what type of music user you are and whether you’re happy with Apple’s existing Music app. In our opinion, even without Apple Music, the improvements to the Music app are definitely worth the update, but the redesign and new features may come as a jarring transition for some — this is arguably the most significant new update the iOS Music app has ever received, superseding even the complete redesign that came with iOS 7 two years ago.

  1. You have to really pay attention to the setup, I setup on my iPhone – added the free trail option but turned automatic renewal OFF – and also turned icloud library option off. Strangely when I updated my iTunes at home icloud somehow turned back on and when I synced my phone it removed all my previously existing custom playlists (smart and static) from my phone. All my music remained (I have my entire ripped and purchased library on my phone) oddly enough. I ad to make sure it was turned off in both itunes and in ios. Otherwise my impression of the new app is pretty positive – I’m going to give the streaming thing a try but it never has appealed to me…

  2. No expert advice on how to rid my iPhone of unwanted Apple apps that I don’t use, need and waste memory.

  3. So far I hate the updated music player. Whoever designed this needs to be sacked. I particularly hate the “Recently Added” banner. It takes up the top third of the screen to show me three songs that have been on my iPhone for years, not even the most recently added songs. On top of that it replaced the Shuffle button which is something I did use.

  4. The new Recently Added feature has the one option I want that no other app seems to offer: the ability to view a playlist in a grid view, not as a list of songs.

  5. There would be if there was a way to actually do that. Aside from Jailbreaking your iPhone, however, which is a completely separate and much more complicated topic, the Apple apps are immutable and can’t be removed. The best you can do is tuck them away in a folder.That said, they don’t really waste that much memory if you’re not using them, although admittedly if you’re running a lower capacity device like 16GB, it’s fair to say that every megabyte counts 🙂

  6. Much like iTunes Match it, and even iCloud Photo Library, turning iTunes Music Library on or off won’t (well, shouldn’t) affect any tracks that are already stored on your device. Playlists seem to be another matter entirely, however, and it seems there are still more than a few bugs with how those are working. This is definitely a “.0” product in terms of the new Music app, and it may take some time before Apple has all of the bugs worked out. iTunes Match was a huge mess for about the first six months after its release.

  7. “Add to Up Next” and “Play Next “seem to do the same thing. Neither of them does what I want. An artist’s albums are still sorted in reverse chronological order, so it’s not possible to easily listen to them in order of release without making a playlist. If I select the album artwork in the Artist view, the entire album will begin playing. If I then want to add additional albums to play after that one has finished, I haven’t figured out how to do it. It doesn’t matter which option I choose, they both insert the new album after the currently playing track, not the currently playing album.

  8. I’ve noticed that as well, and haven’t quite figured out the exact logic, although it seems that when you play an album or playlist, that’s treated as something isolated from the “Up Next” queue, such that when you add something to “Up Next” is essentially “interrupts” the current album or playlist in favour of what you’ve just added.Once you’ve added something to “Up Next” the “Add to Up Next” and “Play Next” will work differently from each other, as before, but they still add something in before the previously playing album. If you look at “Up Next” you’ll see that it distinguishes a playlist or album by saying “Up next from (album name)” (or “Resume (album name)” if you have something else in the Up Next queue before it).If you want to use Up Next in the traditional way, the workaround seems to be to start playing using the Up Next queue in the first place, which is definitely non-intuitive. In other words, instead of simply tapping on a song, album, or playlist to being playback, tap on the ellipsis button beside it and select the “Add to Up Next” (or “Play Next”) options. This adds those songs to the “normal” Up Next queue, and then from there “Play Next” and “Add to Up Next” will work as you’d expect. When you go about it this way, you’ll see the songs you have added appear with a header of simply “Up Next” as opposed to “Up Next from…”

  9. This is clearly a bug, but one thing I have noticed that’s worth mentioning is that Up Next doesn’t seem to work for tracks from shared playlists you’ve saved – both those from “For You” and ones that have been shared with you by other users. It works fine when viewing a “For You” playlist right from that section, but once you save it to your library, the “Play Next” and “Add to Up Next” options simply don’t do anything at all in that playlist… The track doesn’t appear, and in fact if you try to start the Up Next queue this way you actually get a blank track in the “Now Playing” view.

  10. This update has been a disaster for me, I’m severely disabled (my cousin is typing – and found this fab site!!!!) and I wonder if you might know how to fix what, for me, is a terrible problem. I usually have repeat1 on all the time as I lull myself to sleep listening to quiet music (listening to the same song over and over really helps)and use several different (depending on the type of pain) meditationtracks to help with pain relief throughout the day.My method is to use the earbud clicker to get me to the next track, in 8.3 it did that beautifully, in 8.4 I am just taken back to the beginning of the song I have listened to. I know the easy solution would be to touch the screen, it is an iPod Touch 5th Gen, but I don’t have the mobility to do that for every song. However, when my cousin swiped the screen ittook him back to the beginning of the song. I’ll listen to one song ten times on repeat then move onto the next, and the next and then maybe listen to another song four times. Like most people, I have so many playlistsand 8.3 was perfect. It said nothing in the update notes about this change and it really has ruined eveything as I rely on music so heavily throughout my days and nights. Do you know of anything I could do to sort this? Sorry this post was so long, I asked in the Apple ipod support before we found this site, but as usual, no answer and you really seem involved, interested and know the update inside out. I hate that I only installed it yesterday (12th July) and can’t rollback to 8.3. Aargh. But seriously, this has had me in tears, stoopid but true, it’s that important. Could it be a glitch? Many thanks for reading and hoping that you can help. Kind Regards, Lucy

  11. If I may ask a silly question….how exactly does one alphabetize an existing playlist created under iTunes) by SOING TITLE? My playlists are alphabetized on iTunes but all mucked up on the iPhone. Very frustrating.

  12. In theory sorting order changes made in iTunes by going to Edit Playlist and selecting the sort order in the drop-down should be reflected on the iOS side through iCloud Music Library as long as you have it enabled on both ends.In practice, however, this doesn’t work consistently right now. Chalk it up to one of the many little bugs that Apple still needs to work out with Apple Music and iCloud Music Library. This is basically the initial release of iTunes Match all over again, although hopefully it doesn’t take almost a year before things stabilize.

  13. Just so I’m clear on what you’re asking, on iOS 8.3 you could start a playlist with “Repeat-One” enabled to repeat the current song and then use the double-click on the headphones to advance to the next song despite having “Repeat-One” enabled?The double-click still moves to the next track as long as repeat-one is not enabled, but I can see what you’re saying in this scenario, and can see how Apple may have “fixed” what it considered to be inconsistent behaviour without actually considering that some people may have wanted it to work that way. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time.Essentially, in iOS 8.4 the “next” buttons in ALL of their various forms – on screen, headphone button, Bluetooth controls, etc – do what would happen if the track ended naturally, which is to simply play it again. Admittedly, that seems kind of counterintuitive when a triple-click would effectively do the same thing, but again I can sort of see the logic of making it behave that way.In fact, since the Music app was completely redesigned in iOS 8.4, it’s more likely somebody at Apple just built this behaviour in from scratch without even considering how it worked before, just assuming that’s how it was supposed to work, or perhaps not even thinking about it at all and just tying the same routines together. Either way, I can see how annoying it is, and I’d strongly recommend sending feedback to Apple at just to bring it to their attention, and I’m going to raise a developer bug report about it as well. It’s certainly possible Apple can fix it in a future update if it’s brought to their attention, so it’s worth a try, although I’ll be honest that it’s a long shot unless somebody at Apple noticed the feedback and champions the idea of changing it internally. Right now iOS 9 still behaves the same way, so there’s no evidence that Apple has done anything to fix it just yet.In the meantime, I’d suggest looking for a third-party music player that would behave the way you want…. I suspect a lot of them still do – Google Play Music, for example, still works this way, although you’d need to upload your music to Google’s cloud service to use it, although this isn’t that difficult to do if you’re already a Gmail user or otherwise have a Google Account, however.There are still some third-party players on the App Store that can read your existing on-device music library, however they’re becoming much scarcer and less frequently updated. I can’t really make any specific recommendations for those as I haven’t looked at any in a few years, it might be worth taking a look and seeing if there’s a free one you can download that could do this.

  14. I’ve filed a formal bug report with Apple through developer channels.One possible workaround for now is to use Siri…. While “Play next track” or “Skip Track” do the same thing as double-pressing the button, you can tell Siri to “Turn off repeat” or “Disable repeat” and then use the button normally to skip to the next track. You can also tell Siri to go back into repeat mode by simply saying “Repeat this track”Siri can be activated from the headphone button, so the sequence of events would be as follows:1. Hold down the headphone button to activate Siri2. Say “turn off repeat”3. Tap the headphone button to exit Siri.4. Double-tap the headphone button to skip to the next track.5. Hold down the headphone button to activate Siri again6. Say “repeat this track”Obviously that’s much more cumbersome than if it simply worked the way it did before, but hopefully it’s a possible workaround for the time being and Apple will actually fix the problem soon or you can find another app that can do what you want.

  15. Finally corrected the word “SONG” so I can stop looking like a second grader. Thanks for the reply! I hope that is one of the fixes. The new Music app has made my playlists almost worthless without the ability to sort alphabetically.

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