Music Streaming Comes to the Apple Watch

A software update brings phone-free music experience to the Watch


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There’s no point in feigning objectivity. I love the Apple Watch—so much so that I’ve bought four of them and have worn one almost daily since it was first released in 2015. With watchOS 4.1, Apple has made an even more compelling device. Within the month, Apple Music users with the LTE-enabled Series 3 will be able to stream music without a phone over their cellular network. It’s a relatively minor update, but one that will nonetheless have a noticeable impact on my daily use of the Watch.

I’ve been testing the Apple Watch Series 3 for about a month and a half. As was my experience with the original Watch, I’ve liked its fitness-related features best. But ever since I bought AirPods, music has moved into a close second. Until now, I’ve been able to listen to music stored locally on the Watch. It was an easy process that entailed me pre-selecting playlists on my iPhone, which then synced to the Watch. 

With watchOS 4.1 and streaming, which I've been using over the last few days, the music experience has changed substantially. There are now two apps that handle audio, so long as you have a decent cell signal:

  • Music: Use Music to listen to locally stored songs, and to stream anything in your library. 
  • Radio: This is where you navigate to stream live (Beats One, ESPN, CBS Radio, and NPR) and curated stations (matching what's on the Apple Music app), plus anything else not in your library.

This new setup may sound a bit confusing, and it can take getting used to when you’re navigating the Watch’s touchscreen. While Music loads quickly, Radio can take a moment longer to start playing a song, and jumping between the two apps can sometimes feel slow. In practice, I’ve found myself using Siri most of the time to select and play music. In those instances, the Watch just worked, and I didn't worry about which app I was using. 

So how good is Siri? It’s worked well, and it’s capable of parsing complex tasks, like knowing to play SZA when I asked for some “romance-inducing hip-hop.” That said, it isn’t flawless. While writing this piece, I asked Siri to play something by The Stars, and ended up getting the Moby song “The Stars,” on Apple Music. I tried again, asking for music from the band The Stars, which pulled up the album Vangelis, through Radio. At this point, I realized I needed to drop the and requested music from Stars, and got what I wanted on Radio.

Such, I suppose, are the minor frustrations of having an intelligent DJ on your wrist.