We'll tell you if they're worth it
Apple is getting into the content market in a big way, taking advantage of its famously walled-garden app ecosystem to pivot from discrete content purchases to the subscription model.
It all started with Apple Music, but that first attempt at a subscription service is now being joined by Apple Arcade and Apple TV+. This forms three key pillars of Apple’s business model heading into the future.
While we wait for Apple TV+ to prove its worth, the time is ripe to look at the other two Apple subscription services and see if the juice is worth the squeeze.
Apple Music Brings The (Curated) Groove ($10.00/month)
Apple has always been a pioneer in the digital music market. You might go as far as to say that the iPod and iTunes saved the music industry when it looked like the whole thing might crash.
So it’s no surprise that their first proper subscription service focused on the amazing digital music infrastructure the company has built.
What’s On Offer?
A sizable library of music built on the proven delivery platform Apple is known for. You pay a monthly fee which starts at $10, but also offers an affordable family plan and a cheap option for verified students.
Amazingly, you can also use Apple Music on an Android device. This is one of only two Android apps by Apple, the other being a utility to help you migrate to an iPhone. Both iOS and Android versions worked flawlessly for us, but thanks to the variability of Android hardware, your mileage may vary.
Apple Music vs The Competition
There’s plenty of competition for Apple Music to contend with. In the US, Spotify and Pandora come to mind. Internationally, the biggest competition is YouTube Music. Apple Music definitely has some downsides compared to these other services.
It lacks the amazing technology behind Spotify and Pandora that analyzes your taste in music and makes great suggestions for new tunes to try. It also doesn’t have the sheer volume of artists and songs on offer by YouTube Music. Additionally, for just $12, YouTube Music includes YouTube Premium, with access to exclusive content and the total removal of adverts from the service.
In Apple Music’s favor though is a great interface, plenty of quality information about the music itself and the best human curation of any music streaming service. The curated playlists in particular show an attention to detail that no algorithm can currently match.
It’s just a pity that many of the less mainstream artists we searched for are missing or have incomplete discographies.
Is It Worth The Money?
Taken by itself, Apple Music is worth the asking price. However, it’s very hard to justify it against YouTube Music in particular. Even with the music-only offering from YouTube (which also costs $10) you still get far more actual music. On the other hand, YouTube Music is flooded with junk content.
So if you want the white-glove, bespoke experience, Apple Music is the way to go. If you want the most bang for your buck, it’s better to look elsewhere.
Apple Arcade Lets the Games Begin ($4.99/month)
If you’ve upgraded to iOS13 you’ll find a new “Arcade” tab in the App Store. Tapping on it will take you to a subscription request. If you activate the subscription you’ll get access to a set of games that can be downloaded to your device just like any other app and played offline, for as long as your subscription is active.
Essentially, it’s like Netflix, but for games.
What’s On Offer?
Eventually, more than 100 exclusive games. At least, exclusive to mobile phones and tablets. Some titles, such as Cat Quest II and Stranded Sails, are also available on consoles.
The library will be updated on a monthly basis, with more titles added. There’s a great mix of different genres, styles and production values. The games are carefully curated by human beings, so you won’t find any shovelware here. In fact, Apple Arcade has some of the most creative, beautiful and innovative games we’ve seen on any platform.
Apple Arcade also offers full gamepad support for games where it makes sense to have it. That includes traditional MFi controllers and Sony DualShock 4 and Xbox One pads. Just make sure you get compatible versions of these mainstream controllers. Some models of DS4 don’t work and only the Windows-compatible Bluetooth models of Xbox controller can play nice with iOS devices.
All the Apple Arcade games we tested with these gamepads were clearly developed with them in mind and this additional features turns your iPad, Apple TV and iPhone into a proper gaming device.
Standout titles from the current selection include:
- Oceanhorn 2
- Cat Quest II
- Various Daylife
- Shantae and the Seven Sirens
We tried out these games on an iPad Pro 9.7 and the large screen made for a fantastic experience. Some games might translate less well to the iPhone and you may want to invest in a gamepad phone mount to make it completely comfortable.
Apple Arcade vs The Competition
Android users have the option of going for Google Play Pass, which offers 350 games for the same price as Apple Arcade. Play Pass is US-only at the time of writing and does not have the sort of exclusive curated games Apple Arcade offers.
There are many wonderful games and AAA ports that make up part of the offering, but it suffers from the overall state of Android Mobile gaming. Even before Apple Arcade, iOS gamers got the best titles first and often exclusively.
Is It Worth The Money?
Apple Arcade is probably one of the best deals in the gaming industry right now. Many of the titles included in the subscription fee cost $20 or more on platforms like the Nintendo Switch. For games with limited replay value, that makes Apple Arcade a much better deal.
As a mobile games offering things are even better. Apple Arcade’s policy of only having premium games without any in-app purchases whatsoever elevates it head and shoulders above the general mobile gaming market, which is flooded with free-to-play titles that are geared more towards extracting money from your wallet than being fun experiences.
So, in short, it’s hard to imagine a better way to spend five bucks on a month’s worth of entertainment!