Every time Google (or Alphabet, as the parent company now prefers to be called) releases an app, it's worth watching. YouTube Music is no different, and while the app first hit the App Store prior to this year, only the most recent version has rocketed it to prominence.
Indeed, YouTube Music is currently in the rarified air enjoyed by the likes of Pokemon GO and Bitmoji Keyboard. So what is it, and should you make space for it on your iPhone or iPad? That's what we're here to investigate.
It's about music ... videos
Unlike Spotify or Pandora, there's an obvious visual element to YouTube Music, which makes sense, given that regular old YouTube isthe premier home for video on the internets. That includes music videos, which is why YouTube Music makes sense.
Specifically, it leverages the power of Vevo, which is the official music video outlet for Sony, Universal, and now, Warner Music Group. It seems fairly safe to say that without Vevo, this app wouldn't be possible, and since Vevo is considering launching its own subscription video service, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
In any case, the default mode of YouTube Music is to show you videos while you listen to music, but there is an audio-only mode that you can activate with just a tap. The 'play' icon means you'll be seeing videos, while the headphones indicate you are music only.
Search or be served
While YouTube Music has a search function to find the songs you really want -- simply tap on the magnifying glass in the upper-right corner to use it -- it would much rather curate music for you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as recommendations can help in this era of potential paralysis by the vast number of choices available.
To that end, much in the app revolves around the concept of stations. Similar to curated playlists in other music apps, stations organize music by artist, genre, or popularity, with the idea that they will save you the trouble of hunting down music you like on your own.
The ubiquitous YouTube thumb is also present, allowing you to 'like' any song and have it saved to a special tab on the main navigation, also indicated by said thumb.
How does your "endless personalized station" work? Apparently by taking into consideration music videos you've watched on plain old YouTube in the past. That's not a bad way to go, honestly, though it can make for some jarring transitions between songs. You can skip songs at any time or explore more suggestions in a scrolling list at the bottom of the screen.
All this isn't free
If this all seems a little too good to be true, there's a reason for that. YouTube Music isn't free, but rather a service that links with YouTube Red, YouTube's paid subscription service. The good news is that if you've never taken the plunge into Red before, you get an automatic free 14-day trial as soon as you enter a valid Google email address.
It's actually possible to use the app without a subscription, but that removes some of its best features, including offline listening, the audio-only mode, and more. So the value proposition really boils down to whether you want to be a YouTube Red subscriber, which turns YouTube Music into more of a cool add-on.
Otherwise, YouTube Music looms as a must have only if you really want to see videos while you listen to music or don't already use a paid music app like Spotify or its competitors. As noted, it's at least free to try, so this might be a good time while it's as popular as it's ever been.