Siri won't set your music default in iOS 14.5 - it's more complicated than that

Apple is not allowing iPhone users to set their music service of choice, despite suggestions of that from the iOS 14.5 beta, dashing hopes that Spotify, TIDAL, and others might be given equal footing with Apple Music. It wasn't long after the iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 betas were released in February before people started noticing that Siri was expressing more interest in their music service preferences.

Rather than simply playing a requested track, Siri would instead ask which music service they'd like to use in order to do that. It led to assumptions that – much as Apple already did with browser and email preferences, allowing users to switch the default away from Safari and Apple Mail – iPhones and iPads were getting more friendly for third-party music services.

Adding some mystery, the feature disappeared with the release of beta 2. Apple then restored it in beta 3. However it has also clarified just what is going on in the background, and how it's not quite what people thought.

The reality, Apple told TechCrunch, is that the situation is more complex than that – and a little less flexible, sadly. Neither iOS nor iPadOS actually have a "default music service" option, the company pointed out. Instead, when Siri asks about music service preferences, it's all to better educate the assistant itself about which way your allegiances lie.

For instance, if you ask to play music, and then clarify with Siri that you mean through Spotify, the assistant could automatically default to that for future music requests. However if you ask for a podcast, or a streaming radio station, Siri could seek further clarification. That way, the assistant can figure out which platform you prefer for each.

Users can still request a specific service by naming it – "play Dire Straits on Spotify," for example, or "play acid jazz radio on Pandora" – though that can also shape how Siri responds in future. If you've been asking for a different service than the one you earlier said you preferred, Siri might ask for clarification later on, Apple explained.

In the background, APIs for developers integrating with Siri will apparently be able to add further context for the assistant. For example, it could potentially allow a streaming radio service to flag that specific functionality, so that in future Siri can make a more educated choice when it comes to how a request is fulfilled.

If you're in the habit of using voice primarily for the way you summon music and other audio, the change in iOS 14.5 may in effect be about the equivalent of being able to set a default music service or app in the iPhone's settings. Links to music are much less common than, say, links to open a new email or webpage, where defaults for those apps make a lot more sense.

Nonetheless, there's no telling quite how long it will take Siri overall to figure out your preferences, and the nuances of how the assistant will build on that understanding over time could prove confusing if users are asked on multiple occasions what service they'd like to use. Meanwhile, the system could also be removed altogether – as it was in beta 2 – before iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 graduate to public releases later in the year.