Thursday, May 5, 2016

Improving Apple Music

Mark Gurman:

The new version of Apple Music, which Apple recently announced has 13 million users so far, focuses on a redesigned user-interface, a few new functions, and reorganization as well as simplification of existing features. The new user-interface ditches the current colorful and translucent look in favor of a simpler design that emphasizes black and white backgrounds and text. For instance, the user interface in the albums view will no longer change in appearance based on the color of a particular album’s art. While the new interface will eschew color in the user-interface, album artwork will become “huge” and a larger part of the interface in order to avoid a dull black and white look, according to people who have seen the updated Apple Music service.

The new interface will also make use of additional 3D Touch shortcut previews and better promote the ability to share songs. However, the social Connect feature will remain mostly unchanged in this year’s revamp.

John Gruber:

I still think the most obvious solution is to make Apple Music its own standalone app. “All your music in one app” sounds like a great idea in theory, but in practice, I believe that is what has led to the confusing UI. It’s yet another major feature added to iTunes on Mac and Windows — an app that everyone seems to agree already has too many features and responsibilities. What do you see when you open the Spotify or Pandora apps? Just the streaming music you have access to. That makes them less complicated, by definition. “Everything you see is in the cloud, and you have access to it because you are a subscriber” is easy to understand. “Some of this is in the cloud, some of this you own” is more complicated.

Kirk McElhearn:

The promise of Apple Music and iCloud Music Library was this ability to merge your own iTunes library with music from Apple Music; unfortunately, when Apple Music and iCloud Music Library were launched, it was a disaster, causing no end of problems to people (like me) with large, carefully curated music libraries.


What is confusing is all the buttons and options, and the poorly designed For You section, which offers useless recommendations that you simply cannot get rid of. If I see a playlist I don’t want to know about in Apple Music, and choose I Don’t Like This, it should disappear, not stay there. It shouldn’t be just about tweaking my personal algorithm, it should instantly go away.

And the other problem – on the desktop at least – is the fact that you can go from Apple Music to the iTunes Store, but not from the iTunes Store to Apple Music. It’s understandable; Apple doesn’t want to give away what it might be able to sell, but it’s crippling Apple Music by not allowing people who get to the iTunes Store via links and making them manually search for an item in Apple Music if they want to stream it.

Update (2016-05-05): Jim Dalrymple (tweet):

I think we can be honest and admit you released Apple Music when it wasn’t ready. There were just too many bugs for it to be any other way, but you did it regardless.

Developers and consumers want to know you heard us—that you took our criticisms to heart and you fixed the problems.

Update (2016-05-06): Tony L:

Regarding Apple Music. AM has 13 million paying users. Pandora has 80 million active users but only 4 million paying users.

Nick Heer:

At its core, as a pure “queue up a song I don’t own” streaming service, I have found Apple Music totally competent. However, there are lots of ways in which the service is failing to live up to the promises of last year’s introductory keynote.


After reading this series of somewhat disjointed thoughts, you might reasonably conclude that Apple Music is a failed product. I do not believe this is the case. But I do think that it is unfinished, it was rushed, and it does not behave in the real world as Apple imagined it might.

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Think Gruber's solution is horrible. Here's what I wrote him:

The big problem is that being able to easily create playlists of my music and Apple’s is what Apple’s service actually does so much better than other services. I can find a playlist generated by Apple and then add a few of my tracks to improve it.

To my eyes the main UI problem with Music and how iTunes has changed since version 9 is becoming so album focused. If recent rumors at 9to5Mac are to be believed Apple is doubling down on what’s *worst* about their service. I honestly know no one who has an album centric focus. It’s all playlist. Further what Spotify does best is making it so easy to create playlists and share them. If Apple maintains an album focused UI then they’ll not be engaging with what makes Spotify so popular.

There are other obvious failings with Apple Music. You’d think after the whole Ping debacle they’d do that curration sharing better. But instead we got that completely nonsensical Connect tab. What should be on Connect are my Facebook and Twitter friends and the playlists they share.

I think Music is a better service than most. It’s main problem to my eyes (especially in iTunes) is having too many modes. Worst, many functions can only be done in particular modes with no rhyme or reason to what mode you have to be in. If I want to look up in Music other music by the current playing artist, how do I do it? That should be obvious. If I go to the iTunes store I can see songs ranked by popularity for that artist. There’s no way to do that in Apple Music. It’s bad when the iTunes store has better functionality than the Music app.

An addendum:

Given that Apple's future apparently rests on services, it's good to know that folks who know services like a supply chain guy and an industrial design guy are in charge of the shop.

Hell, even when Steve-o (accurately) said about Dropbox, it's a "feature, not a product", there was a unsaid item. If you can't make your own competitive feature through sheer incompetence, than that other feature remains a viable product.

The Dropbox scenario writ large is what we're seeing here.

For what it's worth, I almost exclusively play albums, and since the bugs are fixed, *do* like and use Apple Music all the time. The main reason I continue to pay for Spotify as well is that there's no Web-based playback (or a Windows app that doesn't require being an Administrator to install, unlike Spotify and Rdio).

Oddly enough, if Apple Music has the “album focus” that they intend, the support for albums on IOS is miserable. Trying to get from a song back to its containing album is nearly undiscoverable — tap the ellipsis, then tap the song title at the top of the menu. Earlier versions of Apple Music on IOS didn’t even have a rightward pointing arrowhead here so it wasn’t even clear that it was tappable. After that, you are subjected to a multiple-screen animation in which the current song animates down and the album animates from the right. Finally, it doesn’t even try to show you the current song in the album, letting you scroll through it to find the one whose track number has been replaced by an animating pseudo-level meter.

(Yes, I know how to spell iOS, but my dictation software doesn't. Sorry, fixing.)

Nicholas that's more part of the problem of modes in both Music for iOS and (but much worse) in iTunes.

The problem is that if you are in song mode (which neither app really likes too much) it's very hard to do things you want to do with respect to albums.

Looking at the whole album for a song, looking at other albums the song is found in, looking for variants on the song (such as live versions), and looking for top songs by the artist for a song are all confusing. As I said more often than not they only work in certain modes and it's never clear which mode you have to be in.

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