Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Apple Music Classical

Apple (Hacker News, MacRumors):

Apple today launched Apple Music Classical, a brand-new standalone music streaming app designed to deliver the listening experience classical music lovers deserve. With Apple Music Classical, Apple Music subscribers can easily find any recording in the world’s largest classical music catalog with fully optimized search; enjoy the highest audio quality available and experience many classical favorites in a whole new way with immersive Spatial Audio; browse expertly curated playlists, insightful composer biographies, and descriptions of thousands of works; and so much more.

Does this do anything to fix Siri for classical music? Currently, it’s almost unusable because the titles of the albums and tracks don’t really match the names that a human would think of. And those are not always the right granularity: even if I manage to request a symphony and it plays the first movement, it doesn’t know which of the subsequent tracks on that album are part of the same piece.

Joe Rossignol:

Apple today published a support document explaining why it decided to release a standalone Apple Music Classical app for classical music.

M.G. Siegler:

But it’s also odd in that it’s not like they stripped all of this music out of the main Apple Music app — as far as I can tell, it’s all still available there. So it’s not about de-cluttering that app. It’s more about letting classical music lovers dive deeper and find easier the music that they love. Fair enough, I guess. But I suspect the real reason Apple is doing this is simply because they acquired a beloved classical music service, Primephonic, a couple years ago. It was a way to help differentiate Apple Music versus Spotify. But they undoubtedly also knew that it would piss off users of that service if they killed off that standalone app. So here we are, two apps, one price.


It’s fine. It looks nice, as you might expect. But it’s also very similar to Apple Music.


Here’s something else that’s odd. After again, a year and a half of work, Apple Music Classical is iPhone-only. Every app developer knows that Apple likes to nudge, subtlely or overtly, cross-Apple-platform support for apps. “That’s a nice iPhone app. Would look great as an iPad app as well.” That kind of thing. How can Apple realisticly give such guidance if they themselves don’t have that ready to roll on day one of their services!?


My above stated routine actually doesn’t have me using an iPhone to listen to music. I’m using either my iPad or Mac. And yet I can’t use Apple Music Classical on either of those. […] And wait, it sounds like it may never come to the iPad or Mac! “Built exclusively for mobile”?! What on Earth?

Dan Moren:

Apple Classical is a bit of a strange beast.


I particularly appreciate the refinement Apple has done to the Library section. While it’s shared with Apple Music (you’ll see albums already in your Apple Music library that are also available in Apple Classical), there are also new sections for Recordings and Works, and refined sections for Artists and Composers. In all of those cases, Apple has implemented a Favorites system, where you can choose to save specific items, rather than simply providing an exhaustive catalogue of every single artist or recording you have in your collection.


There’s a lot of curation happening in Apple Classical, too. For example, searching for a specific piece will generally pop up a ton of recordings, but the app will identify an Editor’s Choice version as well as Popular Recordings to help separate the wheat from the chaff.


And lo and behold, Apple Classical includes soundtracks in its catalog, along with scores for Broadway musicals and operas.

Which is certainly cool, but the implementation as it stands right now is a little wonky.

Dave B.:

Something I immediately noticed is the new filter icon, with ‘Filter By’ functionality.

This is a good sign because it means there’s a solid chance we’ll get it in the main Apple Music app.

I’ve been asking for this for years!

Benjamin Mayo:

One odd UI nitpick with Classical I immediately noticed is if the table view is currently scrolling, the edge swipe back feature doesn’t work. This and a few other things gives me the sense the underlying codebase is more different to Apple Music than it first appears.

Now Playing UI report: more like Apple Music than Podcasts is but it’s still different. It has the iOS 16 Music swipey sliders but doesn’t have the same animations on the buttons and the album art transitions differently too. No long-press context menus anywhere.


Update (2023-03-30): Kirk McElhearn (Mastodon):

To this day, there is no standard database of recordings that can be used to ensure metadata integrity.

I tell this story because it shows how difficult it is to set up a service enabling users to catalog and search for classical music. But without such a catalog, classical music fans have been forced to put square metadata into CD-shaped holes, starting with the earliest days of iTunes.


When Apple added the Work and Movement tags to iTunes 12.5 back in 2016, the company showed the first signs that it might finally be interested in classical music. Those tags enable you to manage multi-movement works, tagging them together, and they are useful for search.

Apple’s biggest task in preparing for the release of the Apple Music Classical app was to update the tags on potentially millions of tracks.


Nor can you download music to listen offline, though when you add albums to your library, they also get added to your Apple Music library, so you can download them in the Apple Music app and listen to them there.


Here are two screenshots: on the left is the Apple Music app, in which you can see that there’s no way to discern the name of each track; on the right is the Apple Music Classical app, which displays the work name on the top, in bold, and the movement names below, all visible.

He found some problems with search and metadata, but they’re much improved.

Chad Ossman:

I know this is going to sound hyperbolic, but as a lover of music in general, and a very amateur musician, I find the concept of separate apps for various genres almost offensive.


An important point she makes right away is that even if complex tracks are tagged with the correct metadata, the typical mobile interface doesn’t even have the physical screen real estate to display long text fields. But again, I contend that this is a solvable design deficiency, not cause for creating a walled garden, solely to accommodate one genre of music that typically has longer names than most others.


So, given all of these factors, and after going to all those lengths, why did Apple opt to create an entirely separate app to showcase its revised music catalogue and curated classical selection, as opposed to correcting the deficiencies of their existing product? I fail to understand what is unique about the broad category of classical music that would require an entirely different app/service than all the existing ones for, you know, music.


If Apple were to improve metadata support for the existing Apple Music streaming service, the benefits would extend well beyond classical music. For example, Beatles obsessives would surely appreciate quick access to the 2009 remaster of the 1970 mix of “Get Back” from Let it Be, not to be confused with the 2021 Giles Martin remix, the 1969 rooftop performance from Anthology 3 (released in 1996), the 2003 Naked version, or the 2009 remaster of the 1969 Single Version from Past Masters (released in 1988).

Update (2023-03-31): Benedict Evans:

Apple Music Classical is just totally unusable. Very disappointing. I can’t browse a library by composer or by piece, and that’s designed behaviour. 🤦🏻‍♂️


It gets better. The search function does not search your library. This really was not ready to ship. 🤦🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️


I have hundreds of albums, and my composer screen is blank. You cannot browse your library by any field have the other than the date you added it to the library

Dave B.:

Why are all these sections in the @AppleClassical app’s Library shown as blank?

I have tons of classical music in my library. But if it’s not auto-populating these sections, that kind of defeats the whole purpose.

Bug or bad UI?

Each of those is described as “Add Your Favorite”, but they are not designated as favorites sections. These are the views within the Library tab.

Update (2023-04-05): Nick Heer:

It seems Apple Music Classical is merely a version of the Primephonic app Apple acquired, skinned to resemble the standard Music app. After a week, I find this similar-but-different quality creates a muddled experience as a user. The Classical app does not support context menus, transitions between some screens see the title animate from one direction while the rest of the screen animates from the other, and the Now Playing view does not respond to dragging up or down as it does in Music. The Library view is uniquely confusing and buggy. It feels more like a third-party app in the style of something Apple could make more than it does than Apple’s own app.


By the way, the more I think about this app, the more I came to realize Apple’s interpretation of ID3 audio metadata is limited — and not just for classical music. The most recent spec was published in 2000, and contains fields for entries like remix artists, source medium, and live recordings, by way of descriptive text, but Music does not support any of these fields. It never has, even when it was called “iTunes”. Instead of using this comprehensive structure, songs in a local music library, in the iTunes Store, and in Apple Music resort to a series of parentheses for featured artists, live recording venues, and the album version or master — “How the West Was Won (Live) [Remastered]”, for example, or “Momma Sed (Alive at Club Nokia) [Live]”. There may be good reasons for these limitations. But it would be better if all the songs and albums in Apple’s catalogue contained more fulsome and better-structured metadata. The spec is already there and it needs mass adoption.

Update (2023-05-30): Hartley Charlton:

Much like Apple Music for Android, the Apple Music Classical app for Android largely mirrors the design of its iOS counterpart. Notably, the Apple Music Classical app for Android comes before Apple has made the app available for the iPad or Mac.

Update (2023-06-30): Benedict Evans:

I am still really disappointed that Apple put all that time and effort into building a classical music app, correctly identified all the reasons why it needs to be a standalone app, and then delivered something that is absolutely and completely unusable. It’s the new Apple Maps.


[There] is no way to build or browse a library. I have over 1000 albums saved and this is the screen[…]


There is literally no way you can browse your library except by the date you added the album. Things in your library don’t even show up in search.

4 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Harald Striepe

What I would like to see is Music and Classical working against the same backend sharing smarts and playlists/
Not having it on Mac and having it streaming only without caching is a huge barrier.

Why would they put so much effort into such a niche app before fixing all of the problems of the regular Apple Music app? Ugh. Apple's software has become so lackluster over the past decade. Neither Music nor Maps really offers anything better than the competition, even after all these years. It should be the other way around -- Apple apps should completely blow away the competition.

[…] this week, as anticipated since the company acquired Primephonic in 2021. Michael Tsai provides a good overview of the reaction, ranging from the expectations of classical music listeners to practical matters of interface […]

Strong agreement with Chad Ossman (and others making this point) that there's no reason why a standard music app can't provide a good experience for listening to and finding music with metadata that goes beyond artist/album/title. I guess releasing a new app is a lot flashier and eye-catching than saying "we've updated our metadata to be good now." But good metadata benefits all music, like how accessibility benefits all users.

Leave a Comment