Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Ten Months of Apple Music

Alex Webb, Lucas Shaw, and Adam Santarino broke the news of an impending revamp of Apple Music for Bloomberg:

Apple is altering the user interface of Apple Music to make it more intuitive to use, according to people familiar with the product who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. Apple also plans to better integrate its streaming and download businesses and expand its online radio service, the people said.

Mark Gurman added his own reporting:

While the most of the Apple Music service will be redesigned, much of the emphasis is on the “For You” feature, the tab that recommends songs, albums, artists, and music videos. This section will be simplified and better promoted to increase usage of the feature. While the interface will change, the functionality will use algorithms similar to today’s Apple Music recommendations engine, according to sources. The new service will also discontinue the “New” tab, which is a jumbled list of top charts, genres, featured music launches, and curated playlists. It will be replaced with a section called “Browse” which better organizes the aforementioned content. The Beats 1 Radio service is unlikely to see notable interface changes this year.

While the organization of the Music app’s interface is in need of refinements, I love the existing large artist photos and colour-matched album screens.

John Gruber:

A big aspect of iOS’s success, from day one in June 2007, is that it emphasized smaller focused apps that do less over larger monolithic apps that do more. The monolithic style leads to desktop iTunes — a single app for managing your personal music collection, buying music from the iTunes Store, buying and playing TV and movies, podcasts, iOS app purchases, and device syncing and backups. The iOS style leads to dedicated separate apps for music playback, video playback, podcasts, and store purchases. Maybe there’s a way to design “all your music in one app” that is completely clear, convenient, and obvious. But the bottom line is that a music app shouldn’t be confusing. I think that’s held Apple Music back.

Kirk McElhearn:

I’m not sure that’s the most confusing aspect of Apple Music. There are two sections, My Music – which contains music in the iTunes library connected to your device, and music you’ve added to your library from Apple Music – and the New and For You sections, which contain only music from Apple Music. You check My Music when you want to listen to music you own, or music you’ve saved, and you check the others when you want something new.

[…]

One of the problems with Apple Music is the existence of the iTunes Store. Apple can’t fully commit to Apple Music because they still need to sell music. If they didn’t have the iTunes Store, then Apple Music would have one less layer of complication.

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.1

Recommendations are notoriously poor, ignoring years of Genius history and in favour of requiring the user to completely re-train its engine. iCloud Music Library is required for basic functionality like saving songs or playlists for later listening, but it’s unreliable.

Connect has not been more successful than Ping — even Drake has barely used it. This is the same Drake who appeared onstage at WWDC last year to launch Apple Music, who made his new album an exclusive to the platform at launch, and who hosts a show on Beats 1. He hasn’t posted song snippets, nor has he debuted videos of the recording process, as the keynote suggested artists might.2 Instead, his Connect account is largely a repository for music videos available elsewhere, and auto-posted recordings of his Beats 1 show. He doesn’t have time to sit around and reply to comments.

Beats 1, meanwhile, hasn’t done too badly. I and a few people I know still tune in from time-to-time, but I don’t know the schedule by heart. I’m more fond of listening to recordings of past shows on-demand.3

Despite all this, Apple Music has been a resounding success story when measured by user numbers: 13 million, as of their second quarter results. But you’ll notice that user satisfaction levels — one of Apple’s favourite metrics — have not been touted.

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. And, for those reasons, it is in desperate need of recalibration for how we actually listen to, discover, and share music.

Update: Mark Gurman is now reporting that the Connect elements of Apple Music will be “demoted” in iOS 10.


  1. I struggled through the Apple Music part of the WWDC keynote again so you don’t have to. ↩︎

  2. I’m not sure why this was such a focus of the marketing around Connect. I’m an artist; I’ve spent much of my life around artists. Most artists hate showing a work in progress. Trent Reznor, who narrated the introductory video, doesn’t reveal stuff that isn’t finished. Jony Ive and the rest of Apple aren’t fond of showing things they’re still working on. ↩︎

  3. As the rest of the media world moves closer to an on-demand model, the introduction of a live and time-dependent service is somewhat perplexing. ↩︎