I was initially excited when Apple announced their long-rumoured move in to the world of music streaming services, but my experience has been soured and has left me close to going back to another service.
I’ve used most of the main services out there – Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal, and, most recently, Apple Music. All of them have their pros and cons, but none really seem to fit in to how I want to listen to my music.
I need one main thing. A list of all of my music and a way to shuffle/randomise that music and manage it effectively. To me, this is the basics of any music app and should be part of the core functionality that works well every time. All of the streaming services tout that they allow for music management of both your own libraries, as well as music you find and save within the app – but none of them do it that well – hence the fact I’ve at least tried out most of the apps out there. The only program or tool I’ve ever really encountered that has done this well is, dare I say it, iTunes – and this is why I had such high hopes for Apple Music and Music.app.
I don’t really use playlists. I have all the music I’d like to listen to in one long list and I want to shuffle all of those tracks and then listen/skip through them as I see fit. Again, quite simple, you’d think.
But the algorithms applied by the apps don’t seem to be able to do this very well. They pick sub-sets of the library and shuffle, so when you reach the end of that sub-set of tracks, you can then potentially hear the same tracks in the next batch that’s picked. All of the apps have had an issue with this, but Music.app is the worst for this – again, surprising seeing as how well this used to be handled in desktop iTunes.
iOS 9 and Apple Music betas
As I’ve done in previous years, I signed up to beta test iOS 9 as it came with a slew of new features – the new Apple Music being one of them. The service itself didn’t go live until iOS 9 was released, but by then there were further betas to test.
During my time using the betas I submitted a large number of bugs (across all of iOS 9, but predominantly in Music.app), as well as follow-up tests, service logging and comments. Infuriatingly, a number of key and obvious (to me, at least) bugs could not be replicated by the Apple engineers, and after submitting service logging reports and details a number of times, I gave up on the betas. I wanted to try the app (and whole OS) in a more stable environment, and in the hope that a clean install etc would eliminate some of these issues and bugs that I was encountering. It didn’t.
Life after betas
When on a general release version of the OS, it’s much harder to log issues and bugs. No longer is there the built in Feedback app which allows you to directly report issues to Apple and easily include screenshots, descriptions, logs etc. Instead you have to report them via the Apple website, with little ability to log details of the issue that’s occurring. And once submitted via the website, you get no feedback or follow-up (as you tend to do with stuff submitted via the Feedback app). So since the betas, I’ve continued to submit issues via the website feedback portal.
I’ve also taken to providing detailed emails to Apple Support staff. I did actually initially email Tim Cook directly detailing my issues and complaints. This was forwarded on to Eddy Cue (who heads up Apple Music and Music.app, amongst other things), and subsequently to a member of the support staff who got in touch with me to offer some compensation and placate me in the knowledge that the issues I’d raised had been handed to the relevant engineering team and they would be looked at and fixed.
I’ve repeated this process a few times now as the issues I raised initially are still in the app, and some are at an even worse state than when I originally logged and reported them.
My Apple Music and Music.app gripes
Improvements have come since iOS 9.0, but key issues remain – in my eyes at least.
Overall UI and UX is still an issue, especially in Connect. There’s a few Apple Music / Beats 1 shows I listen after they’ve been broadcast and it’s still a nightmare to find them. I tend to have to go in to Connect, scroll through until I find a post from the show I like, go in to it and then find the latest episodes. Not difficult, but a number of clicks more than it should be just to find a show I want to listen to at that moment. In general, I’ve stopped listening to a lot of Beats 1 shows as I just can’t be bothered to go hunting for them.
- Still no subscription or notification system for shows. All of the Beats 1 shows I like are broadcast late at night here due to the time difference, so I miss them and end up forgetting about them. And while you can ‘subscribe’ via Connect, it’s more of a pain than a solution of any kind (see previous point). The ability to subscribe to a show and get a notification of some kind would be great. I could choose to ‘follow’ or ‘subscribe’ to OtherTone, at which point it could ask me if I’d like notifications when a show is about to start, when a replay is about to start, and when it’s available to stream (and a direct link to it), with the ability to toggle any of these on/off. If I could get to something directly from Notification Center or from a notification in the app, I’d be much more inclined to use it to go direct to the shows I’m interested in.
- Tracks that I have in my iTunes library but have been removed from My Music / iCloud Music Library (or those that have been removed from the Apple Music platform and library) still appear in Music.app when everything is on shuffle. This causes the app to freeze as it tries to work out what’s going on and means you can’t go back to previous tracks as the app with just freeze up on the one that has been added to the list, but doesn’t actually exist anymore in your library.
- Listening to a stream of a long show can also be a bit of a chore. The scrubbing option is bad enough on a short track, let alone a 2-hour long show. The introduction of track markers has been helpful in knowing what tracks are playing during a show, but there’s still no way to quickly get past things I don’t like or am not interested in, nor the ability to skip to a part I know I want to hear.
- A forward/back button to take to the next/previous marker would be good, or even a skip forward/back 30 seconds button. Or a ‘playlist view’ of all the sections within the show so I could move around between them. The data is already there, it would just mean re-purposing the playlist view UI and button in to each show.
- iCloud Music Library, I hate you. In principle, an amazing idea. In practice, utterly awful. The matching criteria of tracks is so lax and poor that pretty much every live or remix track I had in my library was mismatched (all of which very clearly named ‘live’ or ‘remix’, and most with differing album titles, too). The only way to correct the hundreds of incorrect album tracks I now have on my devices? Manually remove them from My Music when I happen to hear one, then log in to iTunes on my MacBook (urgh, no one likes having to go near iTunes!) and then re-enable them for iCloud Music Library. No automated solution for an issue Apple has publicly acknowledged.
- Linked to the previous point, when I did this for a large number of tracks, a further large number, which were previously CORRECTLY matched, then, upon “their own accord”, seemingly went back through the matching process and were mismatched! One thing gets fixed and then breaks a larger number of other things!
- Removing track from My Music does a couple of weird things (while My Music is on Shuffle All mode). If I were to remove the song ‘Rock Star (Live from Coachella)’ as I did a moment ago as it was mismatched with the album version – surprise(!) – it will then jump on to the next version of Rock Star that I have in My Music, despite this track not previously having been queued up to play. Tracks that have also previously been played as part of the same playing session also circle around and play again, so I end up hearing tracks I’ve already heard in the last hour or so.
- As per the start of this post, the Shuffle All feature and associated algorithm is, well, pretty poor. Within My Music I currently have approximately 2,000 tracks (give or take), which equates to, according to iTunes, about 5 days’ worth of back-to-back listening. Therefore, when I get in to work on a Monday morning and press Shuffle All I do not expect to hear the same track again that week. But I do. And the problem is, I hear the same tracks each day. Each hour in some cases. And if I am tired of hearing the same tracks over and over again, I go back to Shuffle All, re-shuffle …. And still end up hearing the same damn tracks.
- I may be wrong, but it looks as if the program takes a sub-set of everything in your music library and shuffles it, lists it and plays it. When it gets to the end of those songs, it does the same again. But where it’s picking a sub-set of the overall library each time, it means it can overlap and the same songs can be picked. Add in the algorithm that seems to pick things, as opposed to actually randomise them, and I just tend to hear the same songs over and over again, even when (especially when) re-shuffling.
Maybe we should just be friends
Improvements have been made to the app and the service, but like a lot of recent Apple releases (see tvOS), it seems to have been rushed out of the door and not even at a decent v1.0 state. In fairness, the updates from a couple of weeks ago have bought tvOS up to about a 1.0 level, but Music.app still seems far from that.
As Jim Dalrymple has stated a number of times when talking about his frustration with Apple Music, Music.app and iTunes, we’re not asking it to do anything special – and that’s what makes it all the more frustrating. The things listed above are standard features of a music streaming service and app, and therefore should just work – especially when we’re paying a monthly fee for the service – but they don’t. ('Disclaimer': Apple has, to their credit, very kindly, refunded me a total of 6 months worth of subscription fees so far)
And while all this is going on, I continue to hear more and more great things about the new features and improvements Spotify is making to its’ service and app suite.
I live in an Apple word and eco-system, and really do love them and their products and services, but the last year or two have made my love wain slightly. Apple has started to become like that girlfriend you’ve been together with a long time, you have feelings for, but it’s becoming boring and annoying and you think that there’s possibly (most likely) newer and better things out there if you take the plunge, end it and move on with your life. I hope this doesn’t happen with myself and Apple’s services, but it’s getting close. We may just be better of as friends.