Today Apple released their new Apple Music application and streaming music service, which includes a redesigned Music app for iOS and iTunes for desktops. It also includes a new live radio called Beats 1.
Apple is supposed to be the epitome of design. Simultaneously making something simple and intuitive yet engaging at the same time. After playing with the new Apple Music app, I’m left doubting that I’ll make the switch to Apple Music from Spotify. Spotify isn’t all that special either but Apple hasn’t capitalized on their strengths to surpass Spotify’s weaknesses.
Recommendations / “For You”
Apple should capitalize on the data they already have on me to learn what I like or don’t like. I clicked on the initial setup where they present genre and artists bubbles to indicate your preferences. (This didn’t appear to be pre-populated) Afterwards I went to check out which artists I was following. Apple auto added about 60 artists. I promptly deleted 2/3rds of them.
Apple has access to my iTunes library which includes things like my play counts and song ratings. I’m pretty crazy about rating songs to use with dynamic playlists and have thousands of songs rated highly) They could utilize this data to auto populate my profile and it doesn’t look like they do. I realize not everyone rates their music but everyone has play counts. (songs most played, songs most skipped)
They could also use it to determine the kind of music I don’t listen to. When I click on ‘Connect’ > ‘Find More Artists & Curators’, the first 3 are Apple related curators and the other 6 mind boggling artist suggestions include Maroon 5, One Direction, Pitbull and Miley Cyrus. The other two are Tom Yorke and The Decemberists. This makes me think Apple is not using my iTunes history and metadata to calculate my initial profile. This is disappointing.
This info, combined with my music taste neighbors, could be used to suggest music to me that I’m not familiar with. At no point did Apple ask me anything about importing my iTunes data, last.fm or any other service. I realize they want to make it easy for the user and some of this might be done behind the scenes without my realizing it but from the results I saw it sure didn’t look like it.
My second concern is regarding the artists I follow. I can see for the average consumer who may only follow a couple dozen artist how it could work but what about those of us who want to follow hundreds? (I have a Spotify playlist with 1 song per band with over 800 artists)
How is Apple planning on presenting all of this data to us? Album releases, tour information, news, etc.? It’s likely to be notification overkill that I may eventually just completely disable or ignore. I don’t see how the current interface is going to manage that in an easy-to-use yet addictive and engaging manner, not to mention customizable. What if I only want album release info for one artist but I want album and tour info for another? What about geo location specific data? What about last.fm?
Curation / Playlists
I’m still not convinced that curated playlists are the answer that everyone in the industry seems to think they are. Having curated playlists is a nice feature but it’s not something to hang your hat on. I don’t care if my non-techie, non-music professional cousin created it or if some super celebrity created it. It’s going to have tracks on it I know and don’t know, like and don’t like. Do people really care all that much about how they found out about it? A good creative user interface and algorithm should be the answer for music discovery. Apple Music doesn’t appear to have it.
Just how useful are playlists like those called, “Intro To Grizzly Bear” or any other artist. (I love Grizzly Bear by the way, no offense to them, just the “Intro to…” concept.) These suckers can balloon into overload way too easily and clutter up any playlist recommendation service. Spotify had apps for a while and there were way too many that were basically just links to one particular artist’s recommended songs. I equate them to all of the App Store ‘countdown’ apps. Do. Not. Need. Also, why is Apple Music’s “For You” front page showing me a playlist called “Intro To Grizzly Bear” and “Intro To Girls” when I already have many songs by each in my library that are rated?! If you are going to give me an “Intro to…” playlist then I think it need to 1) be an artist I haven’t heard and 2) give me a brief explanation why you’re recommending this. (“The guitarist in this band was in this other band that you love”)
Some of the curated playlists look like they were created either randomly or by chickens from a tic-tac-toe game. Apple Music’s curated “Indie Summer Party Jams of 2015″ includes Kanye West (not Indie), and Pitchfork’s curated “Best of the Half Decade: Dreampop” includes Lana Del Rey (not Dreampop).
I think Apple will face some backlash with regards to merging ‘My Music’ with iTunes/Apple Music tracks. I have special releases, vinyl rips, live versions, et cetera and I just imagine managing all of these along with Apple Music’s cloud version will be a nightmare and be a cause of many headaches. I would recommend taking a complete backup of your music, phone and iTunes database before installing the new software and keep it around for a while. [This has proven to be a problem just as I suspected. (1) (2) (3)]
Sound quality isn’t impressive.
Song matching: If I ‘love’ a song that I personally own that resides on my Mac, when I go to that song within Apple’s Music section the same song isn’t showing up as ‘loved’.
If I go to an Apple Music playlist on my iPhone and view the list of songs in the playlist, some songs appear with a small phone icon indicating I have the song on my phone. There are many songs on my phone that don’t show the icon which means the matching algorithm isn’t all that thorough.
There are still many things I’d like to see Apple Music do that absolutely no one is doing. There is a lot of room to grow music recommendations as a feature, make the experience educational and engaging. Also incorporate it more with social and geo location.
This seems like a very safe attempt from Apple that leaves a lot of room for improvement and innovation. I wonder what expert feedback they got from the Beats crew or Trent Reznor that was so important? I just don’t see it.