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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Why I’m worried about Apple Music

I’m a little worried about Apple Music.

And it’s not the wrangling over terms with artists, or the muddled messaging, or even that the catalog might be on the limited side. It’s in an area where Apple traditionally excels: the execution of the product itself.

For one thing, Apple Music is a cloud service, and the company’s track record with those types of products is…uneven, at best. For another, the trend in both the iOS and Mac versions of Apple’s music-playing software seems to be towards both more confusing and less polished—none of which inspires confidence.

Put the best parts of those two together, and Apple Music could be a winner, easy. Put the worst parts together, and, well…like I said, I’m worried.

Match me if you can

I’ve been an iTunes Match subscriber since the company launched that service back in 2011, and while I’ve been generally positive about my experiences, I’ve still run into any numbers of bizarre and usually inexplicable problems.

Music
Still life of Apple’s Music app

Just the other day, as I was on my way home, I tried to play a track on my iPhone. With five bars of LTE signal, the network connection indicator spun, never-ending, and the track refused to play. No amount of tapping the Pause/Play button, or even force-quitting and relaunching the Music app would produce the sound of Chuck Berry’s guitar. Why? I have no idea.

This isn’t a rare occurrence in my experiences with cloud-based music on iTunes Match. Sometimes, for some reason, it just refuses to work. It’s one of those disproportionally maddening things: “Why won’t my magic pocket-sized box, which contains all of the music in the world, submit to my whims?”1

I’ve essentially been using cloud-based music for the last four years, and while I appreciate the convenience of not having to manage and sync my music, I also know how frustrating it is when the network-dependent service encounters glitches or simply doesn’t work the way that I expect. Most frustratingly, there is often no recourse other than to, as Siri all too often suggests, “try again later.”

Half-baked

The company also has a history of not fully thinking through its cloud services, even after its disastrous experiences with the likes of MobileMe should have been taken to heart.

Take, for example, Photo Stream’s confusing limitations on how many photos were stored online vs. on your devices. Or the initial launch of iWork.com back in 2009, with basically no support for real-time collaboration. iCloud’s only recently remedied lack of file management (rumored to be improved again in iOS 9). Heck, just the other day it was pointed out to me that while you can easily share photos from a Shared Photo Stream, there was no likewise simple way to get access to videos shared with you. Weird.

Granted, media consumption is a somewhat less complicated process than, say, online collaboration, or even photo sharing. Fewer moving parts means, hopefully, less room for error, but once again, Apple’s track record for online services doesn’t necessarily impel me to give the company the benefit of the doubt.

That said, if there is one area in which Apple has done pretty well with network-based services, it’s the iTunes Store.

Music, man

/Users/dmoren/Downloads/music-art-6c.jpg

Even in the non-cloud realm, Apple’s recent forays into media playback have been at times underwhelming. Take Apple’s Music app on iOS, for example. Besides its inane album art view, the redesign that came with iOS 7 was not very popular. But I’ve also run into bizarre bugs in the app which seem like they really should have been ironed out long ago.

For example, when searching for songs in Music on my iPhone, several of the results are pretty much always mismatched with the album art. And not the same wrong album art, either—different search results show different combinations of art and music. A pattern there may be, but I haven’t determined yet what it is. (Also note that the incorrect album art is not associated with the music file itself; it shows up only in search results.)

Much in the same way that it’s time to tear down iTunes on the Mac, the Music app on iOS needs a fresh take. I’m not optimistic whether or not the revision we’ll see arrive in iOS 8.4 will truly go as deep as it should, but I’m hopeful that the Music app will continue to improve.

Try before you buy

It’s possible I’ll…(wait for it)…change my tune on Apple Music after the three-month free trial. After all, the promise of an extensive catalog of the world’s music at my fingertips is hard to pass up. Despite all my concerns, I’m ready to be surprised and delighted by the experience of Apple Music.


  1. Let’s just forestall the emails by linking to Louis C.K., shall we?  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]