Apple Music has attracted more than 13 million users in less than one year, but it’s been drawing criticism since its release for being confusing and complex. Rumors suggest that Apple will update Apple Music soon, in order to address some of these issues. Here are six ways Apple can improve Apple Music.
Separate streaming from the iTunes library
The most interesting aspect of Apple Music, when it was announced, was the ability to merge my iTunes library with the vast amount of music available in the cloud. Unfortunately, it’s the most problematic and confusing part of the service. iCloud Music Library, which manages your music in iTunes and in the cloud, ruined my music library in the early days, and is notorious for changing album artwork and tags. I won’t trust my carefully curated and tagged library to Apple’s cloud. As such, I only use Apple Music on a second Mac and on an iPod touch; I won’t let it near my main music library on my iMac, which syncs to my iPhone.
You can use Apple Music without iCloud Music Library, but I’m always worried that something will go wrong, and my library will get messed up again.
Perhaps it’s time for Apple to split out Apple Music from the iTunes library. Apple should still allow people to add tracks and albums from Apple Music to My Music, but they should segregate the streaming library from the physical media in the iTunes library and on a user’s iOS device. Allow users to “import” their music from an iTunes library to Apple Music, but offer, perhaps, a separate Apple Music tab in iTunes, and a separate Apple Music app on iOS. Or do it the way Spotify does: offer streaming, plus access to local music, but not together.
In some ways this would complicate things, but in others it would alleviate a lot of the deeper problems users have in organizing their music. And it would prevent iCloud Music Library from messing up the tags and artwork of music people own.
Improve For You
For some users, For You—the algorithmic recommendation part of Apple Music—is useful, and for others it’s just a waste of time. I've found it to be so frustrating that I rarely look at it. First, it recommends albums that I already own, both albums in my iTunes library and music I’ve bought from the iTunes Store. I know about those albums, and I don’t need to be nudged. Second, when I say I Don’t Like This, it just shrugs and keeps showing me the same albums and playlists weeks, even months later. I still can’t get rid of the Classical Music for Elevators or the Jimmy Iovine in the Studio playlists that Apple insists are “for me.”
For You suggestions are too middle of the road. I have eclectic tastes, and my Apple Music library contains music by John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Charles Ives; the Grateful Dead, Be Bop Deluxe, and Bill Laswell; Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, and Nils Frahm. Yet For You recommends artists like Elton John (I do have one of his albums), Gordon Lightfoot (?), and Green Day (who I don’t like).
And the playlists? I really, honestly don’t see why Apple Music thinks I want to listen to “Rawtastic BBQ; Prime grade rock ‘n roll for your next outdoor party,” or “Free in Every Way; You live your life the way you want to. Now, a soundtrack just for you.” I get the feeling that some of these playlists are “curated” by high school students who are just picking music at random. (“Wow, man, this is so coooool....”) “Deep Cuts: Rock;” you couldn’t try a bit harder than that?
For You needs to be edgier. It needs to not focus on the fact that I have one Elton John album, but, perhaps, look at the 30 recordings of music by Morton Feldman in my library, and the music by artists like The Durutti Column, John Foxx, and all the obscure electronica and ambient music I listen to. I’m probably not the target demographic for this type of thing, but the albums it offers—selected after seeing my library—seem to only focus on popular stuff. If streaming music is about discovery, let me discover, don’t give me these tired old suggestions.
How about offering me a list of new music that I might actually like, such as new releases from artists in my library, or artists that I’ve “followed.” Something like “New For You,” perhaps.
Allow collaborative playlists
You can share a playlist with a friend from Apple Music, but they can’t add anything to that playlist. Spotify and other services allow collaborative playlist. Apple’s late to this part. Check out how SoundShare does it.
Make better matches
iTunes Match uses digital fingerprinting to match tracks; Apple Music only uses tags. Matching with Apple Music alone is a mess. Fix this. Seriously. Everyone is tired of having their live albums replaced by studio tracks, and their explicit songs dumbed down to “clean” versions.
Also, there are times when I add music to My Music, and iCloud Music Library changes the tags from what was displayed in Apple Music. This should never happen.
Fix the iOS Music app
It’s a mess. Too many buttons, too many menu items, too many options. Most users get confused. Either make two modes, simple and advanced, or get rid of the cruft. For a company that used to make simple, easy to use products, the iOS Music app is confusing: in the Now Playing screen, there are 11 buttons, two of which offer additional options. And Up Next is still the most impenetrable feature ever added to iTunes and the Music app.
The word on the street is that Connect will soon be Pinged. We won’t miss it.