For many Apple users, October’s credit card statement will be the first that has a line on it for Apple Music. With the ninety-day free trial rolling over to a paid subscription, this is the key moment for Apple Music. Will people continue to stay subscribed to Apple’s model of a subscription music service? Has the service delivered enough value? Does it compare favourably to the current leading streaming players?
Personally, the answer is no.
Close to four months have passed since launch, and the Apple Music experience has not been improved in any substantial way. The package that Apple delivered out of the box was horribly mainstream, with a huge focus on popular artists. In my time exploring the playlists and radio it has been hard to find niche music in the package. Having seen countless people set up their Apple Music profile when they were forced to move to the updated Music app in iOS 8.4, I’d be confident that every single Apple Music user was offered Taylor Swift as a musical recommendation. Those bubbles forced mainstream pop music recommendation into everyone’s system, so is it any wonder I’m offered Katy Perry, One Direction, and Miley Cyrus, when a quick glance through my music collection would show that a focus on more Progressive Rock and East European Dance music would be more appropriate?
Apple Music still hasn’t worked this out. Why is it not using the data it can collect to better effect?
Just as the Apple Music recommendations have not been updated, the actual application itself has not seen any major changes. Beyond fighting the huge firestorm of bugs that caused Apple Music, iTunes, and the iCloud Music Library to clash in the cloud-sync process with little clear information on what was going on, the application has maintained a steady state since launch.
There is no app in the world that is perfect, but the new iOS Music app is a sprawling mess, it can easily hang on opening if it can’t find a solid internet connection, and it makes it harder to search and locate your own music on a handset. Album and Artist lists are compressed into a single drop down box, while Apple’s attempt at a global radio station is given a tab all on its own. Prioritising Zane Lowe’s vanity project over easy access to my own music collection is a courageous call for Apple to make.
Who sat down and thought this was the way to make a subscription music ‘just work?’
And then there’s social. Apple provides a bulletin board for artists to post news to listeners following them, but with very few options to track these posts or to use then to start users down a social funnel, there is very little value for the artists in using the service.
It also completely ignores the connected experience of music online. Sharing tracks, playlists, and curating from multiple sources and networks is part of listening to music now, and Apple as yet does not have an easy route to work with countless musical moments.
It’s not just getting music out of my handset and into my social network (with a flurry of ‘I really love this’, it’s bringing music discovery in from outside the iTunes silo. Take ‘Talia’s New Obsession‘, a monthly newsletter of some of the biggest unknown ear worms of pop music. Everything runs through Spotify and shared playlists, there is no easy way to get this in to iTunes or Apple Music. Just one example of countless missed opportunities for Apple online.
I would have expected some indication that Apple Music is evolving by now. I would have expected the experience to be iterated by now. I would have expected some polish, care and attention to be visible. Instead Apple Music has simply stalled.
That’s not to say that Apple Music can turn itself around. A brutal focus on improving the user interface, an acceptance of the connected social world that music lives, and opening up the service to be more open would by a good place to start a pivot. Perhaps all of that is planned but I see no evidence of it. When the competition is doing it faster, better, stronger, with more fidelity, openness, and accountability, it’s very hard to justify the monthly subscription to Apple Music.