For You, Perhaps, But Not for Me ►

The internet’s favorite curmudgeon, Dr. Drang, has arranged his thoughts on Apple Music. They’re mostly negative, as anyone who follows the good doctor on twitter might expect.

Let’s start with Connect. This is, to me, the least interesting part of Apple Music because I’m far too jaded to believe that anything put here is straight from the artists themselves.

Yes, this is the experience I’ve had. Connect automatically forms a list of people for you to follow based on what you purchased through iTunes (at least, I haven’t seen any artists that were purchased through Amazon and synced to iTunes). This includes my buddy, Mr. 305 — Mr. Worldwide — Pitbull. His Connect posts occur often and exclusively feature a promotional photo of Pitbull. This is not really something that excites me, and seemingly is by some PR assistant somewhere. A few things, from other artists, read like tweets about tours. I don’t go see tours, even though I live in LA, so these sorts of broadcasts don’t mean anything to me as a fan. The only novel feature is the occasional posts with music in them, such as one by ZEDD, or Macintosh Braun. That’s really not the predominant Connect experience, and still doesn’t feel direct, in any way. You can comment on some of the posts, but there seems to be absolutely no point in doing that, and no value to be gleaned from the comments of others — a huge surprise.

Dr. Drang goes on to highlight several problems he has with Beats 1. However, if you pay attention to the wording of it, Dr. Drang hasn’t listened to much of the linear programming — curation — being done on the channel. He’s mostly poking fun at the notion of it. The praise, from many young people, is mostly about the concept as a vehicle for music discovery. Something another of the Internet’s top curmudgeons, Philip Michaels, agrees is pretty silly. Modern radio programming is mostly not very good even though it’s conceptually similar. So the praise is warranted, if overblown when it comes to the notion of sequencing audio clips with DJs.

Dr. Drang is also open to the idea of some shows, and willing to write others off. He even talks about an old radio program he’d like to hear, but again, he’s not really listening to all of the current programming to know if it’s missing. Not that I fault him for that, I certainly can’t listen to most of the programming. Even a show that piqued my interest, Elton John’s Rocket Hour wasn’t on at a time that I could listen. The schedule is also nowhere to be found in the app and relies on listeners finding the Beats 1 Tumblr page.

Effectively, they’ve reinvigorated the need for a DVR, or On Demand (podcasts), and TV Guide. Ironic, no? Particularly in light of trends in television services.

Next on the Apple Music list of services is My Music. Because I didn’t already have an iTunes Match account, I had to go through the process of scanning and uploading my iTunes library. This took about two days of continuous connection, and both iTunes on my Mac and the Music app on my iPhone lied to me through most of the process. For example, even when the progress circle in iTunes showed the uploading to be nearly complete, none my Beatles tracks were ready. Their iCloud status in iTunes was still “Waiting,” and they were unavailable for streaming on my iPhone.

I’m a little disappointed in Dr. Drang for jumping on iTunes 12.2 so quickly and letting it mangle his music library. The nice thing about the iOS app is that it’s not mangling my jams through some first-generation importing and syncing method. On the day Apple Music launched, Apple released iOS 8.4, and many hours later iTunes 12.2. As I noted on Twitter:

Spoiler alert: It was rushed out the door and wrecks some music libraries.

Hard pass.

I’ll eventually (probably accidentally) update to a newer version of iTunes, but I’ll wait a round.

A brief tangent: Apple should do what many other services with apps do and distribute a version of the app that can use the service in advance of the service being available. Then they can turn on, or off, the availability of the service as needed. When I mentioned this practical approach on Twitter (which has an iPhone app that follows this methodology) I recieved pushback that Apple probably rolls out iOS and iTunes updates at the last minute because it’s a way to meter the traffic on the service. Poppycock. Whether or not someone will update their software is not an effective metering tool, compared to controlling the ability to connect to the service as a meter, and the ability to patch the clientside software because you see problems with the service rolling out. Not doing both at the same time.

Anyway, back to Dr. Drang’s post:

Part of the problem is that generational thing. When I went through the For You setup and made the Genre selections, I ran into a dilemma: should I include R&B or not? I knew perfectly well that Apple Music would see R&B as primarily Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Usher, and, God help us, Robin Thicke; so my inclination was to turn it off. But if I did that, would I be blocking Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Gamble & Huff, and the entire Stax label? That was too much of a risk, so I left R&B in my Genre list. To my chagrin, I soon found lots of current R&B in my For You suggestions, but not a hint of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

It’s not simply generational. Indeed, Dr. Drang generously lays much of the blame on the fact that he’s old (I would say that has more to do with reluctance to try new things). The problems I’ve had with “For You” have been similar even though I’m a spritely 32 year-old.

The bubbles are whimsical, and pretty, but they are not the best way to get started with my musical tastes because the bubbles are overly generic. I have a library full of music, and a rich history of iTunes purchases. Connect uses that to find artists for me to automatically follow, but none of the bubbles are pre-populated by this data. It’s like I’m setting up my music tastes from scratch, which is a chore. After refreshing the bubbles many, many, many times I gave up and confirmed it, figuring it would be easier to prune later. It hasn’t been easy at all. Country music is a genre I typically loathe, almost universally, and yet, there was country music. You know, for reasons.

Long-pressing something I’m not interested in, and selecting the menu item to see less of that, doesn’t remove it from the “feed” of the For You section. Cee Lo Green just sat there, staring at me. His smile mocking my very attempt to control his authoritative playlist.

Even the playlists that are aligned with my tastes don’t appeal to me because they are, for the most part, too tame and too obvious. Of what value, for example, is a “Led Zeppelin Deep Cuts” playlist to someone whose library already has every Led Zeppelin album? If I’ve said I like Cheap Trick, I’ll probably like the songs in a Cheap Trick playlist, but how does that help me discover new music?

This is a huge problem with For You, and something that could be improved by actually using any of the data that Apple already has available to them. I received an “Intro to Pitbull” playlist and an “Intro to Queen” playlist. I own every track on both of the lists. I can tell Apple I don’t like the suggestions, but that’s not true. I want Apple to form future recommendations from those, but I don’t need my whole library I already bought available to be streamed back to me for a monthly fee.

Dr. Drang skipped the New tab, but I’ll just assume he doesn’t like it either. I absolutely hate the way this is “organized” it’s like they maxed at 5 items on each list and moved on to the next. The UI widgets are all over the place. Presumably, this is mostly to distinguish these quick blobs from the other quick blobs. There’s stuff that’s “Hot” and “Discovered” which doesn’t connote anything to me about wether or not I might like it. There are lots of hot things I don’t like. Hot pans, hot weather, scalding hot tea, I could go on.

The category selection, like all of the other category selection, is so broad that it’s not completely effective as a filter. As Jason Snell pointed out on a recent episode of Upgrade where he discussed Apple Music with Myke Hurley, what Apple interprets “Alternative” to be covers a whole lot of ground.

There are a few things that are buried here that have really delivered though, and that’s in these same playlists that For You tries, and fails to surface. Browsing through the maze of playlist sections I found an absolutely fantastic playlist (The Tropical Side of Pop by Apple Music Pop). I gave it a heart, and then I couldn’t find it. The hearts don’t store it anywhere for me to access, and I couldn’t remember the exact name of the playlist, just that it had pink, lawn flamingos on it. I found it once, to add it to my music, and I found it again, just now, to try and remember where it was buried in the interface. It’s not that the playlists are bad, but that For You is doing such a terrible job of surfacing the ones I want that relying on the New tab to find interesting lists raises all the same questions about discovery that For You is ostensibly supposed to solve.

Dr. Drang hints several times in the piece about the value of the service relative to other options. Indeed, his whole piece is about the value for him, specifically. I see many of the same problems he sees mirrored in my own experience with the iOS app, and I do wonder about the value. I buy less than one album of music from iTunes a month, often going three, four months without buying a single track. For Apple to convince me to stay on after the trial is over, they need to convince me I would end up buying, and listening, to more music that would justify the monthly rate I would be paying.

As a free service, it’s great, but it’s not really a free service in three months.

2015-07-08 08:10:00

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