I’ve been an iTunes user for over 10 years. I’m probably one of the few people out there who really enjoys the app, specifically how powerful it can be for managing a large music collection like mine. I was also an early adopter of Beats Music, so I was naturally excited when Apple acquired Beats and as much as announced they’d be building their service into iTunes. Beats recommendations inside of iTunes, yes please. My music collection and Beats’ streaming catalog all in one app, sign me up.
In execution however, the marriage can be quite a goddamn kludge.
First, the good parts. The content of Apple Music is really great. The “For You” recommendations are spot-on and fun. The playlists Apple’s curators and partners have assembled are an improvement over even those from Beats Music, and are by my subjective measure, inarguably the best of any streaming service — I’ve tried practically all of them. The Apple Music streaming catalog is comprehensive and easily rivals — if not bests — Spotify. Beats One and Apple’s other radio features are the best of not just any streaming radio, Pandora included, but some of the best radio period. There’s a lot to like.
Sounds great, right? Well, consider this scenario: a dad is using iTunes to build a playlist for his pre-teen daughter’s birthday party. He pulls a few songs out of his iTunes library, like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” from Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 album, She’s So Unusual, which he owns in its entirety. He also grabs Miley Cyrus’s song “Wrecking Ball” from the Apple Music catalog and puts it on the playlist. The next day, he’s scrolling through his library and sees Bangerz among his albums. “#%¥?!?” Tapping through to it, he sees only one song, “Wrecking Ball.” “$&@#?!?!” Clearly, Miley’s incomplete album, Bangerz does not belong among this man’s collection right alongside Cyndi’s She’s So Unusual.
Unfortunately, this is just one of several stories I could weave about where Apple Music fails. Let’s break it down: Adding any arbitrary song from the Apple Music catalog to one of your playlists also adds that artist, album, and song into your music library. This is inconsistent behavior with literally every other music app I’ve tried — which again, is almost all of them. With Spotify, and possibly every other app on the planet, when you add a track to one of your playlists, that track simply gets tacked onto the playlist, not stowed away forever in your library too. If you wanted the song, album, or artist to show up alongside your whole collection, you’d say so. Spotify, Google Play, Rdio, Tidal, and (frustratingly) even the now defunct Beats Music app, all provide an explicit action to say, “Yes, I would in fact like to add this song / album / artist to my library.”
All in all, there’s a lot to like about Apple Music. For most casual users, issues such as this and its ilk will probably go unnoticed. However, I can’t help but see flaws like these as the most prescient example in recent memory where careless experience design and poor product management are holding back the success of a highly visible, mass-market software product. The worst part: the average consumer cannot be expected to articulate why they stop using Apple Music after their 90 trials are up, they’ll just quit. Apple is known for sweating the details and saying a thousand no’s for every yes, but Apple Music is not living up to that high standard.