Apple Music-First Impressions

This would be a rave, at least a qualified one, if it weren’t for those pesky interface issues. And if I have them, what about the punter Apple and the industry hope to get on board and pay?

The service is much more comprehensible in iTunes.

At nearly 4 PM, Apple pushed iTunes 12.2 to my Mac. The install was easy. Working the program…nearly impossible. What if they built a maze with goodies at every turn but you couldn’t figure out how to get out, never mind retrace your steps? That’s Apple Music. Although, it’s more comprehensible on the phone, once you get over the hurdle. Why are there so many hurdles?

You load iTunes and you’ve got no idea where to go, how the program works. You expect to see a button that says “Apple Music,” but you don’t. Rather you see the usual suspects plus “For You,” “New” and “Connect.” Also you have “Radio”… Was that there before? I can’t remember, I never listened to iTunes Radio, as a matter of fact, the only thing I used iTunes for was to synch my devices, my iPhone and iPad, when it came to music…I used Spotify and Deezer.

So where do I click? How do I get started?

Turns out “Radio” is just that. It’s easy to listen to Beats 1, it’s at the top of the page. I did some listening, not much, it’s gonna take some time to find out if Beats 1 changes the industry. What we want most is for Beats 1 to break acts/records. But with so many deejays and only one channel in an on demand universe where I never want to hear a tune-out… Beats 1 is passive. Even more passive than Pandora. Yet, people love Pandora. But Pandora, theoretically, plays music you want to hear, most people don’t want to hear what’s playing on Beats 1, that’s the nature of a singular radio station.

You click on “New” and…

You see a ton of albums. But is this the iTunes Store or can you play these for free? You gingerly click around and find you can listen. That’s cool.

Then you go to “For You.” And here you get recommendations based on what bubbles you picked and pricked. An inane idea that yields no fruit. I could explain further, but just try it, it’s nearly worthless.

But the playlists… They’re near genius.

But to get to the playlists… You’ve got to click on “New” and scroll down. I stumbled on them by accident and then I couldn’t get back. Frustrated me so much. Like I said, shouldn’t playlists be under “For You”?

And there are two types of playlists, “Apple Music Editors” and “Curators.” What’s the difference? Didn’t anybody at Apple ask this? Click around and you can see that “Curators” is outsiders, like “Rolling Stone” and “Pitchfork.” And there you’ve got the essence of Apple Music, once you know how to use it, it’s pretty good, but it’s less than intuitive and the learning curve is, if not steep, definitely uphill. (There’s one other playlist type, “Activities,” that’s too generic for me, my music means too much to me, I don’t do random.)

Clicking on “Apple Music Editors” you get to the heart of the matter, the genre playlists. (You cannot open multiple pages! Getting back to where you once belonged can be challenging!) You pick one and…

Let me mention right here, Apple Music looks much better than Spotify. Spotify sucks when it comes to advertising and distributing its message, and design too. This is the legacy of Steve Jobs, look counts. And Apple Music looks good. Not quite good enough to lick, but close.

So, once you’re in the genre area, picking, let’s say, “Singer/Songwriter,” you’re confronted with five rows. The first is the most important. It’s the playlists, the general ones, the hits and… You click on a playlist and…you discover new music. Really. Well done Apple. I already heard something I liked that I never heard before, “Forget You In LA,” by Poema, who I’d never heard of before, never mind played. And there was a track cherry-picked from Arlo Guthrie’s old “Washington County” album on another Singer/Songwriter playlist, so…it’s kinda thrilling. Assuming you have confidence in the curators.

Below the first row, of playlists, there’s a line “Albums You Need To Hear.” Of which there are five in every genre. This is great, it separates the wheat from the chaff, you can sample what you should.

And then there’s a line “In Rotation – Singer/Songwriter Radio.” I thought clicking on these albums would get you customized radio stations, but instead you get full albums you can stream on demand. So, why is it “Radio”? I’m not sure…maybe they play these songs on Beats 1, this is just evidence of the many frustrations on Apple Music, loose ends, that any editor could point out and could be fixed, but it appears no liberal arts major oversaw the overall program, to make it coherent.

And on the last line you’ve got “Intro To.” Where you’ve got playlists of significant acts. This is much more coherent and understandable than Spotify, and intriguing.

But if you quit iTunes and try to get back to the playlists… Good luck! Just remember, click on “New” and SCROLL DOWN!

And that’s the essence of the service, the playlists.

They do not coincide with radio. I checked out the “Electronic” area and…the tracks in the “A-List” (there’s an A-List for every genre) did not coincide with the chart, Diplo, the king of the summer, was nowhere to be found, never mind DJ Snake and…

So, what’s more important? Radio or Apple Music? Who’s got the chart that counts?

This is the essence of the issue. The iTunes sales chart drove sales, people would check out what was on top. Will Apple Music playlists drive consumption? Maybe. If enough people subscribe and use, what’s on the A-List will drive the culture. That’s a pretty big if, but not an insurmountable one.

All of this is much easier to use on the phone. But, just like in iTunes, you’ve got to get over the hurdle, you’ve got to figure out you’ve got to click on “New” at the bottom of the app to see the playlists, which, once again, you have to scroll down to encounter. Normally you’d click on “New” last, after “My Music” and “For You,” but that’s not how it works in Apple Musicland.

So, what we’ve got is a program with a steep learning curve that makes music consumption fun and rewarding, yet is harder to navigate and understand than Spotify. Once again, once you figure the program out, it’s best to use it on the desktop, that’s where you can SEE the playlists and understand everything.

And Apple Music looks better than Spotify.

And it’s got the Apple brand.

But do people want to pay?

Some will.

Most won’t.

P.S. There’s a setting in the app to make sure your subscription is canceled on 9/30 and you don’t get billed, it’s all over the web, here’s an example:

“How to turn off Apple Music’s auto-renewal before your free trial ends, Do it now so you don’t forget later”

And this is why Apple Music will not reach its goal of 100 million subscribers in 12 months. If people can figure out this trick in a matter of hours, they can figure out how to listen to music for free, especially when it’s there for the taking on YouTube, where the search works, as opposed to on Apple Music. That’s right, start searching, you’ll get into backwaters you cannot get out of, assuming you end up where you want to be to begin with.

P.P.S. Connect is a disaster, dead on arrival. There’s almost no content. It’s Ping without the hope. Yes, Ping was early enough in the social media arc that we were interested, now the acts don’t even seem interested. Connect should have been fully populated upon release, it’s not.

P.P.P.S. Every genre page has buttons on the top, “Featured,” “Playlists” and “Connect.” What’s the difference between “Featured” and “Playlists”? One of the many questions Apple didn’t ask itself before it foisted this design upon us.

P.P.P.P.S. We won’t know if Apple Music is a success for a very long time. Even if you’re interested, and I am, it’s going to take weeks to get into the nooks and crannies and find out if it’s a superior experience to what has come before, never mind worth paying for.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Functionality is hobbled. You’re gonna get the spinning gear. I’d say it’s release day blues, but isn’t the goal to have MORE people use the service?

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. There are heart and plus sign icons that don’t reveal their meaning when you hover over them and don’t seem to be reversible once you’ve clicked. Apple built its reputation on the seamless experience. Steve Jobs wanted as few buttons on the remote as possible, he was all about leaving stuff out, to avoid confusion. That ethos has left Cupertino.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. On the homepage, when you log in, there should be the five tracks you MUST hear. This is what the music business is looking for, a way to draw the confused in, expose them to music that titillates them and makes them fans. Instead, you’ve got to get into the weeds, and that’s too much for most people.

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