Apple Music’s Functionality Failure

They broke Clayton Christensen’s rule.

The other night, I decided to play some MP3s. Retro, I know. But I heard a song on the radio and I wanted to hear more by that artist and I didn’t want to pay for bandwidth when I knew I had most of his canon on my phone and…

There started my problems.

Finding the artist’s MP3s was far from simple. I had to navigate to my music as opposed to streaming, I had to search, and when I hit shuffle I kept on hearing the same songs again. Did I press the wrong selection, was I only listening to one album? No, shuffle in Apple Music is broken. It’ll play the same song multiple times before it plays all of them. Furthermore, my artwork is screwed up. And this is frustrating. I want a separate Apple Music app for my MP3s and another for my streams. And that’s when it hit me, Cupertino had broken the rule outlined in the “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

When you encounter disruption, you save your enterprise by building a cheaper, less-profitable operation across the street. And eventually there comes a tipping point when the new enterprise subsumes the old. You don’t mix them together. If you’re trying to placate your old customers, you’re screwing the new, and that’s death.

Steve Jobs never did this.

Mac aficionados know that when OS X was introduced you could boot into either it or OS 9, but they did not work on the same screen, that would be too confusing. Just like you can run Windows on your Mac today, but not without closing down OS X and rebooting into it.

Apple realized MP3s were dying. At least I hope they realized this. But they were fearful of not only cannibalizing said business, but alienating iTunes customers. Instead, Apple decided to hamstring both old and new listeners, which is important, because companies that do this fail.

You jump over the fence and join the revolution. You don’t bring the old to the new. It’s what hobbled Microsoft. So busy making sure old machines and software could work with the new operating system, PCs became clunky and the spaghetti code in the OS became untrustworthy. Instead of just working, it didn’t.

And now Apple is doing the same thing.

And this is death in tech. If you’re not willing to destroy the old business model on the way to the new, you’re gonna lose in the long run.

Yes, Apple has zillions of credit card numbers. Yes, Apple is the world’s most valuable company, a juggernaut. But IBM is a shadow of what it once was, as is Microsoft. Nothing is forever. When the great disruption comes you’ve got to sacrifice what once was, however profitable it might be, or you will die in the future.

The problem with streaming in the United States is that most people just don’t see the need to subscribe. Furthermore, they don’t see the need to experiment. Getting someone to try something is the hardest part. And when they do try something and they get less functionality than before, they’re out.

This is what’s happening with Apple Music, and this hurts not only Apple, but the music business at large.

It’d be like having a CD player that spins vinyl. Actually, they tried this. Needless to say, it failed.

As for streaming sound quality, Clayton Christensen went on to say that the new solution may not equal the quality of the old, but it’s good enough and it’s cheap. If you’re an iTunes customer you’re going to go to streaming, you just don’t know it yet. Because streaming is cheaper if you’re a heavy buyer, and owning nothing you can gain improvement along the way. Imagine if you were hobbled by your internet speed of fifteen years ago! But you kept paying the cable company and you kept getting higher speed.

As for DSL… It failed in the marketplace. Everybody moved on to cable. Verizon only succeeded with a whole new delivery system, FiOS. It wasn’t about improving copper wire, but abandoning it, which is what telephone companies are now doing.

The point is not that musicians are complaining about royalty rates. It’s not even about Neil Young’s rants about sound quality. They’re roadkill on the way to the future, diversions at best.

It’s about the world’s most valuable company trying to hold on to its customers.

We’re beholden to corporations. We follow them more than bands. They’re peopled by the best and the brightest. We study them to see when they succeed and fail. When they sacrifice credibility, when they miss innovation.

When hip-hop started to gain traction did record companies insist that DJs and MCs include rock elements to satiate the old audience?


You leave the past behind.

Streaming is a disruptive technology. It’s already killed purchase. YouTube demonstrated this. The goal is to capture as many people and generate as much money as possible.

YouTube didn’t care about MP3s. Didn’t even care about copyrights at first. And so far, YouTube has won. It’s easy to navigate and easy to play. But Google was protecting no legacy interests, they started with a clean slate.

Apple Music’s interface is too cluttered. Functionality is hampered. And this scares me, Apple was once a fountain of innovation. But now that it’s protecting its past, it’s screwed.

In Silicon Valley, Clayton Christensen’s work is gospel.

How did Apple miss out?

P.S. In case you’re not using Apple Music… The app both streams and plays your MP3s. The dividing line is blurry, nearly incomprehensible, and whereas the old Music app synched only the songs you chose, the new app lists all of the tracks in your iTunes library, and you can’t find those that are actually synched! And you’ve got to keep clicking back between streams and MP3s, and even though some may say they love Apple Music, the truth is early adopters always yell loudest, but not everybody follows their lead.

P.P.S. I don’t expect Apple to break out the number of paying Music customers, it’s not their style, when they lose they obfuscate.

P.P.P.S. Just because you downloaded the app, that does not mean you use it. Look at Twitter… Massive sign-ups and little usage. Furthermore, Apple pushed Music updates, and people now download these without thinking.

P.P.P.P.S. With customers and momentum Apple still might win the music streaming wars, but based on their ignorance of Clayton Christensen’s rules one doubts the company will win in the future. You need someone to say no, you need someone to make the hard decisions. Autocrats lead the best companies, consensus builders fail, pleasing everyone ultimately pleases no one. In other words, Tim Cook knows how to make the trains run on time, but can he get them to the next destination?

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