Why you make me sad Apple Music?

Three months ago I switched to Apple Music from Spotify after many years on the service. Last week that experiment came to an end.

I switched away from Spotify for multiple reasons:

  • Offline playback left much to be desired: - You couldn't view Album/Artist pages for local files without internet access, in spite of having tagged all local files correctly.
  • Consolidation of services - I've replaced Google calendar and contacts with iCloud equivalents and have been better off for it. All of my devices are Apple-made so living in that eco-system makes sense.
  • Local file cloud syncing - The ability to have all my songs synced to the cloud and accessible on the phone sounded like a great idea. Spotify's solution for getting local files onto your phone was more clunky.
  • Try something new - This is not a great reason, but as a nerd you probably get it.

After only three months of using Apple Music I am confident in switching back. As far I'm concerned Apple has a long way to go before Apple Music is an attractive streaming service for me. Unfortunately the thing that's holding it back is not the service itself; it's iTunes.

iTunes has become a sort of Frankenstainian amalgamation of disparate bits of functionality held together by rough stitching and a UI that feels just as shabbily put together.

iTunes is a big thorn in Apple's rear. It has taken on too many responsiblities; simultaneously too difficult to fix and far too important not to. It is the application embodiment of the God class anti-pattern. Apple's struggle with iTunes is well documented so I will try to keep my thoughts brief.

Local files or Apple Music

One of the biggest issues I had with iTunes and Apple Music was search. When you search for a song, you have to select whether you want to go to Apple Music or your local iTunes library.

When you want to listen to music users do not usually care where it comes from as long as the speakers make those nice sounds you like so much.

This adds an unnecessary step between you and a fun time with music aswell as cluttering an already overfilled UI that over time gets tiring. Like looking at a restaurant menu with too many kinds of ramen. Your eyes just glaze over.

I am also not entirely clear on what Apple is actually doing with my local files and what's being stored or not and it seems not all my music has uploaded yet, but there was no clear indication of how long that was gonna take or how far along the process is.

No easy scrobbling to Last.FM

While working on an upcoming article, I realized I'd been derelict in uploading song playback info to last.fm (scrobbling) over the last few months. When I tried to set up scrobbling on my Mac and iPhone I realized there's no easy way to do it.

Admitedly, this one's not Apple's fault but it nevertheless pushed me to go back; Spotify supports built-in scrobbling on both iOS and macOS.

It takes too much effort to add songs to playlists

The procedure to add a song once you found it goes something like this:

  1. Right-click on the song,
  2. then select "Add to Playlist.." which opens a context-menu,
  3. then select the playlist from said menu.

That's three clicks, which doesn't sound like much but compared to drag-and-drop in Spotify it feels slow and clunky, and if you have more than a handful of playlists, like I had in Spotify, using a context menu is ridiculous.

Too many things on the screen

I don't know how to put this more eloquently. There's just way too many freaking things on the screen. There's a sidebar with categories and playlists, and your playlists are in a separate heading to the public Apple Music playlists that you subscribe to, but the terminology is confusing because the songs that you get from the streaming service get added to your Apple Music library which is somehow the same but not the same as the local library of songs that you have but those get synced also to iCloud which is not the same as you Apple Music library.

Then to switch to music videos there's a drop-down menu at the top which you can edit. This is OK but it's also on the same level in the hierarchy as the recommendations and the "Connect" part of iTunes, which can be accessed via a bunch of buttons on the top. The recommendations are in separate tab which is not where your music is, and there's also still Genius mixes for some reason and......

And if at this point I sound like an idiot who doesn't understand how the application works then you're partially right. I don't know how to use iTunes. If an experienced, tech-savvy user doesn't feel comfortable doing the most basic actions in your application after three months of regular use, as a developer you have failed colossally.

I'm not having fun

The UI is so obtuse that I'm not enjoying my time listening to music and discovering new songs. I've built a total of 5 playlists in iTunes. In contrast, I have more than 30 playlists in Spotify focused on special activities like reading books or writing; and others focused on a specific genre or a tone. I have fun playing around with Spotify and discovering new artists. With Apple Music I just felt sad; that's not what you want.

No "One more thing"

Because Apple are having to deal with iTunes they can't focus on building on top of the platform. Coming back to Spotify I was delighted to find a new recommendation section on each playlist. Spotify now suggests songs you can add to your playlists based on what you've already put there. Within 5 minutes of being back on Spotify I was listening to new artists and songs. It was like a breathe of fresh air.

There are also pre-built playlists for every mood and season as well as a bunch of running playlists that adapt to your running pace using the gyroscope on the phone. I had a great run on Friday because of Spotify.

iTunes made my life harder. Spotify makes my life better. It's as simple as that.

It was thus, that I have put an end to the Apple Music experiment and returned to the place where my music and I feel at home. It's good to be back little green friend, I've missed you.

Have a good one. Until next time.

-- Jay Blanco