In the closing paragraphs of my Apple Music In-Depth Review, I mentioned that, for the time being, I was continuing to use Apple’s new streaming service. To me, having access to millions of songs from just about every artist I could name for just £9.99 a month seemed like a worthwhile proposition, not to mention I’ve found the music discovery features to be invaluable. All things considered, you’d be forgiven for wondering exactly why, after completion of this post, I’ll be cancelling my Apple Music subscription for the foreseeable future.
There are a few reasons; the first of which is the implementation itself. After enabling Apple Music and the iCloud Music Library in the Mac version of iTunes, the software instantly began uploading several tracks from my library to iCloud which were unavailable in the iTunes store. “Great”, I thought – convinced that these tracks would’ve already begun making their way onto the iDevices around me. This could be the end of device syncing; no longer would I have to hunt to find my iPhone’s lightening cable to sync a newly purchased favourite album.
Sadly, that’s not quite how the system works. I recently ended up on a car journey – moments prior to which, more out of habit than anything, I attempted to sync my phone with every intention of spending the journey lost in Freddie Mercury’s ‘Solo Collection’, which I had recently purchased and stored in my iTunes library. Connecting my phone presented me with a message that iCloud music library was enabled on my device, and that the music stored in my iCloud library was available for playback on all of my devices.
So, the car journey begins – and, following a minute or so of scrolling, I locate the desired albums. After expectantly tapping the first track of ‘Great Pretender’, I was greeted with a loading screen. Seconds passed, which quickly became minutes as the track attempted to load – not from my device itself, but over my service provider’s 3G network. A network that, just moments prior, I had been using to watch youtube content with barely a hint of buffering. Further investigation revealed that none of the albums that had been uploaded to my iCloud music library were available offline on my iPhone. Worse still, many of the albums which previously had been available on my phone (the Beatles discography being the prime example) were no-longer there, having been sent on their way up to to the cloud and removed from the device itself.
And it’s the same story with Apple Music offline albums. On my mac, I’ve saved 300 or so albums to my library via Apple Music, and downloaded them all for offline listening. I’d automatically assumed that doing so on my mac would send send a message alerting my iDevices to the fact that i’d downloaded an offline album, resulting in them quietly downloading the same album in the background.
As it turned out, my iPhone had indeed downloaded 2 such albums of its own accord – Shinedown’s ‘iTunes Session’ and ‘The Warner Sound Live Room EP’ albums are, strangely, both available offline on my device. But if I want the other 298+ albums on my phone, it looks as though I’ll have to go through and download them all manually – and were that not bad enough, I’ll have to do that with the majority of my own library too, thanks to iCloud. That totals some 5000 albums, with no way to tell at a glance which are available offline and which aren’t. Thanks Apple.
While we’re on the subject of the ‘Add to Library’ feature, I feel I should point out its obvious flaws – the most prominent of which being that if an album contains a duplicate of a song that’s already in your library, adding said album from Apple Music will skip those songs altogether. That’s fine for avoiding duplicates, but very few people search and play their music on a song-by-song basis. And there’s nothing more frustrating than becoming lost in your favourite studio album, only to find a few missing tracks that Apple Music decided not to add because they featured in a ‘Greatest Hits’ album you’d forgotten you had.
If that wasn’t bad enough, clicking the button to add the missing songs does nothing. Absolutely nothing. Removing, then re-adding the library does, you guessed it, nothing. Downloading the album for offline playback doesn’t work either. Furthermore, viewing the complete album in the iOS music application appears to suggest that the songs are in fact in my library, with the only available option being to remove them from my music. Removing them all and re-adding them works – until, after a period of time, Apple Music will take it upon itself to remove the duplicate tracks, undoing all your hard work.
Secondly, let’s talk features. There are, quite simply, far too many unnecessary features. Beats 1 and iTunes connect are 2 prime examples. Aside from the time I spent experimenting with both features for the purposes of the review, they’ve remained completely unused. Beats 1 offers nothing that a traditional radio station doesn’t – certainly nothing that’s going to convert me from my 2 current favourites, BBC Radio 1 or Planet Rock. And as for iTunes connect – I have a Twitter account. And what does connect offer that social media doesn’t? Nothing.
Apple Music is missing a few simple but crucial features. Firstly, the ability to add an artists entire discography to your library. I for one own my entire back catalogues on CD from artists such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, Journey, and may, many more besides. If you want to convert me to Apple Music, give me a way to add all of a given artists albums to my library.
The radio feature could also be much improved. Why not offer the ability to build a station from a selection of artists, as opposed to just a single artist? I recently visited the radio tab in search of a classic rock station, similar to that found on Spotify. I selected the appropriately labeled station, and was somewhat disappointed to say the least by the selection. Why not let me build a station of my own?
The final frustration comes when one attempts to disable Apple music, and the iCloud music library, resulting in the loss of a significant portion of your on-device library. There appears to be no way to tell exactly what’s going to disappear – whether it’s just the tracks that were uploaded to iCloud, albums that exist both in your library and Apple Music itself, or albums that Apple Music has selected completely at random. Whatever the case, switching off Apple Music resulted in the deletion of several albums (a couple hundred in fact) that were not downloads from Apple Music itself, but tracks ripped from my personal CD collection which Apple had no right to remove.
Fortunately, thanks to other similar articles on the net, I’d been made aware of this shortcoming and hence had a backup of my iTunes media folder. In fact, all of these shortcomings are documented in various articles all over the net, including this excellent article from The Loop
Apple Music has the potential to be an exceptional service. They have one of the largest catalogues of music on the planet and a truly massive user base. The fact is that it simply isn’t ready for prime time. Traditionally, Apple’s products, software and services have been extraneously tested before launch – indeed, lagging a little behind the competition in favour of releasing a quality product is one of the things that made Apple great. In times gone by one could use an apple product or service in complete confidence that it would work consistently and reliably and that your data was safe.
It seems that’s no-longer the case. As Apple push for tighter deadlines, shifting to a yearly release cycle for its major operating systems and products, and pushing new services almost as quickly, I’m left with the distinct impression that the attention to detail and quality of service is no-longer of the utmost importance. Apple Music offers plenty of unwanted baggage in the form of excess functionality, but what it lacks is the pleasant, consistent user experience that apple were once known for.
Apple music is perfect for those who have no music library. If you don’t own a collection yourself, and access all of your music via a streaming service, Apple Music is perfect for you. But the fact remains that for many music fans, this simply isn’t the case. Many of us own large collections, and for a streaming service to be a valuable asset to us, it needs to work along-side our existing collection..
Of course, the other drawback, as with any other streaming service, is that streaming isn’t always practical. Use of a streaming service requires a constant, uninterrupted, and high-bandwidth connection to the internet. And unless you live in an area with decent mobile signal coverage (preferably of the 4G variant), or you’ve taken it upon yourself to save some offline media to your device, you’re going to find yourself without music unless you’re in range of a wi-fi base station.
Will I renew again in the future? Honestly I’m unsure at this point. DOn’t get me wrong, I love Apple Music as a streaming service. But that’s all it needs to be. If Apple took the time to straighten out Apple Music’s quirks, not to mention rid it of the extra baggage, I’d consider returning. When Apple gets the user experience right, their products are a joy to use. Only time will tell; I’m hoping for the best.