The iOS Music app has been controversial for a few years. It has received a lot of criticism — some deserved, some not. I’ve never been aboard the “I hate the iOS 11 Music app” train, but it still has a number of notable flaws that harm the experience for me. As a music lover, design enthusiast, and longtime Apple fan, I’d like to present a few pain points in the iOS Music app that I believe can be improved:
- Better discographies. Artist discographies should just display the main studio albums. The artist’s EPs, b-sides, singles, deluxe editions, and live albums should be in a separate folder. Right now, everything is thrown together and it’s far too cluttered and unorganized.
- A better playlist UI. The “Playlists” screen is far too big. The album art on the left doesn’t serve a purpose and just forces the text over to the right and makes each line much taller. This results in a lot of scrolling every time you want to find a playlist. A mere 4 line items on a 4.7" screen is a bit silly when I want to browse through my playlists. Even my new iPhone X only displays 5 items at a time. That’s a lot of scrolling.
- Greater information density. iOS strives for simplicity, but in a world where the iPhone is no longer a satellite device to your PC, the iOS Music app needs some of the power that you formerly relied on iTunes for. This includes more information about your music. For example, song lengths should be more visible. The fact that each line only includes the song title and iCloud icon just isn’t enough, in my opinion. Perhaps when you download a song and the iCloud icon disappears, it can be replaced by the song length and/or star rating. I’m not asking for a cluttered UI, but length and rating are two essential pieces of information for music lovers. For example, I love glancing at ratings as a reminder for which songs I love. It helps the user select what to play next.
- Shorter animations. The animation when you add something to “Up Next” is too long. Tapping “Play Next” or “Play Later” should be less intrusive. This is similar to the infamous iOS volume HUD criticism.
- Ratings. The 5 Star menu should be more easily accessible. While it’s nice that Apple brought it back after having eliminated it last year, hiding it away in a popup menu within the 3D Touch menu isn’t ideal. In my opinion, rating systems shouldn’t merely exist to improve the recommendation algorithms, but should also serve as flags on the user’s own library so that she can return to her favourite songs and albums. This connects to #3 above.
- An improved swipe gesture. The mini-player swipe gesture introduced in iOS 10 (and maintained in iOS 11) is a big step down from iOS 9. It used to have a one-to-one feel, where it smoothly transitioned as you raised and lowered the mini-player bar. This not only felt right, but was fun to fiddle with. iOS 10 changed that by giving it a more binary open/closed interaction, as opposed to following the motion of your thumb. This feels a lot worse and is less fun to use. (I should note that the iOS 11.2 beta improves the behavior, but only when you’re raising the mini-player. Lowering it still has the binary feel.)
- Finding songs we love. Songs we love are easily lost in our giant libraries. There should be a way to easily get back to our favourites. The ‘My Favourites Mix’ playlist is a start, but it needs to go much deeper than that. I’ve downloaded and ‘Loved’ or starred so many songs, only to have them get lost in my 15,000 song library, never to be played again. We need better tools to sort through and get back to the music we love. We can do that in iTunes via Smart Playlists, but there’s no iOS equivalent.
- Better matching. Apple still needs to do a lot of work with matching songs and displaying the correct one. For example, the ‘My Favourites Mix’ playlist, which assembles some of your favourite songs from your library, frequently uses alternative versions of a song, like ones taken from the Deluxe version of the album. So even though I have the normal album, that particular song will be treated as if it’s not in my library. I’ll frequently see the “+”, asking me to add it, even though I already have the song.
- Combined artist pages. When you tap an artist’s name (i.e. in red text at the top of an album or in the ‘Featured Artists’ circles below a playlist), you should be taken to that artist in your Library, not to that artist’s general page. Apple Music has two separate pages for every artist in your library — one for the artist’s main ‘page’ and one for your library of that artist’s albums. This separation is confusing and I think they need to be consolidated.
- Too much focus on recommendations. Apple Music focuses too much on treating artist pages like advertisements instead of like these folders that exist in your library. Across the entire Music app, there’s too little emphasis on the user’s own music library and too much emphasis on always recommending something new. Recommendations are important, but in my opinion, Apple Music hasn’t found the right balance yet. The entire Apple Music experience is far too skewed in the direction of ”Hey, check out these things you might like!” and not enough in the direction of “Hey, here are these things that you DO like.”
That brings me to my last and most desired feature:
- Smart Playlists. This is directly related to #7 above. The Music app needs better sorting tools for your library. I’d love to be able to specify that I want to play my favourite songs by [Artist]. Imagine if you could say “Hey Siri, play my favourite songs by Johnny Cash” and you immediately get a playlist of all the Johnny Cash songs that you’ve ‘Loved’ or given high star ratings to or songs that have high play counts in your library. We should be able to do this via Siri or via filters in the UI (perhaps similar to the filters in Apple Maps when searching for POIs. I love the Maps UI for POIs). Apple’s curated playlists are nice, but those aren’t enough. Playing Apple’s ‘Pink Floyd Essentials’ playlist is NOT the same as being able to auto-generate playlists of my own favourite tracks by Pink Floyd. Think of iTunes Smart Playlists, but dramatically simplified for the iOS world. Instead of functioning like playlists that you have to create, manage, and delete, they’d operate more like filters that dynamically generate playlists on-the-fly from your own music library.
- An “Add” button right in the Up Next screen.
- A progress bar in the watchOS Music app.
- The ability to 3D Touch the shuffle button so you can play something next in shuffle mode without having to shuffle what’s currently playing.
- The 3D Touch menu in the app should never be scrollable.
- When sorting your library by genre, it should be Genre →Artist →Album, not Genre →Album.
I’m excited for the future of Apple Music. It’s still a pretty new service that has only been around since 2015, and so it’s still navigating some growing pains. The matching and suggestion algorithms have clearly improved over the past two years and the big UI redesign with iOS 10 was a nice improvement over the previous version, whose interface was burdened by too many tabs, toggles, menus and switches, to the point that it affected the ease-of-use. But Apple Music has made some impressive progress in the short time it has been around and I hope it continues down this path, with Apple incorporating some of the proposals above.