[!&…] Why Apple Music is a sign of ‘New Apple’ design failures

[Originally published on LinkedIn]

‘That’s not how Jobs would have done it.’

Cook on the Helm

Since Jobs’ death in 2011, many have questioned the direction of what I call ‘New Apple’, under the leadership of Tim Cook, particularly those watching or investing in stocks and shares.

Every time the doubting background noise would get louder however, Apple would surpass its records in unit sales and revenue, and in part quelling an uprising, though presumably adding more fodder for Apple naysayers in ‘not-Apple’ camps who cringe every time Apple release a product.

Although unit sales and revenue have continued to climb (the last quarter notwithstanding), even in Apple camps there have been grunts as to the value-add Apple is giving its customers — the 12” Macbook was initially poorly received, the Macbook Pro hasn’t had a major update since 2012, the ’s’ tock updates are still under the microscope, and everyone is questioning the decisions surrounding the massive iPad Pro.

Beats Music 2.0

[Apple Music (left) v Beats Music (right)]

Apple bought Beats in 2014, causing many to question why. One year later, the acquisition made sense — Apple wanted Beats’ music platform, which later became Apple Music.

Apple Music launched on 30 June, 2015 as part of the iOS 8.4 update pushed to Apple iPhone devices, hooking 11 million trial subscribers along the way.

While this was an amazing feat for a newly launched streaming service (if unsurprising, since it’s Apple), the general feeling in the community was one of speculation, prompting the question, ‘How many will stay to pay after the trial ends?’ As it turns out, half — Apple paid subscriptions were only 6.5m by the end of October, 2015.

Despite the fall in subscriptions, the trend swung around and has regained its former peak, with Apple Music paid subscriptions now numbering 11m, making the service a viable competitor to Spotify.

However, despite its relative success, it remains to be seen what the long-term trend will be for Apple Music. Also, only time will show how many of these subscribers are general music lovers and appreciate the service versus how many just forgot to unsubscribe, have subscribed out of brand loyalty, or those who are late adopters and are giving the service a chance.

New Apple

While the Apple Music app is slick and generally quite stable, there are several issues.

Design

We’re not talking the graphical interface, we’re talking the customer journey.

Navigating Apple Music’s menus for the first time can be difficult for a user, entailing a rather steep learning curve that is uncharacteristic of Apple, who generally create user-friendly technology.

Part of this difficulty relates to how many menus can fold on top of each other while navigating, making it rather difficult to know where in the app you currently are and how to get to where you want to be.

Also, the app sections For You, New and Radio could all have been rolled into one. Apple doesn’t load its phones or apps with advertising, though with these sections’ emphasis on trying to make you listen to something, it almost feels as though they have.

Further, Connect is a widely recognised social media failure. There are relatively few artists using it, and those who are, are rather boring to be honest — Coldplay have written the same songs for 10 years!

Nobody wants Connect, not the artists and not the users.

Designers

Although there is no way to know the complete extent of their contribution to Apple Music, there is an issue with the amount of input that Jimmy Iovine and Trent Reznor had on the project.

With their years of experience in the music industry, it almost seems a no-brainer that they should be heavily involved in the creation of the user experience, right? Wrong.

The app’s user experience is a far cry from the beautifully simple and rich experiences gained in all other Apple products. Though they have years of experience in music, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know what makes a good user experience in a music app — there’s an element of skills and experience mismatching, here.

Reznor is a musician and producer. He’s not a software designer or UX aficionado. As with Iovine, a record mogul type. What makes them qualified for designing Apple Music customer journeys? The same as you and me, unless you count fame.

[Reznor, Iovine, Dre]

It feels a lot like Cook needing to put his own stamp on the brand, attempting to reshape it and disassociate the brand from the memory of Jobs in order to move forward, but going about it the wrong way.

Consider this: Cook came into a business with the iconic key line products of the iPhone, iPad and Macbook already in place. Since leading, Apple have launched the Macbook 12" (widely criticised), iPad Pro (answering a need customers didn’t have, hence the new release of the 9.7” Pro), and Apple Music (slick user interface and design, but lacking clarity and experience).

Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but it’s still important to be aware of it.

Software Development

I want to talk about two things, here: bugs and release schedules.

Apple Music, although slick in appearance, is still essentially in beta release. Beneath the surface it is cumbersome, unwieldy and unfinished. And most of all, it also has a ton of bugs! (Not necessarily intense-crashing-the-end-of-the-world type bugs, but annoying bugs that have an impact on functionality nonetheless.)

Recently, the app has began to malfunction more prominently in turn removing some functionality — adding songs to playlists, downloading tracks and albums, and even independently liking artists or tracks.

As you can imagine, this is rather frustrating and is really impacting on the user experience.

When these bugs began to occur, I immediately thought of Bob Lefzets’ scathing article about Apple Music, and this quote in particular:

“Failed technology went out with the twenty first century.
We expect everything to work right out of the box, and if it doesn’t we abandon it.
I’ve abandoned Apple Music.
And I’m not the only one.”

[Bob Lefsetz — Apple Music Trial Period Ends]

Music

Although I don’t expect every song under the sun, and while I suspect that most Apple Music subscribers will be catered for with the music selection, I find it subpar.

I expect more from Apple. I bought an iPhone because I wanted more (and I was willing to pay more for it). The same with the iPad and the Macbook Pro I own. I have never been let down, until now.

Apple Music has a lack of more non-mainstream artists when searching, which, I suppose is understandable. However, when searching more mainstream acts, on numerous occasions it has had every album or song the artist has ever released except the album I am searching for!

Verdict

Apple Music is a New Apple design failure, from skin to bone.

I would urge Apple to learn from its mistakes, release a beta 2 that only has search, stream, and library (and working downloads/playlists), then build from there. Start with your product users’ behaviours, needs and desires, and cater to them.

Historically, Apple has been an innovator — a forceful innovator — jumping on at times existing, but not always mainstream, technologies, e.g. the use of iCloud as a necessary storage extension for a lot of users due to the small storage capacity of iPhones and iPads and the inability to upgrade due to cost.

Apple are swimming in different waters now. Although the market is still maturing, streaming media technologies are relatively mature and Spotify is the ‘big fish’, not Apple.

Apple needs to compete on quality first, then force innovation to lead the market. Cook wants to do both and is failing, at least for this user.

What About Me?

Me? I’m outta here as soon as my trial ends. I’m going back to Deezer.

Deezer doesn’t have as much music as Spotify, but has a ton more than Apple Music. It has a more stable app environment and it has a better user experience. And, I can actually download my music and create playlists, which, for a music app, is kind of a deal-breaker for me.

So long, Apple Music. It wasn’t very nice knowing you.

[!&…]

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