New iTunes app icon

Why Apple Music Made Me Worry That Design Is Not So Strong in Apple DNA Anymore.

Tom Koszyk
Jul 6, 2015 · 6 min read

A few days ago Apple released their long awaited music streaming service. It wasn’t a die-for matter for me as I’m long time Spotify user and I’m quite satisfied with it, but as an Apple addicted guy I was really curious how the company that once revolutionized the music industry planned to retake their crown.

This is a 100% designer’s take on the service. I won’t be digging into content, music catalogue etc. It’s purely about UX. Also, my opinion is mainly based on the desktop version as I mostly listen to music whilst working.

First Contact

It’s good, I’ve visited the Apple website to get some information about the music service and I was quite impressed by the website quality. It’s nice, vibrant and modern. It serves you pieces of information you want effortlessly. It has excellent structure, great typography. Space is used well. It’s sophisticated. It’s Apple. I decided to give it a try. It’s sad that from the moment you touch the actual product, everything starts falling apart.

Apple Music marketing was heavily based on how it’s better at discovering music tastes and crafting great, user specific playlists. It’s not better, at least for now.

I spent quite some time selecting my favourite genres, tracks and artists carefully. I threw away everything I didn’t like. It was rather frustrating that after ten minutes of collecting information about my taste recommendations I got some really shitty recommendations.

My personal favourite — it served me an artist (which I had previously marked as “I don’t like”) as recommended for me. I’m not even talking about their number — literally ten times less than Spotify serves me every day, nor the ugly way they are presented.

Misunderstood?

Putting everything in a more-than-ten year old layout of iTunes won’t work. It has its limits, which is quite obvious and frustrating. It wasn’t meant as a music streaming service and it’s so visible.

Putting everything in a more-than-ten year old layout of iTunes won’t work.

The whole concept of streaming music is so different to buying music. When you buy — it’s simple. You go to a store, find what you like, buy it, listen to it and it’s OK that your music library interface and store interface are separate.

When you’re paying for a streaming service, the whole pattern of how you interact with software is different. There’s, at least for me, constant exploration, it’s endless discovery process. Money or disk size does not limit you and there is tons of great music out there to explore, so why not? Found something you like? Add it to your playlist. Do you like this artist? Just click their name and you’re there. Drag, drop, change playlists, have fun.

While you’re using a streaming service your music library and the service library are one and the same. Apple Music doesn’t realise it and that is why it fails.

It sticks to old outdated design patterns which makes using the service unpleasant. There is no efficient way to manage music, create playlists or try popular songs. You’re unable to easily add two or more songs to your playlist at once, or to simply play “hot tracks” as one playlist. This awkward separation of service library and my own music collection is my main problem with Apple Music’s design. There is another, it’s not as social as it wants to be.

Not So Social

One of the main reasons I enjoy using Spotify is how social this service is. I’m actively following my friends activity. I’m constantly browsing other user playlists and I’m trying playlists found on the web. It’s the greatest pattern of finding new and awesome tracks for me, Spotify makes it so easy.

I know, Apple music has the Connect function and I can see the latest pictures posted by Pharrell Williams. You know what? I’m much more interested in this new playlist that Tobias van Schneider posted, or in the fact that my friend found a great new track.

Apple won’t let me follow my friends activity or search for user-generated content (playlists). It’s just a curated radio station, playlist selected by Apple and it’s coworkers. It’s a deal breaker for me.

Three things…

Apple Music has three main flaws. I’ve described two of them above. Poor service design and lack of meaningful social options. The third one strikes me the most. I don’t believe that I’m saying it about Apple product, but there are massive design flaws.

There are three main problems with Apple Music. Poor service design, lack of meaningful social options, and (I don’t believe that I’m saying it about Apple product) huge design flaws.

Messy Apple Music in comparison to well structured and readable Spotify.

I’m not talking about fancy things: colour schemes or typeface choices etc. I’m talking about basic stuff. Information architecture, hierarchy, layouts and readability. Apple Music makes one thing well: confusion.

The main design problem? There’s no clear, intuitive navigation. You can’t really tell where in the structure you are, unless you remember.

The fact that the main part of Apple Music, the center place from where you can browse playlists, hot tracks, toplists or artists isn’t named “Apple Music”, “Music” etc. but “New” speaks for itself.

There are plenty of other small but frustrating things, here are some of them:

  1. Try to play hot songs list as a playlist…
    …good luck with that.
  2. Try to add a few songs from top list to your playlist at once…
    …good luck with that.
  3. or to add a song to a playlist in less than 3–4 clicks…
    … good luck!
  4. Try figuring out what song was played on beats onewithout third party apps.
  5. Or where on a playlist you are…
  6. Try adding all songs from an album to a playlist…

Frankly: After using Apple Music for some time I started to worship this small design detail on Spotify: the fact that current track is highlighted on a playlist. The fact that my playlists are visible all the time and the fact I can easily add records to them by simply dragging or this simple look of Spotify start screen.

There are three main problems with Apple Music. Poor service design, lack of meaningful social options and (I don’t believe that I’m saying it about Apple product) huge design flaws.

Apple Music is immature. I can only guess if it’s just poorly designed, treated with neglect or made in a hurry, unfinished. None of the answers are comforting.

That said, I’m sure Apple Music will find it’s lovers, a lot of them actually.

It’s OK. It has a nice library, it’s fairly priced, family subscription is great and you can play music on two devices simultaneously. It’s Fiat at best, not Mercedes. Apple Music in its actual form isn’t able to do any serious harm to other streaming services. It’s not an Apple class product.


Thank you for reading,

Tom is a Senior Web Designer at GOG.com and freelance Product Designer & Art Director at Pixology.


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Design in the digital age

Interaction / Product / User Experience / User Interface / Design

Tom Koszyk

Written by

Founder and Lead Creative at Hologram: Digital Design Studio. Music addicted typography lover and video gamer. http://www.hologramdesign.co

Design in the digital age

Interaction / Product / User Experience / User Interface / Design

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