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Opinion: The trouble with the Music app for iOS While Arment highlighted a range of issues, one that he said he didn't want to get "started on" was the Music iOS app.

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admin 2015-08-05 Collect Review (108)

In response to Jim Dalrymple’s troubles with Apple Music and its problematic integration with iTunes and iTunes Match, Marco Arment wrote a piece recently that provided a good explanation of why this seems to have reached a tipping point. While Arment highlighted a range of issues, one that he said he didn’t want to get “started on” was the Music iOS app. In the absence of Arment’s views, I have put forward what my issues with the Music app for iOS are here.

The Music app for iOS has undergone several revisions over the years. For the most part, these haven’t particularly upset users, most of whom have been happy to go with the flow of Apple’s tide. Although there are alternatives to Apple’s Music app on the App Store, there are far fewer of these than some other stock Apple app alternatives like Calendars, for example.
I put it to you right now that if you are developer, there has never been a better opportunity to write an alternative app for the new Music program.

Why? The new Music app, which replaces the old Music app, has the worst UI I have seen in an Apple app, that has resulted in a user experience for me that I simply cannot tolerate. I was so exasperated by it that I wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who forwarded my feedback to the relevant engineering team and had one of Apple’s PR team contact me to get a full picture of the issues I am experiencing, and how I feel about the user experience. 

If there is one thing that you have to give credit to Apple for, is that it has a deeply ingrained culture that places a high value on the customer experience. Apple listens to customer feedback and looks to incorporate positive and practical suggestions where it can. Not too many CEOs care enough that they make a point of spending a considerable part of each day reviewing correspondence from their customer base – if only more CEOs followed the example of Tim Cook, and his predecessor who established the practice, the late Steve Jobs.

As Arment explained with regard to the current problems with iTunes, Apple Music and the iOS app, it is not that Apple’s software designers aren’t good at what they do — they just seem to get some less than stellar project briefs. The “upgrade” that has been given to Music is a perfect illustration of this. I was happy with the old Music app. It just worked. I am very unhappy with the new Music app because it doesn’t “just work” they way that it used to. This is not a problem in and of itself — it’s just that the way it works now is demonstrably inferior and much less intuitive.

The old Music app simply had to handle your own Music collection, either in iCloud or on your computer. This has been replaced by a complex user interface (for a mobile app) that tries to integrate the Apple Music subscriptions service with your existing library. While this is a nice idea, its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. So much so, that for me, I am avoiding using it as much as possible. In fact, I’ve even reverted to carrying my iPod Classic around with me, which ironically, I find much easier to use and a whole lot less frustrating — which is, of course, plainly a ridiculous situation.

For me, the problems with the new Apple Music app stem from the fact that pretty much all the functionality that was found in the interface of the old Music app has now been stuffed into just one of several new tabs, labelled “My Music.” As you can imagine, taking all the functionality of the old app and sticking into just one tab of a new app is going to potentially cause a lot of issues when trying to retain the original’s ease of use.

If you, like me, typically prefer to listen to albums rather than shuffling songs, listening to radio or listening to playlists, Music as it stands just tramples all over the old interface in favor of an interface that puts the Apple Music streaming service first. Even, then, the music playback UI is still horrible.

The old Music app was dedicated to helping you getting the most out of your own music collection, and it did a great job at it. It was also quite flexible, in that it allowed you to choose the tabs that you preferred to have lined up at the bottom of the app via an edit function. My preference was to have the Artist tab first, then the Albums tab, the songs tab, and then Playlists. I would typically tap on the Artist tab, select the album from an artist I wanted to listen to, tap the first track and it would pop me straight into the playback window, with all the controls I needed handy. Elegant, simple.

This simple workflow has been trashed in the latest Music app. Instead of being able to quickly switch between artist views, album views and song views by tapping on a tab at the bottom of the old Music interface, you now have to tap on a new menu that is located at the top of either the selected artist, album or song view. If you happen to scroll down that particular view and decide that you now want to switch to an album view from an artist view, you now have to manually scroll all the way back up to the top of the list view. That in itself is incredibly clunky and cumbersome. The new menu view that you are presented with, which replaces the simple tabs found at the bottom of each view in the old Music app, is just plain ugly and unnecessarily complex.

Further, when you tap on a track to play, instead of popping straight into the the playback view, this is now a further step away, buried at the bottom of the screen in a thin pull up tab called the mini-viewer. The target area for either tapping on this playback tab or pulling it up is unnecessarily narrow, and also makes it very easy to inadvertently hit one of the tabs at the bottom of the display. Perhaps an even worse UI crime is that to dismiss the playback view with all of its playback controls, you need to either tap on the down arrow or swipe down, like some other music apps that adopt a similar approach, like Google Play Music. This totally flies in the face of the “swipe-to-go-back” system-wide UI control that is one of the highlights of iOS.

Other UI oddities include the “Recently added” portion at the top of the “My Music” tab. Swiping on it doesn’t show other recently added albums, but takes you to the “Playlist” view. It’s far from obvious, but if you want to see the rest of the recently added tracks, you actually need to tap on the label “Recently added” itself to see a list view that scrolls down, not across as it might in the iTunes app for iOS. These types of inconsistencies are frustrating to say the least.

The Apple Music services under the “For You,” “New,” “Radio,” and “Connect” tabs are fun and interesting. However, forcing this functionality into the old Music app was a bad decision, and it left Apple’s UI designers with a very difficult task with trying to make the whole thing work seamlessly within what was once a simple and easy-to-use mobile app. If merging the two products was aimed at pushing users into an Apple Music subscription and making the platform more “sticky,” it has had the completely opposite effect on me. I don’t want to use the Music app as it is. In fact, I want to use anything but the Music app. 

The only solution I can see is Apple doing what it probably should have done in the first place: make the Apple Music subscription service its own app, as the Beats Music app was, separate to its Music playback app. In this scenario, integrating Apple Music offline downloads could still also be possible. It would be a whole lot better than what is currently on offer.

Apple products (software or hardware) should be the very definition of elegance and ease of use. The current Music app is anything but.

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