Does Apple Music really need a major revamp? [Friday Night Fights]


Is it really so bad?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple Music’s existing interface is quaking in its boots. In just one month, it could be given its marching orders as Apple looks to make way for a fancy new design that hopes to attract even more subscribers to its streaming service.

FNF-bugBut does Apple Music really need a major revamp?

Some say its user interface is already familiar if you’re a long time iOS user — and even if you’re not, it’s arguably still prettier than those offered by rival streaming services. But others say it’s just not friendly enough, and too tricky to learn.

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over Apple Music’s rumored redesign!

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl — Writer, Cult of Mac: Happy Friday, Killian! So this week’s big news is that Apple Music is set to get a major facelift at WWDC — and I can’t wait! I’m a fan of Apple Music and have listened to it quite a bit since it debuted, but it’s never become the perfect experience it should be. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Apple Music is bad. It’s got a great selection of albums, made even better by the number of exclusives they seem to be getting. I like the focus on human curators as opposed to just algorithms, and I think that Beats is an experiment with a whole lot of upsides. But is it flawless? Certainly not.

For example, Beats 1 skews heavily towards hip hop and “youth” music (god, I sound old!), which means there are a large number of customers out there who aren’t being catered to. More Beats stations focused on other markets would be fantastic. In terms of the app’s design, it’s also weirdly convoluted and difficult to navigate, with a UI that no-one is going to ever argue is among Apple’s best. On top of this are the alarming reports that we’ve had with its iCloud Music Library integration. Just this week there were reports of an Apple Music user literally having music deleted off his computer by Apple, which is certainly not something you want to be doing if you’re waging a war against rivals like Spotify.

All the pieces are there to make Apple Music fantastic — and, given Apple’s user base, to eventually hit that 100 million users target that was thrown around early on. I’m just hoping June’s overhaul shows that Apple realizes that this isn’t its best piece of work, and builds on what makes Apple Music good to make something that is great. But, as I understand it, you think things are perfect the way they are and don’t really see any reason for a change, right?

Killian-FNFKillian Bell — Writer, Cult of Android: If you’re looking for a “perfect experience,” why are you still buying Apple products?

I’m joking, of course. In actual fact, yes, I’m a big fan of Apple Music. I sit here every week in these Friday Night Fights criticizing the iPhone and other Apple products, but Apple Music is one thing I really have no issue with. It’s the best streaming service I’ve tried by far.

No, it’s not perfect — but none of them are. The important thing is, its exclusive content and features like iTunes Match still make it better than everything else. Not to mention the bargain family plan, which lets you add six users for just $14.99 a month, and the new student plan, which offers 50 percent off for those in college or university.

The service doesn’t need a major redesign. It could maybe use some simple changes on Android, but iOS users are already familiar with its layout on iPhone and iPad; we had the same Music app before Apple Music arrived last June. Maybe some of the technical things could be simpler, but the experience itself is great.

In time, people will recognize that Apple Music is the best. It already has 13 million paying subscribers — 2 million of which were added in just two months — and that’s great for a service that launched just 8 months ago.

Tell me, what would you do to Apple Music to make it better? Or what features would you take from Spotify or Play Music or any other rival?

Apple Music isn't ugly -- and it isn't hard to use!
Apple Music isn’t ugly — and it isn’t hard to use!
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: Firstly, I definitely appreciate the price point. Even if not everywhere gets quite the same deal that U.S. customers get, there’s nothing too shabby about the fact that the family and student plans are two of the most affordable ways to get streaming music outside of free services. But I also don’t think price is the only concern, and — again — there are aspects of Apple Music’s interface that could be improved.

Google Play, for example, ties in YouTube RED in the U.S., which gives you a ton of ad-free video content. It also, in my experience, does a good job of marrying your offline and online music content in a way that Apple Music has yet to manage. Spotify, meanwhile, is adding more video content in the form of news bulletins and podcasts. Apple Music is definitely improving things in terms of the functionality of the app, but it hasn’t had the lifespan of, say, a Spotify to iterate and find out exactly what it needs to provide and the best way to do so. That’s why it needs an update rather than just settling for something that’s “good enough.”

But at the end of the day what I want from a music service is the ability to quickly and easily find and play the music I want. I appreciate the focus on discovering new songs and I love the playlists, but the UI is just not intuitive. There’s too much a lazy reliance on menus, and the omnipresent fear that it’s going to wreak havoc on your existing iTunes Library. This is all the kind of thing Apple can — and will — do better in the future, though. I never had much of a chance to look at Beats’ original music service, but from what I understand Apple didn’t fundamentally alter it so much as put an Apple sticker on it and get it out into the world.

Hopefully what we’ll see this time at WWDC is a more integrated Apple product, with the benefit of one year of user feedback to help improve it.

With all the exciting tweaks we’ve heard hinted at, I can’t believe you’re saying things should be left just the way they are. But, then again, you are an Android user. Quality control isn’t a big phrase in your playbook, is it?

Killian-FNFKillian: I have to argue that Apple Music does the best job of marrying offline and online music with features like iTunes Match. Plus, Play Music has one big downside: You can only register ten devices, and those devices can only be reset once in a lifetime. So, if you use multiple computers, upgrade your smartphone every year, and change your tablet every so often, you’re going to have to stop using Play Music at some point, because you won’t be able to authorize any new devices.

This is particularly frustrating for someone like me, who reviews new devices all the time. In fact, I simply can’t use Play Music on my Galaxy S7 or iPad Pro, because I had already used up all ten spots before I got them. How ridiculous is that? Apple Music has a limit, too, but at least you can deauthorize devices and reset everything more frequently.

As for Spotify’s video content, it still doesn’t beat the music videos and exclusive content Apple offers. And no one pays $9.99 a month for podcasts, which are free through Apple’s Podcasts app — or any of the third-party alternatives.

I still don’t see what’s so unintuitive about Apple Music’s UI. If you’ve been using iOS all this time, how is it so difficult to wrap your head around it? It’s not just the Beats app with Apple logos; as I mentioned earlier, we had this Music app before Apple Music arrived. And how are any of the other music services any better? Until just recently, Spotify had a horrible “hamburger button” that hid all of its features away inside a slide-out menu.

What would you do to make Apple Music more intuitive? If Apple’s going to revamp the UI this summer, what do you want it to look like?

Even Taylor Swift loves Apple Music.
Even Taylor Swift loves Apple Music.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: I’m genuinely surprised that you don’t view Apple Music’s interface as needlessly cluttered and complex. I’ve not met a single person (other than yourself who, thankfully, remains a virtual colleague) who finds it an intuitive experience. Sure, you can learn how to use it, but it never feels completely natural — and certainly not in keeping with the high standard Apple typically has for its software and UI. Ultimately it just feels like design by committee, with no cohesive vision behind it — which seems backed up by reports of how challenging the development process was for people on both the Apple and Beats end of the spectrum.

Features like search, Connect, the muddled “New” tab (which is a catch-all for pretty much everything that doesn’t neatly fit elsewhere) and more just make this feel like a missed opportunity. Apple is said to be adding a cleaner design, with crisper black and white elements, a new Browse tab, a focus on cover artwork and lyric support. All of these are steps in the right direction. Apple is a company I can see mastering streaming music — but right now Music doesn’t have all its pieces in the right place. In the words of Steve Jobs, it needs to “just work.” And I don’t think it currently does.

But maybe I’m totally alone on this, just as I have been for some of our past Friday Night Fights debates. So let’s turn things over to readers.

Are you happy with Apple Music or are you eagerly awaiting June’s WWDC makeover? What would you like to see different? What should stay the same? And why is my Cult of Android friend Killian wrong? Leave your comments below. And have a great weekend.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?


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