Apple Music, the company's streaming music service, is a confusing mess that aims to please everyone but wows no one. The app is bloated, yet it still lacks some of the most basic features of subscription music services. When Apple acquired Beats for $3 billion in May 2014, it got a well-designed, fun interface in Beats Music, but it threw it all away in favor of a cluttered, whitespace-heavy format that harkens back to iTunes, which was introduced 15 years ago.
The design and spirit of Beats Music could have been a foundation for Apple to build upon, but it took a different route. The company is expected to announce some big changes to Apple Music at the 2016 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco next week. And fortunately for Apple's 13 million paying Apple Music customers today, it's not too late to make the service great again. I've used Apple Music nearly every daily since it launched last year. Here are four things I'd fix, improve or scrap entirely in Apple Music.
My biggest complaint about Apple Music relates to its abysmal sharing mechanisms. What good is music if you can't share it with friends? The average person might not sit intently around a record player or boombox to enjoy an album in its entirety like people did for half a century before digital music, but that doesn't mean tunes can't be shared and enjoyed together in other ways.
I have friends and family who also use Apple Music, but I don't know what they listen to or recommend because Apple doesn't provide this information. When I used Beats Music, and Rdio for many years before that, I always enjoyed other people's recommendations. There's something about being introduced to new songs and artists by another human being that no algorithm can match. Apple Music needs to make it possible for customers to follow other users and discover songs that are popular with people they trust on a musical level.
Apple Music is poorly organized and uninspired. Its "For You" section, which serves as an entry point, is OK at suggesting artists and playlists you might like based on listening history, artists you follow, and songs you previously liked. However, For You doesn't refresh as often as I'd like, and its almost-infinite scrolling format can be maddening if you're trying to find something new or different. My For You section contains many of the same albums, artists and playlists that it has for months. It's boring and feels like the bare minimum.
Apple Music's other sections aren't any better. For example, if you want to find and listen to playlists curated by Apple or one of its partners, you have to tap on a "New" tab and scroll down nearly three lengths of the screen. These playlists are one of Apple Music's best features, and they are buried in terrible design.
Apple Music needs a makeover, with a new organizational scheme that elevates the best of the service and removes the unnecessary clutter.
Apple introduced the social component of Apple Music, called Connect, with much fanfare. But it never lived up to the hype. Connect is a glaring reminder of how terrible Apple is, and has always been, at incorporating even the simplest social features into its apps and services. (Remember Ping, the music-oriented social network Apple introduced in 2010?)
Social simply is not in Apple's DNA. Giving artists a place to share videos, audio and other exclusive information with fans is a great idea, but Apple's implementation is poorly executed. Connect is a waste of space in the already-cramped Apple Music, and Apple should just kill the feature completely.
Apple Music is the latest in a long line of native iOS apps that don't demonstrate Apple's strengths in user experience and design. Apple's legacy is on the line if it can't deliver the simple, intuitive design its customers expect. If the company wants to reclaim its crown as king of digital music, it needs to lead the way with fresh ideas and cutting-edge mobile design.
Apple Music is packed with nearly every song that's available in digital format, but its interface gets in the way. Why is it so difficult to find songs you download to your iPhone, see songs you "heart," add to "My Music" or listened to recently?
Let's hope Apple addresses these issues when it takes over the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for WWDC next week.