Apple Music — Getting There

August 14th, 2015

Last week, Apple announced that some eleven million people had signed up for the 90-day free trial of Apple Music. Depending on your point of view and expectations, that was either good, or not-so-good, for the fledgling subscription music service.

Apple treated the news as something significant, that 1.4% of the estimated 800 million iTunes users had become subscribers in a little over a month. Some critics felt that Apple could and should have done better, and maybe it was partly about reports of ongoing glitches. So there were the usual cloud-based bugs involving storage and syncing of music libraries. Although the feature set was expansive, some felt that the interface was far too busy for comfort.

So the For You feature is supposed to present a compilation of albums that suit your tastes. When you sign up for Apple Music, Apple merely copies the original Beats Music setup, where you select from a handful of musical genres, and a handful of musical artists. That starts the ball rolling, but depending on the songs, the ones you love and the ones you reject, the system will come closer to understanding your music profile.

Over time, Apple Music appears to have acquired a better handle on what I like, which includes classic rock, some pop, a little country rock, and a little classical, not to mention a rare show music album. So, after several weeks of listening and selecting my favored tracks, I no longer see Tom Jones and Barry Manilow on the list, though I’m not at all certain why Eddy Arnold, a pretty traditional country act with an easy listening slant, is included. Maybe I’m not training it enough.

But the real issues are far more serious. There have been reports of missing songs, the addition of DRM to tracks you already own, and various and sundry music library sync issues. Now of course it’s nothing unusual for anything related to iCloud to be flaky. Apple has had ongoing issues with their online services, and it’s been the source of lots and lots of complaints.

This is not to say that other companies don’t have issues. The other day I read a piece from a blogger explaining why he was switching from Windows 10 to Windows 8.1. Before your jaws drop, one reason cited was syncing, so Microsoft no doubt has cloud-based problems too.

The problems with Apple Music became more prominent when a noted blogger, Jim Dalrymple, of The Loop, someone with connections deep inside Apple, reported on his problems, and they were pretty dire. So in addition to all the flakiness, he reported that he lost some 4,700 tracks for which he had no backup. In passing, I won’t rag on Jim for failing to have a backup before making such a significant commitment to a new, untested service. But Jim did say he had enough, that he was dropping Apple Music.

Most of Jim’s problems were resolved during a visit he paid to some of his contacts at Apple headquarters. It appears that the option to use the iTunes Music Library was unchecked at some point in the setup process. One notable bug in iTunes 12.2.1 was the curious phenomenon of this setting suddenly turning itself off. Most of Jim’s files were located, but there were some Ozzy Osbourne tracks that somehow turned up missing. Jim is taking the blame for mistakenly deleting them during the course of diagnosing his problem.

Apple also promised to fix Apple Music glitches.

Well, on Thursday, Apple delivered two app updates designed to clear up some Apple Music issues. They arrived in the form of a 12.2.2 update for iTunes and iOS 8.4.1 for iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch.

Among the new iTunes features is the ability to see a list of the artists you’re following by clicking on the Account menu. Also fixed is a curious issue where the app would lose its place when you went back a page in Apple Music. Clicking on the Beats 1 banner will display the station’s schedule, there are improvements for Connect, and your local iTunes library will now sort artists in the proper sequence. Right-click menus are also fixed.

Nothing was mentioned about mysteriously unchecking iCloud Music Library, but it’s not as if Apple is necessarily forthcoming about all the changes in a maintenance update.

As to iOS 8.4.1, the update reportedly addresses issues that would make it impossible to turn on the iCloud Music Library, and another that would hide music you’ve added if you choose the option to only display offline music. There’s also a way to add songs to a brand new playlist if there are no existing playlists from which to select, and yet another where different album artwork would be displayed than on other devices.

This is all pretty subtle, except for the first, but a bug is a bug and fixes are welcomed.

Some issues are also described in Apple’s support documents, where some confusing settings are more carefully explained. Unfortunately, Apple Music was thrust upon people without much information about the fine details, nor on the consequences of choosing the wrong setting.

In going through all of this, I can’t help but feel that it was rushed upon us, to give the company time to clear up the worst problems during the summer ahead of doing a full fall promotion. The key, I suppose, is to make it work properly when it comes time for you to actually pay for the service.

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