I was thrilled to hear that Apple would be launching their own music streaming service recently. The opportunity to leave Spotify and switch to a service integrated and designed from the ground up for my Apple devices was not one to miss. Only, while Apple is undoubtedly second to none with their consumer operating system and hardware, they have always failed with their online services. Apple Music is no exception.
Anybody who has ever had to download a major update of OS X or iOS will, of course, have experienced the constant failures to downloads as millions of Apple users inadvertently create a distributed denial of service attack by all jamming the servers to get their download at once. These are the most obvious failures of Apple’s servers, but these are failures we forgive because no system runs smoothly under that much strain. It’s the everyday issues that we experience that truly show the lack of attention to detail in Apple’s servers.
If you’ve ever tried to install a larger application from the App Store on your Mac, you’ll know it can take upwards of an hour to download a package that all expectations would suggest come down in fewer minutes than fingers on your hands. The App Store and the iTunes store that goes with it are often plagued with issues of speed, but they are also plagued with issues of bugs. A few years ago, iTunes Match, Apples first move into music streaming, was launched. For around twenty quid a year, you could have your entire iTunes library uploaded to Apple and not have to keep it on your hard drive anymore. This was a gift for all of us on devices like the MacBook Air. My Air has little space for my iTunes library as well as my apps and work.
But iTunes Match was, and still is, flawed. Regularly, music simply refuses to play. Often music will just not show up in your library on phone, iPod or Mac. The advice given is usually to log out of iTunes Match and log back in, then wait for your library index to sync down to your machine, a process that experience has shown can often take upwards of ten minutes. And it’s not just when there’s a bug, often just opening iTunes requires a user to sit waiting for their iTunes match library to load for several seconds to several minutes before being able to actually click play. Even when everything was working smoothly, you can expect music to play several seconds after actually clicking the play button.
I thought Google had done something incredible. Then I got Spotify.
I remember thinking that this was nothing to complain about, this was just how online streaming was; it’s a mammoth task to run something like this, of course it’ll be slow and clunky. Then Google announced Google Music (before their Spotify like All Access Pass system), it was free to upload your music library so I thought I may as well give it a go, see what the little folks over at Google had come up with. I was shocked, my music, you tapped it on the screen and it played. I mean, I wasn’t waiting for ages, it just, started. I was in shock but I’d not enough time to process it because I had to get to work. I stuck in my headphones and stepped out the door to walk to the office. I took out my phone for the inevitable error message to say I’d lost WiFi, but it didn’t happen, my music kept playing, the music seamlessly switched over to using my 3G signal and kept streaming. I thought Google had done something incredible. Then I got Spotify.
Unfortunately, the love and attention that detail that goes into Apple’s hardware has never made it to their cloud services.
I’d decided I didn’t see the point in buying all my albums anymore when often I wouldn’t even listen to them after a week or so. I got myself a Spotify subscription and boom, exactly the same service as Google, music that actually plays when you want it, no matter what. Music that I could download onto my phone (if I needed it offline) in seconds, compared to iTunes that would take minutes (so many that you’d just end up telling an album to download and come back to it later in the day).
The thing I found amazing with both Spotify and Google too, they were always there. Apple always has trouble, it’s a sort of “let’s listen to my music, I hope iTunes Match is online today” situation. The issue is that Apple is such a major part of our lives that we just expect it to work like their hardware, and when it doesn’t we assume that’s normal. Unfortunately, the love and attention to detail that goes into Apple’s hardware has never made it to their cloud services.
I noticed another problem that I found a little unsettling, perhaps even unethical.
Recently Apple Music launched and I discovered it has received the same lack of love that Apple’s other cloud services has received. Apple regularly refuses to play any music, or it stops mid track and skips the next few. It has playlist suggestions, like Spotify, but they’ll only last a few minutes. Seriously, it’s all well and good to give me a Jazz playlist designed for my work day but Apple, who’s work day is only 30 minutes long?
I don’t recall being told that Apple would snoop through my private accounts on other services, but that is exactly what Apple have done.
I noticed another problem that I found a little unsettling, perhaps even unethical. Apple proudly said in their keynote speech that they would launch a family plan for a cheap payment, so that two separate people can use one account and get recommendations on their music separately. I thought this was great! My wife and I use one Spotify account and it means I can’t escape constant recommendations of Country Western music that I don’t enjoy. When Apple music launched, we got our separate accounts all through one linked subscription. So why was I still getting country music suggestions? At first I thought my wife must have set up her phone incorrectly but on closer inspection it was more deceitful than that. Apple has scanned my Spotify playlists, (which, of course, include my wife’s country music) and is recommending all the music I have saved in Spotify. I don’t recall being told that Apple would snoop through my private accounts on other services, but that is exactly what Apple have done. It’s troublesome. Perhaps it’s one of those things hidden away in the terms and conditions but for me, it’s just irritating, I don’t want recommendations based on my Spotify habits, keep them separate!
So I won’t be using Apple Music, not yet at least, Spotify give the service I need right now and I’ll be sticking with it. Even right now, I’m listening to Spotify web player on my Ubuntu laptop. I can’t do that with Apple Music.