The ‘functional high ground’ argument is in the air again, with various tech journalists and podcasters weighing in with their opinions on various parts of Apple software. There are still occasional glimpses of former glory: Music Memos was quietly released and is the kind of songwriting tool I’d have loved to have, back when I was writing a lot of songs. It does exactly what you’d want it to do: it’ll tune your guitar, has a big record button, it knows what chords you’re playing, and it even adds a decent robot backing track. Only Apple, as we used to say so often, can do this.
But of course, iTunes continues to be horrible, and I’m not alone in thinking that Photos is a poor substitute for Aperture and doesn’t need to keep its editing tools so deeply buried – multiple clicks to achieve a simple edit is not good design.
My greatest frustration continues to be Apple Music, which is awful on so many levels that I haven’t even seen any of the pros complaining about the problems I’m encountering. Theirs are all to do with synching and matching and so on, whereas mine are mainly to do with basic functionality and interface.
But I’ll start of with that synching feeling. A permanent feature on my phone’s screen in Music is the phrase, ‘Showing only music on this iPhone. Show All Music.’
That last bit, highlighted in red, is supposed to be a button, but of course we’re not allowed to have ‘buttons’ anymore because they’re skeumorphic. So we just have to guess that ‘Show All Music’ is a button. But take a look at this screenshot.
Yes, the greyed out tracks are not on my iPhone. Not. On. My. iPhone. So I shouldn’t be seeing them, should I? And yet they are there.
Getting into my car the other night, I plugged my phone into the Media connector in the car, and of course it started playing music, starting with the first song beginning with A (currently ‘After Hours’ by the Velvet Underground). Which is not what I wanted it to do. One of my daily frustrations is that my phone, unlike iPods of old, rarely seems to remember where it had reached in the playback (I play through all my songs alphabetically, which is my favourite form of ‘shuffle’). So it defaults to the first of the ‘A’s and I get angry and frustrated – and begin to kind of hate and resent that hapless first song (of 1000) in the list.
So I’m sitting in the car and ‘After Hours’ starts up, and I pick up the phone to find where I think the playback had reached, somewhere in the ‘D’s, and I tap the screen to play that song. Somewhere in the ‘D’s. I tap. And it starts to play ‘Baggage Claim’ by Miranda Lambert. What?
After a bit of experimentation, I realise that tapping somewhere in the ‘F’s will start playing somewhere in the ‘C’s, and so on. So as well as showing music that is not on the phone, Music is now also reading a tap in the ‘D’s as a tap in the ‘B’s. Brilliant. I suspect that means that the phone is seeing the tap where it really would be if it wasn’t displaying a bunch of songs that are not on the phone. If I could somehow make them invisible, I’d see that I was, in fact, tapping in the ‘B’s.
That was happening under the My Music tab (which is not a button, nor is it a tab, so what are we supposed to call it, Jony Ive? A section?). When I tapped into Playlists, my one and only playlist was there, and I was able to navigate through it and play back normally. But I shouldn’t have to do that, because there’s only one fucking playlist on the phone, and so the My Music section should have just the songs from that.
And I wouldn’t have to be doing all this if the app remembered where it was in the playback list.
Take a look at this second screen shot:
Yes, that’s in the Playlist section, and you can see we’re playing back ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’ by the Shangri-Las. Now, what if I wanted to skip to the next track from this screen? I could tap the next on the list, but if I wanted to skip several, I’d have to scroll first, stop the scrolling, then tap the one I wanted. So to see an actual Skip option, I have to tap the tiny white band near the bottom and go into the Playback screen. What if I wanted to pause playback? There is a chance of doing that, because there is a tiny play/pause not-a-button. But what are the chances of hitting this first time if I am walking, or driving my car, or riding my bicycle? 50/50 at best, I’d say. Note that the image above, because of the resolution of my phone’s screen, exaggerates the size of the tap target. Now, given how huge my phone’s screen is, why does the play/pause button have to be so small? Why is there no skip forward or skip back?
Why is this software such a piece of shit at doing what it’s supposed to do?
I suspect the answer to that is that I’m not supposed to want to do any of this. I’m supposed to subscribe to the streaming service, and put my music listening into the hands of curators or algorithms, and just passively accept whatever Music decides to play. I suppose there might be some people who are happy with that. Me? Not so much.
Which brings me to my final complaint. Apart from not giving enough space to playback controls, the Music app also imposes the Radio not-a-button and the Connect not-a-button at the bottom of the screen, where they are liable to (only ever) be clicked accidentally, much like the Moments button on twitter.com. Why can’t I go into a Preferences pane and turn those items off? Why can’t I select an option for a larger playback button? Why doesn’t telling the app only to show music on the iPhone do what it’s supposed to do?
Because Apple Music is shite. And here’s the thing: I’ve tried a couple of other playback apps, hoping to leave all the Music nastiness behind, but they don’t work. They too forget where they were playing back – because they can never take over the System playback from Music. And they too (presumably following the Human Interface Guidelines) have tiny playback buttons.
And don’t get me started on the Music app on the new Apple TV…