Phillip Caudell

Thoughts and Ideas for Apple Music

Let me start with the caveat that I don't usually partake in the whole "unsolicited redesign" thing — there's a thousand decisions that go into making a product, and it's just not possible for outsiders to know the reasoning behind them all. But this piece isn't just about Apple Music: it's about all streaming services in general. Streaming services have to expose the millions of tracks in their catalogues, while still allowing you to curate a handful of tracks — relatively speaking — as a personal music library. I'm using Apple Music as an example because:

  • I'm currently using Apple Music and it's easier to talk about one thing.
  • Spotify's still using a hamburger menu, and untill they remove it, I'm not taking their interface efforts seriously. Plus there's plenty of other reading around why this is an awful pattern.

Problems I've run into with Apple Music

Apple Music launched with much excitement and fanfare — after all this is the same company that revolutionised digital downloads in the early 2000's with iTunes, so it was reasonable to assume they were about to do the same thing for streaming. I'd also been a Spotify Premium subscriber since 2009, and had slowly fallen out of love with Spotify's lacklustre app efforts, so was excited to see what Apple could bring to the mix. However myself, and many others, were quickly disappointed:

It turns out one complete thought around music is hard.

I've been trying to wrap my head around what my exact issues with Apple Music are, and I arrived at the following:

  • Confusing distinction between "Apple Music" and "My Music" in search.
  • My entire curated music library is crammed into one "My Music" tab.
  • Long, text-heavy action sheets with many options.
  • No way to immediately access album or artist from Now Playing screen.
  • No way to create a new Playlist from "Add to Playlist" screen.
  • Album artwork has the status bar and other controls overlaid on it.
  • Connect.
  • Titles and headings are commonly used as links to other screens, but they're not immediately clear.
  • Tappable areas are way too small. Prime example is the Queue screen where "Add" and "Clear" are 10px. Really?
  • The "Profile" icon is on every single primary tab in the top left, but is perhaps the most unimportant thing in the entire app. Why give it such precedence?
  • Descriptions are truncated on Playlists, and have to be tapped to be expanded to be fully read.
  • Search is accessible everywhere, and while convenient, means you can quickly become nested deep in many screens, so getting back becomes hard.
  • Accessing "Curated Playlists" under "New" feels bizarre.
  • Bugs. And bugs. And more bugs.

While some things in that list are trivial, others aren't.

In particular the weird distinction between "My Library" and "Apple Music" seems to rear its ugly head on many screens throughout the app. Surely the whole thing I'm using is Apple Music? What's the difference? Why should I care as a user?

Understanding my own music listening habits

When I come to listen to music I'm in either one of two states of mind:

"I want to listen to something specific I already know."

That might be my favourite track right now, a new album I like, or a playlist I've curated. The second state of mind is:

"I fancy listening to something new."

I know I'm not representative of the 7 billion or so of us on this planet, but I'd wager a fair few people also share this mindset. If you look at Apple Music from this perspective, it's entirely weighted towards the 2nd mood of listening to new things.

Everything you've curated — your entire library you've perhaps spent years building — is crammed into one tiny tab at the end. The rest of the app is essentially a store front designed to push music recommendations. Music is a deeply personal medium, and it's incredibly expressive. So the fact Apple have confined my library into one tab feels wrong.

It's even worse if you aren't signed into Apple Music, as the whole app essentially acts as one big advert for the service.

So, how about two distinct listening modes?

Imagine opening Apple Music and being able to instantly toggle between these two states of mind.

My Library

This puts your entire music library front and foremost — there's no one else's music here. The full tab bar becomes available once again to browse your library by Playlists, Albums, Artists and Songs (essentially how it was prior to Apple Music).

Discover

This is how you find something new to listen to. In here is "For You", curated playlists, radio and so on. It's everything that isn't in your personal library.

I've done a few things here:

  • Playlist and album recommendations have been separated out. Personally, it's a bigger commitment to listen to an album start to finish than a curated playlist. I usually have to be in a particular mood for an album.
  • Beats 1 actually shows who's on the air at a glance. How many people know they can tap the area around "Listen Now"?

Simplifying Search

As mentioned before, one of the weirdest and most confusing distinction is "Your Library" and "Apple Music" in search, on the grounds of surely this entire experience is Apple Music. I don’t care if it's in "My iCloud Music Library" or available on Apple Music, just play me the track.

Context Aware Search

Wouldn't it be great if search knew the context in which I was searching, but still gave me the power of searching the vast Apple Music catalogue? That's exactly what I propose.

So at its absolute basic level, search acts as a simple filter for the screen I'm viewing, but it also searches the wider Apple Music catalogue. I don’t need to worry about "My Library" or "Apple Music".

Other search improvements

  • Have a dedicated "View all..." button. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to realise I could tap the titles of each media type to view more results.
  • 3D Touching to get an instant preview of a song would be great, similar to Spotify.

General UI Tidy Up

There's room for improvement with some more trivial aspects of the Music app.

Action Sheets

There's a lot of action sheets in Apple Music, and there's a lot of action items in those action sheets. I'd like to see the presentation of those items vastly simplified.

  • Larger hit area for action items.
  • Rather than scanning and reading, distinctive icons help make decision faster.

Now Playing

My biggest issue with the Now Playing screen is how awkward it is to access more information on what is currently playing. It's not uncommon for a track to play, that I then want to hear more from that album or artist. In the current setup it's 3 (slow) taps to get to the artist.

  • Clear singular purpose buttons to access the artist and album.
  • Swipe gesture for next and previous track.
  • Ability to access queue by scrolling downwards, no need to strain and reach for buttons.
  • Dismiss Now Playing by scrolling upwards.

3D Touch Actions

The music app desperately needs a way to quickly add a track to the queue. This would make for a great 3D Touch / Long Press Gesture. By firmly pressing and swiping you can select to "Play Now" or "Play Later", very similar to the menu seen in the message app when long pressing the camera icon.

Conclusion

Apple Music is an ambitious product. At its introduction Apple said it's:

"One complete thought around music"

As mentioned at the start, we don't know why all decisions were made. Apple is full of ridiculously smart people, so it's an eventuality that rough edges will be sanded down. In fact, we've already started to see some of these improvements: you can now create a playlist when adding to a playlist. It's just a shame the music app is baked into iOS, as it would have been cool to have more frequent updates through the App Store.