By John Gruber
Atoms: We are mostly sold out... but there is more!
Apple is altering the user interface of Apple Music to make it more intuitive to use, according to people familiar with the product who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. Apple also plans to better integrate its streaming and download businesses and expand its online radio service, the people said. The reboot is expected to be unveiled at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The changes will be accompanied by a marketing blitz to lure more customers to the $10-per-month streaming service.
This is a good test for today’s Apple on two fronts. First, will they actually succeed in streamlining the interface to Apple Music? I still think the most obvious solution is to make Apple Music its own standalone app. “All your music in one app” sounds like a great idea in theory, but in practice, I believe that is what has led to the confusing UI. It’s yet another major feature added to iTunes on Mac and Windows — an app that everyone seems to agree already has too many features and responsibilities. What do you see when you open the Spotify or Pandora apps? Just the streaming music you have access to. That makes them less complicated, by definition. “Everything you see is in the cloud, and you have access to it because you are a subscriber” is easy to understand. “Some of this is in the cloud, some of this you own” is more complicated.
A big aspect of iOS’s success, from day one in June 2007, is that it emphasized smaller focused apps that do less over larger monolithic apps that do more. The monolithic style leads to desktop iTunes — a single app for managing your personal music collection, buying music from the iTunes Store, buying and playing TV and movies, podcasts, iOS app purchases, and device syncing and backups. The iOS style leads to dedicated separate apps for music playback, video playback, podcasts, and store purchases. Maybe there’s a way to design “all your music in one app” that is completely clear, convenient, and obvious. But the bottom line is that a music app shouldn’t be confusing. I think that’s held Apple Music back.1
Second, it’ll be a test of Apple’s presentation skills. Last year’s Apple Music announcement in the WWDC keynote was the worst segment of an Apple keynote in modern history. It was rambling, awkward, left important questions unanswered, and went on way too long. I don’t break out my “This wouldn’t have happened if Steve Jobs were still around” stamp very often, but I broke it out for that one.
I believe these two things are related. Coherence in product design leads to coherence in product marketing. And vice versa: incoherence in product design leads to incoherence in product marketing. If the product isn’t logical and consistent throughout, how can it be marketed in a logical and consistent way? That’s what we saw with Apple Music last year, and the meandering music segment of the WWDC keynote exemplified it. It will be telling to see if that was a one-time blip, or the beginning of a trend.
To be very clear, Apple Music seems to be doing pretty well. Apple announced last week that they’re up to 13 million paying subscribers. They’re still behind Spotify and Pandora, but Apple Music is only nine months old and seems to be growing faster than Spotify. I just don’t think it’s as fun and easy to use as it should be. ↩︎