Apple Music Has Failed at a Goal Not Worth Pursuing

Nearly every serious problem or misunderstanding I’ve seen myself, and reported by others with Apple Music has to do with iCloud Music Library, its confusing attempt to integrate a user’s existing music library of local files with the streaming service, and, more broadly, with this entire concept of a “library.” Just look through Serenity Caldwell’s troubleshooting guide. It doesn’t work right, but even more fundamentally it’s a pointless exercise.

When it comes to Apple Music, the streaming service, your “music library” should just be the Apple Music catalog. You can make playlists from this and save them offline. No further concept of a “library” is necessary beyond this. If you want to have the equivalent of a “library” you should just be able to create a very large playlist that you can view in different ways. You can even have a smart playlist that shows you all the music in your other playlists. Why is Apple trying to replicate the mental model of a record collection in the cloud, and introducing a somewhat baffling extra layer of hierarchy?

But what, you ask, about your lovingly-curated library of music files, with much music that’s not available on the streaming service, or might just drop off of it because of licensing vagaries? Well, Apple should still offer iTunes Match, even integrating it with with Apple Music. You should still be able to upload or match (to DRM-free files) your local music files, have them live on the cloud, and even have playlists consisting of both Apple Music and Match music. This collection of music you own, instead of renting access to, is indeed a “library.” But there shouldn’t be this concept of a unified library consisting of music you own and music you don’t. To the extent the “library” concept makes sense it should be this cordoned-off area for music the user owns that does not mix with DRM-laden streaming-only tracks. Did you know that if you add music to your iCloud Music Library from Apple Music, you can actually edit the metadata? What is the purpose of this feature, other than to be confusing as hell? When I go to the public library I don’t demand the right to re-title books and alter the dewey decimal system.

This wouldn’t solve issues with how iTunes’ scan-and-match feature itself is subject to errors that are hard to track down, but cordoning off the error-prone matching (and limiting it to the desktop) would solve a lot of the recurrent problems. Ideally, iTunes would be maintained as a local file management program that can perhaps upload tracks to the cloud, with extraneous features like iOS syncing gradually taken out of it, and with Apple Music existing as its own set of apps.

As for me, I’ve been happy with Apple Music, once I figured out its quirks, because I’ve totally given up on Apple managing my music. That I currently am just storing in organized folders, like the old days, that I back up to the cloud, not like the old days. (I listen to this music on the go with the very useful app nPlayer.) Apple’s made a fine streaming service, but it has not succeeded in its goal of being a one-stop-shop for every digital music modality, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, because that’s a stupid goal anyway.