I probably should wait a few days before writing this. I’d be calmer. Maybe I’d even have my music back.
You see, I fell into the “three-month trial period” trap. I switched on Apple Music to try out the new subscription service, which allowed me to explore old favorites I didn’t know I’d been missing—Howard Jones made a guest appearance on my iPhone for the first time in decades—and discover new bands. (Johnny Marr solo? More, please!)
While the interface for Apple Music is terrible, I endured because of the promise of unfettered music exploration. That is, until my wife said she wanted out of the awful user-interface experience. So I disabled my subscription.
That’s when the trouble really started. I wound up being an unwilling participant in a perfect case study on how not to treat exiting users.
All I Wanted Was A Pepsi (And My Music)
My family shares an iTunes account. While my wife, kids, and I all log in with our own Apple IDs, the purchases are routed through a central account. If I were single, Apple’s sync problems might have disappeared. But in my setup, it is a constant headache to keep my music mine, and my kids’ and wife’s music theirs.
Or at least it was. After years of battling, I finally had my music syncing flawlessly. My workaround: I stopped syncing my laptop and iPhone, turned on iTunes Match, and just started downloading everything to my phone. It worked.
Then I enabled Apple Music.
It was like opening Pandora’s Box. Suddenly the straightforward interface for Apple’s music app became a nightmare to navigate. So much screen real estate is taken up with promoting the songs you’re not listening to or don’t own that it’s hard to get to the music currently playing (which is important for things like skipping).
See also: Here’s What’s New In iOS 9
Apple kept trying to default me to the “For you” tab to get me to tell it what music I like, but the few times I tried this, I ran out of patience. I couldn’t figure out why Apple didn’t simply look at my music library which it has been storing for over a decade.
Not that it was all bad. I did, after all, discover the Go-Betweens, The Charlatans, and a few others, including Johnny Marr’s solo work. I also found myself pulling down Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Depeche Mode songs I hadn’t listened to in eons, which was awesome.
The agony—and “the awesome”—ended when we decided to shut off our music-streaming subscription.
Raging Against The Apple Music Machine
Apple Music does not go gently into that good night. The service lobotomized my music library as it exited.
Suddenly, much of “My Music” vanished, replaced by my family’s music. No more Iron Maiden. Goodbye AC/DC! Instead, I had this. (See below.)
Now, I have nothing against John Denver, and I remember that one song that made Jesus Jones briefly popular. But these are not my songs. This is not My Music.
Worse, paring down these infidels is difficult to impossible. For some artists when I click on the ellipses, I have the helpful option to “Remove from My Music.” Well, helpful except that I have to do this same thing for the hundreds of artists I never intended to find their way to my iPhone.
Some don’t even give me that option. Instead, I’m only allowed to delete them, which removes them completely from iCloud. That would be 100% fine with me, but I don’t really want to challenge my family on whether they really need to listen to Jimmy Durrant.
So I’m left with hundreds of songs I don’t want on my phone, and have no idea how to remove them without completely pillaging the music libraries of my family members.
It’s All My Fault (Or Is It?)
I’m not alone in this problem. Others—including people that aren’t sharing with family members—have struggled to make sense of Apple Music. Which is too bad, as I really wanted this to work. I don’t care about the cost. I just can’t get it to work consistently for me as an individual or for my family.
Every device we use is made by Apple: a selection of MacBooks, a few iPads, several iPhones, and even two Apple TVs. We’re “all in” on Apple. But not on Apple Music.
I’m sure somehow I’m to blame for not understanding the pristine simplicity of Apple Music’s vision. But whether I am or not, I can’t make it work, and can’t seem to get My Music back to the well-tended state it was in just a month ago.
Debuting a new service can be tricky, and music streaming is a complicated affair for numerous reasons—not least of which is striking deals with the labels and ensuring that servers or other back-end systems can deliver on the multitude of simultaneous demands. These matters may not have been as difficult for Apple as it would have been for, say, a startup. But even for the iPhone maker, it’s still not easy. And once the heavy lifting is done, it’s inexcusable for the company—with all of its resources—to fall this far down on the user experience.
Even the powerful pull of Apple loyalty, for all its might, can’t overcome fundamental messes like a terrible interface and inexplicable sync issues. Let this be a lesson for other tech makers: Think through the experience you want your users to have, and make sure to craft it carefully from start to finish.
In other words, give them an exit that’s just as elegant and simple as the way into your service. That may seem counterintuitive, especially when so many service providers take pride in trapping people in their ecosystems. But consider this: I’m already deeply steeped in Apple’s universe, and yet, even if it fixes some or all of Apple Music’s issues, I will still think twice before giving it another go.
No product or service pleases everybody, and how you handle unhappy users is important. Stranding them in a frustrating morass is no way to earn good will—which is crucial, if you want them to give your product or service another chance.
Lead photo by Phillipe Put; screenshot of Apple event captured by ReadWrite