Key Touch Points

12 October 15

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times here on the site, Apple has been sending signals about new input devices, and an update has been necessary with recent input advancements on the iOS side. Now it looks like Apple is ready to launch a new keyboard/mouse/trackpad collection very soon, likely alongside the rumored 21” Retina iMac. Most important: Will Apple continue to make the Magic Mouse through conventional means or will they finally use true magick to make them? Not doing so is a clear insult to the Witch, Warlock and Wizard community and a crucial loss of spellcasting jobs in a bad economy.

Four quick observations:

  • From the leaked FCC documents, the keyboard is only seen from the back. What’s notable is that it appears to be totally flat. Where’s the battery? According to the FCC specs, it’s hard-wired in. How do you recharge it? Is Apple grabbing the power from Bluetooth wirelessly? Are they harnessing power from the keypresses? Are they doing mini-recharges through a lightning port like the Apple Pencil?
  • The front of the keyboard has yet to be seen. Will it look like the new MacBook keyboard? Probably. Get used to the grotesk humanism of San Francisco, and say a fond farewell to friendly VAG Rounded Light. The MacBook and the new iPad Pro keyboard also have black keys. It’s a big change as the style of Apple Keyboards sets the standard for the entire industry. Apple’s 80’s keyboard style, in Universe Light Condensed Oblique, was introduced in 1984 on the Apple IIc and used by almost all keyboard manufacturers for over thirty years. Apple used it through 2007.
  • My pipe dream of a flat-panel display-based touch keyboard waits for another eight years. Yes, it’s been that long since Apple introduced the first version of the current Bluetooth keyboard. It debuted in August 2007, and has been one of the most durable Apple designs. The current Apple aluminum style has been so broadly copied, if not just outright duplicated, that many customers might never know Apple came up with it first. A new Apple keyboard is practically a generational shift in computing. They’ve really only had a handful of types of keyboards through their near 40-year history.
  • The Mouse and Trackpad will likely support 3D/Force Touch, heralding the full integration of new touch options into the Mac. Previously, it was only in the new MacBook, and Apple had to limit 3D/Force Touch use. Now it’ll be in the majority of Macs, and the MacBook Pro and Air will undoubtedly get updates in the coming months.

And if there really is a new keyboard, does this make my international keyboard survey article irrelevant? Aw.


Living in a Post Bill Graham World

19 September 15

As the tumbleweeds skitter across the barren, arid landscape and the howl of thin air plays the hollow limbs of dead trees like a haunted flute, the old man who refused to leave this ghost town whittles himself another owl as he sits on the porch of the abandoned dry goods store. They call him: The ol’ prognosticator.

Things used to be different around these parts, he’ll tell you. Used to be products from one end of the town to another, all waiting to be introduced at the next Apple event. Now, it’s all gone. First the five inch iPhone cleared out, and then it was the wearables. Before you knew it, the iPad Pro and the Apple TV 4 disappeared almost overnight. Now, there’s almost nothing left. Maybe, if you look real hard, you might find some Apple TV content packages in a dusty corner. If you listen to that crazy Injun chief who lives in the teepee outside town, you’ll hear him whisper about something the legends call the iCar.

That’s all there is now. There ain’t no more. Just shadows. Shadows and horse droppings.

Snap out of it, Larry McMurtry

Okay, well, it only kinda feels like this. At the Bill Graham event, Apple basically emptied out its’ sack of goodies and introduced not one, but two new product lines. The Apple TV 4 is no longer a hobby and the iPad Pro is the link between the iOS and Mac platforms we all knew would come.

Aside from putting the Apple-prediction people out of business for a few months, the introduction of these products makes another big jump in the expansion Apple’s products and services. The Apple TV is the salvo at the “home hub,” putting iOS games on a console, and the showcase platform for the streaming content service to come. The iPad Pro is the attempt to go after enterprise, education and creatives.

The iPad Pro

I’ve been on this soap box since the introduction of the original iPad back in 2009. I always thought it was just one step away from being a graphics tablet, and then boom, six years later, like lightning, we have it. So now, with another product category added to Apple’s ambitious plans, let’s take a look at the products in this end of the hardware market: You have the iPad Air, the iPad mini, the iPod Touch and now the iPad Pro. You also have the iPhone and the iPhone Plus. All of these devices work off of iOS and have the same general shape and interface. We could also throw in the new MacBook in to this end of the pool, as it is also going after some of the same customers, but from the Mac side.

With the advent of the multi-tasking split-screen feature of iOS 9, and the Surfacesque keyboard of the iPad Pro, you can also start to view these devices in terms of productivity. You can have devices with software keyboards and hardware keyboards. You can have devices that have one window, a split window and floating windows. Some have cell connections, others don’t. They can go pocket-sized to satchel-sized, they all have touch interfaces, and all of them get you a days’ worth of battery life.

One can take a look at that lineup and conclude “Apple’s offering more products in the shapes and sizes the consumer wants.” But then I would have to kick you, because that’s not the lesson here. The lesson is that Apple is refining the product line, and adding in new products to expand into new or underserved markets. This is about growth, not about filling in gaps.

The iPad now goes from being “Apple’s tablet offering” to becoming a product line that provides a real computing solution for not only consumers but prosumers, professionals, students, and creatives. It can be an input device for a variety of industries from medical to aviation to enterprise. It can be a laptop. It can be a thing you give the kid to keep them quiet. Essentially, the iPad now has a footprint of potential customers that is now as big, if not bigger than, the Mac.

That’s significant. The playing field is now level between the Mac and the iPad for all but a few professional markets. What’s worth keeping an eye on is how Apple sells these products in the future. Which do they push on a consumer first? A Mac or an iPad? Does it really matter anymore? If they push the Mac first, are they doing themselves a disservice?

Also, is Apple done with this product line? If the iPad Pro is a hit, could it go even bigger?

The Apple TV 4

The Apple TV 4 is a little disappointing — just a little. While I had long hoped that it would bring a full iOS experience to the TV, we’re getting an “iOS Lite” coming in tvOS, with a hybrid button/touchpad interface. I had also hoped that there would be more “Amazon Echo” in the product, but right now Siri seems to be limited to looking for films and TV shows. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we have to work with, so let’s go.

We were also waiting on the streaming TV service that Apple has been trying to get started for the past several years, but that was a boat anchor on the Apple TV, and it was time to get a new one out and bring the content along when it’s ready.

The principal content for the Apple TV then becomes the app-making developer community, with their spunky can-do attitude. It’s a bit of a risk, going to market with a product that so obviously relies on the developers to make it work, but Apple TV may be exactly the right product to take that risk with. Apple is not betting the farm on Apple TV, and the existing elements of the device are already pretty strong.

Essentially, the Apple TV is in a waiting stage, as games, apps and the Apple streaming service get their act together. I expect this product to get a lot of attention at WWDC 2016, not just from developers, but from Apple. By then, it might be time for an re-introduction of a fully-implemented version with streaming TV, games and home kit applications.

And maybe a new one with a screen?

(Dodges shoe thrown from audience)

There was also something about an iPhone 6s and some watch straps at the event, but it’s kind of hazy now. The real takeaway from the event was that Apple is doing what they need to do to keep the profit machine running by expanding the customer base and selling more products and services to their existing customers.

It’s going to be a fun next three months as we get new phones, a tablet and a TV to play with, but the ramifications from this event will be felt for years. The Watch was a sideshow. These announcements come right from the core of Apple’s employees and engineers and set course on Apple’s next generation of hardware and software. It’s moving away from the Mac, but without shedding too many Mac features. The new laptop is the tablet. The new desktop is the TV.

It’ll be fun to see this play out, and for the first time in a long time, I’m buying all the hardware launched at this event and I’m excited for each one. We’ll have more to talk about soon, as the question of what an Apple streaming subscription service will look like is an intriguing one, and it may not be something locked to the Apple TV. The whole Apple iCar thing is so weird, I don’t think everyone has their head wrapped around it, but if you think about what a car will look like five years from now, it’s really another computing platform, but with radial tires.

Now who wants a wooden owl? I have hundreds of these things.


Bill Graham Presents: Apple Comes Alive! (Part 2)

8 September 15

In Part 2 of our September 9th event coverage, we’ll talk about the other two items rumored to be on the agenda: The fabled iPad Pro and the inevitable iPhone “6s.”

Previously on theBrainFever: The iPad 3

In this 2011 article, I speculated on the possibility of an iPad Pro and what would define a professional approach to the iPad tablet device. Four years later, and we’re about to see if I got anything right.

iPhone 6ess

The certainty of this event will be the introduction of the next generation of iPhone. This is a tradition that’s gone on for several years, and this year should be no different. Cases have popped up in online leaks, even a box is floating around.

The one thing I have questions on is a minor point. I don’t like the name of the device being “iPhone 6s.” I think with a Samsung product already on the market as the “s6” this would be a good time for Apple to come up with a new naming convention. If Apple has to go into court and accuse Samsung of copying it, having a new product that appears to copy the “s6” name is going to be a point in Samsung’s favor. Not a big one, but lawyers can make a federal case out of anything.

As for the meat and potatoes of a new iPhone, the iPhone has gotten to a point where new features are difficult to come up with. It already does a hell of a lot already, everything you’d really want in a pocket-sized device. Recent features like Touch ID and the Retina display have been significant, but not essential, enhancements to the iPhone experience.

For the new iPhone 6s, being essentially a point release product, expectations are low. I’ve been calling for a higher-res camera for some time, and I really think we’ll get it this time. Apple needed to go back to the drawing board to deal with the camera bump on the back, so I’m sure they’ll also take the opportunity to up the specs at the same time. I also expect an increase in resolution for the FaceTime camera. Front-facing cameras are as important to kids as the rear-facing one.

Speaking of kids and cameras: would it be too much to ask to let people shoot landscape even if the phone is held in an upright position? I thought the sensors were square…

I expect the 6s to be the same two sizes as the 6 (4.5”/5.5”), with no inclusion of a new 4-inch model. The 5c was not a success, and doesn’t really warrant a “6c” upgrade, so the retro 5s will be the only, and potentially final, 4-inch phone option.

I have no reason to think that the rumors aren’t true about offering a new metallic pink option in addition to metallic beige, metallic grey and metallic extra grey. This business about “series 7000” aluminum goes over my head, but a stronger case is absolutely necessary, even if the Bendgate controversy was way overblown. You still shouldn’t be able to bend a phone with your bare hands.

As for the purported “3D Touch” sensors, adding a 3rd level of input detection beyond Force Touch, I am not in a good place with this potential input option. All of the sudden, the simplest interface in the world is getting really complicated and troublingly fragmented.

The Watch has 2-level force touch + digital crown + taptic. The portable Macs have force touch + taptic. The desktop Macs have regular touch. The iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPad mini and iPad will have regular touch. The iPhone 6s has the new 3-level touch (+ taptic?). That’s several different input methods over the product line. Is this a good idea?

Implementation is everything, and we’ll have to wait to see how the new 3rd level is used, but right now, I have bad visions of a left-click and right-click contextual menu situation. The interface does not need to hide more options or make touching the screen an unpredictable experience. So I’m curious to see how this works out.

There may also be some room to make that screen a few millimeters bigger and shrink the bezel slightly.

Bullet Points!

So to sum up, here’s what I expect from the iPhone 6s:

  • Same prices, memory sizes and screen sizes. Slightly thicker.
  • Rose Gold case (as was mined in the rose gold rush of 1849).
  • 3-level touch screen, same resolution.
  • HD FaceTime camera, 12MP rear camera (3rd time’s the charm on that prediction).
  • Enhanced internals, new A9 processor, improvements to the NFC and motion chips. Better phone-to-phone communication.

I also think Apple will have a new set of new-look iPhone cases, to match the new luxury aesthetic they’ve been pursuing lately.

No show stoppers in that list, but these point release phones are usually the more solid ones to get. I’ll be buying one.

The Third Man

There’s some doubt the iPad Pro will make the list at the Sept. 9 event, and Apple Keynotes are famous for getting last-second changes.

Let’s go over the things we expect from Apple in the closing quarter of the year:

iPhone 6s update
iPad Pro
iPad Mini 4
Apple TV 4
iOS 9 release
Mac OS X El Capitán release
24” iMac Retina
WatchOS 2.0 release
New Watch color
Watch accessories
New bluetooth keyboard & mouse
Apple Music fixes/updates

That’s a lot of stuff. This is easily a two-event agenda, even if you do consume the headline acts in the Sept. 9 announcement.

Apple likes to do these announcements with three items. I believe that the iPhone 6s, the Apple TV and the iPad Pro will all be announced at the Sept. 9 event, but the iPad Pro will not ship anytime soon, and a second event will cover it in depth. I think it will be along the lines of the Watch announcement: A twenty minute talk and then “more to come” at the next event, which will be in October.

So for Sept. 9:

iPhone 6s, shipping at the end of the month
Apple TV, shipping at the end of the month
iPad Pro, more to come at the October event
Apple Music fixes
Watch color & accessories

Also, does Beats Audio get a product or two in there? This serves as the Christmas event, essentially.

Then, in October:

iPad Pro, shipping ‘by the end of the year’
iPad mini, shipping immediately
24” iMac Retina
Bluetooth keyboard & mouse
OS X, iOS and WatchOS releases

As ever with Apple, the exact schedule of what they’ll talk about at a keynote is only known by about six people, so all we can do is guess. But the next big announcement will almost certainly be the iPad Pro.

The iPro Pad

The case has leaked and the screen size exposed thanks to data in the iOS 9 betas, so we know this: It’s going to be about 12-13 inches in size and it will have extra speakers. It will also have a stylus option. That’s not a whole lot to go on, but it’s a start.

Here’s what iPad Pro needs to be to satisfy the markets Apple wants to reach:

Creative Professionals: Make it function as a Wacom replacement, with a pressure-sensitive stylus and fine control. The pixels need to be extra dense. An easel-like case would be nice, too.

Enterprise: Make it function both as a portable touch input device and as a laptop replacement. Storage and a great keyboard are vital.

Education: Make it function as a multi-screen research and writing tool. Must be able to see web pages and write at the same time.

Prosumers & Consumers: Give it more screen real estate instead of a magnified iPad Air screen, and more storage and speed.

With those needs, one can guess what the iPad Pro will need. It will need a faster processor to drive a bigger screen. It will need new input methods like a stylus and a portable keyboard solution. It will need a new version of iOS and Apple productivity apps to accommodate new iPad Pro features.

So the best we can do is predict that it will ship with a larger storage capacity, a faster processor and more input options.

Memory: 32GB would be the bare minimum, and 128GB feels like the sweet spot
Screen: 12+ inches, with 3-level input, super-dense Retina resolution
Stylus: super-fine control with pinpoint accuracy and 256 levels of input
Keyboard: attachable keyboard that can be stowed away conveniently
Processor: big jump in computing power to smoothly render a much bigger screen. A9X or maybe even an A10.
Software: updates for multi-tasking and updates to productivity apps

Price? Let’s go with a starting price of $799, which will put it just below the $899 Mac Book. Rose Gold not available.

And to throw a wildcard in there, give it a USB-C port. Why not?


Bill Graham Presents: Apple Comes Alive! (Part 1)

8 September 15

This is a big event. By all indications, the biggest Apple has put on in years. Three major products are about to roll out: Apple TV, iPhone updates and the new iPad Pro. So I’m breaking up the usual “predictions” post into two parts. In this part, we’ll be talking about the most significant product, the introduction of a new platform: The Apple TV.

Previously on theBrainFever: The Apple TV: Problem and Solution

In this 2011 article, subjects of interface, setup and programming strategy were covered on a future refresh of the Apple TV. But that was four years ago. Now, the moment has finally arrived on September 9th. Or maybe in October. Possibly January. But it’s closer than ever!

What is the new Apple TV?

First of all, it’s not a set-top box. That’s just too horrible to think about. The least advanced piece of tech I own is my set-top box. I think I have a do-it-yourself crystal AM radio kit in my closet that’s higher tech. My “advanced” set top box makes a constant humming sound, sucks more power than reviving Frankenstein’s monster and is slow enough that mailing my channel changes to the home office might be more effective.

Sure. Apple can beat that tech, but that’s not exactly a high bar. This what we call a sector ready for disruption. Apple’s product can win against current DVRs easily. The TiVO is the closest thing to being competition, but their customer-preferred interface is getting old in the tooth and doesn’t work well in a streaming world.

I had been convinced that Apple would do a big screen TV. Yes, the margins are low, and they don’t turn over very fast. Still, I don’t think it’s in Apple’s tendencies to leave color calibration, interface, and the overall experience to anyone else but themselves. Do you want Apple’s TV interface to fight through a layer of “smart TV” interfaces to be seen? Plus, the Apple retail stores are the best place in the universe to show a great TV screen off.

Although there is no evidence or product leaks to support Apple making a TV with a screen… There’s no evidence the other way, either. So although I don’t consider a big screen Apple TV likely, I’m not writing it off quite yet.

Don’t Stop Dreaming, Starchild

What I do know is that the Apple TV is going to have a deeper, richer interface that anyone suspects. I wrote about a touch-panel concept I had for the Apple TV a few years ago, but based on the rumor mill, it sounds like we’ll have something that’s a cross between a wii-mote and a trackpad. The best interface for an Apple TV is to have a point-and-touch interface that essentially makes it a giant screen iPad.

The more like a touch-screen interface the remote can be, the more the Apple TV can do. Conventional iOS apps can be added to the Apple TV, and open the device up to the millions of iOS apps, including games. That would be a big deal, and you can already read a few dozen hundred overheated articles about how Apple is going to dethrone gaming consoles. We’ll see.

What else can we expect? Well, we’re getting a big, fat blatant clue from Apple to help us. In their invitation for the expected unveiling of the Apple TV, the invite is captioned “Hey Siri, give us a hint.” Those familiar with the “Hey Siri” feature know that this feature works as a call-out to your iOS device to activate Siri when the device is off but plugged in.

So why bring that up? Well, an Apple TV is plugged in. It could respond to a call-out request, much like an Amazon Echo. The Echo acts as a connected device that can reply to verbal queries. It can also control streaming music playback, and Apple sure could take advantage of that kind of feature with Beats 1 and Apple Music. The Echo also controls lights and other smart connected home devices – and Apple has been recently been pushing a HomeKit connected device standard. Quite a coincidence.

The Apple TV could not only be a TV box, but it could play & control music, control lights and other connected home devices as well as answer questions, schedule appointments and even reply to messages just like Siri already does. So I’ll wager that the new Apple TV will be light years ahead of the current hockey puck. And I also think the on-screen interface will be totally re-made to look like an iOS device.

Bored. What else is on?

While everyone’s been getting hot and bothered about the what/when questions about the supposed Apple TV, the most important question is what you pipe into an Apple TV. Content will make or break the product.

TV content breaks down into three categories: “Scripted,” “Reality” and “Live Events.” All TV programs fall into these categories. Viewing habits fall into two categories: “On Demand” and “Streaming.” That is to say, a la carte or live broadcasts. Apple and iTunes already addresses the needs of scripted show viewers who watch on demand. They also cover some live events with a select number of live sports channels on Apple TV, which are expanding. That covers a lot of what TV is. But Apple doesn’t have a solution for folks who simply watch TV casually. By casually, I mean folks who turn on the TV and just let it go, with no particular show in mind – streaming viewers.

One could argue that the audience of people who subscribe to cable and watch “whatever is on” are poor customers, and not worth pursuing. These are not not Apple customers, and are the least likely to purchase an Apple TV in the first place.

If this were the case, then there would be no need for a new Apple TV product. Apple already delivers a la carte programming of the most popular scripted shows and movies. Since the evidence clearly points to Apple investing time, energy and money into a TV product, it’s clear that they aren’t satisfied with what they currently offer.

That seems to be the rub. Apple already offers a very compelling TV substitute in the current Apple TV. But neither the devices nor the iTunes shows are selling like they should. To address that, Apple is already introducing more live options, and now it needs to get that last element of programming, casual viewing, before it can position itself as the cut-the-cord option it needs to be.

The difference Apple can make with a TV product is that it can provide something no else can – a true RS-DVR. That’s industry speak for “remote storage digital video recorder.”

Oh, God, this about the cloud again, isn’t it?

In 2009, the US Supreme court declined to hear a case brought by CableVision on storing TV shows on their local servers on behalf of their customers who wanted to recall the shows for later viewing. That made it legal for providers to store their customer’s requested shows, acting like a virtual DVR. At the time, it was thought that this would herald a new era of remotely stored TV shows for on-demand viewing. It didn’t. For whatever reason, the cable industry dragged on this potential blockbuster feature and has never brought it to the US market on a national scale.

Apple can not only provide this service, but they can go one step better. It is rumored that Apple is using their negotiating leverage with the larger TV broadcast networks to include the local affiliates’ programming in their streaming packages. If Apple is successful, they can have all national and local programs available on an Apple TV streaming and on-demand.

With broadcast networks able to provide their programs and bring along the affiliates, Apple can effectively replace broadcast TV.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The point is that Apple is already in a good position to make the Apple TV another great product, and provide the content and experience that people have come to expect. As I wrote in my first Apple TV article, you cannot underestimate how dearly people want to cut the cord and kill their Cable TV dependance. If Apple is able to step in and provide that option, this will be a big seller.

But, isn’t what we just described simply a new way to get stiffed by cable? Isn’t this just the same channel bundling that we’ve come to hate?

Why are you asking me? You wrote this.

Apple has a few ways to attack this. One, they can just offer a no-choice subscription, and you get everything Apple throws at you for one price. This is the solution they offer in Apple Music. However, this opens them up to the same “carriage” negotiations that have gotten ugly when the channels hike prices and cable companies drop popular channels. It also leads to being force-fed junk channels you never watch but pay for. My hope is that Apple won’t want that kind of poor customer experience.

Another option is to go a la carte on channels. You just buy the channels you want, and the rest you don’t pay for. You subscribe to the channels individually for a low monthly price. Sounds good, but the channels will fight this with their dying breath. They like lock-in bundles, and believe it’s essential to their business. Apple’s tendency towards a meritocracy won’t sit well with TV executives.

The third option would be to innovate a bit, and come up with something new. It’s worth remembering that Apple likes to think in global terms, and being too focussed on the US TV market might work against their normal thinking. They may just bundle channels according to languages and interests. English, Spanish, Chinese, etc. and Drama, Sports, News, etc.


However, this content question is rumored to be something Apple will introduce at a later date. For now. Apple will likely focus on the new interface, the inclusion of iOS apps (and/or forthcoming app development) and the new home control features.

It’s a device which will tie in to many Apple services, implement new ones and be an anchor for the future of Apple in the home. This’ll be a platform that will define Apple’s next generation of products, as important to the future as the iPhone or the Mac itself has been. Much like the iPhone isn’t about being a phone and the Watch isn’t about telling time, the Apple TV may be less about TV and more about people using computing power in an entirely new way. Without even thinking about it.


Apple Music: The Story So Far

4 July 15

Going into it, I was already highly skeptical of any usefulness Apple Music would have to me. This is because I’m a true music snob, and an old-fashioned record store one to boot. That is to say that I still go to music stores, and I actually chose where I live based on its’ proximity to the best record stores in the country. I own thousands of records and buy hundreds a year.

So a streaming service that chooses for me what I like has never been a good solution for me. I hate radio with a white-hot passion previously unknown to humankind, and I own all my records to make sure I never have to listen to radio in any form. Letting a DJ push their taste on me is intensely unappealing and almost never rewarding. I can list the DJs who’s tastes I respect on one hand and still have enough fingers left over to hold a pencil. I’ve dipped my toes in Pandora and Spotify, as well as the earlier iTunes Radio service. I can go maybe three minutes before I’ve blasted through my allowed skips and then I turn it off for good.

I Knew I Hated You For A Reason

Apple Music is the perfect service for people who have out-sourced their taste in music. That’s not to cast aspersions on those folks who find this kind of service helpful. I know many, many people who have little to no interest in deciding what they like to listen to. They enjoy the radio experience and like having music delivered to them without interaction. They are fine, upstanding citizens who contribute to our economy and fight beside us in wartime. They’re not picky about their music, that’s all. Nothing wrong with that.

But for people who do actually have a passion for music, Apple Music is not helpful. After going through the setup process at least a dozen times to this point, I’ve only amassed ten artist bubbles. The service just keeps suggesting bands that are wrong for me, and once I reject them it will suggest a band almost exactly like the one I just rejected. I can keep deleting the Black Keys, but every time I do, a My Morning Jacket or a Kings of Leon bubble takes their place. The one thing I did not expect from Apple Music is that it would have such poor taste in music.

Says The Snob

Why is that? Well, Apple Music appears to function as a marketing tool for the music recording industry. It is an industry solution to an industry need. The bands I’m being pushed towards aren’t being recommended for their quality, they are being recommended because they’re big sellers in the music biz. The industry’s interpretation of “good music” is the same as “top sellers,” and Apple Music reflects that. You’ll likely never get a track in Apple Music that makes you really fall in love with an artist or a song, because that’s not what it’s for. This is about selling you the same music everyone else likes.

As a discovery tool, the service is extraordinarily bad. After five days of use, I’ve found no new tracks I like. My “For You” section simply lists “deep cuts” and “rare b-sides” from the same artists I’ve chosen in the setup. The issue for me is that I already have those tracks. Apple Music seems incapable of seeing my library and knowing that I already own these songs. In addition, I get “Intro to…” selections from bands I already indicated I liked in the setup, which is redundant. And even after going through the setup again and again, it can only suggest ten artists that I like, compared to the 230 my iTunes library says I listen to frequently. Of all the suggested tracks, artists & albums that appear in “For You,” only about 7-10% are not already in my library, and that 7-10% is stuff I’ve previously made my mind up about.

What I really wanted from Apple Music – and something I used to get from early versions of iTunes Genius – was producing new, contemporary tracks that were similar to what I already like, no matter what decade it came from. It is not more important to me that my music comes from the 80’s than it being a good song. I usually find about four or five quality new artists a year on my own, and I hoped Apple Music would help me out in my search. Not so much.

I’ve written about it a few times, but the kind of discovery I’d like to see is a simple analysis of my library versus other folks. If I like Track A and Track B, other people who like Track A and Track B also like Track C. Would you like to listen to Track C? That’s as simple as I need. I trust other music fans’ honest recommendations over a DJ or music executive any day.

Not a Match, The Board Goes Back

A very distressing element of the new Apple Music is the re-work of iTunes Match, which already had some niggling issues, and is now superseded by the new iCloud Music Library. iTunes Match already had problems with mis-identifying similar songs and not allowing users to reset the library or at least manually delete tracks. I still have a library which has versions of a track on my Mac and other versions on my devices, with no way to fix it besides deleting the track outright, and losing all the metadata in the process. iTunes Match also followed in line with iTunes’ unexplained hatred of duplicates, hunting them down and getting rid of them with extreme prejudice, which has always been puzzling. Why can’t I have a duplicate track? What ethical principle, technological limitation or law am I violating?

Additionally, I had a consistent problem whenever I imported external non-iTunes music files into iTunes. It would warn me that iTunes Match was working and prohibit me from editing the metadata, and I’d wait patiently. When the track was declared ready, I’d edit the metadata and one minute later, it would revert to the original version, deleting all my new data. There would be no way to back out, and no way to undo it. You had to start over. It would often not allow me to edit my own tracks for a solid 24 hours. If I attempted to make any changes they would just disappear seconds later. That experience has been possibly the most aggravating experience I’ve ever had on any Apple platform. Inexplicably deleting user data with no warning or way to fix it is crazy.

Unfortunately, iCloud Music Library didn’t fix those problems and instead introduced some really nasty new ones.

Here’s my tale of woe: I had two tracks by a band called Cornershop. They were versions of a track called “Born Disco; Died Heavy Metal.” I have an easy-listening version and a techno remix of that track, but I lacked the original. While Apple Music was in effect, I purchased the EP the original track was on, and it downloaded. Simple enough.

But what happened next was baffling. It mis-identified my techno remix as the same track I had just purchased, deleted it, and put the newly downloaded track in it’s place. It then mashed together the metadata from the purchased track and the deleted track, leaving the name of the techno remix in place but making it a part of the purchased EP. This, despite the fact that the two tracks in question are almost entirely different. One is a punk/garage song three minutes long, and the other a four-minute tongue-in-cheek techno remix of that track, omitting all instruments and replacing them with synths.

Thank goodness for backups. But even after my fix, my techno remix that I downloaded from a fan site is now classified as a Purchased track, and the purchased track is now classified a duplicate of the techno track, so I can’t listen to it on my devices, only the Mac. This is nuts.

Beats 1 and Done

I don’t have a lot of good things to say about Beats 1, and not just because of my distaste for radio. Beats 1 has the same thin veneer of slickness that all big corporate radio stations have, with incessant reminders of what station you’re listening to, noisy quick-cut promos, and loud over-amped DJs who want to be my cool friends.

Like I mentioned above about Apple Music recommendations, Beats 1 is aimed at furthering top-selling artists rather than real music discovery. It’s also relentlessly focused on contemporary artists, and plays like a combination of American Top 40 and BBC Radio 1. There’s almost no room for anything but a non-stop freight train of hyped music and it’s claustrophobic to listen to. Turning it off feels like a relief.

I’m also confused as to why Beats is running ads. Not ads in the conventional sense, but little “made possible by” and “presented by” mentions. The necessity of ads makes me wonder exactly what the aim of Beats 1 is. If it were strictly for music and furthering the Apple Music and iTunes services, does running ads make sense? Does Beats 1 need to turn a profit to be successful enough to keep it going? That’s very unlike Apple to think in those terms.

All in all, Beats 1 misses the mark not just in terms of my taste in music, but it is also everything I don’t like in radio, in concentrated form. A slightly-slower-paced format with people who like music instead of people who like being famous DJs is more of what I’d be hoping for.

Streaming of You

Apple Music functions best as an all-access pass to listening to the iTunes library, it’s best feature by far. It’s being positioned as “Streaming” but it’s really a lot more than that. It’s basically an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of music that can be a dream come true for a lot of people.

It’s a Faustian deal, in that you have to keep paying your $9.95 a month to keep your music, but as long as you do, you can get everything you’d ever want, and keep it local on your computer. For a lot of people that’s a great deal, and is a step better from other services, thanks to the local downloading feature.

If you really do want to discover new artists and new music, this may be the best choice of the three major Apple Music features to accomplish that goal.

7/31/15: Added section on iTunes Match.

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