Before the launch of Apple Music, I mostly listened to my own music library, viewing Spotify very much as a supplementary music source. It wasn’t very good at introducing me to new music, so mostly I used it to try out artists recommended by friends.
Apple Music, however, has totally transformed the way I listen to music. Upwards of 80% of my listening is on the For You tab, listening to the recommended playlists and albums, and it’s introduced me to many new artists I now love. Listening to my own music library has become a secondary activity.
However, there are times when I definitely do want to listen to my own, locally-stored music, and this is where the iOS Apple Music app messes up badly – and iTunes too for some …
Apple’s enthusiasm for the cloud sometimes gives the impression that the company’s execs never leave a bubble of always-on, high-speed Internet. I’ve sometimes been unable to continue to work on a Pages document on my iPad because my train has gone into a tunnel, despite the fact that the most recent update to the document was not ten minutes ago on the very device I was using. So too with music.
Sure, on my high-speed broadband at home, it makes very little difference whether I’m playing music directly from the SSD in my Mac, downloading it from the cloud or simply streaming it from Apple Music. The same is true when my phone has a decent LTE signal.
But I don’t live my entire life in an always-connected, high-speed data world. I travel through tunnels. I take leisurely strolls in rural areas where mobile data signals do the same. I fly on planes where Wi-Fi is either non-existent or too limited or expensive for streaming music.
For these reasons, I keep a decent chunk of local music stored on my phone. Indeed, one of my biggest question marks about whether I could move from a 128GB iPhone 6s to a 64GB iPhone SE was whether I’d have enough space for that music. I checked after doing a restore, and it was all there.
So I was extremely unamused when, less than a month later, I boarded a 10-hour flight, got out my iPhone and prepared to listen to some music only to discover that hardly any of it was there. Of all my favorite albums, lovingly selected as the ones I wanted to have available at all times, just a handful were still present. Others claimed to be present but in fact had just one or two tracks. Everything else had the cloud download icon next to it – which did me no good at all at 37,000 feet.
The iOS Apple Music app had, entirely arbitrarily and without consulting me, dumped most of it.
For me, that was a nuisance. My music library was still safely sitting on my Mac, and I could restore it at will later. But it isn’t just the iOS app that arbitrarily deletes music: some people have had the same thing happen in iTunes too.
I should stress this appears to be far less common. It’s never happened to me, and I’ve heard relatively few reports of it happening to others. With a rather small number of exceptions, it would be tempting to dismiss them as user error.
But I’ve now heard enough reports from Mac-savvy people to be satisfied that it’s a real issue in iTunes too. There was Jim Dalrymple, hardly a beginner where Apple kit is concerned, nor someone noted for being overly critical of the company. He initially lost 4,700 tracks – though did later get most of it back with Apple’s help.
And when freelance composer James Pinkstone described exactly the same thing happening to him, discussion among the team here at 9to5Mac revealed that our own Greg Barbosa has experienced it too. Greg is a software developer who last worked as an iOS QA/test engineer, so again, hardly an Apple neophyte.
Losing music in iTunes is a thing.
One could again shrug, describe it as a nuisance and simply highlight all non-local music and tell iTunes to download it all again. It might take a day or two with large libraries, but you’d get it all back, right?
Well, not necessarily – because there’s another problem with Apple Music, which first raised its head in iTunes Match. Namely, that Apple’s music-matching process is very far from perfect.
It has matched the explicit-lyrics version of tracks with the radio-friendly versions. It has identified remixes as originals. It has even confused live recordings with album versions. So the music you get back by downloading it again isn’t necessarily the music you had in the first place. Given that some rare recordings may not even be commercially available, that can mean you lose forever particular recordings. Which is exactly what happened to James Pinkstone.
That rare, early version of Fountains of Wayne’s “I’ll Do The Driving,” labeled as such? Still had its same label, but was instead replaced by the later-released, more widely available version of the song. The piano demo of “Sister Jack” that I downloaded directly from Spoon’s website ten years ago? Replaced with the alternate, more common demo version of the song.
Greg told me that many of his remixes suffered the same fate. He did, of course, have backups, and was able to restore them, but much as we techies might urge people to follow our example, many people don’t.
And for musicians and composers, it could be even worse. Pinkstone said that iTunes removed not just mp3 tracks, but WAVs of his own work – which he could only get back as much lower-quality AAC versions.
So, there are two things Apple urgently needs to fix in Apple Music. First, it should never delete local music without explicit permission from the user. If either app wants to remove music to free-up space, it should say so and allow the user to say yes or no.
Second, Apple needs to fix its track-matching algorithm. At present, it appears to be way, way too fuzzy. Where potentially irreplaceable recordings are concerned, it’s not good enough for Apple to be 99.99% certain it’s the same track, it needs to be 100% certain that it’s a bit-for-bit match. If it’s not, it needs to err on the side of caution and retain them as separate files.
Sure, there’s a downside to that. Apple will end up with a bigger library, some of which will turn out to be dupes. And that can be irritating in itself. While I’ve never lost any music from my Mac, I have had a number of dupes showing up in my albums, which I’ve had to manually remove. But that’s infinitely preferable to losing music.
So sure, overhaul the iOS app UI by all means, but fix the more fundamental issues too. If Chance will forgive me, I’m going to suggest that these two need to be top of the list before Apple tackles both his own hitlist of improvements and Greg’s complaints about search.
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