In an update rolled out last week, Apple fixed two of my longstanding annoyances with Apple Music: there is a new screen that lists popular albums coming soon, and every upcoming album now features an actual release date.
Here's Mitchel Broussard, writing for MacRumors:
Apple appears to be rolling out a series of updates for Apple Music today, including a small but useful new section called "Coming Soon," which allows subscribers to check out new albums about to be released over the next few weeks.
In another addition, Apple is now making it possible to easily see album launch dates on their respective pages on iOS and macOS. In the Editors' Notes section, following the traditional encouragement to add the pre-release album to your library, there's a new line that begins "Album expected..." followed by the album's specific release date. Some albums not listed in Coming Soon still have a release date specified on their pages, so this update appears to be a bit more wide-ranging.
As someone who likes to keep up with new music, I'm glad to see Apple pushing these small but needed improvements to the service.
Furthermore, as noted by AppleInsider, the iOS 12 version of Apple Music features the ability to search for songs by lyrics. I've been using the beta on my iPhone and iPad for the past week, and lyrics search has already saved me a few minutes I would have otherwise spent looking for songs on Google. Built-in lyrics differentiate Apple Music from Spotify, so it's good to see Apple expanding support throughout the app.
Today Apple released the latest update to iOS, version 11.3, which adds the previously promised iPhone battery health settings, along with four new Animoji, ARKit 1.5, a new Music Videos section in Apple Music, and more.
Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac, notes that a new 'Music Videos' section has appeared in the Music app this morning, likely ahead of the public release of iOS 11.3.
Music videos have been part of the Apple Music service since its inception, with unlimited ad-free video playback included in the monthly subscription.
The updates take the content that was always available and make it more prominent with recommendations and continuously updated editorial, akin to the New Music page for singles and albums.
Users could always make their own playlists of music videos but now Apple is tailoring its own for customers to play and subscribe to. This feature will be especially useful on Apple TV, now you can simply setup Apple Music on your TV to play top songs with the accompanying videos.
It'll be interesting to see how personalized this section will be over time. Right now, it's primarily focused on exclusive videos and curated playlists (such as the new Today's Video Hits and The A-List: Pop Videos). One of my favorite aspects of YouTube is how its front page can reliably recommend new videos based on my music preferences; I wonder if this Apple Music section is going to do the same, either via personalized suggestions or push notifications for new videos.
(Something else I would have liked to see for video playlists: right now, if you start a playlist and enable Picture in Picture on iPad, the floating video popup closes as soon as the current video ends. I'd love to see a persistent Picture in Picture mode that remains enabled throughout an entire video playlist.)
Apple posted a short film on its YouTube channel called ‘Welcome Home’ directed by Spike Jonze, starring singer/dancer FKA twigs, and featuring the song ‘’Til It’s Over’ by Anderson .Paak. The video, which promotes the HomePod, is the first since the device was released to spotlight Siri. The spot begins with a young woman’s long, crowded commute home in the rain. She arrives home wet and exhausted barely able to muster “Hey Siri, play me something I’d like.’
She sits down on the couch in a small apartment as the HomePod begins to play ’Til It’s Over.’ As she starts to relax and sway to the music, she discovers she can extend her apartment with simple hand gestures. The remainder of the video is an energetic and colorful dance routine that shows off FKA twigs’ talent as she moves around the apartment extending the walls. The spot ends with FKA twigs opening her eyes as she lies on the couch apparently waking from a dream.
Video can’t capture the sound quality of the HomePod that Apple points to as one of the device’s main selling features. Instead, Jonze captures the convenience of asking Siri to play something you’d like. Siri has serious limitations on the HomePod, but controlling Apple Music works well and is a strength that I’m not surprised to see Apple highlight.
Benjamin Mayo sums up one of the most annoying features of Apple Music: the way the service thinks everything is an "album", making it extremely inconvenient to find what you're looking for.
These artefacts of compact discs show up again when looking at an artist page. What a human would think of as an artist’s albums, and what Apple Music lists, are completely different. EPs, singles, specials, deluxe, originals are all shoehorned under one name ‘Albums’. There is no way to filter these out. This really makes finding what you want hard. When you know what you want to find, all this backwardly organised catalogue gets in your way.
There has to be a better method than packaging everything up with the same ‘album’ label. This is not a hard problem, I thought to myself. In fact, it’s already been solved … by Spotify. As you have probably noticed by now, I have included a graphical illustration of Apple Music’s biggest flaw alongside this article. If you can’t see it, your browser isn’t wide enough. If you are reading outside of a browser, like RSS, this probably won’t show up for you either. Use a browser. I encountered this exact scenario in my first day of using the service. I did not fabricate it.
Don't miss the effective visualization of this problem on his post.
I like Apple Music, but this has been a problem since the service launched almost three years ago, and it's time for a fix.
Here's what makes this even more annoying: Beats Music – the very service Apple Music is largely based on – visualized albums, compilations, and different editions in separate tabs/views. Two of the worst Apple Music features (album categorization and the separation of playlists made by you vs. those made by others) had already been fixed by Beats Music, but Apple went for an inferior design that is still with us today.
When Apple acquired Shazam, people wondered what would become of the popular song identification and music discovery app. It’s not unusual for an app acquired by a big company to be pulled from the App Store or for development to slow substantially. Questions were also raised about whether Shazam would continue to support Apple’s music streaming rival, Spotify.
As it turns out, Shazam has continued to be updated and support Spotify since Apple’s acquisition. In fact, there have been at least four updates to Shazam since the acquisition including one today that adds synchronized lyrics and a design refresh of the app’s results screen.
The new UI looks great. The results screen is dominated by a background image of the artist. In the foreground is a big play button, the name of the song the app recognized, and the name of the artist. If you tap on the artwork, you get an image of the artist and album in some cases, plus more details on the artist, album, song, and release date.
Along the top of the results screen is a menu you access by swiping horizontally that includes lyrics, videos, additional songs by the artist, and related artists. If you swipe over to the lyrics screen while a song is playing, they are displayed in perfect synchronization with the song that’s playing, which is perfect for impromptu karaoke moments. Adding songs to Apple Music and Spotify playlists has been streamlined too – it now takes one less tap to add a song to a playlist.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you’re using the iOS 11.3 beta, playback is broken throughout the app. Tapping on any play button freezes the entire UI and requires you to force quit the app. Playback works as expected if you’re not on the beta, however.
Shazam is available on the App Store.
Speaking of music services, Billboard's Melinda Newman reports on today's beta launch of Apple Music For Artists, a dashboard to provide artists with hundreds of data points about their fans' listening habits.
The initial beta rollout involves a few thousand artists who will test the product and see what adjustments and expansions, if any, should be made before Apple Music for Artists opens in the Spring to the several million artists with content on the iTunes and Apple Music platforms. Later plans call for a mobile app.
The easily navigable dashboard’s home page provides artists with their current number of plays, spins, song purchases and album purchases. The user can specify the time period ranging from the past 24 hours to the 2015 launch of Apple Music.
Other services have offered similar analytics products for years, but Billboard notes that Apple's take features more depth and a cleaner user interface for artists.
In addition to broad strokes, artists can drill down on a granular level in myriad ways. A global map allows musicians to click on any of the 115 countries in which Apple Music/iTunes is available and find out what’s happening with their music. They can select individual cities and see how many plays and sales they have in each market, as well as look at their top songs in every city. They may further examine the listener demographics per city, for example, calling up how many times females ages 16-24 in Los Angeles have listened to a particular song.
Additionally, artists can view all Apple-curated playlists on which they appear, see how many plays they receive and how they are trending over time.
If you're an artist offering content on Apple Music, this sounds like a pretty cool addition to the service, especially because you can inspect data going back to Apple Music's launch over two years ago.
Victor Luckerson, writing at The Ringer, makes a good point about how Spotify's algorithmic playlists have turned into the cultural phenomenon that Apple wanted to build around Apple Music:
Spotify is in much the same position right now. With its regularly refreshing playlists, which rearrange artists’ music into a new kind of original content, Spotify has become a beloved musical destination rather than just a tool. It’s an iPod and a radio and a BuzzFeed “Which Drake Album Matches Your Personality?” quiz at the same time. Taylor Swift may have a legion of fans, but Discover Weekly does as well. Those always-updating playlists are now the must-attend musical events that Apple was trying to create around exclusive albums and radio shows.
As I wrote many times here on MacStories, I'd love for Apple to consider more smart playlist features akin to Spotify's Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes.
This is also interesting:
Netflix used its power as an entertainment destination to nudge its users to watch its own original programming. Now instead of being indebted to Hollywood, the tech company seems to run it. Spotify isn’t there yet, and successfully making the Netflix pivot will be tougher because music isn’t as valuable to investors as video. Its attempts to diversify with original content have so far been nonstarters, and despite persistent rumors, the company hasn’t yet tried to establish its own record label.
Given Jimmy Iovine's recent comments on music services and original content ("Guess how much original content streaming has: zero!"), I wonder if the future of music may indeed veer towards the current TV streaming model, with albums made exclusively for specific music streaming services (and as a heavy music listener, this possibility scares me).
Serenity Caldwell, reporting for iMore on a major change to Beats 1's primetime lineup:
Apple's Beats 1 radio service (part of Apple Music) is shaking up its weekday primetime programming starting January 8, bringing a new DJ to its daily lineup and moving around its primetime shows.
Matt Wilkinson, who formerly hosted Beats 1's weekly Saturday alternative music show, will now join Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga, and Ebro Darden as a weekdaily presence on the network — he'll be broadcasting live from London from 6AM-8AM ET Monday through Friday, and will have Mike D of the Beastie Boys on to celebrate his new show on January 15.
Wilkinson's deep music knowledge (he's the former NME New Music Editor) is a solid addition to Beats 1's regular programming.
Here's Caldwell again on the significance the announcement:
This is the first time since Beats 1's launch in 2015 that the primetime lineup has changed significantly: Adding another London voice at the 6-8AM ET slot will nix many of the replays and countdown shows formerly occupying that space; in addition, Julie Adenuga is moving from 3PM ET to 9AM ET, with Ebro Darden bumping up to the 3PM ET slot from the 6-8PM ET evening beat. Beats Creative Director Zane Lowe will continue to hold his flagship 12PM ET slot.
I haven't listened to Beats 1 much over the past year, but I'm going to check out Wilkinson's new show (to get an idea of Wilkinson's style, you can listen to his last show of 2017 – Episode 128 – here.)