I just installed iOS 7 on my iPhone and began playing around. I’m sure most of the reaction to it in the coming days will focus on the look and feel. But the first thing I noticed is that the Music app is an absolute disaster for people who like music. If your music collection consists of a dozen Greatest Hits albums you bought in college, you’ll probably be fine. Anyone else should stay as far away as possible.
Here’s the first problem: The “Artist” and “Album” views display large thumbnails of album art, which means only four entries are visible per screen. OK, there’s a hint of a fifth if you look closely:
Like I said: Fine if you have a dozen or so albums in your collection. I have about 1,000 artists and 2,000 albums. Scrolling through them just got much, much more difficult. Thanks, Apple!
The second problem is worse. When you tap on an artist, the app takes you to all that artist’s albums (good) … but each album is expanded to show the songs it contains:
So in order to scroll through an artist’s albums, you have to scroll past every song in every album. Again, not a problem for tiny music collections. But if you have several albums by a given artist, it quickly becomes annoying. It took me seven thumb-swipes to scroll through the 21 albums by U2 in my collection. The 300+ Springsteen albums? Essentially un-browsable.
Speaking of which: It took a whopping 22 seconds from tapping on “Bruce Springsteen” to getting a list of Bruce Springsteen albums. That’s 22 seconds of the iPhone just sitting there, seemingly unresponsive. And that’s on an iPhone 5. Now, I have more than 300 Bruce Springsteen albums; that’s obviously not typical. But there’s a noticeable, if slight, lag when tapping on an artist with 15 or 20 albums. And, of course, the artists whose work you have the most of are the very artists you’re going to select most frequently, so those lags aren’t going to be an occasional thing.
All of this adds up to a Music app that is absolutely horrible for people who like music. Just a terrible user experience.
What’s really stunning about this is that a lot of people came to the Apple ecosystem via the iPod and iTunes. I’m one of them. And over the last few years, Apple has steadily been making the user experience more and more miserable for people who like music. iTunes is a bloated, glitchy, terrible trainwreck of a program that -- when it works at all -- seems to make it harder to do what you want with your music with each new update. Mobile device hard drive space has stagnated at a level too small to house large collections. And the Music app in iOS 7 is the clearest indication yet that Apple just does not give a damn about people who have more than a couple hundred songs in their library. Which is bizarre, given that selling music is a pretty big part of Apple’s business.
The iPod and iTunes brought me into the Apple ecosystem years ago. It seems increasingly obvious than what will end up driving me away is the escalating awfulness of Apple’s music apps on both OS X and iOS.
UPDATE: I’ve tried several third-party music apps looking for a replacement for Apple’s built-in app. Thanks to everyone who suggested alternatives in the comments and on Twitter … none of which were quite right. But I may have finally found something that will work: Audyssey.
Audyssey is marketed primarily as providing “professional audio technologies to optimize your music for your headphones” -- you can tell the app what headphones you’re using, and it will optimize audio playback to fit them. I haven’t spent any time playing around with that feature, so I can’t comment on its efficacy. But as a way of browsing and playing my iPhone’s music library, it’s far better than Apple’s app. Browsing by artist displays 10 artists per screen, more than twice as many as you see in the Apple app:
Browsing by Album shows 8 albums per screen, again more than twice as many as you get in the Apple app. Selecting an Artist containing 20-25 albums results in no noticeable lag. (There is about a 2-3 second lag when I select Bruce Springsteen, which is mildly irritating, but far better than the 22 seconds Apple’s own app requires to bring up a list of albums.) Most importantly: Once you select an artist, you get a list of albums by that artist -- and only the albums, not every song each album contains. This allows you to easily browse through artists for whom you may have large collections. Want to see what songs are on an album? Just tap the album name, and you’ll go to a new screen. Perfect. Simple. Exactly the way things should work. (For my purposes. YMMV.)
Audyssey gives you immediate access to all of the songs on your iPhone (including iTunes Match files that are stored in the cloud but not locally), with all the basic controls -- play/pause/repeat/shuffle/forward/back/etc. Album art & basic controls appear on your phone’s lock screen when appropriate. You have full access to your iTunes playlists. If there’s a way to add songs to playlists or create playlists within the app, I haven’t found it. That doesn’t bother me at all -- I rarely if ever create playlists on my mobile devices.
The one flaw that I’ve encountered is that if a song is in the cloud but not stored on the device itself, Audyssey can stream the song -- but can’t do so in the background, so if you close the app while such a song is playing, it will pause. That’s annoying, but won’t affect you at all unless you use iTunes Match. And if you’re planning on listening to several songs that are stored in the iTunes Match cloud (a whole album or playlist, for example) you can always use the built-in Apple Music app to download the songs first, then play them in Audyssey. Or, of course, you could just play them in the Apple app -- Audyssey is fine as a music player, but then so is the Apple app. Where Audyssey really shines is in browsing your library. I’ve only been playing with it for a few minutes, so it may turn out to be buggy (its responsiveness even when browsing a pretty large library is a good sign on that front) or to have some drawback I haven’t yet encountered, but for now it will be my default music player.
UPDATE 2: Another problem: Once you select an artist, that artist’s albums are not sorted alphabetically. They’re sorted, as best as I can tell, by release date. So if you have, say, 20 Rolling Stones albums and want to listen to Some Girls, not only do you have to scroll through every song contained on every album that is listed before Some Girls before you get to the album you want, but you also can’t speed the process along by swiping as quickly as you can until you get to albums beginning with “S.”
Instead, you have to remember that Some Girls came out in 1978, so it’s between It’s Only Rock n Roll (1974) and Emotional Rescue (1980). Unless of course you have something from Black and Blue (1976), which you probably don’t -- but, really, who can remember? So, yeah, Some Girls will be listed after It’s Only Rock n Roll, and 3-4 albums after Sticky Fingers (1971). Right where you’d expect it -- assuming, of course, that you happen to remember the chronology of album releases by every artist in your entire music library.
Unless, that is, you don’t have release date metadata included for every song and every album in your library (and who does?) in which case the album you’re looking for is … who the hell knows, really?
Oh, and the whole chronological order thing only works if all your albums have release-date metadata (unlikely) and if the release date metadata reflects the album’s original release date (hilariously implausible.) For example: Let It Bleed was originally released in 1969, but on my phone the Music app lists it after Flashpoint (originally released in 1991) because my copy of Let It Bleed is apparently a re-issue from 2005. And Flashpoint is listed after Stripped, originally released in 1995, for similar reasons. And so on. As a result, the albums are listed in no real order whatsoever. You’re just going to have to scroll through the whole mess song by song.
In short: This is a terrible app. Just awful.
UPDATE 3: I’ve used Picky a bit in recent weeks; it’s a strong alternative to the stock Music app. Looks good, doesn’t have Music’s glaring flaws, includes some interesting filter options -- you can filter your Artists view to exclude Artists for whom you have few songs, for example -- and a great “Picklist” feature that lets you quickly specify a subset of a selected album for playback. There’s a little bit more of a lag when loading a large list (an Artist with a very large number of albums, for example, or the Songs view) than I’d like, but overall it’s a very good app and the developer seems to be actively updating it.