Benedict's Soapbox

Bug Report: The design of the Music app and iTunes Match integration is deficient for moderately sized libraries

This is my ranty bug report about the usability issues with the iOS Music app.

I’m a music fan. The idea of iTunes Match is great but, to be frank, the implementation has always been terrible both in design and engineering. I want to focus on the design failures by highlighting 2 problems/use cases.

Use Case 1

I want to listen to the “Bob Dylan song with the cool piano part that’s the last track of one of the post Blonde on Blonde, pre Blood on the Tracks album”.

I don’t remember the name of said song but I do know where to find it within the context of my Dylan collection. With the current design the only information scent available to me are titles. Titles are of no use to me here. In iTunes desktop there are 2 additional scents, chronology and artwork, with these it becomes much easier for me to find the track (Father of Night from New Morning if you were wondering).

I think this can be rectified by:
1. Allowing the albums to be sorted by date
2. When there are 3 or more albums by an artist an ‘Albums’ view controller should be inserted between the ‘Artists’ view controller and the ‘Tracks’ view controller. This was how it was prior to iOS 7 and I consider the removal of this VC one of the most annoy UX regressions of iOS 7. If the ‘Albums’ view controller displayed larger artwork then that would add another information scent. (I picked 3 arbitrarily, but I hate having to constantly scroll the ‘Tracks’ VC to get to a track at the bottom so I’d err on a smaller number).

Use Case 2

I want to only see the songs that are currently on my device when browsing but I also want to be able to access all the songs in my library.

I guess that the app has been designed without consideration of network access availability. I live in London and despite having 4G circumstances frequently prevent me from downloading songs when I’m moving about town (which is one of the times I most often listen to music). The network can be inaccessible because:

Due to this it is frequently impractical or impossible for me to download song so seeing all the songs in my library is at best irritating and at worst it renders the app near impossible to use. Here are some numbers that illustrate the problem:

The Music app with iTunes Match enabled is not fit for purpose.

OK, so it is currently possible to only show songs on the device using 2 hack techniques, both of which are horrible:
1. Go to settings and turn off ‘Show All Music’
2. Turn on Airplane Mode

Both of these are terrible solutions (it took me ages to figure them out and I still find it hard to believe that these are the only way to perform such an obvious task).

I think this use cases can be fixed by changing the behaviour of the ‘Show All Music’. When ‘Show All Music’ is de-selected and ‘Enable iTunes Match’ is selected then the Music app should only show music on the device but searching will show results from the entire iTunes Match library. (I think this was how it behaved in iOS 5 but that may have just been a bug).

(Incidentally the current behaviours of ‘Show All Music and ‘Enable iTunes Match’ is incredible confusing. My initial though was “what does ‘Show All Music’ mean if not ‘Enable iTunes Match’? Are they not the same thing?” I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how they impact one another but I think ‘Show All Music’ actually means ‘Download All My Purchased Music’. But why would I want that to happen?)

Bonus Rants

While I’m here I will briefly mention some other terrible UX with Music and iTunes Match.

  1. iTunes Sync. “Waiting for changes to be applied”. Seriously? How can this bug still exist?!

  2. Enabling iTunes Match means that the library can’t be synced via USB. Enabling/disabling iTunes Match can (it’s unpredictable) cause all music to be wiped from the device. Due to this it’s best to never disable iTunes Match because not only does this process take a few minutes it could also cause all songs to be wiped (it may also corrupt the library resulting in duplicate songs/albums or tracks going AWOL). But as mentioned, having iTunes Match enabled means that it’s not possible to sync via USB. This means that if I want to add a bunch of music to my iPhone I have to download them one over a internet WIFI connection instead of via a much, much faster USB connection. This is a horrendous experience.

  3. And it gets even worse. Ever tried to restore a new iPhone from back up with iTunes Match enabled? It’ll replicate the library from the restoration image which could take a long time and there’s no interface to cancel it or view which songs are being downloaded (the ‘downloads’ tab of the iTunes app does not show all songs being downloaded, it just intermittently and unpredictably shows batches of songs).

Phew. That’s enough for now.