What does Apple Music need to really take off?

Apple to Revamp Streaming Music Service After Mixed Reviews, Departures

I agree that Apple Music really needs improvement on ease-of-use.   John Gruber makes some great points about this: because Apple’s service is trying to combine your downloaded music with your streaming music, it’s really much more complicated than a streaming-only service.   Spotify doesn’t have this problem, at least not on mobile (the desktop Spotify can import your downloaded music, and it, too, makes it hard to know what is where).

Would a separate streaming music app help?  Not unless Apple clarifies the iTunes Match, iCloud Music Library, and Apple Music boundaries.  Navigation and filtering in Apple Music are problematic — you have so much content to make sense of, particularly when you look at the way the service merchandises and curates music.

My big complaint is that the experience isn’t nearly as seamless as I’d like between mobile, desktop, and Apple TV.  Things are supposed to ‘just work,’ but when they don’t, or they are doing it more slowly than you’d like, you can’t really tell what is going wrong or how to fix it.   This seems common to Apple’s cloud services in general.  Poor WiFi connectivity seems to exacerbate the problem.  Would love to see additions to the iCloud libraries that could help you see sync progress.

Anyway, hoping they come up with a solution to this — looking forward to their WWDC announcements.

 

Digesting the new Apple Announcements

Was on my way back from Burning Man when the latest Apple announcements came out. The iPad Pro plus Apple Pencil combination looks like it will give Wacom some heartburn. The larger form factor of the iPad Pro combined with the 3D touch should enable some new forms of interaction; it will be interesting to see what developers do with this, but it’s going to take a while before the ecosystem gets comfortable.

Same goes with WatchOS 2.0 and the new tvOS. That’s a lot of stuff for devs to embrace, especially when they are scrambling to prepare for the iOS 9 release. I know I have a lot of woodshedding to do, including an update to iBuddha for iOS 8 compatibility, and perhaps an iBuddha for Apple Watch.

I don’t think the expansion of the ecosystem is a bad thing at all, and it’s likely to weed out a lot of casual hobbyist developers. The companies most able to take advantage of this explosion of alternatives will be bigger companies, but that also creates an opportunity for someone to provide smaller developers with tools for building apps that can run appropriately across all the platforms. Games are going to go crazy on the new Apple TV, especially if you can handoff from your iPhone or iPod. These announcements are the fruit of the Handoff work that was done in Yosemite; Apple is playing a long game, and it’s not obvious how any one move is supposed to stack up.

More when I’ve had a chance to digest the announcements further and look at docs on the new OS offerings.

Apple Watch: after the try-on

Well, it doesn’t smell like burning feathers.

A lot has been written about how the Apple Store has set up their try-on appointments. They have a nice case showing all the models with non-working samples. They have very nice stations with a watch you can touch, and an iPad showing explanations of the different programs and modes, it was possible to figure out about 90% of how the watch works in a few minutes. Your actual try-on appointment is done at a special table, where they have drawers full of actual watches (though they are not free-range, they are running a demo loop) next to one of the stations you can use to interact. A sales person pulls out the models you are interested in and puts them on you, adjusting the bands if necessary.

Though some have complained that the UI breaks in some strange ways from iOS 8, the UI wasn’t particularly alien, and for anyone who has owned a few digital watches, it’s comparatively easy to set and configure compared to some.

As a watch, it’s not as heavy or clunky looking as some digital watches I’ve owned. The difference in size and weight between the 38mm and 42mm is fairly subtle in person. The fit and finish of the watch are excellent, and the elastomer band on the Sport Watch is very comfortable. The Stainless Steel watch is a bit heavier, but again very comparable to other watches, and has a look and feel of great precision. The link bracelet is very impressive, the Apple salesman was able to size the bracelet to my wrist in seconds due to the removable links. I think it’s unlikely you’d be disappointed with the watch as a piece of jewelry.

The software looks pretty good, it runs pretty quickly, though I suspect your mileage will vary outside of wifi. Maps can take a few seconds to load, but you know, you’re waiting for them to come down from space and all. The display looks great, and there are so many watch face variations to choose from. The fitness monitoring functions are attractive and look like they will add to my already exhausting bag of personal monitoring tricks.

The only thing this very choreographed sales presentation didn’t communicate to me was how the watch works for one particular function, which is wearing it on your wrist and seeing what time it is. Nobody at the Apple store has an actual working watch yet, though that should change when they are released next week. I’m hoping I can replace my Nike FuelBand with this device, so this is no small matter for me. So, I’ll wait a bit longer and research whether there will be a Nike app for the watch as well.

Since the watch now has shipping dates into June or July, there’s no hurry to act. Also, the sales force at the Apple Store are fairly new at this, the experience was quite good, but the sales folks don’t have as much information as they could, they really couldn’t answer some of my more specific questions about the fitness features (for example, does the Watch have an M8 chip, so it can count stairs climbed? I live in a ti-level, and would like to get that information before my next iPhone upgrade…), and none of them have actually used the real watch themselves. Might as well wait until they actually ship and someone can actually show you the real watch in action.

The demo watches, though, had smooth animations, the Digital Crown response is instantaneous and smooth, and most of the apps or Glances on the watch launched instantly, with the exception of Maps. The final released Watch OS software is supposed to have improved performance, so I’m not concerned about that. I’m more concerned about whether I will get the opportunity to see how the watch works when you want to check the time.

This is my biggest concern, the timepiece use case. Right now, it takes up to 3 button presses of the Nike FuelBand to see the time, depending on the mode it was in last, and that can take a few seconds of attention. I often grab my phone from my pocket instead to check the time rather than go through that. So, if the ‘raise your wrist to check the time, and it just turns on’ function really works as advertised, I’m probably in. The other functionality of the watch is mostly an add-on for me.

Seeing and holding the models in person, I have to say that the Apple Watch Sport is much less of a compromise than the cost would suggest. It looks great, the build quality is just as good as the other models, and the lower price takes the edge off of any ‘version 1.0’ jitters you might have.

So, the likelihood that I’ll end up getting one is fairly high, but I can wait another week for the real watch to come out before ordering. Anyway you slice it, it’s more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need’ purchase.

Back to the Nike Fuelband

My replacement Nike FuelBand arrived a week or two ago; it’s the Nike Fuelband SE. The packaging and the device look exactly like the first model of Fuelband, so I was a bit confused at first, but once you plug the device in, it’s a big difference.

For one thing, the display animations are much faster, requiring less time to check your progress or see what time it is. The most important change in the user experience, though, is the data sync. In the first version of the fuel band you had to press and hold the button (you know, that button that always broke for me on four different fuel bands) in order to sync. It would then link via Bluetooth to your phone and update the app with your progress. It did this very slickly and seamlessly in early versions in the app, but later versions were kind of wonky with this feature.

With the new model of the FuelBand, they do it the way it should have been done in the first place. Launching the *app* will just automatically sync up with the band and get the progress. Much more intuitive, and it seems to work much more reliably as well. It should also put a lot less stress on the button — I’m hoping the new model has a more reliable button mechanism to begin with, but I also will use it less as a result of this change, which is good thinking on their part. The FuelBand works best as a ‘put on and forget’ device.

Nike must be feeling the competition from other fitness trackers, or perhaps the upcoming Apple Watch — the Fuelband SE now is $99 for the stock models, and there are a couple of glitzier-looking colors that run $149.

iOS Messaging improvements subtle but powerful.

This article about the iOS8 Message app has a lot of great insight about how one can improve a commonly-used feature , and the importance of attention to detail. The genius of this change is that they added an amazing amount of power, but what the user sees is not so different from iOS7 that they would get lost.

The only downside is that the change isn’t easy to discover for everyone. Tap and hold is pretty common now — he points out that many messaging apps like WhatsApp have it, and it’s something that Pinterest uses as well — but it’s not always clear in an interface what things support it.

These instantly sent pieces of media are also ephemeral. You have to explicitly ask to save them, or they self-destruct after 2 minutes.

tl;dr – if you tap and hold on the microphone or camera icon in your iMessage screen, you can send voice or pictures or video without launching another app. They’ve also made tapping on the camera icon show you the most recently taken photos so you can send them without searching. Easy-to-miss, but smart changes.