All posts by Martyn

What’s happened to the Apple of old?

I posted this on the Apple Community forums.

It seems that Apple moderators tend to get rid of these kind of posts (more to keep the place tidy rather than simply deleting something because it’s a valid negative/complaint).  So it’s here as a precaution.  Lots of hits to my “Apple Music is buggy” post, as well as the new Mac FileVault issue.

This goes show that Apple’s quality assurance is letting it down, and that rather than trying to launch fancy new products and services at fancy keynote presentations – let’s get the basics right first.  I’d have a lot more respect for Apple if they did that rather than rushing everything to market as soon as possible, which is what it feels like right now.

Apple can’t take all the blame, however.  It is a market thing that forces companies like Apple, Samsung, et. al to bring newer and fancier products to consumers as fast as possible.  But I’d say it’s definitely having an impact on the overall experience and quality of the product when they ship with massive glaring bugs.  It’s not always the case that it does, but when does happen, people notice.

Apple Community Forums post:

As the saying goes, with first impressions you only get to make one.  In this case, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

What I’ve seen and have experienced with Apple Music is a shambolic, unholy technical mess that is as far off from a final product than an alpha is to a beta.  So I’ve given up.  I’ve disabled iCloud Music Library across all libraries.  I’ve nuked my iTunes folder, re-downloaded all purchases plus restored purchases from other sources (thank goodness for competition who make it easier to import music you’ve purchased from them back into iTunes), disabled whatever Apple Music features that can be disabled, and I’m sticking with Spotify for streaming/offline stuff for the foreseeable future.

The AppleCare folk in the UK don’t have much of an idea of what’s going on, and I got fed up of waiting for a senior adviser to talk to me.  I don’t really need to “talk” to anybody – I could have happily have handled this entirely in email (so there is a paper trail of our conversation), but nope.  I have never really had to use Apple’s online support services until Apple Music come along, and it’s been an horrific experience which is going to seriously make me think about buying anything Apple related again.  QA of new software over the past few years has been horrific (as an aside, having bought a new Macbook Pro, there are issues enabling FileVault during the initial set-up, and this still seems to be the case giving the hits I’m getting to my blog when writing up my experience).

I didn’t have much faith in Apple’s “cloud” services either.  I “do” “cloud” for a living (plus in a previous career I’ve been pushing film data around the internets for major movie studios).  The experience of the iCloud is awful.  Apple really should be offering an SLA on it – even if it makes AppleCare+ for iCloud (yes, really).  At least buys you some insurance that if things go wrong at Apple’s end, you’re entitled to monetary compensation.  Downside is that given the current support level for this sort of thing (which is clearly a training issue), I don’t have much faith in such a thing ever happening.

It’s about time Apple started to fix the stuff it breaks before launching MORE fancy new stuff at fancy keynote presentations.  I’ve gone from being quite the fan of Apple through to “it’s turned into an earlier version of Microsoft” and I’m being put off by poor quality assurance from Cupertino.  Even with public betas of new OSes and software to get it out to the masses for testing,  it’s clear that this is still not good enough.

Apple Music: Buggier than a buggy thing in the land of insects

Updates: 

  • Apple Music is no longer on any of my devices, neither is iTunes Match (or iCloud Music Library or whatever they call it).  I’ve gone back to Spotify and I am very unlikely to use Apple Music ever again.  The experience has been truly horrible and completely user unfriendly.  The trouble with first impressions is that you only get to make one.  Apple have royally arsed this up.  Taylor Swift is backing the wrong horse here.
  • If iTunes 12.2 is not in focus, and you’re using a web browser (any will do) while music is playing, you’ll experience substantial stuttering during music playback until iTunes is back in focus.
  • Things seem to be settling down iCloud Music Library connection wise in iTunes, but there are still many “Waiting” iCloud Library statuses and tracks cannot be played.  To confuse matters further, some tracks ARE playable but still have the “Waiting” status.
The much publicised Taylor Swift album is there, but why are three tracks unavailable (to stream or otherwise)?
The much publicised Taylor Swift album is there, but why are three tracks unavailable (to stream or otherwise)?
  • Licensing of tracks is horribly inconsistent and poorly implemented.  Take the Vikings TV series original soundtrack (series 1).  The title track by Fever Ray (“If I Had a Heart”) is not available on the soundtrack, but it exists within Fever Ray’s own album and as a single on Apple Music.  But you can’t access it within the Apple Music’s Vikings album at all EVEN if you’d added Fever Ray’s album to your Apple Music collection (offline or not).  It’ll show as being greyed out and unplayable.  So there is no logic within Apple Music that looks through its entire catalogue to make tracks available to an existing album if the entire album isn’t licensed.

I have stated on many occasions that I am concerned over the QA of new Apple products and services (case in point, a brand new MacBook Pro and FileVault problems straight out the box).  Apple Music is no exception.

It’s brave that a company the size of Apple, with the resources it has available to it, that it can release a fresh new  music streaming service to over 100 countries simultaneously.  This in addition to releasing new updates to two operating systems and various other product updates.

For me, updating to iOS 8.4 went extremely smoothly.  Signing up to Apple Music likewise.  But in practice, the service cannot match that of existing services such as Spotify or Deezer who have had time to refine their catalogue and applications.  To say the iOS version of Apple Music is hideous is an understatement.   The screens are far too cluttered and the submenu that allows to you to do various bits and bobs is far too unwieldy to be practical.

As for Apple Music’s catalogue – so much is missing from my Spotify playlists I’m wondering what the hell happened with those high level discussions Apple had with the various record companies.  On the other hand, there is stuff in the Apple Music catalogue that’s not available on Spotify.  To compare, Apple Music has a much better contemporary selection, but its back catalogue is far too spotty in comparison with more established services.  This may change, of course, but for the time being if you’re hoping to match like-for-like with your Spotify playlists, you’re going to be disappointed.

Searching for content on Apple Music is straight forward enough, but suffers from the iTunes Store search problem I keep experiencing in that you have to be very specific otherwise you’ll end up with weird results.  Usually the first couple of words followed by the artist should match pretty well.

A big frustration with Apple Music is that you can’t create playlists on the fly.  You have to create them beforehand prior to adding tracks to them.  This is an issue that’s replicated within iTunes 12.2 as well (but more on that later).  You can seemingly nest playlists, but there’s a whole bunch of fiddling to do first.  This is an enormous PITA.

Downloading Apple Music offline in iOS is relatively straight forward – but you must remember to do this after adding the tracks (or go straight to “Download for offline use”).  Adding the album or tracks and not doing this later will result in a frustrating experience thanks to the clunky interface.

Apple released iTunes 12.2 much later than planned, and while it’s an improvement on 12.1.2, using Apple Music with it is one of the most frustrating experiences imaginable and does not come close to that of Spotify’s own app.  Whether it’s iTunes Match interfering with Apple Music or not, or whether it’s Apple’s servers going doolally, or some other issue I’m not aware of, accessing the iCloud Music Library constantly fails.

cloud_fail

The cloud symbol that indicates iTunes is “unable to connect to your iCloud Music Library”.  It does this frequently.  You can be adding albums or tracks and then suddenly the cloud symbol above pops up.  It often fails to vanish for many hours.  Some say it has something to do with an existing iTunes Match subscription, but who the hell knows.  All I know is that Apple clearly haven’t done enough Q&A on this service to have it fixed in time for launch.   I’ve submitted a ticket to Apple Support about this, because there’s bugger all information on the Apple service status page about any issues with iCloud Music.


Note: This connection bug only seems to affect iTunes 12.2 on the desktop – the iOS client seems to be largely unaffected by it, but it’s difficult to tell due for sure to lack of decent UI feedback under iOS.


Errors galore!
Errors galore!
You log in, log out, deauthorise, reauthorise, and this still bloody happens. #iClownMusicLibrary
You log in, log out, deauthorise, reauthorise, and this still bloody happens. #iClownMusicLibrary

The following demonstrates the many statuses of iCloud files in your new, improved (read: bloody mangled) iTunes library (read: cesspit).  Click on each image to expand.

Managing tracks, when Apple Music/iCloud Music Library is rarely working, is a much nicer experience than than the iOS client, but there are many times in which iTunes feels very sluggish and unresponsive – even streaming directly from Apple’s servers.

Apple Music has potential, but it’s technical shortcomings are highly apparent and feels like the service is an afterthought rather than a carefully crafted service with a decent user experience in mind.  It comes nowhere the quality or capability of Spotify, Deezer et al. other than the Beats 1 radio show which is rather nifty.  That’s where Apple Music shines – but for everything else, it’s bloody awful. It feels as if Apple doesn’t care at all for the user experience.  You and I know that’s not true, of course, but you’d be hard pushed to see that when using Apple Music across iOS and Mac devices.

Thank goodness Apple gives everybody three month’s free trial.  But is it a trial or unpaid beta testing?  I’m edging towards the the latter.

I strongly urge those considering moving from other services to stick with what you have for the time being – you’ll get a far better experience both technically and in catalogue back titles.  Apple will, hopefully, fix the technical gremlins that currently plague the service – but I dread to think how long this will take and how many different software iterations we’ll have to go through to get there. Hopefully it’ll be less than three months.

I’m going to try and persevere with it, because with a bit of love and polish, Apple Music COULD be a worthy competitor.  But at the moment, it’s like watching a bunch of clowns honking their way through the “cloud” (weather warning: adverse weather conditions for the next few weeks) in their clown cars scrambling to fix stuff that should have been fixed way before the public launch.

*Honk* *Honk*

JS&MN: Buy, buy, buy!

I am a great believer that if you like something enough, you should fully support it.  Even if that means buying it across multiple platforms.  And as we hit the fifth episode in the excellent BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the opportunity to buy ALL THE THINGS (well, *some* of the things) has become available.

The Blu-Ray hasn’t been released yet, but you can pre-order it (it should be available from the 29th June according to Amazon.co.uk) – but if you have an Apple-related gadget (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod or Apple TV), then you can buy a season pass for £15 and get each episode in HD as it becomes available (the iTunes Store UK is at least a week behind each episode).

For everybody else, Google Play has their equivalent of a season pass Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to buy (US folk can go here, UK folk can go here).  The beauty of a Google Play version is that you can play video on practically any device that supports YouTube.  You can even watch the show on YouTube.

I’ve pre-ordered the DVD, bought the iTunes season pass AND the Google Play season pass too.

I strongly believe in supporting this show, and this provides me practically unlimited access to all seven episodes across every single device I own (or likely to own).  Already I have multiple copies of the book in e-book format (iBooks and Kindle) AND in paperback.

On the music front, while the official soundtrack hasn’t been released (I note that BBC Worldwide take an age to release soundtracks after a series airs), an enterprising orchestra has already released a couple of tracks that appear in the show.  Everybody already knows In The Hall of The Mountain King by Peer Gynt, and it was used in one of the trailers for the show.  You can now buy a JS&MN branded performance on iTunes.

You can also buy the JS&MN end credits theme, performed by “The Regency Players” on iTunes.  Or if you’re a Spotify user, the same track is performed by L’Orchestra Cinematique.

Yes, I have probably spent more money on this one story than I’d care to do so – but bloody hell, it is so good, and I don’t begrudge giving the fine folks at the BBC, Curtis Brown and Susanna Clarke herself more of my dosh as a consequence.  Well deserved.

Martyn Goes West (part two)

(A reminder: all photos featured here, and more,  can be found via my Flickr album)

Vancouver B.C.

Much has been said about Vancouver.  Especially when it comes to film tax credits and visual effects.  My former employers have an office here (and indeed, we ate just around the corner from them at the excellent Keg Steakhouse in Yaletown – it comes highly recommended).

Vancouver public library.  Has a very decent pub at the back.
Vancouver public library. Has a very decent pub at the back.

The first thing you notice about Vancouver is just how multicultural and cosmopolitan it is.

Robson Street, downtown Vancouver
Robson Street, downtown Vancouver

It is also very green.  I was particularly taken by Stanley Park which plays host to the Vancouver Aquarium and horse drawn tours.

Stanley Park's rose gardens
Stanley Park’s rose gardens

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We took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour which took us through the all the interesting part of Vancouver.

Horse drawn Stanley Park tour
Horse drawn Stanley Park tour
DSC00375
An inhabitant of Vancouver’s Aquarium at Stanley Park

DSC00352 DSC00350 DSC00329

 

Panoramic view over Vancouver from Stanley Park
Panoramic view over Vancouver from Stanley Park
The hop-on/hop-off tour bus.  Tickets cost (IIRC), around $42 CAD per person for 24 hour access
The hop-on/hop-off tour bus. Tickets cost (IIRC), around $42 CAD per person for 24 hour access

You’ll need a couple of days to explore properly, and there are a number of whale watching tours that’ll take you out around Vancouver Island and other islets.  Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to do this, but it’s on my list for the next time I go back.

Up next: The Orgeon Coast!

Martyn goes West (part one)

I’ve just returned from an extraordinary two weeks visiting my lady friend in the Pacific Northwest, taking in Seattle, Vancouver B.C., and the Oregon coast.

Public accessible photos of the trip can be seen via my Flickr account – note that family/friends who have a Flickr/Yahoo! ID should get in touch so I can grant them full access to the photos.

First stop was Seattle, visiting Pike Place Market, the home to the very first Starbucks store.

Leaving Seattle via the Bremerton ferry
Leaving Seattle via the Bremerton ferry
Pike Place Market, Seattle
Pike Market, Seattle
Pike Place Market, Seattle
Pike Place Market, Seattle
The home of the very first Starbucks, this place is BUSY.
The home of the very first Starbucks, this place is BUSY.

We spent a lot of time in used bookstores (we’re both book connoisseurs) and when I returned to the UK, I was 1Kg over the luggage limit thanks to the books I bought during our hunting trips (which BA were going to charge me $90, but kindly waived it despite me having no qualms paying).

Seattle is a lovely city – staggered across multiple levels, you’ll soon get a good workout traversing the steep streets.  It wasn’t helped that we spent an hour or so having a few pints and some nibbles at a local bar before doing this – but at least we got a bit of exercise working off those carbs!

The first time we went to Seattle was via the main interstate route, but the second time we tried the ferry via Bremerton (which is home to a US navy base – and indeed, we discovered a couple of former sailors at a local bar whilst waiting for the next ferry – all good people with interesting stories to tell).  The ferry is free to go one way (into Seattle), but $8.50 going back.   You do get some fantastic views.

In my next report, we head over the border to Canada and experience the hospitality of Vancouver, B.C..

Canada Place, Vancouver B.C.
Canada Place, Vancouver B.C.