annathepiper: (Wrath of Gaz)

I installed iOS 10 on my iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 last night, and I threw off a lot of tweets and posts to Facebook to document various reactions and observations as I went. By and large I’m pretty happy with the upgrade, and I’ll be doing a separate general post about that.

This post, however, is about the unholy mess that the default Music app on iOS has become.

I’ve been cranky about it for some time. I didn’t like that they threw podcasts out into a separate app, but I put up with it. I liked even less that they threw audiobooks out into iBooks, which killed my ability to organize audiobooks in playlists. Why this is relevant: because I buy a bunch of Doctor Who audios from Big Finish, and i like to organize them by season and listen to them in order of release. Dara and I listen to these a lot on road trips. Lack of ability to properly use those playlists on the iPhone is very annoying. I have to keep a separate note active in the Notes app to track the order of the audios in question, on the phone.

But I was even grudgingly willing to put up with that.

As of iOS 9, though, the Music app’s design got deeply annoying. Some of this is because of Apple’s being bound and determined to hook people into the Apple Music service, about which I have zero fucks to give. But at least I can mostly turn the service-specific features off.

What’s more annoying to me, though, is how the app is making it more difficult to just play my music that’s right there on the phone. In iOS 9, they had a toggle button that you had to turn on if you wanted to just see the music on the device.

In iOS 10, however, they’ve now made a Downloaded Music section of your Library tab, entirely separate from the Playlists, Albums, Artists, and Songs items. The Downloaded Music section itself also has Playlists, Albums, Artists, and Songs. Which means that I have to completely ignore the top-level versions of those, because they are entirely useless to me, and instead have to tap down into Downloaded Music to get to the lists that are actually reflective of what’s on my device.

This is what that looks like on the phone by default. I had to actually turn on the Downloaded Music section, which does NOT appear by default, and scoot that up to the top so that I could actually get to it.

My Library tab in iOS 10 Music

My Library tab in iOS 10 Music

This is a UI decision that makes no goddamn sense to me. I was confused as to why the iOS 9 toggle button wasn’t over in Settings where it belongs, and I’m still confused about that. Since Apple seems bound and determined to make you try to use iTunes Match and Apple Music to play stuff, why they aren’t solving this problem by just putting the “Show Downloaded Music” toggle over in Settings, and keeping from cluttering up the Music app’s UI with redundant sections, is beyond me.

I am also highly disgruntled that they’ve made it a lot more difficult to see how many songs are on any given playlist. I use that data. It’s gone now from the top of a playlist, where it was in iOS 9. Which means that now there’s a bunch of whitespace they’re not using, underneath the playlist title. It looks like this.

Not Recently Played playlist

Not Recently Played playlist

My Not Recently Played playlist is the one I use most often, and it’s often got a lot of songs in it. I like to keep track of how many there are, and now, I have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of it if I want to see the song count. My best guess here is that they kicked up the font size on that data and decided it wouldn’t fit in the whitespace in question. But I don’t even know.

All in all, I’m grumpy enough about the state of the Music app that I’ve decided to start researching what alternative music apps are available. This MacWorld article from 2015 has a few recommendations, and Ecoute and Cesium both look promising. I’ll be checking them out.

Meanwhile, though, if any of you have recommendations for alternative music-playing apps on iOS, I really want to hear from you. I don’t need much in the way of bells and whistles. I just want an app that’ll be able to see my music collection as synced down from iTunes on my computer, and let me get at my playlists properly, including the Smart Playlists like Not Recently Played. I don’t want to stream any music; I don’t care about Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, or anything else where the point is to stream music online. I just want to play the music I have.

Bonus if the app ALSO lets me play audiobooks in playlists.

Shoot me your recs if you got ’em! And stand by for the full iOS 10 review post.

Editing to add: I found another thing this afternoon that I strenuously dislike about the new Music app. To wit, they’ve removed the ability to see lyrics that you’ve manually attached to a song file. This is hugely irritating to me because a lot of what I listen to being Quebecois trad, I need the lyrics so I can learn them and practice my French.

Also, I have been poking at both Cesium and Ecoute today, the two most promising alternative music apps that I could find browsing around for suggestions.

I want to like Ecoute, in no small part because its name is in fact French. I like its simple, elegant UI. It even seems to let me actually get to the playlists for Big Finish audios like I want to.

But I don’t like that it doesn’t seem to actually honor the toggle setting for only showing me music local to the phone. That being broken means my Not Recently Played playlist is completely freggin’ useless in that app, too. And while it seems like it’ll see my podcasts as well, it’s having trouble organizing them; I see the same podcast splitting out into multiple icons.

Cesium, meanwhile, has a UI that looks like a nice retro throwback to what the iOS default Music app USED to look like. But it doesn’t seem to pick up on my audiobook playlists like Ecoute does. And my Not Recently Played playlist is less useful here, too. I can at least show music local to the phone properly, but Not Recently Played is a smart playlist. My intent with it is to have songs roll off of it when I play them, making the playlist automatically shorter. Cesium doesn’t seem to pick up on this, which makes it less useful in that regard.

And both apps have delivered the vexing surprise that apparently, third party apps can’t get at playlist folders if you’ve made those for organizational purposes, because apparently Apple doesn’t make those visible in the API. BOO.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

annathepiper: (Final Test)

This blog post link is going around today, in which the writer describes how he signed up for the Apple Music subscription service–and it promptly torched all local music files on his hard drive, including stuff he’d downloaded directly from artists’ websites, and stuff he’d recorded himself.

And I’m seeing a bunch of people on my social media feeds instantly leaping to the conclusion that iTunes and Apple must suck in general, and that OHNOEZ APPLE IS EVIL!!!! Which, no. That’s not a justified conclusion.

Because this isn’t an iTunes issue–I know a bunch of people who’ve told me that iTunes has caused them a bunch of headaches, but this isn’t actually iTunes’ fault. This is Apple Music’s fault.

For those of you who aren’t Apple users, Apple Music is not the same thing as iTunes. It’s their music streaming subscription service, akin to Pandora or Rhapsody. The entire idea here is supposed to be that it can give you access to all of your music on all your computers and devices. Nice idea in theory, but in actual practice, it’s an implementation nightmare–if you’re one of the people falling into the edge case that that blog post describes. A whole bunch of users of the service are never going to have this problem, since they’re probably buying their music from the iTunes store regardless, and that’s the userbase Apple’s trying to target here.

But if you do fall into that set of edge case users, if you’re somebody who frequently buys your music from other sources (say, directly from artists on Bandcamp), and even rarer, if you’re somebody who records your own music and you’ve got that on your computer along with stuff you’ve bought commercially… then yes, this is a huge problem.

What’s happened here is that this particular guy fell into that edge case, and it revealed that Apple’s failure to gracefully handle the problem is a spectacular failure indeed.

But at the end of the day this is still just a spectacular functionality failure, not a sign that OHNOEZ APPLE IS EVIL AND IS GOING TO STEAL MY MUSIC. And I’m not saying this just because I’m a generally loyal Apple user who thinks Apple can do no wrong. This is a spectacular failure and I’m absolutely willing to call it out as such–in no small part because I’m also a QA engineer in my day job, and I am now cringing at the thought of how their QA people must have reacted to this edge case before the service shipped.

What is an edge case? Let me explain by telling you a bit about how a software development cycle works. It goes kind of like this.

  1. The Powers that Be in a software company says to their engineers, “we want a feature that does X”.
  2. The engineering team goes “okay, we’ll do X!” They start doing some designs as to what the feature will look like, and drawing up a specification for the details of how the feature should work.
  3. There’s often some debate between designers, developers, and QA (quality assurance) as to what can and cannot be implemented to make the feature work as requested.
  4. A schedule is worked out as to how long it will take to do the work. A target release date is settled upon.
  5. Developers build the feature and start handing pieces of it off to QA so QA can test it and make sure it actually works as requested, according to the designs and specs.
  6. QA files a bunch of bugs about anything that’s broken.
  7. Development fixes those bugs.
  8. QA verifies that the reported bugs have been fixed.
  9. Repeat until the release date is achieved.

Now, sometimes QA will find issues with a feature that are problematic, but only for a small likely percentage of users. This is called an edge case.

When that happens, the team as a whole has to decide whether it’s appropriate to spend time fixing that edge case, even if QA has already said that this is going to be a problem for X number of users. Even if it’s a serious problem. If the problem only affects a small number of people, then some decisions have to get made as to how the team will proceed.

Sometimes they’ll say, “We can’t code a solution for this edge case because if we do, it’ll keep us from shipping on time and we’ll have to swing back around and fix it later”. And sometimes they do just that. But sometimes “later” never happens. Sometimes teams decide that they just can’t spare the time to fix that edge case, because they have other higher priority work they have to be doing and they don’t have enough people on the team to do everything.

Problem is, sometimes that edge case they didn’t fix will come back to bite its creators in the ass. This is one of those times.

Remember, folks: computer software is written by people. People are fallible. Therefore your software is, every so often, going to fuck up. Sometimes it’s going to fuck up spectacularly. This does not mean that the creators of that software are evil. It just means they’re people.

But at the same time, if a spectacular failure like this happens to you, you’re totally justified in being upset. It’s absolutely frustrating when you lose a bunch of your personal data like that. Certainly if I’d been in the shoes of the blogger I’m linking to above, I’d have been equally pissed off.

Just try to remember if you can that the people who made that software on your computer are still people just like you. They’re really, really not out to destroy your data personally. “Let’s destroy all our users’ data” really doesn’t work as a successful business plan, after all.

Also remember: for gods’ sakes, do backups. If you’re a Mac owner, Time Machine should already be doing this for you. If you’re a PC or Linux user, and you’re not already running regular backups, find out NOW how you can do so. And regardless of what kind of computer you use, if you have super-critical data like personal creative output you’ve done, do extra backups of that stuff.

For example, all of my writing work, in addition to getting backed up by Time Machine, lives on my Dropbox account so that I have backup copies of that not only separate from my computer, but also separate to my house network. If you’re a creative person of any stripe–artist, writer, musician, whatever–I strongly encourage you to consider similar strategies for your creative output.

For more on this, I direct y’all over to Dara’s post on this topic, too. She’s got some in-depth analysis of why Apple chose to implement the Music service this way, and how she and others at the time it rolled out complained about this very edge case. Worth reading if you want a more technical look at how this all works.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

annathepiper: Han Says NO (Han Says NO)

So by and large I’m almost entirely happy with the new releases of iOS 9 and El Capitan. I’ve seen significant performance improvements on both my laptop and my mobile devices. But there’s one big pain point with me still, and that’s Apple deciding in its infinite wisdom to punt audiobooks out of Music on iOS and over into iBooks.

You could argue either way about where audiobooks actually belong. That’s not the part that pisses me off. The part that pisses me off is that since the vast majority of audiobooks I have are the full-cast audio Doctor Who adventures from Big Finish, I’ve set up a bunch of playlists so that Dara and I can listen to these in release sequence when we’re on trips. So, for example, I’ve got a “Fourth Doctor Season 1”, “Fourth Doctor Season 2”, etc.

Now, as of iOS 9, the playlists I’d set up don’t sync to my phone anymore. Even though I’d set them to do that. And since iBooks is not set up to deal with playlists, this means I have no way whatsoever to recreate that ordered sequence and to be able to know which adventure Dara and I should listen to next.

I see a few different things I can try to do to deal with this, none of which are optimal.

One: Rename all the audio adventures so that it’s obvious what the listening sequence should be.

Two: Get into the settings on each adventure and change the media type to ‘Music’ so they’ll show up in the Music app. Which would also lose me the ability to keep track of where I left off listening to any given adventure, which is after all THE ENTIRE POINT of my downloading them from Big Finish in audiobook form to begin with.

Three: Keep a running list of the listening sequence in Notes or in a file on Dropbox. In other words, an externally managed playlist, which, again, I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO DO BECAUSE I HAD THAT FUNCTIONALITY ALREADY GRR.

Four: Find a third-party app to manage my audiobooks if possible.

I’m willing to pay for a third-party app if a good one exists. Failing that, I’m probably going to grumpily keep a running list in Notes as to what the listening sequence should be, since that seems like the least amount of effort involved.

But does anybody out there know of good audiobook managers for iOS? Sing out if you do! And if you’re also an audio listener on iOS, you might consider going to Apple’s feedback page for iBooks on iOS and expressing your displeasure how they’ve broken things.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

annathepiper: (Aubrey Orly)

For those of you who, like me, were startled to have an unwanted U2 album show up in your account library on iTunes, Apple apparently has received a lot of flak for this. Because the BBC is now reporting that they’ve released a tool to remove it.

I’ve just tried it and can confirm that it removed the album from my list of hidden purchases, so the tool does appear to do the trick. If you want to completely nuke the album out of your library, go to the link mentioned in the BBC article and follow its instructions.

I hope now that this will be a lesson unto Apple about not messing with user data like that in the future. And hopefully next time they want to do a massive promotional giveaway like that, they’ll actually, y’know, tell people. As I said before, if a massively famous band like U2 wants to give their album away for free, more power to ‘em, but they need to make sure that recipients actually know it’s going to come to them BEFORE it shows up in their libraries, and they should make sure the recipients actually WANT it.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

annathepiper: (Aubrey Orly?)

For those of you who, like me, were startled to have an unwanted U2 album show up in your account library on iTunes, Apple apparently has received a lot of flak for this. Because the BBC is now reporting that they’ve released a tool to remove it.

I’ve just tried it and can confirm that it removed the album from my list of hidden purchases, so the tool does appear to do the trick. If you want to completely nuke the album out of your library, go to the link mentioned in the BBC article and follow its instructions.

I hope now that this will be a lesson unto Apple about not messing with user data like that in the future. And hopefully next time they want to do a massive promotional giveaway like that, they’ll actually, y’know, tell people. As I said before, if a massively famous band like U2 wants to give their album away for free, more power to ‘em, but they need to make sure that recipients actually know it’s going to come to them BEFORE it shows up in their libraries, and they should make sure the recipients actually WANT it.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

annathepiper: (Eleven Wants Tea)

So there I was reading my feed of articles coming off the Mary Sue when I saw they’d put up this: “101 Things We Wish Apple Gave Us Instead of That U2 Album and How to Get Rid of It”.

And my immediate reaction was “wait, WHAT?” And I found another article on Ars Technica, here.

Because apparently not only did U2 hand their album out for free over iTunes as part of Apple’s big event this week, the album’s also now been added to everybody’s iTunes libraries.

And sorry, Apple, sorry, U2, but that’s just obnoxious. If the band wants to hand out their album for free, dandy, more power to them. Promote the hell out of it and tell everybody on iTunes ‘hey look! A free thing! Click here to get the free thing!’ And stand back and watch the downloads roll in, because sure, people like free things.

But you know what people don’t like? Editing their online data without their consent.

I just logged into my iTunes account and clicked on ‘Purchases’, and yep, there it is, right there at the top of my recent purchase list. Except I didn’t ask for the damn thing. I don’t want it. Even aside from the matter of how I’m not a fan of this particular band or of most rock in general–’cause as you all know, if your band doesn’t have a fiddle player and at least one bouzouki, I do not care–the thing that annoys me here is the editing of my account data. And giving me no way to delete it, either. It’s useless data to me. It’s taking up space in my purchase history, and okay yeah fine I can apparently ‘hide’ it, but my point is, you shouldn’t be messing with user data like that to begin with.

And okay yeah sure fine, the album does not appear to have actually shown up on my phone; I’ll need to check my computer to see if it showed up there. And I’m aware that there’s an easy answer here: “if you don’t want the album, Anna, don’t download it or listen to it”.

Thing is? If that album shows up on my computer without me having asked for it in the first place, that’s pretty much the equivalent of Apple not only standing on the street yelling FREE ALBUM GET YER FREE ALBUM HERE, but actually walking up to people and stuffing CDs into their pockets, no matter how you try to say “NO THANK YOU”.

It’s not a big problem in the grand scheme of things. It’s absolutely a petty first world problem.

But dammit, have some respect for the integrity of your user data, Apple. Don’t go stuffing things into our pockets that we didn’t actually ask you for. You wouldn’t do that if we walked into your Apple Stores in person, would you? (You’d BETTER not.) So don’t do it online either.

ETA: Okay, further investigation shows that this album does not appear to have actually invaded my iTunes library, no doubt because I do not actually have Automatic Downloads turned on. I am however hearing from friends that THEY have had it show up. userinfoscrunchions tells me it startled her quite a bit because she KNEW she hadn’t purchased any U2, and for a long bit there she was afraid she’d gotten hacked somehow until she saw the news going around about the promotion.

The takeaway here: I don’t care what you’re promoting. I don’t care if it’s the finest album in the history of music. Any promotion that alarms your users and makes them think their account security might have been compromised is seriously not cool.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

annathepiper: (Eleven Wants Tea)

So there I was reading my feed of articles coming off the Mary Sue when I saw they’d put up this: “101 Things We Wish Apple Gave Us Instead of That U2 Album and How to Get Rid of It”.

And my immediate reaction was “wait, WHAT?” And I found another article on Ars Technica, here.

Because apparently not only did U2 hand their album out for free over iTunes as part of Apple’s big event this week, the album’s also now been added to everybody’s iTunes libraries.

And sorry, Apple, sorry, U2, but that’s just obnoxious. If the band wants to hand out their album for free, dandy, more power to them. Promote the hell out of it and tell everybody on iTunes ‘hey look! A free thing! Click here to get the free thing!’ And stand back and watch the downloads roll in, because sure, people like free things.

But you know what people don’t like? Editing their online data without their consent.

I just logged into my iTunes account and clicked on ‘Purchases’, and yep, there it is, right there at the top of my recent purchase list. Except I didn’t ask for the damn thing. I don’t want it. Even aside from the matter of how I’m not a fan of this particular band or of most rock in general–’cause as you all know, if your band doesn’t have a fiddle player and at least one bouzouki, I do not care–the thing that annoys me here is the editing of my account data. And giving me no way to delete it, either. It’s useless data to me. It’s taking up space in my purchase history, and okay yeah fine I can apparently ‘hide’ it, but my point is, you shouldn’t be messing with user data like that to begin with.

And okay yeah sure fine, the album does not appear to have actually shown up on my phone; I’ll need to check my computer to see if it showed up there. And I’m aware that there’s an easy answer here: “if you don’t want the album, Anna, don’t download it or listen to it”.

Thing is? If that album shows up on my computer without me having asked for it in the first place, that’s pretty much the equivalent of Apple not only standing on the street yelling FREE ALBUM GET YER FREE ALBUM HERE, but actually walking up to people and stuffing CDs into their pockets, no matter how you try to say “NO THANK YOU”.

It’s not a big problem in the grand scheme of things. It’s absolutely a petty first world problem.

But dammit, have some respect for the integrity of your user data, Apple. Don’t go stuffing things into our pockets that we didn’t actually ask you for. You wouldn’t do that if we walked into your Apple Stores in person, would you? (You’d BETTER not.) So don’t do it online either.

ETA: Okay, further investigation shows that this album does not appear to have actually invaded my iTunes library, no doubt because I do not actually have Automatic Downloads turned on. I am however hearing from friends that THEY have had it show up. userinfoscrunchions tells me it startled her quite a bit because she KNEW she hadn’t purchased any U2, and for a long bit there she was afraid she’d gotten hacked somehow until she saw the news going around about the promotion.

The takeaway here: I don’t care what you’re promoting. I don’t care if it’s the finest album in the history of music. Any promotion that alarms your users and makes them think their account security might have been compromised is seriously not cool.

Mirrored from angelahighland.com.

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