Gruber weighs in on the rumored iTunes reboot:

What do you see when you open the Spotify or Pandora apps? Just the streaming music you have access to. That makes them less complicated, by definition. “Everything you see is in the cloud, and you have access to it because you are a subscriber” is easy to understand. “Some of this is in the cloud, some of this you own” is more complicated.

He's joining a reasonably long list of Apple pundits with the request to split Apple Music into its own app, the most recent I can think of offhand was Jared Sinclair, whose step two of four ways to reorg Music was, "Bye, Bye, iPod - Break out all the legacy iPod features into another app."

The worst part is that, sort of like the Big Jennifer Null stuff I've mentioned recently, the iTunes confusion really was preventable.

Gruber leaves the door open on the preventable part, saying,

Maybe there’s a way to design “all your music in one app” that is completely clear, convenient, and obvious.

The four sets of Apple Music

Well, the idea Apple had was bang on. It shouldn't matter where your music lives, you should be able to sync it all. There are really only four sets of music files from iTunes' perspective:

  1. Files that you brought to Apple music (no DRM)
  2. Files Apple thinks it's matched from 1.) on another of your devices (no DRM)
  3. Files Apple didn't match from 1.) and allows you to copy to your other devices via their cloud (no DRM)
    • This is really another version of 1, just copied to a new device.
  4. Files you've only ever gotten from an Apple Music subscription (DRM)

Doomsday hub with covered red button

Apple should keep 1.) around like those files are gold. Never let the user whack those without going through some sort of "locked button with cover" removal process. As Jason Snell points out, there's a real UI issue here, but also a serious functional one. "Remove download" should never throw your original files in the trash. Warn that those are files that you brought to Apple Music, and that deleting them will irrevocably remove the originals. And even then, after they're deleted, make sure users can redownload matched versions at the worst, if they were matched, without DRM, until their subscription lapses. Better is to immediately create a backup of that original file, though I realize there are cases where the user might really rather that original disappear immediately.

Files from 2.) should similarly always be downloaded without DRM. There should also be the possibility of saying, "That's a bad match; give me my original file." Maybe in version two you let the user pick from other possible matches, and then you cloud source the right matches after you get a better idea what goes where.

Files from 3.) are pretty simple. You didn't match 'em, so you let folks copy them anywhere they are logged into iTunes. It's pretty much what Dropbox does.

For the fourth, well, the only real gotcha is when they really do match something from 1.), and Apple mismatched it. But then you've already got both files. If someone tries to delete their original because it's now "duplicated", you should send them through that "locked button cover" process, and possibly have a, "duplicate match" reason there. Then you should delete the file from 4, not 1.

Note that there's another category that we're going to ignore to make things simpler -- things that should be matches that aren't matched. I'd provide a mechanism to say when something's mismatched, but if there isn't a match found and should've been, having the original file from 1.) on another machine isn't too bad. That is, there's Category 5: Things Apple should've matched with AACs they have on file and didn't. Instead of providing a way to say so in order that you get more 2.), just leave them in Category 3 until you get everything else straight. That often happens now, and it's fine.

When your Apple Music subscription lapses, you should probably also be given a final download session (that could take weeks to finish), possibly even on more than one device. "Your Apple Music subscription has ended. Would you like to download your matched and/or original files that are currently missing on this Mac/PC?"

Notice that the first three categories make up iTunes Match.

iTunes Match should've let Apple know that they weren't doing a great job of providing its eponymous function -- matching -- and they really needed to make sure they could get 1.), 2.), & 3.) right before going whole hog into a unified Apple Music. But it's still just a database management problem. They "simply" should have been much more defensive with Apple Music for when matching failed. If your user doesn't have a file three places, don't delete it.

But as long as you have a space for a flag on each file to say which it is -- an unDRM'd original*, an unDRM'd "likely match", or a DRM'd file that's never been matched -- you don't have this trouble.

It takes some great QA, but it's a straightforward, at worst tedious, process. I could make such a system without the issues Apple's seen in, let's say, six months, and I could recommend a good five or so folks that could as well.

  • "UnDRM'd" could also included files purchased before iTunes removed DRM.

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