Apple has announced an all-new user interface for its year-old Apple Music streaming service and some key innovations for its Photos app, including the use of artificial intelligence to accurately search for photos by topic.
The new capabilities were unveiled at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco on June 13, along with a host of other software updates to its iOS, macOS and Apple Watch operating systems. The announcements included previews of the upcoming iOS 10 and macOS Sierra operating systems, and the unveiling of the new watchOS 3.
The Apple Music redesign, which has been rumored for more than a month, includes an all-new design that Apple expects will be easier for users to navigate as they search for music. The Library, For You, Browse and Radio tabs inside Apple Music have been redesigned for ease of use, while a new Search tab has been added to make it easier to find music. Also new is the addition of visible lyrics when listening in Apple Music.
The changes are aimed at helping Apple further increase the user base of its Apple Music subscription service, which now has 15 million users. The original user interface had received complaints that it was hard to navigate and not user-friendly.
Apple Music was launched in June 2015 as the company dove into the growing streaming music market with a $9.99-a-month service that aimed to take on established competitors such as Spotify, Rhapsody and Pandora. A family membership for up to six users is $14.99 a month. About 10 million users signed up in the first six months, but the service didn’t grow as much as Apple had expected.
Apple Photos Updates
Also receiving key upgrades is Apple’s Photos offering (pictured) in iOS 10, which is getting advanced search tools to make it easier for avid digital photographers to make their way through their images when they have thousands and thousands of photos to peruse for just the right shot. The new search capabilities use artificial intelligence to scour images and identify them based on search terms chosen by users. For example, a user could search for beach photos, taxi photos, dog photos or photos of horses to display images of those subjects. In addition, the search capabilities will be able to find images using facial recognition and scene recognition, based on searches such as a person’s name or terms such as beaches, cities or farms.
Also included in the new photo app capabilities is a feature called “Memories,” which scans a user’s photos and videos and automatically organizes them into collections of memories that include old, forgotten images of people, places and things. Also coming is a Memory Movie feature that will automatically edit the images into a movie with theme music, titles and cinematic transitions, according to Apple.
The iOS 10 operating system will be available as a free upgrade to Apple users in the fall.
Two analysts who spoke with eWEEK about the Apple Music and Photos changes had varying reactions to the updates.
Jan Dawson, chief analyst for Jackdaw Research, called the Apple Music changes “mostly cosmetic,” adding that there “wasn’t much about new or better functionality, and it was mostly about the same stuff in new packaging.”
The addition of lyrics in Apple Music is “nice, but not a game changer,” he wrote, but Apple didn’t do much to improve the recommendations that Apple Music makes to users, added Dawson. Also missing was any mention of a new user interface for Apple Music users on the Mac, he said.
Meanwhile, Apple’s Photos app is getting “some interesting changes,” he said, “but I wonder to what extent people want Apple to do more organizing of their photos versus doing that organization wherever they’re sharing the pictures, like Facebook.”
Apple Revamps Apple Music, Adds Intelligent Search to Apple Photos
Another analyst, Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy, said he likes the improvements Apple is making with Apple Music, which he thinks addresses the shortcomings that some users have expressed about the service since it was launched.
“The thing about Apple Music is that it’s all about the interface,” said Moorhead. “The biggest challenge for Apple Music has been about the simplicity of the interface. They got too cute [initially]. This revamp, and it literally is a complete facelift, is designed to fix that.”
Moorhead said that he was impressed that Apple was able to log 15 million subscribers in the first year despite its oft-criticized interface.
“People openly complained” about the user experience, giving the first version of Apple Music “the reputation of being the second coming of Apple Maps,” which was panned heavily by users after it initially replaced Google Maps in iOS 6 back in September 2012. The first Apple Maps efforts routed users to incorrect locations, displayed bridges that didn’t exist and caused other related havoc, causing the company to apologize for the problems.
Some users have even recently complained that their music collections had been deleted by Apple Music without their consent, leading to a bad user experience for some users, said Moorhead.
But with the upcoming changes to Photos, Apple has “finally nailed it,” said Moorhead. In the recent past, the interactive features available to users from Google Photos and Microsoft’s photos apps “were head and shoulders above Apple,” he said.
The updates announced at WWDC 2016 “went a long way to help shore all that up,” he said. The ability to use search to find images based on their contents is very useful, said Moorhead. “I think it’s an excellent feature, because if you look at the amount of photos people have … the ability to find things is nearly impossible at this point. This gives people the ability to find what they are looking for.”