“Since September, I have been short Pandora, believing that iTunes Radio would be a powerful competitor, powerful enough to knock the luster off P’s Tech-bubble 2.0 valuation. Essentially, I was betting that Apple would continue its legacy of creating products that offer a superior user experience. Instead, what they released was a half-baked add-on whose only purpose seems to be demonstrating that Apple has forgotten its roots,” No Mean Sum writes for Seeking Alpha. “The good news is that iTunes radio is highly fixable.”
“The iTunes radio song selection algorithm is broken, and needs to be fixed… I was blown away at how bad iTunes radio performed at selecting relevant songs,” No Mean Sum writes. “The bright side of this, (if you can all it that) is that the affect of the inferior algorithm on the user experience is so obvious, I honestly cannot imagine that it’s not being worked on as we speak. In addition to the tweaking of the broader algorithm, we can reasonably expect improvements in iTunes performance as data from user input is incorporated into the system.”
“A nice thing about Pandora is that they provide suggestions of similar artists you might like to make a station for (pictured above). Something akin to this would be especially helpful for iTunes radio because it would minimize user loss due to the frustration that occurs when you run up against the skip limit. Put another way, I’m already mad when I run out of skips, I don’t want to have to think about what else I might want to hear. Anyone familiar with the paradox of choice will immediately recognize the value of this or any feature that minimizes the users cognitive workload,” No Mean Sum writes. “iTunes radio isn’t easy to find, and thus far maybe that’s a good thing. In fact, I would wager that half of Apple users have never opened the platform, simply because they don’t know where it is. More importantly, even after you figure out where it is, it’s annoying to have to go into iTunes to get it. This could be easily remedied if Apple would make a separate App for the radio. Even if that app were just a shortcut to bring you into the radio part of the Music App, it would go a long way to making the product user friendly. Make it preinstalled, make it easy to see. You’ll be amazed how many new users you get.”
“User feedback is not only an important part of tuning the song selection algorithm, it’s an integral part of the user experience as well. And so the fact that iTunes radio serves up an inferior interface puts it at a disadvantage on both fronts. I call it inferior is because it’s simply more difficult to use. It takes two clicks to perform any preference action aside from skipping the song,” No Mean Sum writes. “First you have click this little star button, and then chose one of three menu options. Pandora by contrast offers every single preference option just one click away. It’s hard to express how this little difference can be such a big deal. Steve Jobs would get it. The only other way I can think to put it is that people are really, really lazy. I want to feel like I’m in my favorite armchair listening to the radio, not organizing my iTunes library. Easy – get it?
No Mean Sum writes, “Tim Cook should have been draping the bloody carcass of Pandora across his shoulders at the last Apple event, as proof that Apple is still primus inter pares. Instead, iTunes radio is languishing in the depths of OS 7 – a blemish on an otherwise unparalleled legacy of delivering products that recognize the primacy of user experience above everything else… Pandora has been granted a stay of execution thanks to Apple’s shoddy implementation of what has the potential to be a far superior product. However, as I have demonstrated, the road to Pandora’s ruin is not complicated. Apple could implement most of the changes in a weekend. The only question is whether the giant in Cupertino has enough of its former mojo to strike the killing blow sooner than later.”
Much more in the full article – highly recommended – here.
MacDailyNews Take: Hopefully, Eddy Cue and his iTunes team read the full article and take some of its very good ideas to heart.
The writer is correct: Steve Jobs would get it. Tim Cook? Well, he released it. Just like he released Apple Maps. If it’s not crystal clear by now, it should be: Cook can’t see it. He’s very good at some things; other things he simply cannot see. This is not a knock. The ability to be so detail-oritented, so absorbed in the end user experience to the exclusion of all else, is a rare ability.
Tim’s not a product person, per se. – Steve Jobs discussing Tim Cook, as quoted by Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs
Cook needs to assign people to these projects who can do what he cannot, who can see what he cannot see, and make sure these people are as focused and obsessed as Steve Jobs. There may only be one person at Apple who can do this reliably: Jony Ive. Unfortunately, he may be too busy being chief designer of all things Apple (hardware and software) to also do what Jobs did so incredibly well: Focus on a wide range of products, experience each of them as the end user does, and not allow products out the door until they can perform as Apple products should perform. It’s highly likely there is not enough time in the day for all Ive would need to do (or even to do all that he’s supposed to be doing already).
Cook needs to find people who are obsessive about the end user experience and assign them to these type of projects. There should have been someone at Apple who became the planet’s preeminent authority on streaming radio, who knew every service, who used these services for hours each day, who lived and breathed and used streaming radio for months. This person should have been iTunes Radio’s shepherd and final arbiter, without whose approval, iTunes Radio would not be released. Was there such a person on this project?
In other words: Was Eddy too busy playing with his Ferraris to fanatically obsess over iTunes Radio’s user experience to anywhere near the degree Steve Jobs would have? Yes, we’re being flippant. It’s much more likely that Cue was working overtime on Apple iTV content deals. Still, the point remains: Cue was heading the project, so he’s responsible.
To state the obvious: Steve Jobs was one-of-a-kind and truly amazing. No hyperbole. Cook needs to try to replicate Steve Jobs as much as possible with a group of people, each of whom can contribute various elements of Jobs’ wide range of skills.
iTunes Radio works well enough for any company not named Apple, but there are enough good ideas – some painfully obvious – in the above article that it’s evident that Cook has not yet arrived at a reliable method of running products through a fine-toothed comb before presenting them to the public.
(We’re still stunned that iTunes Radio is so hidden within the OS X iTunes app. It’s in the main Music menu on iOS devices. Why not iTunes? And, why is the application “iTunes” on the Mac, but “Music” on our iPhones and iPads? Cripes. Consistency is your friend, Apple. On our Macs, iTunes Radio should be in iTunes’ top grey bar right between Music and TV Shows. No amount of transient promo banners in the iTunes Store can make up for that omission.)
In this case, as opposed to Maps, it’s early enough in the game to fix all of this. iTunes Radio is already our favorite streaming radio product (but, we appreciate its huge library more than most and we were also motivated to learn how it operates and how to operate it than your average user). We’re listening to iTunes Radio right now. iTunes Radio is currently U.S.-only, so the tweaks and fixes to improve the end user experience can be made before it rolls out around the world.
Even in its current state (very good, not insanely great), iTunes Radio will become the world’s #1 streaming radio service, thanks to basic math. Steve Jobs would not be content with that. Apple should redouble their efforts with the goal of making iTunes Radio the world’s best streaming radio service in every way.