Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

How Apple Music is Like 520 East

Microcosmographia viii: How Apple Music is like 520 East

Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.

Can I just complain for a second? I know that software is hard, but when software messes up my music-listening experience in ways that used to work just fine, I become an irrational customer. Today before leaving the house I told my iPhone to download Presto by RUSH. It responded by putting a little iPhone badge in the corner of the album art, as if “downloaded” were some kind of unusual state that needs labeling. (And even though Apple has always advised against using an image of the hardware in an interface.) Weird, but at least it gave me some feedback that the music was safely on the device and that I was all set to drive away rocking.

In the car, I hit play and sang along to the opening lines of “Show Don’t Tell”. Now, nothing’s worse than being really into a song and having it come to a dead stop, but at the corner of our subdivision, just out of range of the wi-fi, that is what happened. Turns out, the album wasn’t downloaded at all. The little iPhone badge, which I’d thought was a promise that all was well, was gone. What I’d thought was an “I downloaded this” badge turned out to be a “I will try to download this some time soon, maybe” badge. My choices were to go without Presto or to risk data overage charges by streaming it over the cell network. I went without. (At least Roll the Bones had successfully downloaded.)

Later, on the way home, I tried to follow signage to get on 520 West toward I-5. Somehow, without any clue as to what was happening, I ended up on 520 East, which is a toll bridge across Lake Washington with no chance to exit before paying $4.10 for the privilege of ending up in Bellevue. Once again, I felt…

Like, betrayed.

I’d trusted my phone to never, ever lie about whether my chosen music was ready for a drive. I’d trusted the Department of Transportation to make it very, very difficult to accidentally waste five bucks and cross a major body of water I did not want to cross. Among all the things that a system could get right or wrong, some goals seem sacred. Like there should be a design document somewhere that says, “we must do everything we can to make sure people are not stranded without their music.” Or “people are upset enough that this bridge has a toll now, even when they choose to take it, so we must do everything we can to make sure they don’t accidentally end up on it.”

Complaining about bugs is easy. Of course I recognize that these problems are tiny in the grand scheme of things, and inevitable. But more and more, I find myself noticing where designers’ priorities seem to lie, based on the genres of bugs that show up. And wondering how I can attune my own priorities to avoid as many of these betrayal-type bugs as possible.

A Music Video for Your Consideration

I have been really into Chatmonchy lately. They take earnest pop-rock rudiments and build ’em into surprisingly sophisticated structures. (They’re also great to do at karaoke.) Here they are doing Koko Dake no Hanashi among a panoply of lighting appliances.

Thank You And Be Well

I started doing this letter again! Partly because I was covered by Snug Club, which was flattering indeed. You may have noticed that the numbering is off — you’ll be seeing issues vi and vii soon enough!