On Apple getting its collective ass handed to it

Good, I say. Let them reap the consequences of their hubris.

It’s been no secret that I’ve been on sort of an anti-Apple tear for the past few years, intensifying over the last few months. Mostly for different reasons, which I will enumerate quickly for the curious:

  • Software quality between both iOS and macOS being in an extremely sorry state, buggy as hell
  • The iPhone 15 Pro Max not being quite the best upgrade coming from my 13 Pro, which I should have held onto for at least another year
  • Apple acting like petty assholes with regards to the EU’s Digital Markets Act
  • Apple also making up a bunch o’ bullshit about privacy and security with regards to the App Store (and it all being false because bad actors still slip through)
  • Apple’s entitled attitude to the whole 30% cut for damn near everything they can try and justify it for (they can hem and haw about how this covers the tools and such that they make for developers, but guess what! This is already covered by the yearly fee you have to pay to Apple to even list an app on the App Store in the first place!)

But really, I want to focus on one small bit here, now that this topic is in active discussion: This decline in favor toward Apple that I personally feel? Upon thinking about it more and more, it really started when Apple began going hard into paid services. I mean streaming services and the like. This also really affects the optics around that 30% cut I just mentioned.

Prior to Apple Music appearing, iOS really felt like the OS you went to if you wanted a mobile OS that respected your time, attention, and above all else didn’t try to advertise garbage to you. Android was teeming with bullshit (and still is, depending on where you buy your phone), preloaded apps from your carrier and even manufacturers (Samsung, looking right in your direction) advertising stuff in notifications that you have to opt out of. It was (and again, still is) a bad experience. Some of us just dropped into settings and killed the apps trying to advertise to us. Others got tired of it and moved to iOS to get away from it all because hey, Apple has no skin in this game, right?

Apple Music’s introduction with iOS 8.4 marked a pretty significant shift in things. Previously, the Music app on iPhones was only for two things: Local files synced to your iPhone via iTunes, or your iCloud Music Library that consisted of tracks you’ve purchased from the iTunes Music Store, or matched tracks if you had iTunes Match purchased and turned on. iTunes Match was a fun little thing that–for $25 a year–would either match (as the name suggests) your local files to those already on Apple’s servers and allow you to stream them to any device signed into your Apple ID. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is how Apple Music also works, it just also works in an entire streaming catalogue into the same system.)

However, the great thing about iTunes Match is that if you didn’t want it, it very much stayed out of the way. If you were still about keeping everything local and manually managing your library? Great! The Music app left you alone and continued to work great, as it did.

Until Apple Music happened, which launched on iOS with iOS 8.4. This took the previously innocent Music app and forcefully integrated Apple Music into it, which would have been fine if it had done like its predecessor and helpfully screwed off if you didn’t want to bother with a streaming service. But no. That was not the case.

Instead, what would happen is every so often (like every few launches of the Music app) you’d get a full-screen ad for an Apple Music trial. This ad would fully lock out the Music app until you dismissed it. Not that much of a big deal if you were on Wi-Fi at the time, but on cellular in a congested area? Yeah, that ad loaded from Apple’s servers, and sometimes it would take a painfully long time to load in, meaning you were locked out of using the Music app until that “no thanks” button loaded in. Just like this:

A photo of an iPhone 4 stuck at the Apple Music ad screen

It was obnoxious, and I want to say it resulted in me ragequitting iOS a few times. I care deeply about my local library, I’ve been building it and curating it for decades at this point. Whenever any service or what have you tries to get between me and my access to said library, I get irrationally pissed off. Apple eventually improved upon this (oh thank Jobs) but the thing that still irritates me to this day (but I’ve just learned to accept it, honestly) is that even with that Apple Music toggle that Apple so lovingly gave us, Apple Music still leaves all sorts of detritus around the UI, like what happens when you try to search your library:

Apple Music garbo left behind in the music app

All those tiles–all of them–drag you into areas that require an Apple Music subscription. (Thankfully the Radio tab doesn’t. I wish it weren’t there, but I won’t knock it because the radio tab actually works without a subscription, which is nice for those who would partake of it.)

Maybe I care too much. Maybe for some it is easy to ignore. But for me, this is the equivalent of going to a store to buy a phone and you know what you want but the salesperson insists, no, demands they take you on a tour of the overpriced cases and chargers on your way to getting rung out for your purchases. As someone who remembers the way Apple used to be before they began pushing services like this, efforts like this feel…gauche. Tacky. Out of place. Gross.

This is only made worse by the way iOS works with local media synced via iTunes/Apple Music desktop: You can’t just install another music app and have it talk to your local library independently of the Apple Music app. Every local music replacement app I’ve used on iOS thus far (and if something has changed with this I am very open to hearing about it!) just acts as a fancy front-end for the stock music app. If you tap the playback controls in the Dynamic Island/lock screen, you’re not taken to the music app of your choice, you’re taken to the stock Apple Music app. Thus, you have to make a conscious effort to remember to tab back to your preferred music app every time you need to change playback settings or pick a new song.

Now, since I mentioned desktop iTunes and Apple Music: If you think things were better on that side of the fence…they kind of were. And weren’t. Apple Music on macOS–at least on Big Sur–had a toggle that worked great and told the streaming side of Apple Music to hit the bricks. However, Monterey then released and made a bunch of changes to parental controls, shifting them out of the Music app and merging them into Screen Time. As a part of this…the Apple Music toggle was lost, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Apple Music proceeded to be exceptionally annoying in the wake of this.

In earlier versions of Monterey, I’d get an Apple Music ad every two to three launches of the Music app. Just like it did on iOS 8.4, it would lock me out of the Music app until I told it to sod off. Sometimes I’d even leave the Music app up, go to try and control it with the media keys on the keyboard, and find them nonresponsive. You know why? Because the Music app was locked up showing me an ad for Apple Music.

As you can guess, this pissed me off a fair deal, and I rolled back to Big Sur and swore never to touch Monterey until this was patched. (And thankfully it was! In 12.3. At which point I finally upgraded.)

This was a victory, much to my delight: While I have my feelings on macOS Ventura and Sonoma, one of the things that hasn’t returned is Apple Music getting all up in my grill asking me to give Apple money.

I can’t, however, say the same about Windows. I still use iTunes on my Windows box, mostly because I can keep my library in sync via Home Sharing. iTunes thankfully lets you turn off Apple Music as well, and it stays gone. Apple have been making moves, though, and it’s no secret they’re replacing iTunes on Windows with separate apps, much like it is on macOS. I gave Apple Music on Windows a try, and it’s like I’m right back to those early versions of Monterey. Cool beans.

It doesn’t lock out the app with ads, thankfully, but there’s no Apple Music toggle. Therefore the Apple Music cruft (Listen Now, etc) are going to always be there until Apple puts the toggle back in. But what’s worse is searching your library: Not only do you have the tiles present like on the iOS app, the search always defaults to searching Apple Music first. Every time you search, you need to mouse over and click “Your Library”, or you’re just going to get a bunch of junk that isn’t actually in your library coupled with a nag to subscribe. No thanks. Uninstalled and rolled back to iTunes post haste.

I know I’ve spoken a lot about Apple Music here, and a lot of that is just pent up rage from the years of telling Apple “no, and leave me alone until I come to you asking to subscribe, for fuck’s sake”, and having them sod off only to cross that boundary later. It pisses me off more because Apple used to be the company that would take no for an answer, and never bug you about it again.

But Apple Music is also where–I think–things started to seriously go wrong. When Apple began chasing that lucrative services revenue and becoming annoying as frig in the process. Way back before I launched on this tangent I mentioned optics. Apple Music significantly shifted the optics of another thing Apple has recently come under fire for: The 30% App Store cut.

Back before Apple got into services, everyone getting hit with a 30% charge was whatever. Netflix had to pay it, Spotify had to pay it, everyone had to pay it. High fee? Sure, but you couldn’t really argue too much that it prioritized certain developers over others.

When Apple brought out their own competing services to Spotify and Netflix, though, suddenly this fee and Apple’s terms to developers looked a lot worse. Not only could Apple advertise these services at the OS level (and they did, ad nauseam), but Apple itself was not subject to this 30% fee that they were charging Spotify and Netflix. So Netflix, Spotify, and any other similar streaming service had three options available to them, none of them very good:

  • Charge a higher price to account for the 30% fee, thus making Apple’s offerings look better
  • Take a loss price-matching Apple on the App Store
  • Don’t participate in App Store billing but try to dance around the App Store TOS to tell people they need to subscribe outside the app

(Again: I don’t buy the whole “the 30% fee is for developers to pay their fair share” argument. That’s what the yearly fee is for.)

This is–if nothing else–where I think Apple should absolutely get taken to the cleaners. The way the App Store rules are (maybe were before too long here), Apple can undercut its competition in a way that the competition cannot respond to. The OS-level advertising is bad enough, but the cherry on top is the gag order on developers that means they either have to fall in line and eat a loss/look less favorable to Apple’s services as far as pricing goes, or just choose to not participate at all and hope customers can figure out how to go to the service’s website and subscribe outside of the App Store. How this has been legal for this long is beyond me. Microsoft got the book thrown at them for far less than this.

Hey, remember when I said OS-level advertising? Yeah…

The optics have only become worse as Apple have launched more and more services over the year. TV+ to compete with video streaming services, then the absolute banger that was introducing Arcade but then taking a hardline stance against game cloud streaming, famously snubbing Microsoft in the process. While yes, Arcade and Xbox Cloud Gaming aren’t the same thing, the move came off as Apple trying to kneecap a potential competitor to their own service. Then they had the audacity to say “we’re not blocking it! Microsoft just needs to submit every game offered by Game Pass for approval by the App Store team!” Which, translated, means “Technically we’ll let you in but the requirements to do so are so obtuse that no one in their right mind would even try.”

Bold strategy. Let’s see if it pays off. (Spoiler: It isn’t, because Apple’s hubris thankfully, finally looks to be catching up to it. They’ve pissed off enough big players, and Apple’s arrogance will hopefully bite them in the ass super hard. Especially in the EU, where as of this writing they’re very much playing Fuck Around and Find Out.)

It’s going to be an interesting next few years if Apple’s MO gets turned upside down because they pushed their luck a little too far. I for one am here for it. Apple has been needing a reality check for a while, now, and I’m glad it seems to finally be happening.