Editor’s Notebook: Apple Music’s launch fail

beats 1 zane loweLet’s assume that Beats 1 radio is the best thing about the recently launched Apple Music streaming ecosystem. The assumption is based on my opinion only. Thanks for playing along. Next, let’s assume that Apple should lead users into the main on-demand service with Beats 1, since the service itself is undistinguished, with no inherent attraction or advantage over competitors that have been operating for years. Again — opinion, thanks.

Now let’s look at what a regular person must do to tune into Beats 1 for the first time. By “regular person” I mean a mainstream Apple phone or tablet owner (sorry, majority of mobile users on Android) who doesn’t follow industry news.

  1. First, Become aware of the existence of Beats 1, either by reading music/technology news, seeing the Times Square billboard, viewing a TV ad which has no information, or talking with friends. This might seem like a no-brainer to RAIN News readers, but it’s not. Apple is a mainstream company with a mainstream user base, launching a completely new product that’s difficult to describe — and monstrously difficult to find.
  2. Be aware that you need to update the operating system. Apple hides its notifications in the Settings portion of iOS, under the General tab. Since most apps can be updated independent of the iOS container, updating iOS is rarely a priority — again, for average users who don’t jump into every incremental product update.
  3. Update to iOS 8.4. Doing so is a heavy download/installation process that puts the phone/tablet out of business for 20-30 minutes. Furthermore, as I discovered yesterday, if you haven’t installed the previous update (8.3), you must do that first, before your device will find, download, and install 8.4! This gruesome usability failure is astonishing and appalling — now the device is out of business for 40-60 minutes, assuming you figure out the problem and care enough to persist.
  4. In the new iOS, open the built-in Apple Music app. You must be aware that Beats 1 resides in that app, because nothing on the screen tells you so. Beats 1 does not exist as a front-facing brand on the iOS 8.4 desktop.
  5. In Apple Music, click the Radio icon. You might intuitively assume that Beats 1 lives there, though you are not told that, and the Radio portion of Apple’s previous Music app contained iTunes Radio, so users have been trained to that navigational trail.
  6. In the Radio segment, click Beats 1 to listen. There is no explanation of what it is, or why you should tune in.

The amount of early-adopter awareness, and normal-person sleuthing, required to find Beats 1 sets it up for failure. Is Apple intentionally playing it cool, assuming its loyal users will do the marketing work? That could be, and that could work.

But let’s look at another user scenario. In this one, somebody has become aware of Beats 1 as some sort of new radio thing, and wants to learn more. At work on a computer, they search for it.

Apple does not own the beats1.com domain, which is a gigantic WTF of Internet branding failure. If you wend your way to beats1radio.com, you’ll find happiness. But only for a moment, because when you click the TUNE IN WORLDWIDE button, Apple takes you to a download page for the iTunes desktop client — just to listen to an Internet stream! That download page does not include a Beats 1 brand mention anywhere.

It’s no wonder Zane Lowe is screaming Beats 1 promotions every few minutes on his show. He’s crying out from the dark hole Apple put him in.

Here’s the solution. Beats 1 becomes a separate icon on the iOS desktop. It leads to the Play page for the station, within Apple Music (which also exists as a desktop icon). Just pull Beats 1 up to visibility — a one-touch play experience. Being so cool that you bury a leading product isn’t cool. It just torments users and limits audience. And by the way, Apple: You are way, way behind in this industry. You don’t have cool mojo to spend.


Brad Hill


  1. I like how tech bloggers and traditional radio people don’t get Beats1. It is a success. Just search twitter for the hashtag #beats1. I wanted to hate it, but I can’t not. Better than pandora. It will turn Spotify into the MySpace for streaming.

  2. This is a non issue. Beats 1 and the Apple Music UI is far from the failure you’re making it out to be. Apple’s intro into streaming music is good for the digital audio space and they have 1000x the ‘cool mojo’ of any other player in the game right now. Fact. And it doesn’t sound like you listened to Zane Lowe on BBC. Host promo frequency on Beats 1 is pretty standard.

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