iCloud Music Library and Japanese Sorting

iCloud Music Library is supposed to be a magic cloud that seamlessly unifies three different products: Apple Music for steaming, the iTunes Store for song purchases and iTunes Match for matching/uploading CD content.

Despite a very rocky launch in 2015, Apple has worked to improve iCloud Music Library. It seems to work pretty well for most people but there are rough spots and frustrated users too, just search iCloud Music Library on Twitter and you’ll find them.

A long-standing sore point is that the different services don’t always fit together seamlessly. This makes library organization across macOS and iOS an irritating, and sometimes needlessly repetitive task. Things that should be simple are not, do not work well, or at all.

iTunes on macOS and the iOS Music app cannot directly sort Japanese kanji used in artist and song names. This is why iTunes has a sorting option in the Info window. In the Japanese version of iTunes you add katanana or hiragana in artist and song sorting fields and Japanese iOS sorts Japanese artists and songs in the correct gojuon (fifty sounds) order. This is basic, basic, database stuff that should just work.

Naoko Ken sorting macOS

Except it doesn’t work. Or should I say it works for a while, then Music app gives up sorting various Japanese artists and songs condemning them to the ‘#’ tag aka ‘I give up’ category at the bottom of the music library list. The list of condemned unsortable Japanese songs inexplicable shrinks and grows.

Naoko Ken sorting iOS
Poor Naoko Ken never gets any respect, not even from the Music app.

Previous versions of iOS had a temporary workaround: turn off iCloud Music Library then back on, let iCloud delete the old Music library and reindex the database. That stopped working with iOS 10. It doesn’t help that the iTunes Store and Apple Music are haphazard about tagging Japanese songs with katakana and hiragana. Apple Music tracks often lack them altogether. I suspect sloppy content providers are to blame but Apple could do a better job curating Japanese content, or at least require Japanese content providers to properly tag Japanese titles.

The real suspect is the iOS Music app sorting engine that simply ignores non-roman character sorting tags added from iTunes and never seems to refresh the iCloud Music Library database index. Case in point, Music app doesn’t even follow Apple’s own internationalization guidelines.

For example, if you set the iOS region format to Japanese with the Japanese calendar selected, Apple Playlists display very odd updated dates. In the screen below the last update figure shows negative 1,452,149 days.


One thing is clear: the Apple Music app team could use some help from their OS internationalization engineering colleagues to fix international sorting and date formatting. Undoubtably there will be lots of new Apple Music features announced at WWDC next week. Progress is good but new features are pointless without a foundation of robust basics firmly in place before going on to the next new thing.