The Apple Music Japanese Metadata Mess Continues

Kana gojuon (fifty sounds) sorting for Japanese artists on Apple Music and iCloud Music Library has never worked for me since those services started in 2015. No matter how much I enter and tweak kana sort fields in iTunes, 12 hours later iCloud Music Library on iOS ignores everything and sends kanji named artists to the bottom of the list under ‘#’.

Just for kicks I decided to engage Apple Support about the problem. The Japanese support staff was very professional and kind. It took 3 sessions of taking screenshots on iOS Apple Music and macOS iTunes, and collecting a sysdiagnose log to upload to Apple Support. I have done these a few times but had to admire the composure of the Apple support technician. I could never stay that cool walking a neophyte through the same data collection process.

He promised to call me with an update today and did so, “We heard from engineering but there is no solution for your issue.” I suspected as much but it was weirdly reassuring to know that Apple engineers could not fix it. He went on to explain that the kana sorting issue might be fixed in a future update. Or maybe not: it has been 4 years already, I’m not holding my breath.

Japan is the 2nd largest music market after the United States and far more profitable than other Asian countries. You would think that Apple would invest the time and effort to fix things. The strange thing is that kana sorting on iTunes and iTunes Match worked fine before Apple Music and iCloud Music Library. iTunes won’t be with us much longer, but it worked well for a long time. Goodbye old friend.

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Apple Music Japan Updates “For You” Section

The Apple Music ‘For You’ section that was updated in the USA store on April 15, finally arrived on the Japan store today. The update offers much more customized content than the previous ‘For You’ for which I am glad, the old one had too much weekly repeats to keep my interest.

After listening to the Ramones, Apple Music immediately offered Punk bands galore, Monkees, Rolling Stones and many other interesting offbeat content. I look forward to playing with it. One thing I like right off is that disliking something immediately removes it from suggestion lists. Goodbye U2, may you never pollute my suggestion lists again. The real test will be how much good Japanese rock ‘n roll listening Apple Music offers up in addition to the standard western stuff.

It’s very strange that HomePod is still missing from the Japan market. There are lots of audiophiles with money here, with the right marketing approach HomePod could do well. Unfortunately Japanese artist kana sorting tags on Apple Music are still such a mess that kana sorting is remains broken since iCloud Music Library appeared. Every Japanese artist from Yumin to Utada ends up at the very bottom in the under # in iCloud Music Library no matter what you add to the Japanese kana sorting fields in iTunes. And if Japanese kana sorting is broken, Siri on HomePod is broken too. And if iTunes is going away in macOS 10.15, Japanese kana sorting for iCloud Music Library may be broken forever.

Juggling domestic and international App Store accounts in iOS 12

iOS 12 App Store limitations
iOS 12 App Store can update Apps from a secondary account but only App titles that exist in the main account App Store

I can’t find the link right now (found it) but some blogs reported back in early summer that iOS 12 iOS 11.3 gained the ability to update App Store content from 2 different account IDs, USA and international.

I have juggled USA and Japan App Store content since App Store day 1 2008. Updating meant constant logging out and logging in to different accounts manually, a pain in the neck that I grew accustomed to over the years. Things have slowly improved but seamless savvy domestic~international App Store switching is still not there yet in iOS 12.

iOS 12 updates Apps from both USA and Japan accounts but only for content that is exists in both App Stores. Any attempt to update Japan only content from Yahoo Japan, Docomo, etc., and the USA App store coughs up a ‘This item is no longer available’ error. Back to the old tried and true ‘log out of US store log in to Japan store’ update maneuver.

This kind of ‘USA English version first, internationalization and optimization later when we can get to it’ attitude seems to be getting worse at Apple instead of better. On iOS 12 alone we have Apple Music Japan content that still does not Kana sort, half-assed Apple Maps Japan content, no Japanese TV content what-so-ever even though Netflix Japan and Amazon Prime Japan are going all out. On the just released macOS Mojave 10.14 iMessages is still missing Location settings. The list goes on.

Apple likes to pride itself on being, slightly, ahead of the curve on software internationalization. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. Smart, savvy internationalization of OS, cloud and content services that lead the industry may not sound sexy or produce big profits, but they have a huge impact on product quality around the world.

Making Apple products the best possible products out there was what Steve Jobs was all about. Apple may be stumbling of late, let’s hope they remember their founder by putting all into the job at hand.

 

Yumi Matsutoya Arrives on Apple Music

Talk about finally. Yumi Matsutoya, one of the biggest Japanese artists and J-Pop stars of the last 50 years, and one of the longest holdouts, landed with her complete catalog on Apple Music Japan this Friday. Her profile is listed on the Apple Music US site (Yumi Matsutouya). The catalog isn’t up yet but looks like it should be coming soon.

Japanese metadata tags are the usual Apple mess: the artist name in English instead of Japanese on iTunes downloads but proper Japanese on Apple Music downloads. The once proud iTunes Music Store is such a vestigial appendage to Apple Music, Apple clearly wants to kill it off.

Nevertheless this is great news for longtime fans. I know exactly what’s going to be playing the rest of the day.

HomePod and the Apple Music Japanese Metadata Mess

Naoko Ken joking aside, Apple Music Japanese sorting is still a hot mess. The root problem is the different ways that iTunes in the Cloud (purchased tracks), iTunes Match (CD tracks stored in iCloud), and Apple Music (streaming) tag Japanese artist names.

iCloud Music Library is supposed to hold everything together as one big intergrated whole but it does not. The different programs that use iCloud Music Library, iTunes, Siri, Apple Music app, each see Japanese artist names differently and treat them differently.

I have a large Yumi Matsutoya (Yuming) music collection. Most of her vast catalog is not on iTunes or Apple Music so I put Yuming in iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match. Countless weekends carefully adding kana in the iTunes name sorting tags so that Yuming sorts correctly in the Apple Music app artist list was in vain. No matter what kana tags are in iTunes, Apple Music app refuses to sort.

Messy Metadata and Siri
Japanese artist, album and song title metadata on purchased iTunes tracks is all over the place. Sometimes the kana sort tags are correct, sometimes they are empty, sometimes they are incorrectly tagged with kanji which is a no-no: kana tags have to have kana otherwise Japanese sorting does not work.

I suspect Apple Music tracks have their own tagging scheme which is why iCloud Music Library ignores iTunes kana tags. Unfortunately Siri depends on accurate metadata to carry out commands.

If I ask Siri in Japanese to “play some Yumi Matsutoya,” Siri complies and starts to play Yuming. But Siri does not play Yuming tunes from my iCloud Music Library. Siri plays post 2011 Apple Music Yumi Matsutoya tracks that I don’t own, or want to hear. Apple Music is the problem so I turn off Apple Music in iOS settings and try Siri again.

But Siri still plays post 2011 Yuming Apple Music, this time from an instantly created station. And so it goes. No matter what, Siri cannot play my Yumi Matsutoya collection. The story is the same for many other Japanese artists in my collection. This is not a good advertisement for selling HomePod in Japan.

Japan is one of most profitable music markets after the US market. If Apple wants to sell HomePod in Japan at some point, they’ll have to get their Apple Music Japanese metadata problem sorted out first.