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.

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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.

What Happens When You Quit iTunes Match for Apple Music

iTunes Matched Out

I signed on with iTunes Match the day it became available in Japan on May 2, 2014 then signed on with Apple Music when it went live in 2015. With all the startup bugs and teething pains of iCloud Music Library I kept both services running, but over time it settled down enough that I considered dropping iTunes Match. Serenity Caldwell’s iMore piece Do I still need iTunes Match if I have Apple Music? sez Apple Music does it all so I let my iTunes Match subscription expire. It did not go well.

Problems

  • No Longer Available: tracks in iTunes that were previously iTunes Matched showed on iOS but could not be played. iCloud Music Library Status in iTunes incorrectly listed them as No Longer Available without an iCloud icon
  • No iCloud Status: tracks in iTunes that were previously iTunes Matched showed on iOS and could be played but not downloaded. iCloud Music Library Status in iTunes incorrectly lists them blank when they should be listed as Matched
  • Incorrect iCloud Status: the vast majority of tracks (more than 1,000) in iTunes that were previously iTunes Matched showed on iOS and could be played. iCloud Music Library Status in iTunes incorrectly lists them as Apple Music when they should be listed as Matched

Workarounds

  • No Longer Available: I deleted the 121 tracks in iTunes, dragged the files out of the Trash, and added them back to iTunes. Warning: do not delete using “Remove Download” which instantly vaporizes local music files into oblivion instead of Trash, use the delete key instead.
  • No iCloud Status: They play on my iPhone but don’t download, left as is
  • Incorrect iCloud Status: They play on my iPhone, left as is

Conclusion
iCloud Music Library is supposed to be seamless but 3 years after the Apple Music launch the seams still show between the iTunes Store and Apple Music catalogs. They don’t always match up. The transition to Apple Music match should not be a problem if you do not have a large library of iTunes Match curated music. If you have a large iTunes Match library of carefully curated content however, prepare yourself for some iCloud Music Library downtime and cleanup as you transition to Apple Music match.

If you have a cataloging fetish, keep your iTunes Match subscription and your sanity.

UPDATE
The “No Longer Available” problem is more insidious than I first thought, “No iCloud Status” tracks suddenly stop playing and become “No Longer Available” tracks for no apparent reason. This is not fun.

The Amazon Prime Japan Market Sweet Spot

Apple TVIt’s astounding that Apple has sold AppleTV in Japan longer than iPhone without offering a single minute of Japanese TV content. AppleTV was initially offered as a device for playing iTunes movie content on a big screen. 10 years later on that still is AppleTV’s Japanese marketing pitch. If you want TV content on AppleTV in Japan use the NetflixHulu, Bandai Channel or AbemaTV apps.

Hulu (2014) and Netflix (2015) were the first companies from outside of Japan to offer licensed Japanese TV on-demand content, far behind the home competition. Netflix dipped its toe into the original content pool by picking up part of the third season production tab for the popular Shinya Shokudō (Midnight Diner) series (great show BTW). Hulu offers original Japanese content too.

And then there is Amazon Prime. A quick comparison.

Cloud Service JPY Monthly Cost
iCloud 2TB 1,300
Apple Music 817
iTunes Match 332
Netflix 1,050
Rounded Total ¥3,500

Amazon Prime costs about ¥400 a month. Customers get access to a lot of content on Prime Video and 1 millions songs on Prime Music. Not the whole thing of course but enough content for most of the people most of the time. Japanese friends who never cared about online content but occasionally buy things on Amazon are suddenly watching and listening to Amazon Prime.

What’s interesting about Prime Video however is that despite Amazon’s heavy content pitch to the hip young online generation, the popular movie title ranking is defintely not hip and young. More like the 60~70 retiree bracket.

The unequal comparison is simply meant to show the power of Amazon bundling which Apple does not do. Khoi Vihn made a very good point that Apple could encourage purchases by offering a discount window with video rentals.

That’s a start, but if Apple is getting into video streaming and content creation, they will have to intelligently streamline and bundle cloud services while being everything that all the other content providers are not. Japanese content included, preferrably geared for retirees.