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.

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.


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.


  • 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


  • 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

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.

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.

iOS 11 and iTunes Branding Confusion

It may be that Steve Jobs’s most important legacy to Apple was his ferocious focus (just say no), and his ability to strip a complex thing (a product or problem) to straightforward, essential simplicity, a thing of Zen-like beauty.

iTunes, both the store and the brand, were created by his focus and became a huge success because of it. Unfortunately, perhaps inevitably, Apple has lost some of that ferocious focus. It’s easy to see it in the way they treat the iTunes brand.

iTunes and Apple Music are different (one for downloads, one is for streaming) yet overlapping products (music) with separate brand identities. No clarity, no simplicity. Ideally each brand should build off each other but they don’t. They sit uncomfortably side by side, similar to the way iTunes in the Cloud, iTunes Match and Apple Music uncomfortably co-exist in iCloud Music Library.

The latest iOS 11 beta further dilutes the iTunes brand by demoting the iTunes App icon to a star while keeping the musical note icon for the Apple Music App. A star as in movie star? Apple will undoubtably get into the video streaming business, maybe even build a movie studio. Things will undoubtably get more complex.

In Japan Apple sells Apple Music pre-paid cards in addition to the familiar, and popular, iTunes cards; two brands of the same basic product. Will we also see different cards for video streaming? I hope not. The bigger worry however is what Steve Jobs himself warned about in his 1995 “Lost Interview”(25:53 mark) : are marketing people taking over the decision-making forums at Apple and pushing out the product engineers?

Every Japanese convenience store is well stocked with pre-paid cards these days. Apple offers two different kinds, one for iTunes and Apps, another one for Apple Music.

Kirk McElhearn in his very last MacWorld iTunes Guy column observes that this may be happening:

The major shift came, in my opinion, with the release of iTunes 12. While the app had long been a Trojan horse, providing a tool for music fans to organize and play their music, but at the same time being a gateway to the money-earning iTunes Store, the 2014 update of the app took a disturbing turn.


Recent versions of iTunes seem to be designed by the marketing department, not the UI team. In an attempt to stuff as many money-making features as possible into iTunes, Apple has forgotten the app’s original vocation: to play music. iTunes is no longer an app that manages your iTunes library, syncs it to your iOS device, and lets you boogie. It’s become an app to sell, sell, sell you Apple’s media services.

Apple wants to make services a major growth segment for the company. I hope they remember Steve’s advice and focus on making great products.