Facing the Music

Endings are important, which is, unfortunately, why today’s WWDC keynote will be remembered as a flop.

The new Apple Music service/app/thing occupied the celebrated “one more thing” position, and it was painful to watch. Apple used five presenters—Jimmy Iovine, Trent Reznor, Drake, Zane Lowe, and Eddy Cue—to try to explain what Apple Music is and why we should care, and they all failed. Of the five, Reznor and Lowe acquitted themselves best, but that’s probably because they were recorded, not live. I can imagine Iovine being very persuasive one-on-one or in a small group, but he certainly wasn’t impressive on the big stage. He never gave the impression that the words he was speaking were his. Drake seemed to think he could just wing it during his section; he’s obviously used to adoring fans applauding every off-the-cuff remark he makes on stage. Which leaves us with poor Eddy Cue, who’s going to bear the brunt of the criticism.

And rightly so. He’s the Apple guy in this show, and therefore the heir to the Steve Jobs presentation style. But his part was way long, way boring, and way embarrassing. To be sure, every Eddy Cue presentation is a tightrope walk above a chasm of mortification, but he usually makes his wobbly way from one end to the other. Today he avoided the rope altogether and jumped straight off the edge. Even if Apple Music is really good, there just isn’t enough to it to require 20–25 minutes of laborious explanation and an endless string of music clips.

And nothing justifies the dancing. I’m sure Eddy thought it was funny and self-deprecating, but it was just annoying and a waste of our time. I often think Craig Federighi overdoes the jokes, but he knows when to pull it back and doesn’t let his presentation get derailed. Eddy doesn’t have that sense.

As to whether Apple Music is really good, we’ll have to wait and see, but the signs aren’t pointing in that direction. The elevator pitch is that Apple Music is three things, an attempt to tie it to the 2007 introduction to the iPhone.1 But while the advantages of a multifunction device are obvious, the advantages of a multifunction app aren’t. The App Store’s success is largely based on tightly focused apps, not sprawling suites.

In contrast, Apple Music is discouragingly reminiscent of recent iTunes versions, packing too many things into one box without a coherent organizing vision. Sort of like the last half-hour of today’s keynote.

  1. And someone should have explained that to Iovine before sending him onstage. He clearly didn’t understand the audience’s reaction to the “three things” line.