Google Play Music for iOS: a buggy disappointment so far

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It’s been at least 6 months since Google promised that their Play Music service would come to iOS, and it’s 6 months too early by the looks of it. I’m not usually one to complain about first-day bugs, but for an app promised to arrive at a more appropriate 5 months ago, to see it genuinely broken in key features isn’t fun. It’s smooth though.

Google Play Music was first shown at Google I/O 2011 as ‘Google Music Beta’. With the ability to upload up to 20,000 songs from your iTunes library for free, as well as purchase new music which would then sync to other devices, it was a leap forward in digital music. In May 2013 Google also announced a subscription add-on for Google Music, now called Google Play Music All Access, to allow Spotify-level library access for $11.99 a month. The locker service remained free. An Android app was released alongside, with iOS promised as “in the coming weeks”. I guess Google and I have a different definition of “coming weeks”. Excluding social-abilities (tied to Google+), Google Play Music All Access, on paper, has more functionality than its competition.

Right now I’m finally listening to my Play Music All Access library on my iPhone with it, But what a disappointment that experience is.

Available now right here, the app has Bluetooth capabilities and support for AirPlay, as well as Chromecast. You can’t buy music, a restriction from Apple, but you can purchase from your computer and I guess Safari if you can’t deal with a subscription. But on the surface, it looks fine. Right?

As expected, the app runs with Google’s own UI, as seen in Google Maps, Chrome and somewhat in the Google Search app, but that really feels out of sync now that iOS 7 is in our capable hands. The back gesture from iOS 7 is missing, an iOS 6 keyboard is still sprinkled throughout the app, the actual menu for going to Radio or your Library of the app matches Android more than iOS (a swipe from the left) and context-menu’s are as blocky as ever. But this isn’t really an issue, unless you were hoping for more Apple-looks with your $11.99 subscription.

The real problem comes with functionality. The app packs in the Discover-style ‘Listen Now’ list, which works well, alongside My Library, Playlists, Radio, and Explore. I’m Feeling Lucky is gone, for now (probably 6-months away given their current track record) but the biggest sin is in the title of the app: Play.

I’ve already had a number of errors stating that the stream could not be played. And for an app dedicated to streaming music, that is an issue. It does work eventually, but hopefully this issue is ironed out in a future update. But then there’s the big killer: offline caching is simply broken at the moment. In playlists and other lists of music, an orange download button is present. However, when I press it, it just turns into an absent light orange. Nothing happens, and if I leave that screen, it forgets that I was even intending to download that music. I’ve only seen it work once, and that simply isn’t good enough. And having seen it work, every other time I try is increasingly disappointing. As I pack for a holiday overseas, with no Wi-Fi or Cellular, it’s disheartening to say the least that offline-music doesn’t work, and that this could be just the start of a buggy offline experience.

We’ll see if the other features work and will update this if they do, or don’t.

Here’s hoping Spotify or Rdio add an iTunes Match system of uploading unavailable songs, since Google doesn’t seem to care about competing.