A Bilingual Apple Music Experience

2017-04-07

I love Apple Music and I have been a happy user ever since it launched in China in September 2015.

But as the library grows, problems emerge. One of the most prominent for a bilingual is the way Apple handles translation of album and artist names.

As some of you may have known, many Mandarin and Cantonese songs launched in iTunes have English names for ease of search and display, especially for those who do not speak, read or type Chinese. Apple has done an elegant job handling most it, so when you search for a song in either language, the same title shows up. That song points to the same Track ID within iTunes/Apple Music universe, and your device (iPhone, iPad or desktop iTunes) decides which name, Chinese or English, to display to you based on device preferences.

Ideally, this works just fine. And it really shows good work of Apple handling localization problems along with record labels.

That is, until you want to browse for a specific album in your library.

At the beginning of my study life in Canada I had my iPhone in Simplified Chinese. I noticed nothing until I wanted to listen to some old tunes of Oasis that I was sure I had added to library. There was only one album under Oasis, whereas I remembered adding at least five. Curious.

Naturally, I did a search. Six albums popped up from within my library, with five of them labeled “绿洲乐队”, alphabetically falling under L. It turned out Apple China had begun localizing foreign bands and artists, and Oasis was among the first few. “Heck, I'll just switch my whole device to English and the problems will be all gone.”

No.

After rebooting and re-logging into my Apple ID to refresh artist name cache, the fiasco reversed. Yes, Oasis is back under O once again, but those Chinese artists and bands went wild. Taiwanese artist 李宗盛 Jonathan Lee is no longer there sorted by surname under L but rather J. Another Taiwanese artist 张震岳 should've been under Z in Mandarin but now he's bumped himself all the way to the top with his first name “A-Yue”. He is the very first artist in my library with that hyphen, and no Aaron can top that.

The weirdest of all must be Fall Out Boy, taking the lead in the name game with two Chinese names as “翻闹小子” and “打倒男孩”, under F and D respectively. This is just amazing.

Then there's the most hilarious, 薛之谦 XUE Zhiqian a.k.a. Jacky Xue who changed his name to Joker Xue sometime in the last few months and he is now taking up two rows in my library under both names.

Xue Zhiqian taking up two spots in my Library

Xue Zhiqian taking up two spots in my Library

Additionally, now that I've switched to English, every Chinese artist without a English name falls under the # category after Z at the bottom, sorted in no reasonable order. This is just bad.

Sometimes I think, all of these problems — I mean ALL of them — would go away if Apple offered an option to force artist and album native names in display and in sorting. It is great that Apple has enabled those who don't type Chinese to search for a song they love, but the feature is less wanted and more troublemaking when browsing for a song in library.

Until the problems are addressed, I will remain torn. I admire Apple for being a pioneer in these problems but there is just a long way to go.