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Some thoughts on Music in iOS 10 (beta)

So the Music app experiment on my iPhone is going well. Only one instance of a song that I had transferred to my phone refusing to play so far. Deleting it and dragging it back over via iTunes fixed the issue. Hope this isn’t a sign of more to come, though.

Meanwhile, I had mentioned that the new redesign for iOS 10 included some changes that warranted me reconsidering using my phone for music again, but that the app was still problematic for a number of reasons. I wanted to begin exploring the app a bit further today.

This is in no way meant as a slam on the team of designers at Apple working on this app. I’m just offering some constructive criticism from a music-lover’s perspective. I understand that an app with such a wide audience can’t possibly make everyone happy, but there are several things, minor tweaks, that would just make better UI sense.

Anyway, let’s start with the opening screen.

Launch Page of Music in iOS 10
Launch Page of Music in iOS 10

The list of sort types is customizable, which is awesome. Tap edit and remove all the sort categories you don’t use. Reorder them any way you like. In my case, I’ve removed everything except Artists, since that’s the only way I ever sort my music.

Editing the List of Sort Options
Editing the List of Sort Options

Note, you can’t remove everything off this list—you need at least one sorting criteria, of course—and Downloads doesn’t even show up as an option to remove. (In beta 1, you could uncheck Downloads as well.)

Speaking of Downloads, that label has been updated from Downloaded Music in beta 1. Personally, I think Downloaded Music was more descriptive, but I get why they wanted to change it. After all, I have comedy albums, spoken word performances, etc. It’s not all music. But the word “Downloads” is problematic. Are those tracks I’ve already downloaded? Tracks that are downloading? Tracks that I can download? I think “Downloaded” would be a better word for it. Or “On this iPhone” or “On My Device,” as it’s listed in iTunes. But I digress.

Below the list of sort options is the Recently Added section. I can see how this would be handy to a lot of people, though I doubt I’ll use it much myself. I do like the use of album art here, as it makes the albums easily recognizable. And the albums seem to be sorted by date added, rather than alphabetical, which is good. Not sure it’s worthy of taking up the bulk of the opening screen, but I can chalk that up to me not being the average listener. I’m guessing a lot of listeners like having super fast access to the stuff they’ve very recently purchased. Most people listen to one or two albums on repeat over and over again until they get bored, I’m told. I seldom listen to the same song twice in the same month.

Downloads Page
Downloads Page

Tap into Downloads (which is where I will want to be 99.9% of the time) and I get an almost identical screen, only with a grey bar at the top, reminding me I’m only seeing songs that are on the phone and ready to play, no Downloads in the list, since I’m already in downloads, and then an updated Recently Added that only shows recent music that is actually on the phone. I get why they want to show me the recents again, given this is a different list of albums. But since I’ve opted to remove all sort categories except for Artists here, it would be very nice if Music were smart enough to skip this screen and just take me to a list of my artists.

So it’s two taps to get to where I’d like to start my quest. Not the end of the world. I would love it if Music remembered where I was the next time it launched and always started me here. It does remember as long as the app is only backgrounded, at least.

Now we get to the first screen that really bothers me. The artists list.

Artist List
Artist List

The list of artists is alphabetical, which is great. Words like “The” in an artist title are ignored, so The Beatles ends up in B rather than T. Excellent.

But to the left of the artist names—and this is not new for iOS 10—there are pics for each artist. What is Apple thinking?

First, you want to ask yourself, what purpose do these pictures serve? If the answer is to make the screen look less boring, you’re not a designer. The point of putting pictures next to the artist names is to make it easier to recognize the artists more quickly. So what should those pictures be? Album covers, right? I know, albums are going away, and I don’t want to sound like an old fart who is stuck in the past. But a downloaded picture of an entire band at a size that tiny is completely perplexing to me as I’m scrolling this list. It slows down my ability to recognize and choose an artist. For solo artists, it’s a little better, but it’s still doing more harm than good. They might as well be pictures of stock people chosen at random, for all their recognizability.

Why not make them larger? I don’t mind a little more scrolling to where I want to go. And why not just make them easily recognizable album covers?

Album covers. Square album covers. Music art is square. It’s still square on iTunes. It’s been square since the dawn of the music industry. Please, please, Apple, ditch the silly circular pics downloaded from a random Google search and just choose an album cover? Do they think this makes the app feel more like my contacts, so I can have a more “personal” connection to the artists listed? It doesn’t. It actually makes me feel like I’m scrolling through a list of someone else’s contacts, because I don’t recognize any of the pictures.

I don’t even know what half the artists in my collection look like. I don’t want to know what many of them look like.

And, of course, because it’s Apple, and because this involves searching, a good chunk of my artists end up with no pics, anyway. Just a goofy looking generic microphone icon. If Apple chose album art from the artist, which is already sitting on the phone, this would happen far less often.

And what’s with that Iron Maiden pic being an oval instead of a circle? Yikes.

Someone at Apple thinks this is a good idea, and has thought so for a while. You can say “Hey, Joe, relax. This is just a beta.” But the currently shipping music app does the same thing. So I have little hope that anyone at Apple wants to change this.

Either make these pics square album covers, or remove the pics altogether and just have a scrolling list of names. That worked well on the iPod Classic.

In fact, as a homework assignment, every designer and exec at Apple should take an old iPod home with them for a weekend and spend a few days studying the UI of those devices. As far as selecting music goes, it really was much better. And I’m not one to say that sort of thing often.

Next up, the artist page, selecting a song, the now playing screen, and more.