Tag Archives: iPhone

More thoughts on Music in iOS 10 (beta)

Last time I left off at the artist listing screen. Today, I want to dig into the individual artist view, album view, and the now playing screen.

One of the reasons I chose to give Music another try in iOS 10 is that Apple has finally given us a proper artist album listing, with albums that drill down into their own screens. This means we can finally choose an artist, then play a single album without it continuing on to the next album. Sounds like a small thing, but I dropped Music altogether years ago for that one reason alone.

Best iPod we’ve ever made, my ass.

Artist Album Listing

Artist Album Listing

Unfortunately, unlike iTunes on the Mac and Windows, Music on iOS still only sorts albums by name, giving us no option to sort them by date instead.

This is one of those head slap moments that makes you wonder if anyone at Apple has ever been a serious music collector. As far as I’m concerned, Apple cannot claim that it loves music ever again until it gives us the option to sort albums by date. No self-respecting music geek sorts albums by name. I don’t care if you hide the option in the Settings app, just give me the option for date, you wankers.[1]

Sorting issues aside, I like most everything else about the Artist page in Music. Album art is square and large, as it should be. There’s a quick option to shuffle all albums, in case that’s your thing. And, as I said before, choosing an album gives you a separate view with just that album’s tracks.

At the bottom of the artist page there’s also a new link “See more by…” that takes you to that artist’s other music on Apple Music. I’m not an Apple Music subscriber, but I guess it’s okay to be able to see what tracks are available without having to bounce into the iTunes app.[2] Unfortunately, any links inside here only give you the option of subscribing to Apple Music. You can’t link over to iTunes to buy any tracks you find. You can’t even preview tracks to see if they’re worth subscribing to get. It’s subscribe, or go screw yourself.

I’m sure the artists love that.

What’s so hard about offering a link, even via 3D Touch, that takes you to the iTunes store to buy a track?

Buy a track? Come on, Joe. Who buys tracks nowadays?

Oh yeah, that’s right. People who LOVE MUSIC.

Once you choose an album, you get the track listing, as you’d expect. Shuffle is right up there at the top again. Okay. Not something I ever use, but I guess a lot of people like shuffle. (More on this in a moment.)

Choose a track, and it starts playing immediately. At the bottom of the screen, just above the tab bar, you get a new bar for now playing, which stays there no matter where you go in the app. I like this a lot. I always hated how hard it was to get to the now playing screen on my old iPod and on Apple TV. This makes it one tap away at all times, which is brilliant. Music also doesn’t assume that once I’ve chosen a track I want the entire screen to be filled with now playing. This is also a good design choice. Once my music is running, I may want to select something else to play next, or keep reading the rest of the track listing, or just go exploring more through my catalog, etc.

At the bottom of the album page, there’s “More by…” again, only this time with albums and images listed. There’s also a “You Might Also Like” section with music from similar artists. Okay, now I’m getting annoyed, Apple. I switched Apple Music off in Settings. I’m clearly not interested in joining Apple Music. Fuck off , already.

Note: “Showing only music on this iPhone” is a lie in this case, Apple.

Note: “Showing only music on this iPhone” is a lie in this case, Apple.

Again, every link in these two bottom sections I didn’t ask for give me no option to even preview tracks from these suggested artists. Just subscribe now.

No thanks.[3]

The now playing toolbar has convenient buttons for pausing and skipping the current track. Another great design decision. One-tap access to pausing is essential, and sometimes you really do need to skip that one track you hate immediately.

Tap into the full-screen now playing view, and you are treated with nice big album art and some more controls in an overlay “card” type view that is reminiscent of Palm’s WebOS. I mostly like what they’ve done with this screen. But there are a few odd choices here.

The big one that others have mentioned before: Where are the shuffle and repeat buttons? For all the emphasis on shuffle being at the top of the past few screens in a row, I get to now playing, and shuffle has disappeared. Turns out, the now playing view is scrollable, and shuffle and repeat are just below the “fold.” Why? No reason I can discern. There’s plenty of room under the volume slider for more than two buttons.

Also, if you’re going to make this screen a scroll view, some indication that it can be scrolled might be a good idea. I know several people who had no idea that they can scroll this view at all. And that’s a shame, because what’s down below the fold is actually quite nice: an Up Next listing, where you can manually reorder or remove tracks from the upcoming cue.

Up Next is a pretty powerful thing. Setting up a quick one-off track listing for a party, for instance, becomes quite easy. I never use playlists, but I often will select a number of albums to listen to in a row when I’m in a certain mood, or I have people over the house, or when I’m on a road trip, etc. The “Play Next” and “Play Later” options on albums and tracks make setting up a quick cue super flexible and easy.

Overall, I actually like Music in iOS 10. The app is far from perfect, and I really want the heavy-handed Apple Music sales pitch to go away, but otherwise, for my listening style, this app is greatly improved over iOS 9 and earlier versions of Music.

And, lo and behold, since I’ve started adding tracks back to my iPhone, I have yet to experience the old issues I was having with files disappearing, doubling of tracks, tracks that simply won’t play, etc. Maybe the file system bugs I was experiencing are gone? I may just upgrade to a 128GB or even 256GB iPhone in a few weeks. I’d love to retire my old iPod again for good.

  1. They do have a “Sort Songs and Albums” option buried in the Settings app, by the way. But it’s for the songs and albums sort views. It has no effect on the album listing for individual artists. And there’s no “by Date” option, in any case.  ↩

  2. Never mind that I’ve checked the “Show Apple Music” switch off in preferences. I’m getting links to Apple Music all over the app, anyway.  ↩

  3. None of these Apple Music “features” were in the early betas, by the way. I wonder if this is a bug, or if these screens will make it into the GM for non-Apple Music subscribers.  ↩

A Glutton for Punishment

I’ve heard mixed reviews on the new iOS 10 beta’s music app. Long-time readers will no doubt remember that I gave up playing music on my iPhone altogether a while back, due to the Music app being completely incongruous with the way I listen to music, not to mention constant issues with songs not downloading, going missing, etc. So I’ve been happily using my old iPod Classic for a while now.

And that’s going great, actually. The old iPod is still working. But I’m a tech geek, and I don’t believe in hanging onto the past forever, so with every new iteration of iOS, I am bound to look at what Apple does with Music to see if there’s a chance they may have actually fixed the issues that drove me away.

Right off the bat, looking at Music.app in the iOS 10 beta, I see two things that have me rather hopeful. First, there’s the Downloaded Music section, which shows you only the songs you actually have living on your iPhone, rather than showing your cloud songs mixed in with your downloaded songs. In previous iterations of Music, there was a switch in Settings to show or hide cloud music, but this dedicated space within the app is actually way better. It gives me the option of looking for a cloud album to download when the mood strikes and I happen to be connected without having to drop out of the app and dig through Settings to flip the cloud music switch.

Second and much more important, when you sort by Artist, you now finally once again have a separate screen between the albums and the individual songs. Which means it’s now possible again to play a single album from an artist when sorting by artist. Hooray. Functionality that existed in iPhone OS 1.0 is now back—many, many years later. This alone was the reason I originally ditched the built-in Music app for Ecoute before giving up on Music on my iPhone altogether.

So, what does this mean for me? Well, I’m doing a little experiment. I’ve moved Music.app back to my main home screen, and I’ve downloaded some music to my phone again, via iTunes. Not my whole library, as I only have a 64GB iPhone at the moment, and my whole library wouldn’t fit on a 128GB, anyway. But come fall, when iOS 10 is released, and with it hopefully a 256GB option for the next iPhone, I may finally be able to replace my old iPod Classic for good, if all the file disappearing and syncing issues have been resolved in iOS. I may finally have all my songs in my pocket again, without carrying around a separate, aging device with a hard drive and battery that are due to fail any minute now.

But that point about the file issues is a huge if. Thus, the experiment. So far, I’ve only added about 15GB of songs onto the iPhone, to see if they actually stick. I’ll keep adding more and more as I go and keep a close eye on whether or not the songs are actually there. Will songs simply disappear again? Will duplicates show up for no reason? Will album tracks show up out of order? Will tracks appear to be there, but when I hit play simply skip to the next track? If history is any indication, all of the above are not only possible, but likely. But I have my fingers crossed. After all, I’m an optimist at heart.

The Music app is far from perfect in iOS 10, but just those two simple changes are enough to get me to at least try it again. I’ll write up some of my gripes about what’s still broken in the near future.

Touch ID after 8 hours

A previously undocumented requirement asks for a passcode in a very particular set of circumstances: When the iPhone or iPad hasn’t been unlocked with its passcode in the previous six days, and Touch ID hasn’t been used to unlock it within the last eight hours. It’s a rolling timeout, so each time Touch ID unlocks a device, a new eight-hour timer starts to tick down until the passcode is required. If you wondered why you were being seemingly randomly prompted for your passcode (or more complicated password), this is likely the reason.

(via Glen Fleishman for Macworld)

Makes sense that I seldom bump into this on my iPhone, since I only sleep about six hours most nights. But I’ve often wondered why my iPads, which I don’t necessarily pick up first thing in the morning, need a passcode so often. I assumed it was a bug.

On 3D Touch and Long Press

If Apple declared that a 3D Touch was the moral equivalent of a long press, it would have to make some adjustments to the iOS interface (including changing how we reorder app icons), but in the end I think we’d have a more cohesive set of common iOS gestures. 3D Touch users would benefit by not having to wait for the OS to pause and see if you intended to long-press an item, but users of non–3D-Touch devices wouldn’t be left out of the party.

via Jason Snell, writing for Macworld

There was lots of talk about this last September with the introduction of 3D Touch. I don’t think it’s a great idea.

Long press is a purposefully slow gesture. It makes you stop, literally, and wait a second or so before you can move on with other things. Therefore, it’s suited best for tasks that you want to do very deliberately and only very occasionally, like rearranging the icons on your home screen. The nature of the long press makes it very unlikely you’ll do it accidentally, and so it’s perfect for these sorts of tasks. You have to think about a long press, and that’s a good thing[1].

3D Touch, on the other hand, is meant to speed you up. Application launching shortcuts take you directly to a spot within the app in one gesture. Pressing hard from the left of the screen helps you invoke the app switcher faster. It’s all about the speed.

Peek and Pop, of course, is supposed to be all about speeding you up, too. I agree with Jason; it’s more gimmick than useful at the moment. I just about never use it.

I also agree that Quick Launch shortcuts are limited (though already much more useful than Peek and Pop), and 3D Touch would be more useful if it were possible to use in many other places, like the Notification Center. These are all great suggestions by Jason. I have no doubt Apple will be adding many of these features and more to iOS this year and beyond.

That doesn’t mean, however, that long press and 3D Touch belong together as one gesture. They just seem to be diametrically opposed, from a user interface standpoint. Forcing non–3D Touch users to use a long press for all these actions that are meant to speed up the iOS experience will make those users feel like frustrated, second-class citizens. Their phones will feel like slugs.

Not having those features at all is better than having them at the expense of feeling great about using them.

I suggest Apple keep 3D Touch and long press separated. The problem of some people not having devices with 3D Touch will be solved by time. Touch interfaces need more gestures, not fewer, if they are going to become more powerful tools.

  1. Some people seem to have trouble invoking a long press on a 3D-Touch enabled iPhone. Seems like pressing long and pressing hard are equivalent in many people’s minds. It doesn’t help that for many years prior to 3D Touch, you could press long and hard to invoke a long press. It takes some practice, but eventually you manage to tap and hold for a long press without pressing hard by default.  ↩

iPhone SE: The Long-Term Outlook

I’ve been complaining since the introduction of the iPhone 6 that I am no fan of the larger iPhone trend. I truly disliked my 6 when I owned one, and I wasn’t shy about saying it. I dislike my 6s Plus considerably less (if you’re going to go big, just go big), but I’d still much rather go back to a 4-inch screen.

I’ve been so vocal about my disdain for the current crop of flagship iPhones, in fact, that pretty much every one of my friends has assumed that I’ve already ordered my SE. But here’s the thing: I haven’t.

The SE packs all of the most important functionality of the 6s into a smaller shell. There are a few tradeoffs, of course, but all of them are acceptable to me. It almost seems as if Apple designed the SE just for me. But it’s not that simple.

For one thing, I just got myself into a contract last September via the iPhone Upgrade Program for the 6s Plus. (I recognize that this is was my choice, by the way, so I’m not blaming anyone but myself.) To buy out the remainder of my contract on the 6s Plus and get myself an SE, I’d be out around $900[1]. That’s a lot of money to get myself a smaller phone.

Things don’t get better in September, either, as I reach my 1-year milestone with the 6s Plus. The iPhone Upgrade Program does allow me to upgrade after only one year, but the program doesn’t include the SE. So while I can trade up to the iPhone 7 (or whatever Apple calls the new phones at that time) I can’t trade down to the SE. I’ll be in the same boat. Wait another year, or buy out the remaining contract. It’ll cost less at that time, but it’s still a pretty high price to go back to 4 inches for those of us who were too impatient to wait last September.[2]

And if I wait out the full 18 months for my iPhone 6s Plus to be completely contract free, will I still want an SE at that time?

Well, a lot depends on what Apple’s future plans are with the SE.

Greg Joswiak mentioned during the introduction of the SE that there were two groups of people the SE is meant to address: 1) people who just want smaller phones, and 2) people who were buying their first iPhone. The way I see it, these two groups of people overlap a bit, but there are also plenty of people who belong to one group but not the other.

The SE is trying to serve two masters, in other words. And it does a much better job of meeting the needs of those first-time buyers than it does of the smaller phone lovers. At least in the long term.

So what happens six months from now? A year from now? 18 months from now? The answers to these questions would be helpful for someone like me to make an informed decision whether or not to invest in an SE. But we can’t answer any of those questions given our current information. We can, however, venture a few guesses, as long as we’re careful to re-evaluate as we get new information.

Six Months from Now

Apple will release some new flagship iPhone this fall. Call it the iPhone 7 for now. (I’m hoping Apple drops the number in the name, but we don’t know that at the moment.) The question is whether or not there will be a 4-inch variant of this new flagship phone. A 4-inch iPhone 7 would mean that Apple is serious about serving those who want smaller phones, and the SE is simply a stop gap on the low end to serve more budget-conscious customers. This is my dream scenario, but I think the chances of it happening are slim. Even if it were to happen, that would be an argument against buying the SE now, since I’d want to change phones again in just a few months.

A Year from Now

Maybe Apple will release an update next March to the SE to keep it up to date with the internals of the iPhone 7. A new processor, maybe the faster TouchID, and so on. But what would this phone look like? Would it still be in the 5s shell? I love the 5s design, but isn’t that case going to get a bit limiting eventually?

Ben Thompson has rightly pointed out that part of the problem with the iPhone 5c was that it marked the buyer as having bought the “budget phone”. The SE eliminates this issue by looking like a former top-of-the-line phone. It’s cooler, after all, to be driving a five-year old BMW than a brand new Toyota. But in tech, that only gets you so far. Old is old. You’re going to look behind the times carrying around a phone that appears several years old, even in Brooklyn. More importantly, being tied to that form factor is going to limit Apple’s ability to add newer technologies, such as 3D Touch and whatever else is coming after. Apple is torn between adding features and keeping their margins with this device. The 5s shell simply can’t be Apple’s 4-inch offering forever. So the SE can’t be a long-term product.

What does Apple do, then? They don’t have a newer form factor of a 4-inch device. If they design a new one, they lose all the tooling and manufacturing benefits of putting new innards in an old body. They might as well just make a 4-inch variant of the flagship. So let us consider this update scenario unlikely as well.

Like it or not, putting the SE in a 5s shell is a signal from Apple that this phone is more about grabbing the low-end customer than it is about making smaller screens.

More likely, then, the SE will not be changed a year from now, and Apple will continue selling it as it is today. Which means 4-inch phone lovers who want the latest features are stuck with no upgrade path for at least 18 months from today’s SE, which is already six months behind the 6s.

Eighteen Months from Now

Apple will introduce the iPhone 7s (or whatever they end up calling it) in the fall of 2017. It would normally be an “s” year, so if they follow the usual pattern a new form factor is unlikely. Which means if there were no 4-inch variant in 2016, there will likely be none in 2017, either. New rumors are suggesting that Apple will break with tradition, however, and make a major shift in 2017, but even those rumors mention nothing of a smaller, 4-inch screen. They talk instead of an even larger 5.8-inch screen.

SE owners will likely be stuck then for at least another 6 months with nothing to buy. Their phones will be feeling rather crusty at that point. All the new shiny features of two generations of iPhone will still be unavailable to people who love the 4-inch form factor.

Two Years and Beyond

Nothing really changes in the math two years from now. Apple might update the SE with some new innards, but the case will still have to be a 5s, which will be getting really long in the tooth by then. The tradeoffs for wanting a smaller phone will increase. And even that update is somewhat unlikely, because six months later, the iPhone 8 will be arriving. And this is where I believe it may finally get interesting.

You’ve likely heard the rumors by now of the edge-to-edge iPhone: imagine an iPhone 6 that has a true edge-to-edge screen on all sides. No chin, no forehead, even less space on the sides. Just screen right up to all four corners. At that point, the device would be smaller overall, if maybe just a little wider, than the surface area of an iPhone SE. The screen might not be exactly 4.7 inches, but I can at least imagine a phone with a true edge-to-edge screen satisfying people who currently like the 4.7-inch 6s and those who prefer 4-inch phones. The Plus size would remain for those who want the giant screen experience, but an edge-to-edge screen would eliminate the need for a third size altogether.[3]

I believe this is Apple’s long-term play for people like me who want smaller phones. Rather than making a flagship 4-inch phone, they will shrink the body of the 4.7-inch phone enough to satisfy everyone. It’s just a shame it’s going to take so long.

No matter what, I’m likely looking at 2 and-a-half years before I get a flagship phone from Apple that I’ll actually like. That leaves me in a tough spot in the interim. I could spend the $900 now and just live with an SE for 30 months, or I could continue to buy Plus sized phones for a few more years and deal with not loving the size. The SE would certainly cost me less in the long run. But I still make my living building apps and services in this ecosystem. Not having access to the latest features would put me at a disadvantage to understanding many of my customers. And not taking advantage of Apple’s latest technologies is a lost opportunity for making my products as good as they could be.

Not to mention, I just like having an up-to-date phone. The SE would serve me well for a brief while, but I believe in the long run I’d be left going back to the larger size at some point in the middle just to get newer features.

I wanted a smaller phone. Not a budget phone. If I were still using a 5s or even my 6 from last year, I would make the jump. If the SE were part of the iPhone Upgrade Program, I’d probably get it this fall. The SE is a great solution for a lot of people. It’s just not for me at the moment.

I’ll re-evaluate my decision this September, when we find out if the first of my many guesses ends up being accurate. Meanwhile, I’m reluctantly sticking with my 6s Plus. The SE is awesome, but I don’t think Apple had me in mind when they designed it.

  1. $750 remains on my contract. If I were to sell the phone after that, I’d likely only get around $380 for it. (Check Gazelle, if you don’t believe me. The 6s Plus has an absolutely lousy resale value for an Apple product.) Then I’d have to buy the SE outright at $500 (for the 64 GB model). Add tax, and we’re over $900. The alternative is to pay $49 for the SE and saddle myself for another 2 years on Verizon, but I’m not willing to do that, either. The whole point of the iPhone Upgrade Program is to get away from carrier obligations.  ↩

  2. In my defense, exactly no one expected Apple to release the SE when I bought my 6s Plus last fall. When I suggested that Apple might make a 4-inch phone again someday, I was laughed out of the room on several occasions. If I had known the SE were coming this spring, I would have at least considered not getting the 6s Plus. And even when rumors started about the SE, I imagine most people assumed the SE would be included as part of the Upgrade Program. But it isn’t.  ↩

  3. I’d love to see this happen sooner than 2018, but most of what I’ve read suggests that it’s at least that far out. I have no doubt Apple is working to make it happen, though. Maybe this is part of the new 2017 OLED all-glass rumors, but I’m not getting my hopes up. More likely, the 2017 phone will merely be a step in that direction.  ↩