One of the most significant changes predicted in reports leading up to Apple’s official unveiling of iOS 10 was a completely redesign of the Music app, so it wasn’t particularly surprising to see this element of Apple’s iOS 10 reveal. Although, like the changes made to Maps, the new design of the Music app suggests that the company is gradually shifting over to an entirely new design paradigm.
Apple’s iOS Music app has followed an interesting, if somewhat rocky, path. After years of remaining stagnant, Apple made some significant changes in iOS 8.4 last summer — an unusual move for a point release — adding support for its fledgling Apple Music service as well as several other long-overdue improvements such as support for the Up Next play queue system that had been brought to iTunes 11 almost three years prior, and the ability to add a track directly to a playlist, rather than the other way around.
Although it was easy to get caught up in all of these long-awaited features when the iOS 8.4 Music app first came out — and in all fairness it really was a huge leap forward — it becamse apparent after a year of using it that Apple still hadn’t quite mastered the intuitiveness that the company is usually so well-known for. Many menus and options were awkwardly located in the UI, and in its enthusiasm, Apple put too much emphasis on the new Apple Music service rather than the user’s own library; the latter took a backseat and actually became more difficult to navigate, rather than less so. In short, the new Music app clearly seemed geared toward those users who wanted to enjoy Apple Music almost exclusively, while leaving users with established music collections of their own feeling left out in the cold.
With iOS 10, however, it clearly appears that Apple has recognized the need for significant improvements to the Music experience, redesigning the Music app once again from the ground up, mixing some of the best elements of the both the classic pre-iOS 8.4 Music app and the version for the Apple Music generation in an entirely new user interface that uses brighter and bolder fonts and other UI elements that we’ve already seen demonstrated in Maps and the core iOS Notification and Control Centers.
First and foremost, Apple has placed the user’s own library front and center, where it belongs — right on the very first tab on the left. All of the various sections now get larger and bolder headings, and in the Library section, users are presented with the classic category lists of the pre-iOS 8.4 days, using larger fonts and more accessible tap targets. The term “My Music” has also been basically expunged from the interface in iOS 10; now it’s just referred to as the “Library” throughout — a term that we think provides more clarity as to exactly what the user is doing with it.
By default you’ll see Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, and Downloaded Music. Home Sharing is also still here (unlike its brief absence in iOS 8.4), and will appear on this list if you have it configured on your device. An “Edit” button in the top-right corner allows these categories to be customized, both in terms of which ones are shown and in which order they appear — again hearkening back to the pre-iOS 8.4 days — and additional categories for Music Videos, Genres, Compliations, and Composers can be added from here. A “Recently Added” section at the bottom shows an artwork grid for any albums, playlists, and songs that have been recently added to your music library.
The Downloaded Music category provides a quick filter to show only the music that has been downloaded to your iPhone — useful if you happen to be out of coverage a lot, or merely want to avoid excessive data charges while away from Wi-Fi. The view from the Downloaded Music section is laid out in much the same way as the main Library view, except you’re only browsing tracks that are actually stored on your device, and for now at least, sub-categories are limited to the standard Playlists, Artists, Albums, and Songs, along with the “Recently Added” section at the bottom, and no way to customize this list. Either way, however, it’s a very welcome change from the much more confusing and awkwardly located “Music Available Offline” toggle switch.
Navigating the User Interface
The iOS 10 Music app makes a lot more use of tap-and-hold gestures — and presumably 3D Touch — to access various menus while navigating throughout. The old ellipsis menu buttons are gone in most places, replaced instead with a tap-and-hold or 3D Touch gesture to access a pop-up menu with more options. If you’re an Android user, you’ll find this UI interaction to be very familiar, and it also makes us wonder if Apple plans to more closely mirror the Android Apple Music app’s design with the iOS 10 Music app.
The options presented on the menu will naturally vary depending on what you’ve selected, but we like the fact that Apple has both simplified and unified the menu views — pretty much no matter where you are in the interface, the look and feel of the menu remains the same, with only the options differing. The top of the menu will show the selected item, which can be played by tapping the artwork. A right-facing arrow suggests that tapping on the title will take you to the content listing for that artist, album, or playlist — we really hope this will be the case — but as of this first beta, the option does nothing other than close the menu.
All of the menu items have also been left-justified, making them more easily readable in our opinion, and icons are now presented on the right-hand side to assist in quickly identifying each function.
Apple has also used much clearer names for the various options. For example, the option formerly known as Add to Up Next, which we always found confusing, has been more appropriately renamed to Play Later, making it much more obvious that this drops the selected tracks to the bottom of the play queue, and it more closely mirrors the Play Next option. The Make Available Offline option, which was a mouthful, is now simply Download, and a single Remove button appears for tracks that have been downloaded to your device, leading to a secondary menu that asks whether you want to delete it from your library entirely or simply remove the downloaded copy from your device. Buttons for downloading and sharing are now distinct menu options, rather than the small icons nestled beside the artwork. In fact, the Share button that was previously littered throughout the user interface has now taken an appropriate backseat and appears only on the options menu.
Like and Dislike
iOS 10 also moves users away from the binary “love it or leave it” choice when rating tracks, adding a third option — Dislike. The small heart button throughout the user interface has been replaced with an ellipsis that takes users to a menu providing buttons to “Love” a song, or “Dislike” a song.
While the layout of the buttons right now may suggest there are only two states available, each is actually toggled on or off independently — meaning you can “unlove” a song by tapping on the “Love” button to clear it without actually having to select the “Dislike” option. All songs begin as neutral until you take some action to either Love them or Dislike them. Although it’s as of yet unclear exactly what effect disliking a song will have, Apple will presumably be working “dislikes” into its algorithms in some way.
The Now Playing view in iOS 10 Music also gets a redesign that puts it more in line with UI changes we’ve seen elsewhere throughout iOS 10. The bottom mini-player bar increases in height to make it more accessible, while also displaying album artwork and additional playback controls.
Tapping on the mini-player bar or pulling it up reveals a much cleaner Now Playing view. Album artwork is front-and-center, and interestingly expands to fill the full screen width when the track is playing, while shrinking down to a slightly smaller size when paused or scrubbing. It’s an interesting effect.
One of the few remaining ellipsis buttons in the iOS 10 Music app is found in the bottom right corner, and it brings up an options menu for the current track. The layout, however, remains the same as the tap-and-hold menus discussed above. With the exception of an add/download button, which only appears for tracks not already on your device, the other buttons found in the prior version of the Music app have either been eliminated or moved elsewhere, resulting in a much cleaner interface that we find to be quite a refreshing change.
If you’ve added lyrics to a song via iTunes, these are now shown in a much more obvious way in the iOS 10 Music app. While tapping the album artwork showed lyrics in prior versions, lyrics are now presented in a collapsible view that can be found by scrolling down in the Now Playing screen. A Show/Hide button allows the lyrics to be hidden or displayed; if no lyrics are available, this section is simply omitted.
Lyrics can also be accessed directly from the tap-and-hold menu of any track you happen to be browsing. A “Lyrics” option will appear at the bottom of the menu if lyrics are available; tapping this option will bring them up in a separate panel.
Although rumors persist that Apple plans to add lyrics to its Apple Music library at some point, for now at least, only songs in your own library that have had lyrics specifically added via iTunes will display said lyrics in the iOS 10 Music app.
The Up Next section is now shown by scrolling down on the Now Playing screen, displayed immediately below the lyrics (if any), rather than being accessed from a separate button. Not only does this make access to Up Next far more intuitive in our opinion, but it removes an additional button from the Now Playing screen that we felt just added more clutter and confusion to the Now Playing UI.
Buttons for Shuffle and Repeat are found at the top of the Up Next queue. Tracks can be reordered in the queue simply by tapping on the handle on the right and dragging them upward or downward — no additional button is required to activate an “edit” mode before doing this — and tracks can be removed from the queue with the standard right-to-left swipe gesture.
Playlist and Album Views
Playlist and Album views have also been redesigned with a cleaner look and more distinct options. Love and Share buttons in the headings are gone, with these options moved into the ellipsis menu instead. Only one additional button now appears at the top, which shifts between three states: Add appears when browsing items in Apple Music that are not yet in your library, the standard iCloud download icon appears for tracks that are in your library but not stored on your device, and the word Downloaded appears for tracks that have been downloaded to your device. Tapping on this button changes the state of the album or playlist as expected.
As mentioned earlier, individual tracks no longer carry the ellipsis button beside them, with the menu now being accessible from a tap-and-hold gesture. Instead, individual tracks will show either a plus sign or iCloud download icon, providing options to add them to your library or download them to your device. Tracks already on your device show no icon at all, but can be removed via the tap-and-hold menu — the former right-to-left swipe gesture for removing tracks is no more.
For You now moves to the second tab of the Music app, making it secondary to the user’s own library. The content of this screen has also been similarly cleaned up, with information orgnaized into more obvious categories, rather than just a stream of seemingly-random playlists and albums with no obvious correlation to your listening experience.
While Apple demonstrated a Discovery Mix playlist during the WWDC keynote, as of the first Developer Preview of iOS 10, this feature is not yet available. Instead, for now Recently Played appears first, showing content you’ve listened to recently from Apple Music. In fact, this is the only place where Recently Played still gets top placement. Below that is a section for recommended playlists for the current day of the week, which Apple promises will be based on users’ individual listening habits — presumably your Monday mix for heading to work is going to be slightly different than your Friday mix for heading home. Further groupings appear below for things like Heavy Rotation, Artist Playlists, New Releases and more. Further down comes Apple Music Connect — still available for those users who really want to connect with artists, but otherwise nicely left out of the way for those who just want to find and listen to music by themselves.
The tab formerly known as New has now been given a more logical name of Browse, and as the name implies, it allows listeners to explore a wider variety of new and curated content. Where For You is designed to be tailored to a user’s own library and listening habits, Browse presents the stuff that the Apple Music team is putting forward as popular or interesting to a broader audience.
An artwork slider at the top shows exclusive, new, and featured releases, while categories below provide access to New Music, Curated Playlists, and Top Charts, as well as options to browse by genre or look at videos.
The Radio tab provides most of the same features as before, redesigned to match the rest of the Music app.