By Dan Moren
January 22, 2015 8:48 AM PT
Hit List: Album view
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Look, I’ve been pretty positive up until now, what with all my suggestions about features that Apple can improve. But it’s time to tap into our deep, collective discontent about those little aspects of Apple products that just bug us. For a company that places an emphasis on simple, elegant design, there are places where it seems to lose the thread. That’s no big deal—nobody bats a thousand—but sometimes in order to make products better, you need to remove things instead of adding them.
Case in point: the iOS Music app’s album view.
I don’t mean when you tap Albums on the toolbar and scroll through that list; I mean the annoying collage of album artwork that you only seemed to end up with when you’ve turned your phone sideways (probably by accident) while browsing your music.
Why? Just why? Apple’s long had a fixation on the album—ironically the very art form people accused them of trying to destroy by offering individual tracks for sale when the iTunes Store launched in 2003. Maybe this focus was an attempt to insulate themselves from such criticism, or maybe it was because noted music lover Steve Jobs was still running the show. But this obsession has continued to the present day—and it continues to get the company into trouble, such as in the case of the U2 album that we were all really delighted to get for free last fall.
Me, I’ve got no problems with albums. I listen to them pretty frequently, especially in more recent years.1 But not once in the many years of using an iOS device have I ever played back an album from that stupid horizontal screen. Why? Have you ever tried to find something in that view? A second or two of scrolling through it and you’ll start to wonder if you’ve entered some hitherto unknown neighborhood of Purgatory. There is, obviously, no search feature, and the albums themselves are arranged alphabetically by album title, which I often don’t remember.2
Also, if you’re anything like me—and, really, let’s hope you’re not, for all of our sakes—you might have a few albums that don’t have album artwork, for one reason or another. Just a couple. A smidge. So it doesn’t exactly work for showing off my sweet music collection to my friends, unless they’re really into diagonal white text on a black background.
So, we’ve established this mode is both largely ineffective and often unattractive. To those two, let’s add “annoying.” If I never had to see this mode, I might be fine writing it off as a developmental cul-de-sac. But the problem is that it’s triggered by device rotation, which is something that happens in the course of normal usage—unless you enable orientation lock, which I generally don’t—and in switching to that mode you lose every other piece of the Music app’s interface. I cannot think of another of Apple’s stock apps where the interface changes that radically due to rotation.3 Turn Notes, Safari, Mail, even Calculator on their side, and they’re all still recognizably those apps; meanwhile, Weather, Voice Memos, and others don’t even support landscape orientation.
Maybe there are defenders of the album art view out there—maybe I’ll get deluged with mail from those who wish to defend its glories with terminal intensity—but for everyone of those, I’m sure there are at least two who’ll argue that simply eliminating this view doesn’t take things far enough, that the Music app should be burned to the ground and a new one should rise from the ashes. And maybe that’ll happen! The Music app is clearly ripe for improvement, and I for one would be pretty surprised if Apple didn’t announce some major overhauls for music in iOS 9, especially with its acquisition of Beats and the changing nature of the digital music market. But I’m ready to say goodbye—and good riddance—to the album art view, once and for all.
- I’ve taken a lot of gruff from my co-hosts on The Rebound for not listening to playlists. I just hate making them and it always seems I don’t have enough metadata. I prefer to shuffle my whole library and skip a lot of tracks. ↩
- Even in the case of The Beatles, whom I love, I often can’t remember which songs are on which albums. Maybe this is a generational divide, though. ↩
- Except Stocks, but who the hell uses Stocks? (Even there, it simply “zooms in” on one particular feature—the graph.) ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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