Dynamic playlist creation on the iPad
Ever since I subscribed to iTunes Match, I've been trying different ways to play music at home. iTunes Match gives access to my music library wirelessly to every iOS device, meaning that the task of playing music isn't solely restricted to my computer.
A solution I'm really keen on is leaving the iPad in the living room and let guests choose what they want or show me their best picks. Since the iPad speakers aren't ideal, I prefer pairing to a Bluetooth speaker, such as the Bose SoundLink or a Hidden Radio, making sure the room is filled with good quality sound. With this setup in mind and seeing the limitations of the default Music app that ships with the iPad — which I find too finicky — I'm really keen on trying alternative players.
Couch Music Player by Clever & Son is a music player that accesses your local music collection or all the content on your iTunes Match and presents it in a tablet-friendly form. While you can play albums or individual songs, the app particularly shines at creating your own playlists, adequately called queues.
By diving the main screen in two areas, you can browse through your collection of music on the left without interrupting the song playing on the right side. You can look for a particular tune using the search function, select an artist, song name or album. The results populate the left area on the screen, only having to drag any song you want to the right side of the screen.
These songs queued can be rearranged tapping and holding or removed with a right swipe. Swiping left will automatically show you a search result with all the songs by the same artist in the format "Artist: Cat Power". I can see this being a cool feature for music discovery for friends, although it's slightly hidden if you don't experiment much with gestures.
There are buttons that will give you the most common actions without having to explore swipes though. Playlist management on the right combines a set of three icons to create a new queue, navigate through the playlists available or create a new one. Despite the emphasis on call queuing, Coach Music Player doesn't really give the option to name your selections. The only way to identify a given playlist is reading the actual order of the songs and the cover art, which can be tiny and hard to read.
Otherwise, the app's controls are fine; big and chunky, making them really evident for a friend who's never used the app and is trying to play his favourite album. Some actions like playing or pausing even have a confirmation window with white text on black, making them pretty obvious.
Full screen power
My favourite feature of Couch Music Player has to be the full screen cover mode. While iOS already gives you full cover art and music playback controls on the lock screen, the in-app full screen mode is vastly superior. The key difference is that the album cover doest fill the whole screen, leaving some space of the sides for the previous and the next album covers to peek into this view. This gives the user the perfect clue of what song is coming next, and more importantly, an invitation to swipe right and left in the absence of any button for this task.
A lovely detail borrowed from iTunes 11 is that the text and music controls change their colour based on the album cover. Neat detail that avoids colour clashing even if the average user will never know. I like the fact that there's some math behind the scenes to ensure the UI blends a little bit better than what it would with some default colour for every album.
Even if the iPad's screen will go dark to preserve battery while playing music, I absolutely love the look of the cover view and the functionality it offers. The fact you cannot name playlists, let alone import and export them can be a bit of a bummer. Although the app tries to be as intuitive as possible, you have to use your imagination to get things working the way you want. Playing a whole album, for example, requires you to drag the whole album to the right, converting it into a playlist where you can rearrange the order of the songs. It's a matter of playing with it a little, really. Anyone after a jukebox style app that works with your iTunes library should try Couch Music Player.