For the past several months, I’ve been working on a shortcut designed to be the ultimate assistant for Apple Music. Called MusicBot, the shortcut encompasses dozens of different features and aims to be an all-in-one assistant that helps you listen to music more quickly, generate intelligent mixes based on your tastes, rediscover music from your library, control playback on AirPlay 2 speakers, and much more. I poured hundreds of hours of work into MusicBot, which has gained a permanent spot on my Home screen. Best of all, MusicBot is available to everyone for free.
I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber, and I love the direction Apple has taken with the service: fewer exclusive deals, more human curation, artist spotlights, and playlists updated daily. However, I believe the Music app for iPhone and iPad leaves much to be desired in terms of navigation and fast access to your favorite music. While Music gets the job done as a gateway to a streaming catalog, I find its interactions somewhat slow when it comes to playing my favorite playlists on shuffle or getting to albums I frequently listen to. Some of Music’s most interesting mixes are only available by asking Siri; additionally, getting to certain sections of the app or tweaking specific settings often takes far too many taps for my taste.
I created MusicBot for two reasons: I wanted to speed up common interactions with the Music app by using custom actions in the Shortcuts app; and I also wanted to build a series of “utilities” for Apple Music that could be bundled in a single, all-in-one shortcut instead of dozens of smaller, standalone ones.
The result is, by far, the most complex shortcut I’ve ever ever created (MusicBot spans 750+ actions in the Shortcuts app), but that’s not the point. MusicBot matters to me because, as I’ve shared before, music plays an essential role in my life, and MusicBot lets me enjoy my music more. This is why I spent so much time working on MusicBot, and why I wanted to share it publicly with everyone for free: I genuinely believe MusicBot offers useful enhancements for the Apple Music experience on iOS and iPadOS, providing tools that can help you rediscover lost gems in your library or find your next music obsession.
Let’s dive in.
Great idea by Matthew Cassinelli: using the new HomePod and AirPlay 2 actions for home automation in iOS 13.2, it is possible to automate a HomePod’s volume level (including its Siri responses) throughout the day.
But one of the nagging problems with HomePod is the way Siri, regardless of the current time of day, will respond loudly at whatever volume you’ve previously set.
Whether it’s the middle of the night or super early in the morning, it’s all too common to ask Siri something and the answer shouted backed at you, only because you listened to music loudly sometime yesterday. Hopefully nobody wakes up, you curse at how dumb your supposedly “smart” speaker can be, and frantically try to turn it down.
Thankfully, iOS 13.2 provides a route to a solution by adding HomePods and AppleTV to scenes and automations – the HomePod didn’t fix this on its own, but, with a Home Automation, you can make it “smart” enough yourself.
As I explained when iOS 13.2 came out, you can put together these automations by using the ‘Adjust Audio Only’ option after selecting a HomePod or compatible AirPlay 2 speaker in the Home app. I just set this up for my three HomePods and Sonos One, and, sure enough, at 11:20 PM, volume was set to 15% on all my speakers (it should be raised back up to 50% tomorrow at noon).
In theory, I would like to turn this automation into a shortcut and add a Pushcut notification to confirm the volume change (and optionally shuffle a playlist by choosing a HomeKit scene from the notification’s actions). There’s a bug that prevents me from doing this in the latest iOS 13.3 beta, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future.
On Monday, Apple released audioOS 13.2 for the HomePod and before the end of the day US-time pulled it when users started reporting that it was bricking their HomePods. In addition to bricking some HomePods, other users, myself included, had trouble setting up multi-voice support. I also heard from others who had trouble getting the update to install in the first instance. Today, shortly after Apple’s earnings call concluded, the company released audioOS 13.2.1, which includes the same features and presumably fixes the issues users experienced.
Following the announcement of AirPods Pro earlier today, Apple also released iOS, iPadOS, audioOS, and tvOS 13.2. Among various features (which we’ve detailed in a separate story here), one of the key improvements in this suite of software updates is extended flexibility of the HomePod’s music playback abilities.
In fact, by updating to the latest version of Apple’s software, you’ll gain a variety of new audio-related functionalities for HomePod, ranging from the ability to wave an iPhone atop the speaker to hand off audio to brand new integrations with the Shortcuts app as well as HomeKit scenes and automations. In this post, I’m going to go over all the different ways you can control audio playback on Apple’s Siri-integrated speaker, explain new shortcuts that can be built with these features, and share some first impressions based on my initial tests with today’s changes. We’re going to cover HomePod’s other new functionalities such as multi-user support and ambient sounds later this week. Let’s dive in.
Today following its event at the Steve Jobs Theater, Apple released the latest major update for iPhones and iPads: iOS 12.2. This version of iOS launches Apple’s just-debuted subscription service for News, includes support for enhanced AirPlay 2 controls on compatible TV devices, plus it brings four new Animoji, and more.
Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:
Developer Khaos Tian hacked the HomeKit protocol to simulate adding a smart TV accessory to the Home app. He shared some screenshots and videos of these features ‘in action’ …
By essentially faking the existence of a HomeKit-compatible Smart TV accessory on his network, he was able to add a television tile into his Home app.
This reveals new interfaces for controlling the TV. You can tap on the tile to turn it on or off and access the Details menu to change input.
Tian has posted a series of examples of this new HomeKit integration on his Twitter account, including one where he was able to control his LG TV running webOS from the iPhone’s Home app.
Interestingly, Tian has already contributed an update to homebridge – the third-party plugin to add all kinds of different accessories and platforms to HomeKit – with support for HomeKit’s new TV control APIs. Here’s where this gets really interesting for me: despite the launch of an online petition, LG has only confirmed that their latest 2019 TV sets will receive official HomeKit support. Thanks to homebridge, however, it should be possible to add native HomeKit integration to older LG televisions (such as my 2017 model) with plugins that bridge the webOS API to HomeKit’s new endpoints. This is precisely what Tian is doing for his demo.
Now, as someone who’s been running homebridge and the homebridge-webos-tv plugin for the past few months (and I promise I will write about this eventually), I’m excited about the idea of having a native interface for controlling my TV from the Home app (and, ideally, Siri too). As you can see, the plugin I’m currently using can only “fake” controls in the Home app by adding switches. It can get…confusing:
But it works. I’ve been running homebridge and this plugin without issues for months now, and I’ve gotten so used to asking Siri to change inputs on my TV, I can’t imagine not having these integrations anymore. A recent update to homebridge-webos-tv even added support for individual channel input and more remote control buttons. For this reason, assuming that the folks at LG don’t change their mind and ship a HomeKit software update for older TV sets, I think I’m going to experiment with a dual setup for webOS TV support in HomeKit: some controls based on the official HomeKit API, and others provided as custom switches – both based on homebridge plugins. But that’s a story for another time.
Apple may not be exhibiting at CES, but its presence is felt nonetheless. More than ever, Apple’s technologies like HomeKit and AirPlay are showing up in third-party hardware. What’s different this year is the first appearance of Apple video content on third-party devices in what is undoubtedly the first step in the company’s emerging video strategy, which breaks from the traditionally tight integration between Apple hardware and software.
As in past years, the MacStories team is sifting through the hundreds of press releases to find the announcements that are most relevant to our readers. CES has only just begun, and we’ve already seen a long list of product announcements that affect iOS and Mac users. Below are the highlights of those early announcements. We’ll follow up with another roundup later this week collecting additional products showcased at CES.
It’s worth noting that CES announcements rarely indicate the countries in which new products will be available, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for additional details if you see something that interests you.
On the heels of the announcement that Samsung Smart TVs are gaining an iTunes Movie and TV Shows app and AirPlay 2 support, Apple has updated its AirPlay 2 page to highlight additional features that are coming to AirPlay 2.
AirPlay 2-Enabled TVs: Samsung may have been the first to announce support for AirPlay 2, but Apple’s webpage indicates that the feature is coming to ‘leading manufacturers,’ so expect more announcements at CES and beyond. In addition to using AirPlay 2 to send video from an iOS device or Mac to a compatible TV, consumers will be able to play music on their TVs and sync it with other AirPlay 2-compatible devices in their homes.
Control Your TV with Siri: Perhaps the most interesting feature is the ability to use Siri on your iPhone to send video to your TV. Because the new feature works in tandem with HomeKit, if you have multiple AirPlay 2 TVs, you’ll be able to specify the room in which you want the video to play.
Remote Control: Apple also indicates that remote control features are coming soon:
Convenient built-in controls appear in apps, on the Lock screen, and in Control Center. So you can easily play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, and adjust the volume on your TV.
Controlling the volume of a TV via AirPlay 2 would be new, and perhaps there’s something coming related to Apple’s reference to “built-in controls… in apps,’ but playback controls on the Lock screen and in Control Center already exist.
Apple is clearly using the days leading up to CES to implement the first moves in its video strategy. Observers have long wondered how Apple planned to extend the reach of a video service beyond the relatively small number of Apple TV owners. By cutting deals with TV manufacturers, Apple is moving down a path that is similar to the one Google has taken with the Chromecast and will be able to reach many more consumers. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see these new AirPlay 2 features begin to appear when Apple ships its first iOS 12.2 betas.
Sonos announced today that it has added AirPlay 2 support to compatible speaker systems. The update allows users to stream audio to the company’s Sonos One, Beam, Playbase, and the second generation Play:5 speakers from iOS apps that support AirPlay 2 and from iTunes on a Mac.
Sonos, which did not support the original AirPlay technology, is the first third-party manufacturer to make AirPlay 2 available to its users. In addition to streaming from iOS devices and Macs, AirPlay 2 will allow Sonos users to incorporate their speakers into multi-room setups that can be managed with Apple’s Home app and controlled with Siri. Sonos speakers that don’t support AirPlay 2 can also be used to stream from Apple devices when paired with an AirPlay 2-compatible Sonos speaker.
The update, which will be free to Sonos customers, can be applied to compatible Sonos speakers using its iOS app.