Marvis is a music player that launched on iPhone just two months ago, yet in a 3.0 update today expands its usefulness immensely thanks to a major new feature: full Apple Music integration. With today's release, Marvis joins the growing list of third-party apps that use Apple's MusicKit API to offer access to and control of your Apple Music library.
Marvis follows in the footsteps of Soor, which Federico reviewed earlier this year, in prioritizing layout customization as one of its hallmark advantages over Apple's first-party Music app. Pushing beyond what even Soor accomplished though, in Marvis customization is taken to a whole new level, with fine-grained design options that no other app can compare with.
Developer and musician Stephen Coyle just released a new app that enables hands-free page turning of PDFs via facial expressions. The aptly-named PageTurn utilizes the power of the TrueDepth camera system found in all iOS devices that support Face ID – the iPhone X, XR, XS, and XS Max, plus the 2018 iPad Pros – to enable turning pages of a PDF using only your face.
There are two options of facial gestures available to control page turning: mouth control, which is the default, or wink control. Mouth control works by tracking the movement of your mouth: if you move it right, you'll advance forward a page, while moving it left goes back a page. Wink control advances forward with a right wink, and goes back with a left wink. With both of these options, PageTurn provides the ability to set sensitivity so you can customize each gesture to whatever's most comfortable for you. It feels odd at first making these gestures to turn pages, but in my experience it quickly became comfortable.
PageTurn was designed primarily for musicians, who often bear the unenviable task of turning pages of sheet music while both their hands are occupied playing an instrument. It works with any PDF though, so readers can have hands-free page navigation as well. You can get PDFs into the app via the import button in the upper-left corner, which opens a Files picker, or if you have a PDF open in another app, you can copy it to PageTurn using the share sheet.
PageTurn is a simple utility, but for those who could benefit from it – musicians in particular, and also users with accessibility needs – it's a potentially revolutionary tool that enables new ways of doing a common task that weren't previously possible. The app is a shining example of the creativity of indie developers.
Speaking of Apple Music and Billie Eilish, Tim Ingham, writing at Music Business Worldwide, has an interview with Zane Lowe. It's a good interview that covers a range of topics from how Lowe builds relationships with artists to what differentiates Apple Music and what they see in Billie Eilish.
An artist like Billie Eilish thinks in sounds, she thinks in colors, she thinks in visuals, she thinks in collaborations, she thinks in all kinds of different forms of creativity. When you’re dealing with an artist like that, it opens all these other areas that you can help build things around.
With Billie, there’s color everywhere, this attitude and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really interesting.’ At Apple, because of where we’ve all come from, we understand streaming, but [we’re thinking], ‘How can we make a streaming service that is deeper and more layered and speaks to the aspects of music we grew up loving?’
I don’t ever want to look back on my time in the streaming era and think, ‘Yeah man, great job at just building a utility.’
Functionality is so important; [a service] needs to work and it needs to be intuitive. But there should 100% be room for creative discovery and it should be 100% driven by the artists, or at least in collaboration with artists.
See also: this interview with Billie Eilish and her brother/co-writer Finneas and Zane Lowe from last month. It was originally posted on Beats 1 but you can also watch the YouTube video below.
Apple and Billie Eilish, whose highly anticipated album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (out March 29) has set a new record for pre-adds on Apple Music, have launched an interesting new kind of partnership on the company's streaming service. At this link (which is not the same as the standard artist page for Billie Eilish on Apple Music), you'll find a custom page featuring an exclusive music video for you should see me in a crown, the upcoming album that you can pre-add to your library, an Essentials playlist for Billie Eilish's previous hits, two Beats 1 interviews, and, for the first time on Apple Music (that I can recall), a link to buy a limited edition merch collection.
The merch drop is available at this page, which is a Shopify store with Apple Music branding that offers a t-shirt and hoodie designed by streetwear artist Don C, featuring Takashi Murakami's artwork from the aforementioned music video. The purchase flow features Apple Pay support; both the website and email receipts contain links to watch the video, pre-add the album, and listen to the Essentials playlist on Apple Music.
For a while now, I've been arguing that Apple Music should offer the ability to buy exclusive merch and concert tickets to support your favorite artists without leaving the app. The move would fit nicely with Apple's growing focus on services (you have to assume the company would take a cut from every transaction), it would increase the lock-in aspect of Apple Music (because you can only get those exclusive extras on Apple's service), and it would provide artists with an integrated, more effective solution to connect with fans directly than yet another attempt at social networking.
This collaboration with Billie Eilish feels like a first step in that direction, with Apple actively promoting the limited edition sale and embedding different types of exclusive content (video, merch, Beats 1 interviews) in a single custom page. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple continues to test this approach with a handful of other artists who have major releases coming up in 2019.
Today Apple has rolled out an update to the Browse tab in Apple Music, which all users should see soon. The new Browse tab surfaces a lot more content up front without requiring tapping through other menus first; it does, however, retain the same basic design language and feel as before.
In celebration of Garageband's 15th anniversary this year, Rolling Stone was granted special access to the studio where Apple's music apps come to life. If I had one major takeaway from the article, it would be that the amount of thought and effort Apple's team expends in Garageband's development is remarkable. Rolling Stone's Amy Wang writes:
In the first media visit Apple has ever allowed to its under-the-radar Music Apps studio, the team of engineers showed Rolling Stone how the creation process for Garageband’s two types of sounds — synthetic and “real” — can span weeks or sometimes months per instrument, with new hurdles at every turn. Synthesized sounds (i.e. the type of obviously artificial notes often heard in EDM) are made from code and tweaked by code; “real” sounds have to be recorded in a drop-dead-silent studio setting, dozens of times, then pieced together like patchwork to form single perfect notes, one by one.
Some instruments are extra excruciating. In the digital reproduction of an American upright bass, a player in the studio plucks a string, holds his breath for seven seconds to ensure there’s no extra noise on the recording whatsoever as the note shivers into the air (engineers have custom-coded an app to time the duration precisely), and repeats the endeavor at different finger positions, volumes and pressures, day in and day out. After wheeling each of the cavalcade of instruments out of the studio, the team pores over the hundreds of recordings to pick out the best. When adding a suite of East Asian instruments in a recent product update, the engineers consulted with designers across the world to pick out the specific color of wood and font of a poem that would make a Chinese guzheng appear the most authentic. Engineers also constantly browse music-making forums for complaints, suggestions and thoughts on what to tweak next.
Garageband's continued development over such a long period of time is a testament to music's importance to Apple, a point that's reinforced several times in the full article.
Besides highlighting the work that goes into making Garageband a better tool for creators, one other interesting tidbit from the article involves Apple's future direction for the app:
“Without getting into specifics, I think machine learning — as in, systems and software that will enable more ability to help anticipate what someone wants to do — will be of value,” [Phil] Schiller says about what’s in the works.
Perhaps before the year's out we'll see the fruits of Apple's efforts to apply machine learning to music creation.
Soor, a third-party client for Apple Music created by indie developer Tanmay Sonawane, is based upon a fascinating premise: unlike other standalone music players for iPhone, Soor works with Apple's native MusicKit API, enabling direct integration with Apple Music; unlike Apple's Music app though, Soor prioritizes one-handed gestures, user customization, and a single-page design that packs multiple sections into one view. In theory, Soor should be the optimal blend of two different worlds – a third-party music player with its own aesthetic and stylistic choices combined with Apple Music data and the service's vast streaming catalog. In practice, while Soor has some solid ideas I'd like to see in Apple Music too, and despite its intriguing visual design, the app doesn't qualify as a complete replacement for the Music app on iPhone.
When Spotify was my music streaming service of choice, one of the features I really liked was its personalized Wrapped report generated at the end of the year. I've always been a fan of geeky annual reports and stats about the usage of any given web service – be it Spotify, Pocket, or Toggl. I appreciate a detailed look at 12 months of collected data to gain some insight into my habits and patterns.
I've always been annoyed by the lack of a similar feature in Apple Music; I'm surprised that Apple still hasn't added a native "Year in Review" option – a baffling omission given how the company is already collecting all of the necessary data points in the cloud. Official "Apple Music Wrapped" functionality would bolster the service's catalog of personalized features, providing users with a "reward" at the end of the year in the form of reports and playlists to help them rediscover what they listened to over the past year.
But Apple doesn't seem interested in adding this feature to Apple Music, so I decided to build my own using Shortcuts. The result is the most complex shortcut I've ever created comprising over 540 actions. It's not perfect due to the limitations of iOS and Shortcuts, but it's the closest I was able to come to replicating Spotify's excellent Wrapped feature.
Apple Music Connect, which once had a tab to itself in Apple’s Music app, was a multimedia feed of artist-submitted posts that debuted with the company’s music streaming service. The feature never really got traction after an initial flurry of posts by artists, and in the latest versions of Apple Music and iTunes, it was buried at the bottom of the ‘For You’ section and on individual artists’ pages.
According to Zac Hall at 9to5Mac, artists were contacted by Apple today with news that the company is ending Connect, which is backed up by a support page also cited by Hall. As of today, artists can no longer post Connect content, and existing posts are no longer visible in the Music app or iTunes. However, Apple also told artists that previously-uploaded content would remain available until May 24, 2019, via search.
Based on searches of artists who I recalled having participated in Connect, it looks as though that content is included in the ‘More’ section of search results. Presented outside the context of an explanatory post, some of the material, like U2’s tour of its eXPERIENCE VR bus in the screenshots above, feels out of place. However, I’m glad Apple has chosen to preserve Connect content for the time being because it also included things like alternate versions of songs and other material that is valued by fans. Hopefully, the best of that content will surface elsewhere for fans to enjoy.
Connect wasn’t Apple’s first attempt to bring music fans and artists together. Ping, Apple’s attempt at a music-themed social network that NPR called one of the worst ideas of 2010, failed more swiftly than Connect. The third try may be the charm, however. With iOS 11, Apple introduced the ability to follow friends as a way to discover new music, which has been met with greater acceptance by users.