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Posts tagged with "music"

Apple Completes Acquisition of Shazam

Late last year, Apple announced that it had agreed to purchase Shazam, the music-discovery service. The acquisition was held up for a time by an investigation by the European Commission, which ultimately said the deal is not anti-competitive and could go forward. Today Apple announced that the deal had been completed.

In a press release, Apple said:

Shazam has been downloaded over 1 billion times around the world, and users identify songs using the Shazam app over 20 million times each day. With pioneering innovation in music identification, Shazam helps people discover, interact with and share video, audio or printed content across devices and mediums — and allows music fans to follow their favorite artists and share in the thrill of discovery.

Apple also announced that Shazam would soon be offered ad-free to all users.

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Apple Updates AirPort Express Firmware with AirPlay 2 Support

Apple has released version 7.8 of the firmware for compatible AirPort Express WiFi routers to add AirPlay 2 support. Although there had been hints in iOS betas that the latest iteration of Apple’s peer-to-peer streaming technology was coming to the Express routers, its addition still came as a surprise since the routers were discontinued in April.

One of my favorite features of the AirPort Express is an audio out port that works with a 3.5mm analog or digital cable. Add an amplifier and speakers, and you’ve got a nice music streaming setup.

The Griffin 20 and first-generation Airport Express.

The Griffin 20 and first-generation Airport Express.

As soon as I heard about the new firmware, I had to try it. I have a Griffin 20 that was designed for use with the first generation AirPort Express that looked more like a MacBook power brick than an Apple TV. Unfortunately for Griffin, Apple changed the form factor of the Express in 2012, the same year its amp was released.

My outdoor AirPlay 2-connected speakers.

My outdoor AirPlay 2-connected speakers.

Still, I used the Griffin 20 and a first generation AirPort Express to drive speakers on the outside of my house for years. It was a simple way to enjoy music outside. It came with the downside that the original iteration of AirPlay had buffering issues, so I usually needed to leave my iPhone inside the house to stream. More recently, my six-year-old Express started to become flakey too.

Step one was to update a long-neglected AirPort Express.

Step one was to update a long-neglected AirPort Express.

I couldn’t update the first-generation Express to the new firmware, but I had a newer second-generation model in a box in my basement. I dusted it off, plugged it in, and updated the firmware using the Airport Utility app. I had to fiddle with my overly-complicated network setup to get it to work properly, but it didn’t take long before the Express was working.

I changed the Express' name and added it to the Home app.

I changed the Express' name and added it to the Home app.

The final step was to go into the Home app and add the Express as a new accessory. Because it predates HomeKit accessories, I couldn’t scan a code to add the Express. Instead, I added it manually using the ‘Don’t Have a Code or Can’t Scan?’ button in the Home app. Now, I have music playing perfectly synced on our back patio using the AirPort Express and in our living room using my HomePod and Apple TV. I also have the convenience of picking my outdoor speakers from the sources list in Control Center and using Siri to move music to those speakers without the buffering issues I experienced with the first version of AirPlay.

Music, everywhere.

Music, everywhere.

It’s a shame the AirPort Express was discontinued. Not every situation justifies the expense of a HomePod. Nor are those devices practical outdoors or in other environments. Fortunately, the AirPort Express remains an option for now if you already own one or can find a used or refurbished one for sale.


Doppler Enables Pain-Free Importing of Music and Podcasts from Safari on iOS

I've been an iOS-first user for nearly three years now, and during that time there have been very few tasks that required me to pull out my old MacBook Air. One remaining holdout has been downloading music or podcast files from the web and saving them somewhere I can conveniently access them on iOS. The ideal scenario would enable importing those files into iTunes, where they get added to my iCloud Music Library – unfortunately, that remains impossible on iOS today. But the next-best option I've discovered can be found in an iPhone app called Doppler.

Doppler launched a few months ago as a music app aimed at the non-streaming market. Despite the increasing popularity of services like Apple Music and Spotify, there are still plenty of users who want greater ownership of their music library, and that's where Doppler comes in. It specializes in offline playback and custom library curation. You can import your existing iTunes purchases, or import songs or podcasts saved in the Files app, and customize metadata so your library's organized exactly as you like it.

Today in version 1.2, Doppler adds a feature I've long wanted on iOS: the ability to import files directly from Safari.

My main use cases for Doppler's new feature include downloading MP3 tracks from an artist I support on Patreon, and downloading special members-only podcasts, like AppStories Unplugged from Club MacStories. In both cases, getting the audio files from Safari into a music player, or even just a cloud storage provider, has historically been way too difficult on iOS. Last year when iOS 11 introduced the Files app, I thought this problem would finally be taken care of; surely I'd be able to use Files' share extension from Safari to save the audio tracks. Unfortunately, Safari only presents the Files extension when downloading certain file types, and audio files aren't included. And that's where Doppler comes in.

Doppler now offers an action extension that can be used in two contexts: either when an audio file is already loaded in Safari, or even just when long-pressing a link to an audio file and hitting the 'Share...' option. The action extension then pulls in the file, lets you modify track metadata, and saves it to your Doppler library. The app is billed as a music player, but this same process works well for podcasts too – just know that due to their increased track size, podcasts will take longer to import.

Doppler is still a young app, so it's missing key features that will hopefully be added in the future, such as an iPad app and iCloud sync. Its design is solid though – I like how it evokes past versions of Apple's Music app with backgrounds matching the color scheme of each album. Despite being feature-light, Doppler works well as a basic music player for your non-streaming service needs. And now, thanks to its Safari import feature, it's become a crucial utility that's staying installed on my device.

Doppler is available for iPhone on the App Store.


Apple Music Gains ‘Coming Soon’ Section and Album Launch Dates, Plus Lyrics Search in iOS 12

In an update rolled out last week, Apple fixed two of my longstanding annoyances with Apple Music: there is a new screen that lists popular albums coming soon, and every upcoming album now features an actual release date.

Here's Mitchel Broussard, writing for MacRumors:

Apple appears to be rolling out a series of updates for Apple Music today, including a small but useful new section called "Coming Soon," which allows subscribers to check out new albums about to be released over the next few weeks.
[...]
In another addition, Apple is now making it possible to easily see album launch dates on their respective pages on iOS and macOS. In the Editors' Notes section, following the traditional encouragement to add the pre-release album to your library, there's a new line that begins "Album expected..." followed by the album's specific release date. Some albums not listed in Coming Soon still have a release date specified on their pages, so this update appears to be a bit more wide-ranging.

As someone who likes to keep up with new music, I'm glad to see Apple pushing these small but needed improvements to the service.

Furthermore, as noted by AppleInsider, the iOS 12 version of Apple Music features the ability to search for songs by lyrics. I've been using the beta on my iPhone and iPad for the past week, and lyrics search has already saved me a few minutes I would have otherwise spent looking for songs on Google. Built-in lyrics differentiate Apple Music from Spotify, so it's good to see Apple expanding support throughout the app.

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AirPlay 2 Is Coming to Sonos Speakers Next Month

Dieter Bohn of The Verge reports:

Sonos just announced that AirPlay 2 is coming to “newer” Sonos speakers in July. Unlike using Apple Music on the HomePod, it will stream music from your phone instead of directly over the internet. However, unlike the HomePod you will be able to control some of the AirPlay 2 music with Alexa. You can launch music on your iOS device in all the normal ways, including with Siri.

Essentially, Sonos’ software system is able to be aware of what is playing on your speakers, no matter the source, It’s a clever way to make AirPlay 2 a little more useful. Once the music is playing via AirPlay 2, you can use Alexa to pause, go to the next track, and even ask what’s playing.

For the platform-agnostic user – the exact user Sonos has focused on pitching its products to lately – this kind of blending together of different assistants and ecosystems may carry a lot of appeal. Since Alexa is the sole voice service currently available on Sonos speakers, the ability to control AirPlay 2 playback Amazon's assistant is key. I do wonder, though, if mixing and matching different services might be overly confusing for the average user. With AirPlay 2 support, you'll be able to use Siri on your iPhone to start streaming audio to a Sonos speaker, but you can't start that playback with Alexa. Once audio's already playing, though, that's when Alexa steps in. I appreciate the variety of options, but it sounds like those options bring with them a lot of restrictions to remember.

As for hardware compatibility of AirPlay 2, it will be available on a limited number of Sonos devices:

AirPlay 2 will work with the Sonos One, (second generation) Play 5, and Playbase (and, ahem, “future products”). But if you have older speakers, owning any of those newer ones will make AirPlay 2 work with all of them.

That last line is intriguing, though unclear. Older devices can't actually become AirPlay 2 speakers, otherwise they would appear in the Home app as HomeKit devices – however, it makes sense that an existing HomeKit device that talks to older Sonos devices could serve as a translator of sorts, relaying AirPlay 2 commands over Sonos-native protocols.

We'll see how it all works when AirPlay 2 support arrives next month.

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Google Introduces YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Subscription Services, Retires YouTube Red Moniker

Google seems to have an affinity for constantly rebranding its products, and today is the latest example of that. Soon, YouTube Red will be replaced by the more costly $11.99/month YouTube Premium service – the good news is that Premium members will get all the benefits of YouTube's new Music service thrown in too. And if you're an existing Red subscriber, or sign up quickly before Premium launches, you can lock in the existing $9.99 monthly rate and still get all the benefits of Premium and Music.

YouTube Music is Google's attempt at taking on streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify directly. Launching May 22nd, YouTube Music will have both a free tier and a paid, $9.99/month option. The main focus here is the paid plan though, as it will be the only way to enable background listening – a pretty important feature for music. Paid subscribers will also benefit from downloads and ad-free listening.

YouTube Music will launch with a new mobile app and desktop player, and use Google's intelligence to power advanced search capabilities and an aggregation of different song versions you may not find elsewhere. In a confusing move, Google Play Music will continue to exist as a separate service from YouTube Music, but if you're a subscriber to the former, you get the latter service at no extra cost.

As someone who uses YouTube regularly, but not enough to justify a Red subscription, the new Premium plan definitely seems like a more attractive all-around product, despite the price hike: you get a full-fledged music streaming service, YouTube Originals, and a better viewing experience on the largest video source in the world thanks to downloads, no ads, and background playback, all for $11.99. Spotify and Apple Music subscribers may be content with their chosen services for now, but if YouTube Music truly does become a legitimate contender in the streaming market, it will be hard to resist the allure of YouTube Premium for all the extra perks it offers.

At launch, YouTube Music and Premium will be available in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico, and they'll arrive shortly thereafter in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.


How to Adjust iOS’ Volume via Workflow When Streaming Audio to HomePod

One of Workflow's least known functionalities is its ability to get details about the hardware it's running on and control some system features. Among these, Workflow can both retrieve an iOS device's current volume level and set the volume. A few days ago, I realized I could make a workflow to quickly adjust my iPhone's volume when streaming music to one of our HomePods. Unlike other automations I've crafted over the years, this workflow was quite a success in our household and I felt like it was worth sharing with the wider MacStories audience.

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New ‘Music Videos’ Section Appears in Apple Music

Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac, notes that a new 'Music Videos' section has appeared in the Music app this morning, likely ahead of the public release of iOS 11.3.

Music videos have been part of the Apple Music service since its inception, with unlimited ad-free video playback included in the monthly subscription.

The updates take the content that was always available and make it more prominent with recommendations and continuously updated editorial, akin to the New Music page for singles and albums.

Users could always make their own playlists of music videos but now Apple is tailoring its own for customers to play and subscribe to. This feature will be especially useful on Apple TV, now you can simply setup Apple Music on your TV to play top songs with the accompanying videos.

It'll be interesting to see how personalized this section will be over time. Right now, it's primarily focused on exclusive videos and curated playlists (such as the new Today's Video Hits and The A-List: Pop Videos). One of my favorite aspects of YouTube is how its front page can reliably recommend new videos based on my music preferences; I wonder if this Apple Music section is going to do the same, either via personalized suggestions or push notifications for new videos.

(Something else I would have liked to see for video playlists: right now, if you start a playlist and enable Picture in Picture on iPad, the floating video popup closes as soon as the current video ends. I'd love to see a persistent Picture in Picture mode that remains enabled throughout an entire video playlist.)

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