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A third-party Apple Music Client for iPhone – MacStories



Soor, a third-party client for Apple Music created by indie developer Tanmay Sonawane, is based on a fascinating premise: unlike other stand-alone music players for the iPhone, Soor works with Apple's native MusicKit API, which enables direct integration with Apple Music; Unlike Apple's music store, Soor prioritizes one-handed gestures, customization, and a single-page design that packs multiple sections into one view. In theory, Soor should be the optimal mix of two different worlds – a third-party music player with his own aesthetic and stylistic choices combined with Apple Music data and the service's large streaming directory. In practice, while Soor has some solid ideas I would like to see in Apple Music, and despite the exciting visual design, the app does not qualify as a complete replacement for the music jacket on the iPhone.

Two years ago, Apple introduced MusicKit, a developer framework and set of APIs that allowed iOS developers to create apps compatible with Apple Music. From tools such as Shazam and SongShift to stand-alone players and full-fledged clients, MusicKit has secured the alternative alternative to Spotify's Web API that had missed the iOS Music App ecosystem. As I wrote in my review of iOS 1

1:

MusicKit apps can integrate with Apple Music and access artists, albums, songs, playlists and even activities and curators. The MusicKit API returns JSON results and supports discovery operations such as searches, charts, and personal recommendations. To do this, iOS 11 has a new music permission dialog with an intent string explaining why an app will access the Apple Music library and account.

I expect MusicKit to create a creative, diverse ecosystem for music tools – from alternative clients that stream songs stored in your library (if Apple allows them on the App Store) to training programs with deeper Apple Music integration. It will be interesting to see if the MusicKit becomes as popular as the Spotify API – at least on the iOS App Store.

Two years later, it is fair to say that the music tools have benefited from MusicKit's original integration with Apple Music and the user's local music library, but alternative clients have improved on a platform where the Apple Music app is not available – the open website. Over the past year alone, thanks to the introduction of the MusicKit online, we've seen the release of multiple web apps that replicate the Apple Music experience in a web browser – often with detailed attention and polished design that may even pass for an official Apple. -product. I guess this is a logical consequence: From the user's point of view, it is more sensible to access Apple Music on a platform that does not have a dedicated built-in music cap than installing an alternative Apple Music player on an iPhone that already has one pre-installed, full-featured app from Apple. But if that's the case, where does Soor fit in?

A customizable home screen

Soor's main selling point is its single-page design with sections that can be customized and rearranged by the user. Soor does not have a categorical, which means that from a single home screen you have access to:

  • Your playlists
  • Recently played
  • Recently added
  • Apple Music's hot slots
  • To the top playlists [19659009] New Releases
  • Top Songs
  • Apple Music's For You Section

Except for you (more on this below), all of these sections can be turned off in the app's settings and rearranged so that, for example, , your playlists and recently played albums are at the top of the screen, with Apple Music sections running down the middle. Soor's main suggestion is this drastic departure from the Music app organization: instead of sharing the library and for you in two separate tabs, Soor lets you mix and match both types of content on the same screen, allowing you to choose the order they appear for faster access.

In the many weeks I've spent on Soor on the iPhone, this has proven to be my favorite aspect of the app. In an old edition of our MacStories Weekly newsletter (# 154), Ryan argued for a customizable For You page in the Music app, noting how Apple would consider letting users customize the order of blocks displayed in what is, for many, standard view by Apple Music. Soor delivers that idea with the ability to decide which sections you want to see and where to place them. In everyday life, the end result is a music jacket that can be faster to operate than Apple Music because playlists, albums or songs you care about are just two cranes away. All music settings are different; The flexible, modular approach to Soor is exactly what I want to see in the future of Apple Music as well.

I should also note how Soor's design fits the modern iOS ecosystem, but does a better job of balancing the information density than Apple's own app. Compare Music's presentation of the For You page and your playlists on the same screens as shown in Soor:

Thanks to smaller thumbnails and (scrollable) interfaces, Soor can display more content on the screen, thus increasing the speed and comfort of navigation between sections. On the other hand, when Apple Music once felt bold and intuitive, it now appears to be sparse and limited. Again I will love a future version of Apple Music to let me choose the content of the content collected on the For You page, as well as iOS allows me to choose the system-wide font size with a simple slider.

MusicKit and For You

When it comes to playing music, even though Soor has its own Play Now screen, it uses it for Apple Music's sound engine and player under the hood. This means that when a song plays in Soor, it will also appear as a player in the Music app because Soor is only another front end interface for the same underlying service. Playing a song in Soor is reflected in the Control Center and Apple Watch as if played in Music; Similarly, if you start playing something in Soor, then force the app, it will continue to play because, behind the scenes, the playback will be managed by the music jacket.

There is a remarkable neglect (the first on a long list): Unlike the Music app, Soor does not support AirPlay 2, so you can't stream to multiple AirPlay 2 speakers simultaneously or control what is playing on them a separate channel from the iPhone system's sound. According to Sonawane, AirPlay 2 is one of the features he plans for future app updates, but – given the app's price tag – it would be nice to have it available at launch.

The inclusion of the For You section is one of the benefits of the MusicKit, and it helps to achieve a basic level of functionality with the music jacket. In Soor, the For you section consists of a series of content blocks that are always displayed at the bottom of the home screen, and cannot be rearranged or split into smaller individual bits. These blocks are:

  • Curated Playlists (Favorites Mix, Chill Mix, New Music Mix)
  • Today's Playlists and Albums
  • Artist's Playlists
  • New For You

These are the same paragraphs you & # 39 ; d look in the Music app, but they are available right within Soor – just like For You content, you can also access the Sonos app after you connect to an Apple Music account. Particularly absent, however, are the playlists for the Friends Mix and Heavy Rotation, which are exclusive to the music jacket. I'm aware that Friends Mix / Feed is not available for the MusicKit API (so there's nothing Soor can do about it), but I have to wonder why For You can't be freely reorganized on the screen or why it can't be narrowed down to a subset of playlists or sections.

Other Design Specifications

Soor has its share of issues, which I will look into in the section below, but I should mention several visual goodies and other design touches that are worth discussing.

In addition to a standard light theme, Soor supports a true black theme (ideal for OLED displays) and a dark mode based on dark pigs and oranges. I like the latter a lot and I hope Apple has a similar palette in mind for Apple Music in IOS 13.

While Apple's Music app uses a mix of 3D Touch and buttons to reveal contextual menus for songs, playlists, and other items, Soor eschews 3D Touch, and uses a combination of pop-up menus and drag and drop to let users perform actions and manage their queue. Contextual menus are invoked by tapping an ellipse button next to songs / album or artist name on the Now Playing screen. I like how these menus are not modal on the iPhone – they do not take over the whole screen – but instead feel like contextual menus inspired by macOS. Despite the similarity of desktop menus, they feel at home with iOS: each item in the menu has its own icon, and you can "hover" with your finger over each option to feel a subtle haptic touch and see a highlight around the selected item. As others have shown in the past, I begin to think that desktop-like contextual menus can actually be customized to iOS.

Soor differs from Apple Music in how it implements queue management. Soor's contextual menus do not contain any buttons to "play next" or "add to queue"; instead, this is completely done by dragging songs and placing them in a "drop zone" containing queue buttons, adding songs to playlists, like them, and sharing them with extensions.

This interaction is really well done, and it is now one of the best presentations of drag and drop for iPhone along with Castro. When you drag a song and hover over buttons in the drop area, each glyph is highlighted, plays a haptic press, and displays a tool tip to indicate that it will be activated if you release the song. It is even more impressive for playlist management, if you pause a song over the playlist, the drop area will expand and reveal an extra tray of playlists that you can browse while you drag to select a playlist for the destination.

As I mentioned above, Soor's decision of drag and drop is impressive, both visually and technically. However, after a few weeks of using the app, I am not convinced that it is necessarily faster than Music's more simple but effective 3D Touch menu. I use 3D Touch a lot in Apple Music to like songs, jump to albums or add songs to my queue. The movement is "sloppy" in that it does not require pressing a small button with too much precision, and I have become accustomed to pressing with my thumb, selecting a menu option without lifting my finger, so release. By using Soor I found myself missing out on the music's 3D Touch interaction, and I felt that the app's menus and drag and drop system were slower than the music's press-to-open system in the end.

I would also like to highlight Soor's "pull to reach" functionality, a setting designed to help single-handed operations by letting you pull down the screen to select toolbar buttons at the top. Think of it as pulling to refresh, only it must be more "intentional" and you have to wait for a toolbar icon to be selected (it will be highlighted and you will feel a touch) before you can release and trigger the button. In Soor, this is presented as an easier way to open settings, enable search function or tweak sorting in playlists because all three of these buttons are located on top of the screen and can therefore be difficult to reach.

I Like the feeling behind pulling to reach, which is presented as one of the highlighting features of Soor, but in my experience, unintentional triggers of the drop watch were too often to justify the setting being activated. Even with an option to reduce drag to reach with a 0.5 second delay turned on, I found that I could often trigger searches when I just rolled in the app without meaning to open searches and engage drag to reach. There is absolutely something to the idea behind pulling to reach, but the current implementation was too unreliable for me to let it activate.

Soors problems and limitations

I'm going to cut the hunt here: either by MusicKit constraints or personal developer decisions, Soor is affected by a number of other issues that prevent a full Apple Music client that can replace music app.

Soor lacks essential features that are part of the modern Apple Music experience. Except for you and top songs, most of the other views from Apple Music are missing: artist sites lack profile pictures, they do not distinguish different types of music releases, nor do they show artist bios and related artists; There are also no music videos. It's actually impossible to browse for new music in Soor: Apple Music has a cover that highlights interviews, new releases and videos; You can browse genres, check out radio stations and see a list of remarkable "coming soon" releases on the main page Browse Page; all this is absent from Soor.

It gets worse though. Soor does not support Beats 1 at all, has no built-in texts, does not work with AirPlay 2, and is hamstrung by API constraints such as preventing it from sharing playlist links, see what your friends have listened to, or understand what tracks in a released album that are actually available for streaming or not (if you try to play them, they will not do anything because they are not yet available). The developer is ahead of some of these technical limitations in a built-in FAQ section of the app, but it's hard to tell if all the other missing features were also due to API constraints if they were decisions made during the development.

It is certain that Soor is an iPhone app of $ 10 (it does not support iPad in this first version) which is advertised as having "full Apple Music support" but in reality it is a music player that integrates with Apple Music, but lacks dozens of features that make up the modern Apple Music experience. It's a subtle difference, but that's where I draw the line in the comparison between Apple's music jacket and Soor.

Wrap-Up

All this question: why should you buy Soor?

It is undeniable that the App has an attractive user interface and is perhaps the best example of MusicKit support in a third-party Apple Music client for iOS. But I don't think pretty design and solid API adoption are good enough reasons to recommend a $ 10 app to people today. Instead, I think you should consider Soor if you're the type of Apple Music subscriber who doesn't care about all the other features missing from the app (videos, Beats 1, browsing new music, artist pages, etc.) and Want Get quick access to playlists in a single-page design. The ability to customize the order of sections and put playlists at the top is the feature that sets Soor apart from the music jacket. If you're the kind of person who pays for Apple Music to stream songs but doesn't care about any of the other modern Apple Music features and just wants to listen to playlists on an iPhone quickly, then I would say that Soor is probably too you. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that this is not a big market, but I could go wrong.

In many ways, Soor reminds me of Ecoute, the music player for iOS that launched well before Apple Musics and streaming times. As Ecoute, Soor gives a different sense of design to the music player, but it cannot be considered a complete replacement for the main service it integrates with due to a number of technical limitations and advanced choices. For this reason, Soor is ultimately stuck between the vision and reality of Apple Music: the app lures you with the promise of a beautiful, comprehensive Apple Music listening experience, but it cannot fulfill that vision yet. I hope its developer will be able to iterate on this first version of the app by sending an iPad version and supporting all the Apple Music features that can be added to the app. But if you are a strong Apple Music user, Soor's approach, despite its beauty and intelligence, is too limited to replace Apple's music cap today.

Soor is available at the App Store at $ 9.99.


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