ATATN #1: Albums 4.1: CarPlay, Siri, and More
Plus... Albums The App The Newsletter?!
Heyyooooooo welcome to the Albums Substack! My name is Adam and I’m the developer of Albums, the full-album focused music player. Every other Tuesday I’m going to write about app stuff and music stuff. Music app stuff.
We’re going to kick things off today with a nice little stroll through what’s new in Albums 4.1, which — and I can’t imagine this is a coincidence — is out today.
Apple wants to make sure your CarPlay app doesn’t, you know, cause car accidents, so they don’t let you get too fancy with it. I am very happy with how much this thing still feels like a part of Albums despite the limitations inherent in CarPlay development.
The CarPlay app is split up into four tabs: Albums, Collections, Quick Actions, and Library. The first two are customizable. Think of the Albums tab as the 2021 version of the six-CD changer in your friend’s car from 2004. You can go to Settings -> CarPlay on your phone and choose the six albums you want available in the car.
The Now Playing screen has a “Skip Album” button, which I have wanted in a car since I was literally 14 years old.
Albums has had Siri support since pretty much day one, but it’s finally, actually good now. For one thing, shortcuts like “Shuffle All Albums,” “Skip to Next Album,” and “Resume Playback in Albums” no longer make you launch the app to run. They now run in the background, even if your phone is locked.
The other big chunk of Siri newness is robust support for what Apple calls the “Play Media Intent,” where you ask Siri to play music and it plays in your app of choice. I spent an utterly unreasonable amount of time on this functionality, really trying to build out unique and useful Albums-y options. I even eschewed my usual approach of providing next to no information about how to use this app and took the radical step of including a guide. Head over to Settings -> Siri to familiarize yourself.
The Artist and Album commands work across all of Apple Music, and I have been having just the best time asking Siri to play “the new album by” some random artist not in my library.
Separate Immersive UI colors for dark and light mode
Turns out some of you don’t keep your phone in dark mode 100% of the time and then feel like your eyes are burning when you glimpse light mode. To get around the whole “dark mode color looks like absolute trash in light mode” issue, Immersive UI now supports different accent colors for the different modes. If you are saving a custom one, it will save for whichever mode you’re in.
Queue Controller rewrite
The engine that handled playback and managing the queue was some of the duct-tapiest of duct tape code in the app, dating back to the pre-1.0 days. By rewriting it from scratch I believe I have dispensed with some of the more annoying app behaviors, like occasionally “losing connection to Apple Music” and not adding/removing things to/from the queue even though it said it did. It’s one of those things that will make the app better in ways that no one will actively notice, but it was a hell of a lot of frustrating work so it gets its own paragraph here.
Quick Collections and Actions
Quick Actions, bless them, are just not quite there yet. This update is a step along the path for them. You can now view the collection associated with a Quick Action in the Library by viewing your Quick Collections. In addition, the “Actions” button in a collection now has a lightning bolt next to it. It also now lets you choose between a handful of different actions to take on a collection, but I mostly just like the lightning bolt.
A few people were mean in App Store reviews about Roboto, the custom font Albums used up until this version. At first I was defensive and was like “screw them, they’re lucky I don’t make it Papyrus,” but then I added a toggle to use the default System font and turned it on and, whoops, I liked it better! Albums now uses the System font. But being mean isn’t usually a good way to get what you want, okay?
Settings Updates, Change Log, About Screen, and Tip Jar
Albums is an app with a lot of settings, and the Settings screen had been growing kind of unwieldy. Things have been slightly rearranged and a few new options have been added, including a Change Log and the About screen. The Change Log has the release notes going back as far as I have them, and the dates of version releases before that.
If you have made it this far, I have a secret to tell you. I quit my job last month to concentrate on Albums full time. As part of taking this thing More Seriously, I registered /r/albumstheapp on Reddit and created this Substack. Those are linked from the new About screen in Settings, which also contains a handful of Tip Jar options. If you want to throw a couple of extra bucks my way to support the continued development of this app and existence of a roof over my head, far be it from me to stop you by not having a Tip Jar option in the app.
Give or take an artwork cache, that’s Albums 4.1. Here’s another “you read this far” secret: a major feature in 4.2 will be iCloud Sync, the development of which I am sure will be easy and breezy. Talk to you in two weeks, probably with a longer form look at CarPlay development.