Albums 5.3: Interactive Widgets, Shortcuts, and More!
Plus an update on the Mac app
I spent a good chunk of the summer covered in blood. How’s that for an opening line in a newsletter about some widgets? There’s a point during the development of every major Albums update where I’ve been digging around in there long enough and it comes time to sew the patient up. And, man, everything was out there on the operating table this time. I did a lot of experimentation this summer, largely in service of The Mythical Mac App. Not everything made it into this update, but it sure was a fun and frustrating summer, in more or less equal measure. So what do I have to show for it? Music App Stuff #16 — go!
[Music App Stuff theme music plays]
No longer do you have to suffer the inconvenience and indignity of opening the app to skip an album. You can do it right from the Home Screen using the Large or Extra-Large widget. Okay, fine, but what about starting playback? My friend, you can now do that shit in every size of the Now Playing widget. Pausing, and skipping songs too. Are you getting this?! Play controls in the Now Playing widget! I must admit that I’m also quite chuffed about implementing the album progress bar as part of the redesign.
The Collection widget is also now interactive, with a play button in the top right to shuffle albums in the collection. You can also long-press it to toggle whether tapping an album should open it or start to play it. I’m an “open” person myself, but if we are ever going to rise up and overthrow the oppressor we have to at least respect each other’s widget configuration choices.
I was side-eying updates to the Quick Collection widget but I gotta be honest with you folks, I didn’t get around to it. I was having too much fun making…
Man, shoutout to the AppIntent framework team. What a fun API. I spent so much time this summer creating new actions and exposing different parts of the Albums database to the Shortcuts app.
Let’s start there — there are three new actions at the top of the list which allow you to query, filter, and sort albums, listening history sessions, and Release Feed entries. Want to export a list of all of the albums in your library from 2003 with more than 10 plays (and their metadata!)? Go for it! While you’re at it, why not export your entire listening history, which stretches back to 2005 thanks to the last.fm history import you did. (Sorry, slipped into second-person narration, shoutout to How to with John Wilson, a salve for the soul.)
The “Find” actions pair nicely with all of the other new actions, which allow for some complex automations. Check out the “Play New Albums Released This Week” Shortcut, also available in the newly revamped in-app Shortcuts Gallery (Settings Tab -> Siri & Automation) for an example. There are also new actions to toggle in-app settings, so you could set up an automation to enable the “Local Music Only” setting when you aren’t on your home WiFi network. Oh, and obviously you can control playback and start a queue.
Like I said, fun!
Redesigns and Backend Improvements
Yes, even the user interface of the app currently sitting at #8 on the “Onze favoriete apps” list in the “Muziek” section of the Dutch App Store can be improved. Work continues apace on the perpetual project of clarifying and taming the UI. With this update, I attempted to find answers to questions like “how can I make the Quick Collection dock less ugly?” and “will I break the album screen irreparably if I rearrange things a little bit for larger screen sizes?” Most of my attention was on iPad layouts, because the iPad layout is the foundation of the Mac app, a topic we will visit again after one more paragraph.
Each update also includes a largely-invisible (and stultifyingly boring) contingent of tweaks to subsystems and other backend work. Let’s pick one at random. You almost certainly do not care that I implemented a new approach to presenting alerts. But the old alert system was one of the many pieces of tech debt standing in the way of a sanely-architected cross-platform app. There will be no parade in remembrance of the AlertBoi class, but maybe next time you get an alert that your queue failed to buffer because the Apple Music CDN is having a bad day, you’ll pause to remember the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Mac Music App Stuff
Alright, let’s get to it. At WWDC this summer, Apple announced support for the APIs necessary to play library content on the Mac. Off to the races, right? Would you believe that it has not turned out to be that simple?
I’ve got a build of Albums for the Mac, and, here in September it looks like a heck of a lot better than it did in June. Unfortunately, Albums doesn’t just need to look pretty. It also needs to play music. Different bits of the API have been broken in different ways during the macOS Sonoma beta, and what’s shipping in the final release of the OS just isn’t quite there. One major issue is that fetching a single library album for playback — a 0.01-0.1 second exercise on iOS — takes between 7-10 seconds on macOS. That alone is pretty much a dealbreaker, but there are several other issues that lead to a less-than-ideal experience, which add up to my not being able to release the Mac app quite yet.
The above isn’t at all meant to be an indictment of the MusicKit team at Apple, who, in my limited interactions are brilliant and delightful people. They’ve got to service a diversity of use cases across the entire API surface, and I can understand how my little corner might not be the highest organizational priority. I’ve submitted Feedbacks for these issues (FB13094612, FB13094588, FB13094022, for posterity), which I hope to be addressed in future Sonoma updates. In the meantime know that I am continuing to work on a viable Mac app.
Okay, that does it for this issue of
Adam Justifies Summer 2023 Music App Stuff. I hope you enjoy the new features and improvements in this update. As usual, I will be back in touch next time I have something to say. Thank you for choosing Albums The App! I would be just ever so grateful if you did something to spread the word about it, like sending a link to your favorite member of Generation X, or maybe just leaving a review on the App Store. Til next time!