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Music App Stuff #12: Albums 4.4!
New insights, new track actions, and hella performance improvements (I don’t really say hella in real life)
One of the byproducts of synthesizing my raw humanity into the purchasable commodity that is the Albums application is the risk of an overly treacly Music App Stuff when it’s finally time to announce a new version. Well, Albums 4.4 is out, and you’ll just have to trust me that the sentimentality in this post is the absolute minimum I could manage.
4.4 is the culmination of a lot of things. It brings the 4.x development cycle to a close, tying a snappy, snazzy bow on the themes and ideas I started exploring in 4.0. At that point, a little over a year ago, my thesis statement was to build Albums from “just” a music player into the library management tool I’d always wanted. While working on the stats features in 4.3, I started to reframe that thesis statement from “library management tool” to “music relationship manager.” Albums 4.4 is born of a theory that understanding the details of your music listening helps you better understand yourself. If that’s too cerebral for you, there’s also a new album page design, and scrolling performance is much improved throughout the app.
This update is the Albumsiest Albums I’ve ever Albumsed. Is that how Apple marketing-speak works? What I mean to say is that I’ve never been happier with the state of the app. I love making this thing, and I love using it. In many ways, 4.4 is the feature-complete version of the idea I’ve been building toward since 1.0. That doesn’t mean I’m done — far from it. For one thing, I sure would like to be able to use Albums on the Mac, how about you? We’ll have to see what happens at WWDC in a few weeks, but I’ve got plans for a busy summer, and beyond. In the meantime, let’s get into what’s new.
Two New Insight Categories: Workout Jams and Top Years
There is an adorable little green bunny rabbit waiting for you on the Insights tab. I have trained this bunny so that if you give Albums permission to read your workout history, it will match up albums you listened to during workouts and create “Workout Jams” collections based on exercise types like Running and Strength Training. The cute little rabbit will also show up when you scroll through your Listening History or an album’s play history to denote listening sessions associated with workouts.
The other new category of Insight Collection is the Top Year collection. These are essentially yearly listening reports going back as far as Albums has data. For most people, that will be when they installed Albums. However, if you have a last.fm account…
last.fm History Import
You can import your motherfucking last.fm history! You have no idea how long I have been planning this feature. I’ve been scrobbling since 2005, and all of that now lives in my Albums Listening History. Imported last.fm data is reflected in album play counts, and the Top Years collections will populate as far back as your first scrobble.
Once your history starts downloading, a new Insight Collection in the “Diamonds in the Rough” category called “Forgotten Scrobbles” will become available. This collection shows every album you’ve scrobbled in the past that isn’t in your library. Sorting this one by most-played is a real trip. I sure loved Reel Big Fish in high school.
This feature was a ton of work, which perhaps I’ll chronicle in a future Music App Stuff. For now, I kind of just wanted to tell you it was a ton of work, because it was a ton of work.
Listening History Improvements
Just a handful more Listening Listory improvements to mention, bear with me…
Album listening sessions now track the individual songs listened, which you can view by long pressing the session and viewing its info. Songs will be displayed for anything you listen to after installing 4.4, and anything imported from last.fm.
If you tap the date range in Listening History, there is a new “Show Random Week” button. I know I don’t have to tell you how much time I spend smashing the “Show Random Week” button.
Prepared as I am to die on the hill that an album is the canonical unit of music listening, much as the atom is the fundamental building block of life, atoms are made of up subatomic particles, and albums are made up of tracks. Sometimes, you might find yourself wanting to do something with the track, like share it or rate it. Well, fine, you can now.
Long press a song in an album’s tracklist to pull up a menu with a list of actions. If you’ve linked your last.fm account, you can go to Albums Settings -> last.fm to configure whether rating a song should rate it on Apple Music, last.fm, or both. You can long-press the MiniPlayer to rate the current song.
My favorite little touch is that if you long-press a song with a bunch of featured artists, the “View Artist” menu option allows you to view any of the featured artists.
Partial Album Adding
A quick little convenience feature here — if you’re looking at a big, unwieldy deluxe edition of an album and you only want to add the original 9 songs to your library, long-press the “Add” button to select only the tracks you want to add. There’s an additional toggle to tell Albums to treat that album as complete.
Changing Album Sort Artist
You can now change the Artist that an album is displayed under from that album’s settings. This doesn’t change the underlying metadata, just the sorting in Albums. I am ever-so-slightly happier now that I don’t have to look at the artist name “Malibu Ken, Aesop Rock & TOBACCO” anymore, and the Malibu Ken album just displays as Aesop Rock.
I’m not an iOS automation wizard like some of y’all, but I have put a good amount of effort into making Albums work with Siri. I snuck a couple of new Shortcuts actions for tagging albums into 4.3.4 and into this version, and now they have a comfy new home in the Automation Corner screen of Settings. Head there to learn all about how to automate Albums. You might be surprised by how much you can do just by asking Siri to play stuff. If you are an automation wizard, I’d love to hear more from you about what more I could do in this area.
Speaking of, while I was working on this version, my fellow music app developer Marcos Tanaka reached out to me about including the ability to open albums in Albums from his upcoming app MusicBox. That spurred me to develop a URL scheme to allow opening albums, artists, or songs in Albums from another app. If this last bit was gibberish to you, don’t worry. If it’s the sort of thing you’re all about, Automation Corner has the details.
Here’s a shortcut one user already made (thanks, Ricardo!) that takes advantage of the new URL scheme to open the album you’re looking at in the built-in Music app in Albums.
That’s all the shiny stuff, but I probably spent just as much time on performance improvements as I did on new features. I have two, trusty, slow-as-shit test devices: an iPod touch and my 4-year old daily driver iPhone X. I spent many hours rearchitecting and improving backend functions so that the app runs as performantly on those devices as it does on newer ones, where the processor might cover over performance issues, like so much distortion for a crappy guitarist.
There are also a ton of bug fixes, and other tweaks I didn’t cover here. Check out the full release notes on the Albums subreddit. Thanks for reading, and for supporting albums! See you next time.