Music App Stuff #17: More Stuff and... More Apps?!
I don’t mean to brag, but I usually vacuum on Sunday mornings. This Sunday morning, shepherding my floor from noticeably-covered to mostly-not-covered in dust, cat hair, and little specks, my thoughts turned — as they often do — to Music App Stuff (the concept). I said to myself, I said: “You know, there is probably enough of this for a Music App Stuff (the newsletter).” Let’s see!
You may have noticed a series of quality-of-life updates trickling out over the last few months. It’s okay if you haven’t, though. You live a whole entire life, and good for you!
There hasn’t been much in the way of new features, although I’ve got a list of ideas a mile long. I did finally cross this one off: you can now manually create play sessions on the Listening History screen. Great for tracking vinyl listens!
Indeed, the past few months of updates have mostly been centered around bug fixes. Pick a screen or process in Albums and there’s a good chance I’ve given it a tune-up since 5.3 came out in September. For my money, the current build of Albums is the most stable, least likely-to-have-something-weird-happen version ever. Hopefully that is your experience as well!
My bugs aren’t the only bugs I’ve been dealing with. There are also Apple’s bugs (and a third category: bugs I cause trying to work around Apple’s bugs). Now, to be fair to the second-most-valuable company on the planet, there were and are plenty of bugs in that first category. But as a teensy tiny little barnacle attached to the back of a great whale, swimming, mouth open wide, in the direction of ever more services revenue, I don’t get much say over what comes down-current.
I am always at my happiest when Apple is not mucking around with Apple Music, but they went mucking around with Apple Music in iOS 17.2, which came out back in December. As what I can only imagine to be an unintended side-effect of that mucking, something changed in the timing between iOS telling me that the song had changed and updating information about the currently-playing song. That meant the first time I checked after a song changed, it returned that the previously-playing song was the currently-playing one. That broke an assortment of things, big and small, throughout the app. I was able to ship a workaround in an update that hit the App Store the day iOS 17.2 came out. Crisis averted! And then an update shortly thereafter to fix a disruptive issue my workaround caused. Second crisis averted!
Yes, that’s right, I’ve pumped Albums full of invasive analytics which I sell to anyone and everyone willing to pay me for them. Me and Cambridge Analytica, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g and cooing to each other about the percentage of Albums users who use CarPlay (it turns out to be almost exactly two-thirds. Who’d have thought!).
I have often found myself wishing I knew anything at all about how people use Albums. People send support requests, but there are way more users I don’t hear from. How many people ever create a Tag, or configure the “Over The Years” Insight, or scrobble to last.fm? Am I spending a disproportionate amount of time on certain features or settings relative to the people who use them?
Wanting to know the answers to these types of questions, but unwilling to do so at the cost of adding code from Google, Meta, or some other company with repugnant privacy practices, left me two options. I could write my own analytics engine and backend or find a company I could live with. So I didn’t have any analytics for the longest time. Then, a couple of months ago, I heard the founders of TelemetryDeck — a small, privacy-first analytics collection package — on the Launched podcast and decided to try it out, eventually shipping it in the release version of Albums in early December.
What data do I collect? A bunch of shit only I could possibly care about, I promise. Percentages of users who use various settings and features. iCloud sync failure rates. Nothing identifiable, everything completely anonymized. I’ve learned that way fewer people use widgets than I would have thought, and way more people use the dark mode icon. Almost no one uses Shortcuts. There are fewer iCloud sync errors than I had feared! I haven’t learned anything life-changing, but it’s been fantastic to have a little more orientation to how people out there are using Albums.
I am duty-bound, as a person with strong convictions about digital privacy to tell you that if you would prefer, you can opt out of analytics collection in Albums on the Settings tab on the “Advanced” screen. I get it!
Mac App Stuff
When we last left off in September, Mac app development was blocked by some showstopper bugs in Apple’s MusicKit framework on the Mac. Happily, those bugs were all resolved in Sonoma 14.1 and 14.2!
So what work am I doing on the Mac app, now that I am theoretically not blocked by framework bugs but still experiencing some weird behavior? Well — eyes darting back-and-forth — in some ways, everything I do on Albums is in service of the Mac app. Remember all of those bugs I’ve been fixing? Refinement of the iPad design? Sweat pouring down my face. Okay, fine, I haven’t specifically been doing much work on the Mac app, you caught me!
There is no one on this planet who wants Albums on the Mac more than me. I cannot overstate that. A desktop music player is a holy thing, and I take making one very seriously. I ain’t just gonna “check the box” and ship some passable port of the iPad app. I want the Mac version of Albums to sit in the pantheon of the great desktop music players. But — and if I can’t be honest with you all, my closest friends, then who can I say this to — I don’t have the energy for it right now. I need to let my Albums batteries recharge before I can really focus on it. Maybe, I don’t now, launch a new app?
A New App
There’s a new member of the Music App Stuff family on the way! Several months back I had an idea for a music discovery app, and I’ve got the prototype far along enough that this is 100% A Thing That Is Happening. It’s fun and ephemeral, and just as anti-algorithm as Albums.
What a blast it’s been to make something new! So refreshing to get the chance to architect something from scratch knowing “what I know now.” I don’t have much more to say about it here today, but I sure will next time you hear from me. In the meantime, I’ll be building this thing, continuing the season of Albums bug fixes, and vacuuming nearly every Sunday morning.
Okay, bye bye, take care! Thanks for reading. As always, please spread the word about Albums, whether you want to pay for a plaque on a bench in your local park or just leave a review on the App Store. Til next time!