Fixing Play Music: How Google can improve its streaming music service
How can Google Play Music improve? Let us count the ways…
I’m not exaggerating when I say this: Google Play Music is the first app I use every morning and it is the last thing I see before I put my phone to sleep at night. And no, that’s not just because Google Play Music is my alarm clock. Music is what keeps me sane during chaotic work days, and it’s what cheers me up when life inevitably happens. Google Play Music always has been my most-used app, and it’s changed a lot in since it launched in 2011.
Not all of those changes have been good, and there are more that still need to happen. Here are the biggest things still missing in one of Google Play’s most important services.
Four years ago, Google Play Music went from Holo blue/black to a more retina-searing orange/white. Ever since, Play Music has been adding and adding features without any major UI changes, which has lead to the app becoming a bloated mess.
The home page was the portion of the app to most recently receive an update, showcasing recommended albums, artists, and stations. I’m all for recommendations, especially the way Play Music’s keeping improving, but nine times out of 10, we’re not looking for recommendations, but are instead looking to pick up where we left off in our last playlist, or returning to that artist we were listening to this morning. Recents are a relegated to a button below the search bar and in the main menu.
The app is a bloated mess.
The main menu has ballooned over the years. Podcasts were added; Explore split into Top charts and New releases; Recents were added when Now Listening turned into recommendations. Want to open the app and go to a playlist that’s not in your recents? It’s at least three taps, to access a core feature of a music-playing app.
This overhaul extends to playback UI and playlist UI as well. The zoomed-in album art was originally meant to help fill the Now Playing screen, but let’s be real: it looks terrible. Give us that full square of album art. If Google wants to fill the rest of that space, make the controls bigger or space them further apart so that we don’t seek when we meant to Cast or thumbs down a track when we meant to fast-forward.
I’m not asking for Google to scrap everything and start completely over. I’m not asking us to go back to the old, simple layout, either — though I am going to ask for a dark theme ’til I’m blue in the face — but the current UI isn’t nearly as sleek and simple as it was pitched back at Google I/O 2013.
Device Policy Revisit
I accept having a device limit. I do. I even understand having a specific limit on phones, as much as it hurts someone like me who goes through a lot of phones. But the device policy on Google Play Music needs to be revisited for a few very important reasons.
- Your computer can be counted twice because both the web extension and Music Manager count as an activation. This means that if you want to download one song or a thousand, you need two different too that take a fifth of your account devices.
- Chromebooks can actually be counted more than that, as they can take a new activation every time you Powerwash them. I had a single Chromebook take up four activations at once when I was cycling between the different channels.
- Devices that can’t download/upload to your Google Play Library can still count against the ten device limit, like Android Wear 2.0 watches and Android TVs.
- Almost every device that ships Android has Google Play Music on it. There should not be a device limit on something that you have no choice in having. The first thing you do on your phone after setting it up should be something productive like syncing your text messages, not disabling Play Music before it activates itself.
That last one is important because you can theoretically get locked out of your own library. If you burn through your device authorizations with phones and tablets and watches and TVs, you could have ten devices and not have a way to upload new music or download what is already rightfully yours.
Let me repeat that: if you run out of device authorizations and de-authorizations, you can be locked out of downloading music you own.
So long as the de-authorization limit exists — a limit which is unheard of on any streaming service Play Music competes with — Play Music is going to be a service that we use while the Sword of Damocles hangs over our heads. Many of my co-workers at Android Central have sanely said screw this and moved on to other music streaming services, and other local music apps. I, myself, have a local music app that I keep handy for the phones on which I disable Google Play Music, because music is so important and I refuse to get caught by surprise.
Uploads/Downloads without a desktop computer
If we’re really living in a post-PC era where you can live on your phone and in the cloud, then I shouldn’t have to boot up my damn desktop just to add a couple of new songs that I bought on sale on Amazon, or that I had to buy on iTunes because of an exclusive, or that I was sent as a gift from a friend. I should be able to add them directly to my cloud library from my phone so that I can add them to playlists, rate them, and Cast them, because you can’t cast locally stored MP3s in Play Music. We shouldn’t need an old-looking and old-acting Music Manager. We shouldn’t need a Chrome extension.
So long as a song not being in your cloud library is considered a bad thing in Google Play Music, you need to be able to fix it right there in the app. And so long as there’s a chance of running out of devices and not being able to make room for more, any device you use needs to be able to download your library and let you get back what’s yours.
We’ve all been there: the music’s going strong, you feel the world drifting away as it overwhelms you. The passion, the elation, aaaaand- the song skips a second while Google Play Music goes to the next song. And that moment, that moment of elation… it’s tripped over itself and fallen face-first on the couch.
So many albums are gapless, and nothing will throw off the groove more than that second, second-and-a-half while Google Play switches off between tracks. I don’t know why Google Play Music haven’t implemented it as standard a feature as it is, even single-developer ‘indie’ music apps include gapless playback because they know how important it is. I don’t need five different crossfade settings, but gapless playback is long, long overdue, and it needs to come.
So, what are you still missing in Google Play Music? Want to upload from your phone while you’re out during the day? Want to ditch the pause in the middle of a ridiculously awesome gapless album? Are you just waiting for a dark theme and a way to set Google Play Music as your morning alarm without jumping through ridiculous Tasker hoops? Me, too, my musical friends… me, too.