Fourth Annual iOS Music Player Showcase
Longplay is a niche, album-focused player similar to Vinyl Fetish and Albums. The player is structurally simple to both; there is just a single, scrollable album grid that—upon revealing the menu with a swipe gesture—can be sorted or sized a myriad of different ways. That’s the entire experience, there’s no full-player, library browser, or even mini-player. You get a single album grid and different ways to sort or size the items in that grid, that’s it.
To speak concretely, Longplay provides the following means of sorting the album grid, all of which are sorted in descending order:
- Orderliness, which sorts albums by artist name.
- Addiction, which sorts albums by the “amount of time spent listening”. Based on this wording and the results I see, it appears this does not consider the raw number of times a record has been listened to and just considers the amount of time spent listening. This means long records I listen to occasionally like The Epic artificially weigh a heavier “addiction” than short albums I listen to far more frequently, making this sorting option frustratingly inaccurate for my library.
- Brightness, a unique sorting ability which roughly sorts albums by the album art’s brightness.
- Negligence, which sorts albums by how much time has elapsed since you last listened. This option also considers your album star ratings when weighing negligence.
- Recency, which sorts albums by date added, exactly like you’d find in Music.app.
- Stars, which sorts albums by star rating
- Random, which shuffles the albums randomly like the Albums “Home” tab does by default. You can easily re-shuffle the albums again by reselecting this sorting option.
Next up is Longplay’s new sizing options, which allow you to scale up or scale down album art based on the following options:
The repeats from the sorting feature work exactly as you’d expect, but determines how big or small the album art should be. The “Length” option is the only unique “Size By” item, and again works like you’d expect; longer albums are scaled up, and shorter albums are scaled down.
While I’m largely indifferent to the sorting options available in Longplay (all but the “Brightness” option are available or have rough equivalents in many other players), I’m quite fond of the new “Size By” option in principle, particularly for sizing albums by duration. It’s one of the few things Longplay does better than Albums; Albums buckets records into separate menus by duration, but Longplay instead visually represents this duration with the size, making library scans by duration quick and incredibly intuitive. Although, as an unavoidable consequence of the dynamic nature of the “Size By” option, the bottom half of the album grid typically contains large swaths of haphazard blank spaces, and it looks absolutely terrible. If you’ve ever visited an image-rich website which failed to load its style sheet, that’s more or less what Longplay’s new “Size By” option looks like once you start scrolling down.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Longplay’s design isn’t the choice to have a single, adjustable album grid, but rather the lack of dedicated full-player. Upon tapping an album in the grid to play, the album enlarges, a thick border surrounds the art, and a single pause button appears in the bottom-right corner of the art. That’s as close as you get to a mini or full player in Longplay. There’s no lyrics view, no skip/previous buttons, no track list, or anything else listeners have come to expect as music player staples. That means if you want to resume a partially completed record or accidentally tap and start another record in the grid, there’s no way within Longplay to get back to your previous place, playback in Longplay always starts at the very beginning of the record. To me, this is the most egregious aspect of Longplay’s design, it makes it borderline unusable for anything other than perhaps some fun ways to browse your library before deciding to play it in a “real” player that gives you proper playback control. However, this hardly seems worth hopping over to Longplay to do, since competitors in this niche space like Albums offer nearly every sorting discovery feature Longplay does but with the tremendous accessibility gains from providing a real full-player and browsable track list. In the current landscape, Longplay simply doesn’t provide enough value to justify its steep accessibility deficit. By only providing a play/pause button, Longplay is simply not useful enough for playback, which I can’t help but feel was a foolish mistake to make in a music player. While Longplay doesn’t appear to be going the way of abandonware like the similarly niche Jams On Toast did thanks to a handful of releases this year from Adrian Schoenig—Longplay’s developer—I can’t help but see Longplay as it exists today as unreconcilable compromise.
Longplay officially supports the iPad with an experience largely similar to the iPhone with one key difference: instead of a vertically scrollable album grid, the grid is horizontally scrollable on the iPad. Like on iPhone, the menu remains a background layer accessible with a swipe gesture, which on iPad makes it impossible to display with the gesture unless you scroll the grid all the way back to the left starting position. Thankfully, to work around this, a new menu button reveals itself once you start scrolling to the right, which upon tapping displays the navigation menu as a contextual popup. However, I can’t help but feel this is an inelegant workaround for the inherently poor design choice to make the grid horizontally scrollable while preserving the original menu reveal gesture.
There’s not much else to say about the Longplay iPad experience, it’s largely the same experience as what you get on iPhone. If you already love Longplay on iPhone, you’re sure to love it on iPad, though otherwise there’s nothing here that would change your mind.
Longplay’s widgets remain unchanged from last year.
For those new to Longplay, Longplay offers a single widget class for both small and medium sizes, which display an album grid similar to what’s available in the app itself. Visually, there’s a spot of whimsy in the small widget with a slight perspective tilt, along with an optional sort name label for both sizes. Aside from that, there’s no other visual flair available aside from the album art itself.
For both widgets, you have your choice of sorting method much like in the app, but with an additional option exclusive to the widgets: “Different day, different order”. This option cycles through the other sorting methods, choosing a different one for any given day.
Additionally, both widgets support your choice of tap action, including:
- Play, which launches Longplay and either begins playing the tapped record for the medium widget or begins playing a random record roughly near the top of your library based on the widget’s selected sort option.
- Play on…, which launches Longplay and throws up iOS’s Airplay / playback source modal. Playback like described for the “Play” tap action begins upon selecting a source and dismissing.
- View albums, which launches Longplay with the widget’s active sorting option. No automatic playback occurs for this option.
While the medium widget size is perfectly reasonable, the small widget is only really useful if you want a weighted random album to be played based on your sort preference instead of the album you physically tapped1. The medium widget does indeed allow discrete albums in the grid to be tapped and have your selected tap action applied to it, arguably making the medium size the more broadly useful of the two sizes.
While Longplay’s widgets are a perfectly functional snapshot of the app’s design and function, they have a fatal flaw; the widgets’ album art grid is bewilderingly and frustrating low resolution, making Longplay’s widgets look and feel cheap compared to the premium, high resolution album art rendered in its peers’ widgets.
New This Year
This year, Longplay received three releases, among which is a minor release containing a handful of new features, notably:
- A new “Size By” option
- A new “Random” sort order option
- Alternative app icons
By far the biggest addition this year was the inclusion of the new “Size By” feature. It offers many of the same options already available in the “Sort By” setting, only this setting adjusts each album’s size in the grid with respect to the selected option. For example, if selecting the existing “Recency” option in the “Size By” menu, albums recently added are rendered bigger in the grid and albums added long ago are rendered smaller. As touched on in the overview above, while this new feature is great in theory, its implementation leaves a lot to be desired; it tends to leave massive swaths of scattered blank space between records as you scroll through the grid, much like a webpage that failed to render correctly.
The new “Random” sort order is a nice addition, allowing listeners to randomly shuffle their library grid as many times as they want with just a tap, and does wonders to break up the organizational staleness that necessarily settles in with deterministic sorting.
Finally, Longplay now offers a generous assortment of alternative app icons to choose from. The new red and black options look slick, and the Pride/six colors variant are also visually pleasing and appreciated. While I personally love the original yellow icon and likely won’t switch anytime soon, these are an overall handsome set of alternatives and are sure to delight listeners that love customizing their home screens.
- Light & dark themes
- iPad support
I have my issues with the implementation, but Longplay does indeed support the iPad, and the iPad version is performant and fully functional.
- Discovery features
Again, I have my issues with Longplay’s implementation, but there are plenty of discovery capabilities exposed via sorting and sizing options. While only a couple are unique to Longplay, they do their stated job well.
- Album-focused features
There’s no denying the app is album-focused due to its grid layout and emphasis on album art. However, despite it’s plentiful sorting options, my preferred method (Artist > Chronological) is absent.
- Apple Music integration
- Lyrics support
- Beautiful or visually engaging full-player
There is none.
Table of Contents
- Honorable Mentions
- 2021’s Players
- New This Year
This is almost certainly due to Apple’s widget API limitations, given the small widget’s playful perspective skew. ↩︎