Third Annual iOS Music Player Competition

"Music Player X" iOS app icon Music Player X

Image of "Music Player X" light theme album view Image of "Music Player X" light theme player view
Image of "Music Player X" dark theme album view Image of "Music Player X" dark theme player view

Music Player X enjoyed sweeping changes in 2020, rivaling Albums in its scope. There doesn’t appear to be a single view in Music Player X that didn’t receive a cosmetic change or navigational refactor. It’s a much needed and much appreciated effort; last year, Music Player X was disqualified for featuring what I considered to be an exceptionally poor custom UI, many of which violated iOS’s Human Interface Guidelines or general user interface principles. However, I did appreciate its plentiful customization options and niche features like its sleep timer and in-app equalizer (though admittedly the sleep timer’s interface is dreadful). This made Music Player X in 2019 feel like an aspirational music player let down by its implementation. I’m happy to say at the end of 2020 this no longer feels like the case, and Music Player X is now a respectable player that’s earned its place among the others in the showcase, albeit with caveats.

To start, the app’s look and feel received a hearty helping of polish this year. With the exception of a couple views, the uncomfortably tight or large spacing between elements are gone. In terms of reducing complexity, the plentiful mystery meat buttons that used to crowd the margin around list items are gone, and it does wonders for making the app feel less cluttered and more focused. Additionally, the awkwardly applied translucent album background that permeated the app in 2019 is gone, greatly reducing the visual noise previously weighing down every view. While it should be noted the lack of a translucent album art background does make the player view duller than it was last year, it nonetheless positively contributes to the new robust look and feel. This and other smaller changes work together to create a light and clean experience that Music Player X was previously nowhere close to achieving. While the app remains as strange as it was last year thanks to its custom interface, that custom UI is now a neutral differentiator instead of a net negative; I’d argue it’s now a matter of taste and not objectively poor design.

In terms of discovery features, Music Player X remains unchanged from last year, with nary a “Recently Added” or “Recently Played” collection to be found. Its navigation remains a general-purpose player bar with the typical set of “Artists”, “Albums”, and “Songs” tabs. However, to distinguish itself from competitions in this space, Music Player X places each of its five browse views on a custom scrolling tab bar, exposing them all equally for immediate access. While I don’t personally explore beyond “Albums” in general-purpose players, I can appreciate seeing these views get equal billing that would otherwise get tossed into a hamburger menu dumping ground like in other general-purpose players.

Settings saw substantial improvements this year, starting with the new customizable themes feature. The entire app’s foreground and background color may now be customized on the new “Theme” tab, with Music Player X providing a handful of defaults to get you started. While the default themes aren’t to my taste (they’re reminiscent of that grotesque Dropbox brand redesign), they’re sure to delight people who favor that visual aesthetic. For listeners that like to tinker with theme settings such as myself, you’re bound to have a good time customizing. For example, here’s a few I created that I’m pretty happy with.

Image of my "Nixie Tube" custom theme Image of my "Pretty Pastel" custom theme Image of my "Bondi Blue" custom theme
Some custom themes I made: “Nixie Tube”, “Pretty Pastel”, and “Bondi Blue”. It’s just a shame there's no way to share them or save more than one for quick switching.

The feature could still use a lot of work. It’s practically begging for the ability to name and save custom themes for quick switching, and I’d appreciate the option to have one theme set as the “iOS dark mode” theme and another set as the “iOS light mode” theme. Additionally, there’s currently no control for precise entry with hex codes or RGB values, the best you can do to enter specific colors is slide around the color wheels until you get it “close enough”. I’d also love the ability to share my themes or try other users’ themes Slack-style; unfortunately, today the themes you make are more or less stuck on that device, but nonetheless, the feature’s a good time.

Another new settings feature this year is the EQ visualizer, which is a digital spectrum analyzer behind the existing equalizer control where users can adjust the player’s frequency response. While I don’t use equalizers, I do like popping in to see the spectrum analyzer from time to time. Finally, there’s the new “3D Audio” feature, which utterly baffles me. When enabled, it appears to pan the audio around you at an adjustable interval. What problem this is intended to solve is beyond me, and it’s by far the strangest new feature of any player I’ve seen this year.

While the “3D Audio” feature is more “puzzling novelty” than miss, Music Player X’s startling lack of animations certainly qualifies. Music Player X supplies barely any animations to ease UI state transitions, leaving elements to awkwardly snap to position, suddenly appear out of the blue, or vanish without a trace. Animation curves are particularly missed in the spectrum analyzer, resulting in uncomfortably snappy “animations” that feel like the result of a hasty implementation more than a stylistic choice. Compared to other players like Doppi whose silky-smooth animations permeate every element, Music Player X feels less elegantly constructed and brittle. However, I’d be remiss to not give a quick nod to the cute picture disc in the “Now Playing” bar, which spins during playback. It’s a shame there’s not any other instances of thoughtful animation to be found, here.

With all that said, following Music Player X’s redesign this year, its problems no longer outweigh its value. It’s look and feel is still as custom as it was last year, but now displays enough restraint to feel at home alongside other iOS apps. The theme customization options may skew towards encouraging controversial themes like mine above, but I’d argue the outpouring of wacky Widgetsmith widgets from the community this year demonstrates there’s an massive appetite for such designs. Music Player X still doesn’t meet most of my needs, and that’s okay; it came into its own this year as a decent all-around player with unique customization features for users desperate to make their phone look exactly like they want. Given the popularity this is seeing in Widgetsmith this year, I’d say that was the winning bet.

Widgets

None.

Personal Score Card

  • :heavy_check_mark: iPad support
  • :large_orange_diamond: Light & dark themes: Partial credit awarded for its custom theme feature, which can be tailed to any kind of light or dark theme you’d want. However, there’s no way to have it respect the system’s setting.
  • :x: Lyrics support
  • :x: Discovery features
  • :x: Beautiful or visually engaging player view
  • :x: Album-focused features
    • :x: Proper sorting
    • :x: Album grid view
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