Hands on with iOS 6: Music

iOS’s Music app, much like iTunes on computers, has traditionally been the destination for all audio-related content—you’d go there to find the music synced from your iTunes library, plus podcasts and audiobooks.

That’s no longer entirely the case. If you’ve downloaded Apple’s Podcasts and iTunes U apps, you’ll find that such content no longer appears in the Music app but shows up instead in the appropriate app.

And that’s very much the theme of iOS 6’s Music app—from all appearances it has lost more than it has gained. The single new element is a grayer interface in the iPhone and iPod touch version. In the "lost" column are any references to Apple’s now-defunct music social-networking service, Ping, as well as the capability to download single iCloud Match tracks. And, again, podcasts and iTunes U content appear to be missing.

But "appear” is the key word here. As mentioned, if you’ve installed the Podcasts and iTunes U apps, they'll have that content. However, if you haven’t installed these apps and you sync your podcasts and iTunes U content within iTunes to your device, you can play that content within the Music app. Just tap More, and you’ll find entries for both kinds of media. (You’ll also find an Audiobooks entry if you’ve synced audiobooks to your device.)

This arrangement is fine as long as you sync the content from iTunes. However, if you were hoping to obtain podcasts or iTunes U items from the iTunes Store app and play them in the Music app, you’ll find that under iOS 6 you’re out of luck—neither kind of media is downloadable from the iTunes Store app. To directly download this material from Apple, you must install the Podcasts and iTunes U apps and use them to obtain the content you want.

The functionality of the Music app hasn’t changed: This is still the app you use to play music stored on your device, as well as to stream and download iTunes Match tracks. As for cosmetic changes, aside from the aforementioned emphasis on gray and silver hues, a few icons have been rearranged: On the Now Playing screen, for example, the Volume slider and AirPlay button sit next to each other; on an album screen the Download All button has moved up next to the album art; the Shuffle button bears only the Shuffle icon rather than the word 'Shuffle' as it did previously; and the icons throughout are generally smaller.

More notable is the absence of buttons to download single iCloud Match tracks. You can still download all the tracks from a playlist, an album, or a particular artist, but the capability to grab individual tracks is gone. (You can download individual songs you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store via the iTunes app, however.) This change could prove inconvenient for users who prefer to download tracks on the go via a cellular connection, as it now compels you to download an album’s worth of tracks when you may want only one.

Those few people who used Ping may be disappointed to find that on their iPad they can no longer recommend a track or create a post based on a currently playing track. (If you weren’t aware of the feature, under iOS 5 you’d find the Thumbs Up and Post icons on either side of the timeline on an iPad’s Now Playing screen.) Given that Apple has officially deep-sixed Ping, those icons would do you very little good now.

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