Saturday, December 04, 2010

Aweditorium - awesome music discovery iPad app

I used to blog quite a bit about music discovery apps but then Spotify came along, I moved from the BBC's Audio & Music Interactive department (to its television equivalent) and general app fatigue set in...

Then, a couple of week's ago, online streaming service thesixtyone released its Aweditorium iPad app and I was shaken out of my music discovery lethargy by an app of such elegance and utility that it's become almost a constant companion, introducing another ambient screen into my life (but hopefully not forcing me to buy another iPad... ;)

Like many of the best interfaces, none of its paradigms are particularly new or revolutionary - it just assembles existing paradigms with such grace that it feels fresh and delightful, displaying a number of those small but significant interface touches that I've banged on about in the past.


On opening the app, a monochrome splash screen announces the name of the app and introduces its wonderful tag line: 'Aural Happiness' before fading in a mosaic of rotating artist images and a 'Headphones Recommended' icon. (It had me at 'hello'...)


Once fully loaded, the artist thumbnail in the centre of the screen glows seductively with a one word invitation to 'Tap'. Doing so expands the image to full screen and fades in a track from that artist. 'Tap, swipe or pinch' appears briefly on the screen; no long winded explanation of which each will do, just an irresistible invitation to find out through trying.


Tapping brings up the title of the track, the name and provenance of the artist and a row of six icons. Pause is self-explanatory. The CND logo turns out to signify sharing (via Twitter or Facebook), with the number in superscript reflecting the number of 'earthlings' who have shared the track. The heart icon provides links to other tracks by the same artist within the app and a link to download the track in iTunes. The speech bubble pulls up a video about the band and plays it out in minature, while fading the volume of the track playing to background level. The HD icon plays the track's music video in high-def. The tiles icon returns you to the mosaic (as does pinching).

In this state, info bubbles appear on the screen, providing background on the artist. Tapping for a second time hides the icons and info bubbles and instead overlays the track's lyrics on the screen.


Swiping in any direction moves you through the image mosaic and starts the next track playing. Left to its own devices, once a track finishes the image scrolls to one side and the next track starts playing.

Returning to the mosaic, you realise your musical journey is being visually tracked by unfading the thumbnails of the tracks you've played. Top left of the screen is a orientation map, plotting your journey across the mosaic in miniature and displaying how many tracks you've listened to and what proportion of the mosaic you've explored.


The current mosaic is 27 x 27 squares giving you 729 tracks to plot a course through. Another nice touch is that the mosaic wraps so you move seamlessly from one side to the other, never reaching an edge.

Of course, all of this interface delight would be for nothing were the music crap. Fortunately (and entirely subjectively) it's great, introducing me to unfortunately monikered, but musically glorious, The Morning Benders, to name but one.

If I were to scratch around for a criticism of Aweditorium it would be its failure to implement OAuth, forcing you to enter your Twitter username and password if you want to tweet a track, but now I'm just being churlish. Update: Aweditorium have been in touch to point out that the Twitter implementation makes use of xAuth :)

If you're remotely interested in indie music or application interfaces (and if you have an iPad) I'd heartily encourage you to download Aweditorium and see why I'm waxing lyrical. Wish I'd built it.

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