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Innovation

Users, developers react to Apple iOS 5's new Music app on iPad. Hate it!

While the Music app on smaller iOS devices may be acceptable, users of the new player software on the iPad say it's more than several big steps backward, especially when listening to large files such as audiobooks.
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Written by David Morgenstern on

While the Music app on smaller iOS devices may be acceptable, users of the new player software on the iPad say it's more than several big steps backward, especially when listening to large files such as audiobooks.

Reader Andrew Morton called the software on the iPad "iPod Lite."

The new OS has moved us from the iPod.app to the Music.app. As a consequence, we no longer have the pop-over panel for music files that had the 30-second rewind button or chapter list. The only controls left for us poor(er) users is the forward/reverse buttons and the short progress slider. Using the buttons is worse than having to go back to the wheel iPod; at least it had a wheel. And making small time adjustments to a 10-hour file is quite a challenge.

I received a series of thoughtful posts from longtime developer Chris Tomlinson, who is now working in Kathmandu at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center Digital Library preserving texts and developing cataloging and search software.

He said with no display of the Chapter Title for a selection, there's no useful way to know where one is in an audiobook. Of course, audiobooks often have several dozen chapters in a segment that usually comprises about 100MB.

The iPhone (and I presume iPod Touch) version of the Music.app retains the chapter viewing and selection functionality from previous iOS 4.3. Only the iPad version of the app has lost the functionality. Without viewing of chapters and their titles and direct selection of chapters, Audiobooks in the Music.app are basically unusable on the iPad.

I routinely record and assemble lectures and seminars for various groups and deliver them as *.m4b audiobooks — with chapter marks, titles and so on. The users that I distribute these audiobooks to have a variety of devices: iPods, iPhones and iPads and so on. Now the ones with iPads won't be able to listen to the audiobooks effectively.

The Audible player and the Bookmark app player are not solutions because the interface provided from the iPod/Music shared library area does not provide access to chapter information. Audible I suppose has no incentive to support non-DRM'd audiobooks and Bookmark uses whatever interface is provided by Apple to the shared area.

Essentially, the only app that can be used to access chapterized non-DRM'd audiobooks is the Music.app, which is no longer functional on the iPad.

Tomlinson doubted that the Apple developers were experienced with the demands of audiobook listening when designing the controls. He said he was aware of this issue before the GA of iOS 5 but said he could only file warnings into Apple's Developer Bug Reporter database.

I suggested to Tomlinson that this might be an "opportunity" for a third-party developer. He said it was unlikely that any developer outside Apple would have the juice to do it properly for audiobooks.

The iOS 5 SDK does not make available any access to chapter information in decrypted streams which is why only Audible and Apple have players with chapter access for DRM'd audio. Audible can do it because they control the DRM of their streams.

A third-party will have to make arrangements with Audible for example - and that would have to be a large third-party (like Apple) - in order to develop a full featured player. A small third-party could develop an app that plays non-DRM'd audiobooks complete with chapter information but I expect that without access to decrypted DRM'd streams they can do no better than the Bookmarks app.

Tomlinson said that he hoped that an update to the Music app would be forthcoming, without having to wait for an "entire iOS 5.x monolithic update."

I suggest that users post a message about this issue at Apple's feedback page for the iPad.

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