updated 11:02 am EST, Thu December 26, 2013
Five ways to enjoy music on your iOS device
(This is the third of a new series to showcase apps the staff at MacNN and Electronista use and recommend. You can find the first installment, discussing media streaming and playback apps, here. While the second took a look at photo editing apps.)
When the original iPhone was announced, one its defining features was bringing a music player, Internet communicator and phone into a single device. Six years and many fundamental changes in how we use such devices later, music is still a core feature of the current generation iPhone; however, thanks to iOS developers, that functionality now extends way beyond simple music organization and playback.
It seems as though it would be impossible to create a list of the top music apps without including Shazam. The music-identification service actually existed as an SMS service before Apple's App Store was born, but was limited to the UK and AT&T phones in the US. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last five years and isn't sure what Shazam is, it's fairly simple. Point your device at a music source, hit the listen button -- and if all goes well, find out exactly what you are listening to. Shazam is free to download in both the App Store and on Google Play as an ad-supported app, however, a $7 Encore purchase allows customers to permanently remove all ads.
The app's ability to recognize a song based on only hearing a short snippet is pretty astonishing. Popular songs can be identified in as little as one second, while more obscure songs never seem to take any longer than four or five seconds. Furthermore, the most recent update introduced a new "Auto Shazam" feature that, when switched on, continuously tags music and TV shows even if the app is running in the background. The one downfall Shazam has compared to some of its competitors is that it can only recognize snippets of the actual song, while other apps can also attempt to distinguish a tune that is hummed or sung.
Between apps, games, pictures, documents, and music, the storage space on your smartphone or tablet is probably about at the "standing room only" point. Thankfully, the rise of music-streaming services has given us a bit of breathing room by reducing the need to store audio files locally. Several services offering similar feature sets have popped up over the past few years, but one of my favorites is Slacker Radio, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.
A free account grants you access to a wide selection of curated radio stations, but limits song skips to six per hour, per station. Upgrading to a Radio Plus ($4 per month) or Premium ($10 per month) account removes this limitation, and also grants access to additional features. A Radio Plus subscriber can customize ABC News and ESPN updates to be presented throughout their listening, while Premium members can play albums back on demand and create their own playlists.
When it comes to road trips, Slacker Radio really shines. Travelling with a group of people is bound to bring up arguments about what to listen to, but having access to more than 11 million songs can help alleviate this issue. It's not a perfect solution, as copyright restrictions don't allow all music to be played back on demand, but it's a far cry better than limiting yourself to a few GBs worth of songs.
If you want to become the next Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn, there is one very important requirement: hours and hours of practice. However, neighbours or family members may not always approve of your late-night jam sessions. Of course you could always just practice without any sort of amplification, but where is the fun in that? AmpliTube gives guitar players a way to experience a wide selection of amps, cabinets, and effects pedals without receiving any of the noise complaints.
Use of the app requires IK Multimedia's iRig hardware adapter that allows a standard quarter-inch guitar cable to be attached to any iOS device. After plugging in their instrument, guitarists can choose from a range of preset sounds or begin customizing their own sounds. The free version of the app comes with three effects pedals, one amp, one cabinet, and two mics to play around with, while in-app purchases can be used to expand this with a range of other gear. This includes official amps from Soldano, Ampeg, and Fender as well as official stomp boxes from Fender and T-Rex.
Let's face it, there will almost always come a time where you are sick of listening to the same music over and over. Fortunately, Hype Machine can help break that trend by providing users with a collection of the latest tracks posted on popular music blogs. The app tracks posts from more than 800 different blogs and sorts results into different feeds for users.
Within the app, you can quickly see the latest music updates as well as tracks that are currently being played the most through Hype Machine. Users can then further customize the app to show feeds of their favorite blogs, as well as to find new tracks in a particular genre.
Google Play Music
While streaming services are a great tool for accessing music on the go, they are far from a perfect solution. Unfortunately, various licensing restrictions prevent companies from making everything available for streaming, forcing every major service to lack a few major artists. This is where a service such as Google Music comes into play.
With Google Music, you can store up to 20,000 songs from your personal collection in a cloud account that can be accessed from any internet-connected device. Thankfully, Google will match your library against its own catalog of content, meaning most songs don't even need to be uploaded from a computer in order to become accessible through the service. Users can also download songs stored in their account to any connected device for later offline play.
Furthermore, any content purchased directly from the Google Play Store doesn't count against the song limit, meaning anyone heavily invested in Google's ecosystem can access an even wider range of content without taking up precious storage space on their mobile device. This may sound a little ... um, familiar ... to iTunes Match subscribers, but Google's service has the advantage of working with both iOS and Android devices.