Rock Out with Ecoute 2.0

Creating an alternative to a stock app is risky. Most iPhone owners will never go looking for an app that will replace something that Apple already ships, unless they are looking for additional functionality or something radically different.

Creating an alternative to a stock app that is well entrenched within both Apple’s ecosystem and within the hearts and minds of consumers is borderline insane. While people are used to changing their web browsers, most don’t care to actively search for a replacement to a music app. The bar is set high for Ecoute 2.0: can it survive in a world where Apple ships its stock music app on every iPhone?

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Rocking with User Experience

Ecoute 2.0 is a complete redesign from its original release. This is good: Ecoute 2.0 is beautiful, featuring both a light and a dark theme that changes depending on ambient light conditions, whereas Ecoute 1.0 was, in my opinion, distasteful, particularly when compared to Apple’s own music app.

Ecoute is a snazzy app, like it was built for iOS 7, but also distinctive.

Ecoute is a snazzy app, like it was built for iOS 7, but also distinctive.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (or an iPod stuck on repeat), the interface has been designed to feel at home on iOS 7. That doesn’t mean that the interface is entirely stock, though.

Instead of the options found on the bottom bar of the stock music app, Ecoute opts to present your “filters” at the top of the UI. This makes more room to display songs and albums, but I find this choice to be a slight regression. If, like me, you find that this change slows you down, try tapping “Filters” and then just tapping the area on the screen where the option you want will slide into place. This bypasses the lengthy, albeit charming, animation, and lets you move through the app more quickly.

Various parts of the app feel customized. Animations, for instance, seem to be unique to Ecoute. I enjoy these aspects of the app, as they make it feel unique in ways that other iOS 7 apps simply don’t.

The "now playing" screen is an upgrade over what Apple brought to the stock music app in iOS 7.

The “now playing” screen is an upgrade over what Apple brought to the stock music app in iOS 7.

The included dark and light themes are fantastic. I particularly enjoy the dark theme, which makes it possible to listen to music at night without being blinded by the dominant white color scheme of Apple’s own music app under iOS 7. The app automatically switches the themes based on ambient light conditions, so the process is completely automated.

Jamming with Gestures

Navigating the app is done via gestures, as is increasingly common among the latest batch of iOS 7 apps. These gestures are, for the most part, easy to use and learn. Swipes aren’t always intuitive, and Ecoute doesn’t offer any tutorial to describe the process upon launch. However, experimentation does reveal these interaction methods. My advice? Just start playing around with the app.

You can also share your current song to any social network, as long as it is Facebook or Twitter.

You can also share your current song to any social network, as long as it is Facebook or Twitter.

Gestures are intended to make an app faster to navigate. Using Ecoute does feel slightly faster than the stock music app in some cases. I particularly like the ability to swipe on an entire album in the now playing view to go forward and backward; it makes switching tracks far simpler and faster than having to tap a small arrow, as the stock app requires.

Next Up: Features

Ecoute imports the music from your library, meaning that anything you sync to your device with iTunes will also be available in Ecoute. Ratings, playlists, and even lyrics can carry over.

Ecoute will load lyrics for a song. To see the full lyrics, however, you are taken to a webview.

Ecoute will load lyrics for a song. To see the full lyrics, however, you are taken to a webview.

Ecoute is also compatible with iTunes Match, so you can stream music that isn’t actually stored on the device. This is particularly useful, and in some ways is better implemented than in Apple’s own music app.

Ecoute will also find and display the lyrics to any song. This feature is particularly useful, as I enjoy seeing lyrics but rarely actually add them to tracks in iTunes.

Ecoute's album display is fantastic, particularly in the dark theme.

Ecoute’s album display is fantastic, particularly in the dark theme.

Last.fm support is also included, so you can heart tracks from the now playing screen. You can log into Last.fm in the app’s settings.

The app’s settings are located in the system settings. I see more and more apps moving to this model, and I don’t like it — it makes customizing the app take longer than it necessarily should.

In the settings, you can choose whether your want music stored in iCloud to be shown, log into Last.fm and customize those specific settings, and enable a “Left-Handed Mode.” This mode simply rearranges certain buttons to make using the app easier for those who primarily use their device in their left hand. It’s a great touch to the app.

Ecoute's settings offer more customization to the app.

Ecoute’s settings offer more customization to the app.

Since Ecoute uses Apple’s music APIs, the app plugs directly in to Control Center. This allows you to skip tracks at any time throughout iOS. One oddity, however: if you tap the name of a track in Control Center, you are taken to the stock music app, and not Ecoute. I’m not sure if this is a bug, or a result of using Apple’s music APIs, but it makes using Ecoute as the default media app less fluid.

Final thoughts

Is Ecoute 2.0 better than Apple’s attempt? That is, ultimately, the question that matters. If you prefer an app that is highly stylized and opinionated, that does includes certain features (Last.fm support, automated lyrics, gestures to switch between tracks, dark and light themes), the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Personally, Ecoute has knocked the stock music app off of my homescreen for the first time since 2007. That’s about the biggest compliment I can give to any app that strives to replace something that Apple ships.


Summary

Ecoute is an alternative to Apple's stock music app that focuses on design and features. It succeeds in both regards.

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