Whenever someone talks about Apple, it’s almost unavoidable that the conversation will turn to Microsoft at one point or the other. Usually, features and benefits are compared and the design aspects of the Redwood company are being stacked unfavorably against Apple aesthetics. Being an Apple fangirl, I have to admit that I also wasn’t too impressed when one of my colleagues showed me the new Metro interface on his smartphone.
But then something made me reconsider: an app that suddenly appeared on the App Store, named Track 8. Just another music player, I thought. But when I saw the interface, I just had to try it. I mean, how often do you get the chance to run a Metro styled app on your iPhone or iPad?
iPhone, meet Metro.
Now, for all of you who are wondering just what this Metro thing is I keep talking about, let me walk you quickly trough the facts. Metro is a design language which is mainly used for Windows mobile devices but has found its way into the Windows 8 operating system as well. Its main characteristic is the heavy use of typography as a design element instead of graphics.
At first, I had my doubts that an app that deviates so strongly from what we’ve come to appreciate on iOS would be usable at all, let alone provide a pleasing experience. As I mentioned, my first encounter with Metro left me wondering just how one could appreciate all this text pretty much without any icons.
Now, with Metro the experience is definitely different from iOS apps, but it’s not a bad one. When you open Track 8, you’re presented with four vertically arranged selections and three selections arranged horizontally (History, New, Most Played).
Hint: You don’t need to load any music into Track 8. The app uses all the music available in you original iTunes App library, sans podcasts and audiobooks.
After admiring the presentation of the album artwork, hit any of the options on the left. Songs and artists are presented as lists, sorted alphabetically. Now, don’t waste your time scrolling through all your music. You’ll notice immediately that Track 8 doesn’t have that right sidebar with all the letters of the alphabet, so it would take you some time to get from A to Z, literally. This is where the Metro comes in handy: simply tap on the brightly colored cube on the left that displays the letters that the songs, artist names and albums start with. And voila, there’s your alphabet to quickly navigate through everything.
I have to admit, as unusual as this user interface was on first contact, the more logical it seems to be now. In the spirit of confessions, I also never warmed up to Apple’s way of browsing; CoverFlow on the iPhone is just eye candy to me and I always mis-tap when using that letter bar. For all these reasons, I think Track 8’s way of doing navigation is pretty smart.
I was also corrected in thinking that Metro can’t do eye candy. Enter the album view and once again, admire all your artwork. It’s not cover flow, but it doesn’t aim to be. And it’s actually faster and easier to browse in my opinion.
One tap on a cover brings up all the songs belonging to an album and you can start playing them by either hitting the album cover again or simply selecting any song offered.
The actual player is different too, of course. Dominated by the album art, you can drag to quickly forward or go backwards; there are tiny icons for shuffling and repeating. One tap on repeat will loop the album or playlist; two taps will repeat only the song currently playing. The three bars to the top right of the album cover will reveal the other songs of the album when tapped. Currently playing songs will have an icon indicator.
And, since the most recent release, a long tap on the title at the very top will take you back to Track 8’s main screen. There you’ll see the playing song in an overlay at the bottom.
So, now we’ve quickly walked through Track 8. That wasn’t painful at all, was it? Yes, I’ll even put my neck out and say it: I like it. In parts, better than the original Apple app.
Search & Settings
With more and more storage available on our iPhones, a lot of people carry thousands of songs in their pocket. It’s no shocker if you forget the exact title of a song amidst this magnitude of information. Track 8 helps you out by implementing a live search of your music library, which is surprisingly fast.
The app also offers a variety of settings, which mainly deal with appearance. You can chose between a light or dark skin, as well as set the color of the main elements and change backgrounds.
I’m not sure what the backgrounds are good for, because I prefer to keep my music in focus and an intense background image would only distract from it. But it’s there for those who like it.
The only functional setting concerns “artist backgrounds.” That means that images are downloaded from last.fm to be displayed in the background while you play an artist’s song.
I was sold on Track 8 when the iPad app was first released and now that it’s gone universal, many improvements have been implemented and the developers are eagerly working on new features — I wish I could replace the standard app with Track 8.
Yes, I know it has nothing to do with iOS, but that shouldn’t be the standard of judgement. Instead, when looking at the features included, Track 8 holds its own against Apple’s creation and other great third-party apps like AirTweet. There are many more details that I haven’t even covered yet that make the app easy and a joy to use. And knowing that the next update will (hopefully) bring a volume control and sharing of the song “now playing,” Track 8 has found a permanent spot on my iPhone’s main screen. And I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that podcasts and audiobooks will find their way into the app as well.
What about you? Are you willing to give the app a try or is the Metro interface something that scares you off? Let us know in the comments what you think of this new concept.