Popular social music network SoundCloud released its iPad app on Thursday and we took the app for a quick spin. For those that have never used SoundCloud, it's an online service that lets you upload and share audio clips with other SoundCloud members. The clips can be short sound bites, music tracks or even audio books you create yourself. It has a strong social component that lets you promote your tracks or discover new tracks. It launched in 2007 and has rivaled MySpace as a place for musicians to distribute their music and interact with fans.
The iPad app does a nice job of combining the social aspect of SoundCloud with the music discovery and playback features. The app uses a multi-pane interface with a left-side tool bar that has four selectable items. There's a profile section that lets you see your account information, a track section that lists new music in your stream, a comments section that lists the feedback you've received on your tracks and a search section that lets you find new music and new people to follow.
This multi-pane interface makes it easy to view multiple layers of information at one time. You can click on the profile icon which opens a pane containing your account information. You can then click on a link to "Your Likes" which displays the tracks you have favorited in a second pane. A click on one of your favorite tracks opens a third pane that lets you control music playback, share the track on twitter, and more. You can only display two panes at a time, but you can swipe between these panes to select the ones you want to view. This layout makes it easy to use the app in portrait as well as landscape view.
The SoundCloud app does a nice job with the social features of the service. You can comment on a track right from the app and share the track on Facebook, Twitter and tumblr. The app also does a good job interconnecting members and music. You can listen to a track and view that member's profile. You can see their followers and the music they like and so on. You can spend a lot of time travelling from one profile to another, adding new tracks and new follows along the way.
The one thing missing from the iPad app is the ability to view other people's comments on a track when it is playing. On the SoundCloud website, other people's comments will pop up when a track is played. You can read the comments, read responses and add your own. On the iPad, you can add a comment at any point in the track, but you can't see what other people have said on the fly. This isn't a deal breaker and I imagine it's a difficult feature to implement on a mobile device like a tablet.
(Good news! SoundCloud reached out to me and the ability to view comments as the track plays back is there. You just have to fullscreen the track to see them. I never used the fullscreen view because I love the multi-pane view so much. I was happily tapping away, finding new follows and looking at new tracks that i never checked out the fullscreen view. If you want to find the comments for a track, just start playing it back and click the fullscreen button. Voila! There they are, and they pop up just like the SoundCloud website,too.)
The app is very responsive and music streaming is quick, with minimal buffering over a WiFi connection (I did not test 3G). Music plays in the background, so you can launch SoundCloud, fire up some tracks and move on to another task. Track information also appears on the lock screen, but there are no playback controls that'll launch SoundCloud when you unlock your device. Besides listening to music, you can also record sounds using the iPad and its built-in microphone. When you're done recording, you can upload the clip to your account.
The iPad app is a nice addition to SoundCloud and is a must have for iPad owners that use the service. The SoundCloud app is available for free from the App Store. The service is also free, but does require a login and account.