Daily iPad App: deck

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Daily iPad App: deck

The iPad's built-in iPod app used to be my favorite way to interact with music on any device. It struck a good compromise between the heavy, sidebar-driven UI of iTunes on the Mac and the simple text-only music browsing on the iPhone. Then iOS 5 came along and ruined everything; the old iPod app got replaced with a UI catastrophe called "Music" that convinced me to switch to my iPhone as my primary music player.

Although I'd occasionally use a visualizer app like Planetary to play music on my iPad, I still longed for a music player on the iPad that was as easy to use as the old iPod app was. Szello, Inc. contacted me about their music player, deck, and after just five minutes of using it I was in love with it.

deck is about as simple as a touchscreen music player gets, and its interface reminds me of either a big 8-track player or one of those touch tone phones with giant buttons marketed toward the elderly. That might sound like I'm knocking deck, but in reality that kind of interface is exactly what I was looking for. The iPad's built-in Music app is an unnecessarily complex beast with inexplicably tiny controls, terribly inconsistent user interface colors, and an album-art-driven music browser that's a chore to navigate for all but the tiniest music libraries. deck strips out all that UI cruft and instead presents a decidedly superior alternative: big, unmistakeable buttons that tell you at a glance what's going on with your music.

The default Music app's UI, or What Not to Do.

deck: Your music, streamlined. That's more like it.

Unlike the flashy but frustrating art-driven UI of the iPad's default Music app, deck takes a page from the iPhone's Music app and presents a simple, text-driven interface. No more hunting through a grid of album covers to find playlists or a specific artist -- deck simplifies browsing music on the iPad even for my 8000+ song library, and it supports playback of songs uploaded to iTunes Match, too.

deck is close to perfect as a music player for the iPad, but there's still room for improvement. The app doesn't have built-in controls for AirPlay and requires that you enable/disable AirPlay streaming via the iPad's multitasking bar. Since the app is basically a UI "wrapper" for the iPad's music library (AirPlay streaming technically occurs via the built-in Music app in the background), I don't know if this is necessarily something the developers can work around. deck also doesn't have lyrics support, but since the built-in Music app doesn't either, I'm willing to give deck's developers a pass on this one.

Three changes I would like to see in future versions of deck:

  1. deck doesn't appear to support playlist nesting at present. All playlists appear in one long, unbroken list, with no nested folders. Not everyone uses nested playlist folders in their music library, but I've found it a necessary feature to keep my playlists organized.
  2. Artists and Songs have the little alphabet slider on the right side for ease of navigation, letting you jump around the music library quite quickly, but the Albums view doesn't. For someone like me, with over 1000 albums in my library, this makes navigating albums harder than it has to be.
  3. Controls for Shuffle and Repeat show a little green light when active -- a definite improvement over the inconsistent color scheme in the Music app -- but the light might still be too subtle for some users. I'd suggest instead changing the control color on the button to a blue glow, similar to the Music app on the iPhone.

With those three minor changes, deck will be pretty close to flawless.

For US$1.99, deck provides a more than capable alternative to the bloated mass of UI inconsistencies and feature creep that Apple's Music app became in iOS 5. If you've found the default Music app frustrating or confusing to use, deck is a great replacement and worth every bit the developers are charging. At the same time, those of you at Apple who bollixed up the Music app in iOS 5 had best download deck and take some detailed notes.

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