Windows Down with VeloCity

VeloCity – Free on the App Store

One of my favorite parts of summer is driving with my windows down. The problem is, I’m constantly adjusting the volume. When I’m going fast, I have to turn it way up, but then I pull up to a stoplight and my music is blasting, so I turn it down. Then the light turns green and I have to crank the volume up again. Last summer I was riding somewhere with my girlfriend, and I decided that there had to be a better way. One Google search later, I found VeloCity.

VeloCity is a simple app that automatically adjusts your volume based on your speed. My girlfriend and I were blown away by how well VeloCity works. Honestly, at first I didn’t think it was working, because the volume matched the noise of the wind so well, I didn’t even notice it. It didn’t sound like anything special was happening; the volume of the music over the wind stayed about the same, exactly as it should. It’s like magic. Once you’ve used VeloCity, you’ll never go back to changing your volume constantly as you drive.

VeloCity’s automatic mode works pretty well, so you can be up and running immediately after opening the app. There’s also a custom settings option which allows a little more control (my settings are shown in the screenshot above). VeloCity is a fantastic little app that does exactly what it promises with zero hassle. And it’s free, so what do you possibly have to lose? Summer’s coming! ••


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

I “Like” Music

I’m still really enjoying Apple Music these days, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music on there.  I love having choices, but the more stuff I listen to and add to my library the more some of it starts to feel like clutter.  So I started looking for a way to weed out all but the really good stuff.  What I landed on was the Like button.

Apple Music, like Apple News and iCloud Photos, has a simple heart-shaped “Like” button for songs, playlists, and albums.  In Apple Music, these are used to refine the suggestions in the For You section.  They work similarly in Apple News, refining the articles you get in your main feed.  This is great, but what I really wanted was a feature like in Photos.  All the pictures you’ve liked in Photos are congregated in a single album.  This makes it really easy to find and look at just those photos.  I wanted the same thing in music.  Fortunately, that’s totally possible, just not exactly simple.

Basically, you have to set up a smart playlist in iTunes on your computer.  In order for this to work, your iTunes installation has to have iCloud Music Library turned on, so that all your playlists sync over the cloud.  Just make a new smart playlist that has the condition “Loved” set to true (yes, oddly enough it’s called Loved in this menu).  I also like to use the “limit to” feature to sort them.  I “limit” the playlist to 10,000 songs, or something else that’s basically unlimited, and then sort by date added.  This means the newer songs float to the top automatically.

Here’s the catch: smart playlists only grab songs that have also been added to your library, so if you find a great song in Radio mode, you have to Like it and add it to your library.  I really wish liking would add the song to your library automatically, it would just make the whole thing a lot simpler.  Spotify has a smart playlist called “Liked from Radio” which, as you might guess, shows all the songs you’ve thumbs upped in Radio.  I wish that worked here.  But aside from that minor hiccup, the Liked playlist works great.  It’s a fun thing to shuffle if I don’t know what I’m in the mood to listen to.

But here’s where things get really cool.  I’ve set the Liked playlist to be available offline, so anything I like automatically gets downloaded.  This is the only music I have downloaded, since I have T-Mobile and streaming music doesn’t count against my data.  What this means is that I can set my iPhone to only show offline music, and it will only show music I’ve liked.  For example, I have a ton of music by NEEDTOBREATHE (whom you simply must check out if you’ve never heard them).  It’s all good music, but if I only want to hear the stuff I absolutely love, I just flip on the offline switch.  Then I just shuffle all songs in that artist!  ••

My Tech Changes in 2015

If I’m being honest, 2015 was a really good year.  Graduating high school is always a plus, and I’m loving college.  2015 was also a good year in the technology department for me.  Looking back, there’s been a lot of changes to the devices and apps that I use on a daily basis.  Here are the biggest three.

First up, I finally got an iPhone!  I’ve had an iPod Touch since 7th grade, but I didn’t get an iPhone until just last January.  My iPhone is the device I use most often, for the most things, and it’s absolutely an integral part of my life (maybe a little too integral, if I’m still being honest).  It’s so nice to not have to carry around two devices anymore (a dumb phone and an iPod), and obviously it’s also nice to have a data plan.  Getting an iPhone was definitely the biggest tech event of the year for me, and I’m still loving it.

Next up was photos.  iCloud Photo Library launched way back in October 2014, but, to me at least, it wasn’t useful until Photos for Mac happened last April.  iCloud Photo Library is really great; it’s so nice to just have the Photos app sync on all my devices, instead of having a Photos app full of photos from that device and another app full of Dropbox photos.  Not only that, but Photos for Mac has great support for facial detection, geotagging, and smart albums, so all in all it’s just a great way to organize all my photos.  Thanks to Apple upping their iCloud pricing tiers, I’m still only paying 99¢/month, and I now get 50 gb.  Totally worth it.

Finally, Apple Music launched last June!  I discovered Spotify in December 2014, and I used it religiously for the first half of 2015.  However, when Apple Music came out, I just had to try it.  After the three month free trial, my family decided to keep paying for it.  We ended up on Apple Music mostly because the family plan is actually usable (unlike Spotify’s), but in generally I’m happy with Apple Music.  Since honesty is, apparently, a theme in this post, Apple Music still has a long way to go to be as good as Spotify.  Frankly, Apple Music is still pretty buggy.  However, there are things about Apple Music that are better than Spotify will ever be, like built in Siri support.  Being able to use Siri to control music in the car is definitely my favorite feature of Apple Music.  And as far as the bugs go, I have confidence that Apple will continue to fix those too.  I’ll be patient.

So that’s my 2015 technology year in review.  As I said, it’s been a good year.  What’s your year been like?  Get any cool new gadgets?  Find that perfect cloud service that you’d always hoped existed?  Let me know what kinds of tech you love in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @NickFoster56.  Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!  ••

First Thoughts on Apple Music

Last week I wrote about the headache that I had signing up for the Apple Music trial, but I didn’t actually talk much about the service itself.  This is partly because I was at church camp that week, and I hadn’t had much time to play around with Apple Music.  That’s changed now.  After a little over a week with the service, I think I can safely say that I think Apple Music will be a success; it’s definitely a success in my book.

Apple Music is, at heart, a streaming service.  This means that you have access to the entire catalog of music for one flat subscription rate.  However, Apple Music does something that Spotify didn’t do.  Apple Music jumpstarts your streaming library with the songs you already have on your device, both from ripped CDs and the iTunes Store.  However, after that Apple Music wants you to explore.  This brings me to the Music app’s new layout.  There are five tabs at the bottom, For You, New, Radio, Connect, and My Music.

For You
When you first sign up for Apple Music, it asks you what genres of music you like the most.  After that, it asks you what artists you like (from a list based on the genres you picked).  Apple Music uses this information to start the For You section.  Over time, as you “like” songs (with a heart button), these suggestions become more refined.  I’ve found the For You tab to be pretty cool, especially when it lists an artist I’ve heard on the radio once or twice but don’t really know.  However, I don’t know how much I’ll be using this tab.

New
This tab I’m more excited for.  I mostly listen to Christian music, and I like that you can filter this tab by genre (although I wish it’d remember what genre I’ve picked).  Right off the bat I’m seeing new songs from Hillsong, MercyMe, and for KING & COUNTRY.  This is a sign of good things to come.

Radio
The spotlight of the Radio tab is Apple’s new, worldwide, 24/7 radio station called Beats 1.  This isn’t set up like Pandora, with a computer algorithm picking songs for you.  This is more like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  I haven’t really listened to it (like I said, I’m mostly interested in Christian music), but I definitely like the idea of a hosted station.  I used to listen to the radio a lot, and it’s fun getting to know DJs and hearing their stories and news.  The radio tab also has more traditional internet radio stations, based off genres, artists, and the like.  From the little bit I’ve used it, the Christian genre station is really good.

Connect
Connect is an interesting tab.  It’s almost like a social network for artists, a place for them to post songs, lyrics, videos, and other (sometimes exclusive) content.  It’s also a place for them to make announcements about upcoming albums.  This is a cool idea; the problem is that it gets crowded quickly.  On Spotify, I followed all my favorite artists mostly just to get notified of new releases, but then I just got a bunch of stuff about new playlists they’d made.  A little disappointing.

My Music
Up until this point, it seems I’ve been rationalizing why each tab isn’t for me (except for New I guess).  However, My Music where the rubber meets the road for Apple Music.  Apple Music lets me listen to just about whatever I want, whenever I want.  That’s fantastic.  The My Music tab is split into two sections.  The first shows all music by artist, album, etc.  This view is pretty self-explanatory.  The second view focuses on playlists.  Unlike most of the other discovery tools on Apple Music, I am excited about playlists.  All the playlists on Apple Music were created by real people – not computer algorithms.  This seems really cool to me.  There’s nothing worse than listening to a great Pandora station when all of a sudden the mood is killed by an out of place song.  So far my favorite playlists have been the “Intro to *Artist*” playlists.  These are a cool way to get into someone’s music.  I just wish they were available for more artists.

So as you can see, I’m pretty bullish on Apple Music.  It’s not perfect, and the app is actually kind of buggy right now, but that will get better with subsequent updates.  As of now, I’m pretty sure my family’s going to pay for it in a few months (once we get this whole trial mess sorted out), and I can definitely see myself using it.  A lot.  I just need to figure out if Apple Music is included in T-Mobile’s unlimited music streaming deal…  ••

July App Review: Musixmatch

App: Musixmatch
Developer: musiXmatch srl
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone

I love music.  As you’ve read here before, I’ve recently started to really get into music again, mostly using Spotify (spoiler alert: Apple Music just came out, and you can be sure that’ll be getting plenty of coverage here soon).  However, I don’t just love to listen to music.  I also love to sing along to music.  The enjoyment I get out of a song increases exponentially when I know the words and can join in.  With that in mind, lyrics are important.  Sure, I learn the lyrics to most songs by just listening to them over time, but sometimes I want to know the lyrics now.  Enter the Musixmatch app.


Open the Musixmatch app and you’ll immediately see a list of all the music you have saved to your device.  At the bottom, you can see the current song playing.  Tapping a song starts it playing, and timed lyrics appear on the screen as the song goes along.  It’s a pretty good karaoke experience.  If you’re using Apple Music, the library and now playing only work for the songs you have downloaded to your device, not everything you’ve saved to your iCloud Music Library*.  If you’re a Spotify user, it won’t work at all, which is too bad.

If the song you want to look up isn’t in your catalog, you just search for it.  The search function works well.  Tapping the song brings up lyrics.  Simple enough.  The lyrics screen is really well designed too.  By default, it will show photos of the artist, both portraits and concert photos.  However, there’s also an option to use the song’s album artwork as the background.  I immediately turned this on.  I’ve always loved album artwork, I think it’s cool the way the audio and visual elements become associated in my mind.

Once you’re on the lyrics page (and the app isn’t already playing the song), you can hit the play button on the bottom to play it via YouTube or Spotify.  You can also play the iTunes preview of the track.  This is great, but I really wish there was a button in Spotify to take you right to the lyrics.  I guess it’s nice that I can look up the lyrics and then easily play the song, but most of the time, I do the reverse.  That brings me to the app’s final two features.

The first is a feature called MusicID, which is basically Shazam.  At first, I was a little unimpressed with this feature.  Now that Shazam is built into Siri (“Hey Siri, what song is this?”), I didn’t see why I needed this feature.  However, it was only recently that I realized that I could ID the song I was currently playing on my phone to easily bring up the lyrics.  Why I thought I could only ID music coming from another source I don’t know.  This feature finally gives me what I was looking for.  I’m listening to a song, and I want to see the lyrics: what’s the fastest way to pull them up?  It’s definitely not web searching.  Searching the app was an improvement, but still not ideal.  However, with MusicID, it’s easy to find the lyrics I want fast.

The other fast way to find lyrics is with the Musixmatch Notification Center widget. This only works for music you have on your device or Apple Music (not Spotify), but it’s pretty awesome.  It shows you the current and next line of the lyrics right there in Notification Center, without any extra effort at all.  There’s also buttons for search, MusicID, and the top trending lyrics.

So as you can see, Musixmatch is a pretty simple app, but it’s powerful.  Having lyrics for basically any song right at your fingertips is not only helpful, but exciting. I’m seeing a lot of car sing-alongs in my future.  ••

*Update 7/16/15: Musixmatch is now fully updated for Apple Music!  This means that the My Music screen shows everything in your Apple Music library, not just the songs you have saved for offline playback.  Thanks Musixmatch!

WWDC 2015 Recap

In case you missed it, last week was Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference.  The highlight of the week was the main keynote, which took place Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I had to work during the keynote, but I watched most of it later in the week.  There were four main topics in the keynote: OS X, iOS, watchOS, and Apple Music.

OS X
First up was the latest version of the Mac operating system.  Named El Capitan (for a landmark in Yosemite national park), Apple said that this update would focus on “Experience” and “Performance.”  Basically, what this means is that it’s a relatively minor update, one that will focus more on bug fixes and small features than large ones.  I think this is good; it’s a welcome rest from the breakneck update pace we’ve seen – and suffered from – over the past few years.

iOS
Next up (as to be expected) was iOS 9 – to be available this fall.  There’s a couple key parts to this update.  First are some features focusing on “intelligence.”  These includes improvements to Siri, but also a brand new Spotlight search function.  This replaces the current search in iOS, but also tries to proactively serve you apps and information it thinks you might need right then: everything from the apps you use each morning to news stories relevant to your location.  The next huge feature focuses on the iPad.  The iPad is finally getting a split screen view – the ability to run two apps at once.  This is huge, but unfortunately it’s not available on all iPad models.  iPads from the previous two years can run one app full screen and have another app at iPhone width “slide over” from the side.  The iPad Air 2 can also run two apps simultaneously that each take up half the screen.  Hopefully this will greatly improve productivity on the iPad.  There were two more quick things that are important.  First, iOS 9 will only take 1.3gb to download, instead of last year’s ridiculous 4.6gb.  The final thing wasn’t even mentioned in the keynote, but I think it’s super important: iOS 9 will be available to all devices that have iOS 8.  Normally, Apple drops one old model each year; I’m hoping this change means that iOS 9 won’t slow down older devices as much.

watchOS
Apple also unveiled the latest version of the Apple Watch software: watchOS 2.  This version will allow developers to create native apps that run on the Watch.  Previously, developers could only create apps that technically “ran” on the iPhone and projected their interfaces to the Watch.  This was a cumbersome, temporary arrangement, one which meant that all third-party apps were pretty slow.  Apple is finally giving developers what they were promised last year.

Apple Music
The last part of the keynote was dedicated to Apple’s new music streaming service: Apple Music.  This service will replace both iTunes Radio and Beats Music.  For $9.99/month, you get unlimited streaming of everything Apple Music has, including many playlists handmade by music experts, not algorithms.  This was one of Beats Music’s key selling points, and Apple is making sure that it doesn’t go away.  The second part of Apple Music is an enormous, worldwide radio station called Beats 1.  This is set up like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  It will be broadcast from three studios worldwide (in LA, New York, and London).  I’m actually kind of excited to try Beats 1; it sounds intriguing.  The final part of Apple Music is called Connect.  This is almost like a social network for music artists.  Connect allows artists to post photos, videos, lyrics, and even demos directly to Apple Music.  Fans can follow artists to get access to this bonus content.  Apple seems convinced that this is the next big way for people to follow their favorite artists, but I’m not sure that people will adopt it in place of Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

So as you can see, Apple had a lot to talk about last week.  They released updates to their big three operating systems, and also unveiled their new attempt in the music streaming industry.  Unfortunately, there were no updates to the Apple TV, but I’d still say we still got plenty of cool new stuff.  I guess we’ll just have to hope again for a new Apple TV next year.  ••