I enjoy music a lot and I’m on a constant quest to discovery new music. Lucky for me there are a ton of resources and applications today that allow for a music nerd like myself to explore to almost endlessly. One of the places I always turn to is NPR.
National Public Radio produces a lot of amazing content. They seem to pay extra special attention to music with some solid regular programs such as All Songs Considered and World Cafe. There are others as well and when all combined they produce a substantial amount of high quality music related content. I say "content" because this ranges from live audio or video concerts, full radio programs, interviews, album previews and even things as basic as articles. Wouldn’t it be great to herd all of this stuff into one place? Thankfully NPR agrees and has created a specific iPad application aptly named NPR Music.
Design & Interface
NPR Music is configured using a general, tile-like layout. Different boxes house different chunks of content. When you open the application the latest content from NPR will download and populate different tiles.
You’ll see an item that is considered "featured" appear in a larger more prominent tile. This area is swipe-able and you can flip through the featured items. Situated on the other half of the viewing screen you’ll see a series of tiles for other content.
The tiles are fairly dynamic both in that they update with new information regularly and also in that direct action can be taken on a tile depending upon the type of content being presented. For example, if there is a First Listen tile you’ll be able to hit the play button to listen to it immediately or add it to your playlist without actually opening the item. We’ll talk specifically about this functionality more in a bit.
The top portion of the application houses a couple menu bars that help to sort the available content. You can filter by specific content types as well as genres. NPR Music is really all about browsing and exploration and there are many ways available to make it easy to wander about.
The bottom of the application holds the media player. Obviously, this is a core feature of an application like this. You’ll find controls to navigate the media you’re currently playing as well as buttons that will take you to the radio stations section or your playlist.
NPR Music takes a lot of cues from the NPR News application. This is probably a good thing in that some ideas and theories about the interface have already been vetted via that application. So the theory is, we’re left with a more solid interface from the start.
Ways to Browse
As I mentioned, this app is all about music exploration, and as it should be, browsing around the plethora of content is very simple.
Articles & Videos
It’s possible to filter the content to only display articles or videos. When one of these buttons is tapped from top menu bar the display will adjust to only display that type of content in the form of smaller tiles.
Tapping on a tile will open up the full article page. Both article and video posts will be housed within an article type post. If there is a video available you’ll be able to play it from here and you’ll also be able to read any accompanying textual content as well. You’ll find some sharing functionality to let your friends know about your find along with a related stories module for further exploration.
If there is a video available you can play it by tapping the play icon within the thumbnail image or tapping the Watch button below it as well.
Along the left-hand side of this page you’ll be able to filter further down by genre. If you’re in the articles section and are looking for Jazz specific items, tap that filter and watch the tiles readjust. It’s very easy and makes it super simple to drill down a little bit further.
Tapping Programs from the top menu bar will present you with a set of tiles representing the NPR Music programs.
Each tile will take you to a similar view as we saw with articles or videos in the previous section allowing you further filtering based on genre as well.
Genres can be activated at the top level in two different ways. The first is by tapping on the menu bar item for genres. You’ll see a set of tiles each representing one of the defined NPR genres. Tapping on a specific genre tile will then load a front page filtered for that particular genre showing featured items as well as other items and specific radio stations.
The second way to turn on genre filters at the top level is to tap a corresponding button when at the main page. Below the top menu bar you’ll find buttons for all the available genres. Tapping on one will activate that filter and you’ll be presented with a front page layout only displaying items specific to the genre you selected.
Playing radio stations is a particularly cool aspect of this app. You have access to a crazy amount of NPR stations from all over the country. You can search this entire list and even filter them by genre to help you find stations you’re interested in.
A useful feature in this area is the the functionality of adding a favourite station. This makes it easier for future access of radio stations by making it available in your favorites.
As you can see, it’s also possible to favorite other types of content as well.
One of the core features of the application is the ability to create your own playlist. As you’re browsing around you’ll see a button to "add to playlist" on most items. Tapping that button will add it to your playlist and you’ll see a notification number on the playlist button on the bottom media control bar corresponding with the number of unplayed items in your list.
Tapping on that button on the bottom bar will take you to a section specifically built to allow you to manage and navigate your playlist.
You’ll see a timeline type view showing tiles organized in the order in which they’ll play. Tiles can be re-arranged by dragging and dropping. You’ll also see a zoomed out view below that enables you to move around a very large playlist very easily.
The lower section of the display will show a section of recommended content for you based on your iTunes collection. You can simply drag tiles that interest you and insert them wherever you like within your playlist. This is a pretty interesting little feature and I’ll say it’s worked pretty well for me.
While the browsing portion of the application completely relies upon access to the Internet, it is possible to save portions of or the entire playlist for offline use. This is a really great feature and allows those of us without the 3G version of the iPad to use the application wherever we want.
I am an NPR fan and especially of their music content. It’s a source I turn to all the time and being able to explore the huge amount of music content NPR has to offer on my iPad is wonderful.
The application has a dual appeal for me. It’s very easy to turn on a radio station or my playlist and have it playing in the background as I’m cooking dinner. But it’s also an application I can sit down with on the couch and some headphones and lose myself for a couple hours.
NPR Music is a free application and because of the organization behind the app, it doesn’t feel like a lot of other free applications. Ads are used very sparingly and are essentially a non-issue. Honestly, it feels like an application you should be paying for. To put it simply, if you enjoy music and own an iPad, do yourself a favor and check out NPR Music.