If I could think of one thing that I never did much on my iPad, it would probably be using it as a music player. I had a phone that did the same thing, so why bother? It used to be the farthest thing from my mind as I was busy using the iPad for other things like games, productivity, and reading.
That is, of course, until I came upon a little app known as Planetary.
Listening to music on an iOS device usually meant having to scroll through endless lists of songs and the occasional grid of album art. Isn’t it about time we moved away from all that and tried something new?
As soon as you start up Planetary, it begins by analyzing your music library and presents you with a galactic layout of all your artists as distant stars floating in space.
It looks a bit dull at first, but after a couple taps and swipes across the screen, everything changes. “This… is free?” was the first thing that popped into my head when I first saw the beautifully rendered musical galaxy slowly spinning on an angle in empty space. I haven’t even started playing any music yet.
At the bottom of the screen are additional controls which allow you to further tweak your experience to your liking. Apart from the basic controls, there are also options to filter content by artist or playlist along with a row of tappable letters for each artist. The brighter the letter, the more music you have on it. Deeper still are additional settings which allow you to make use of the 2nd and 3rd generation iPad’s gyroscope for a whole new way to interact with the universe. Don’t like all the text labels and planetary orbit lines? You can turn those off, too. Once you’re done with all that, simply hide everything with the tap of a button.
Now it’s time to play a song or eleven. Each star represents an artist, each planet represents an album, and each song is shown as a moon. The bigger your library, the more you will have to play with. Understandably, it may start looking a bit crowded and silly if you happen to have an album with over 20 or so songs on it, so being very selective of the songs you put on your device could possibly save you some frustration in the long run.
In case I haven’t already made it clear, Planetary is absolutely gorgeous. Everything from the way album covers determine each planet’s unique features to the way moons grow in size depending on how often you play a song shows me just how much attention to detail the developers had when making this app. With the new 2.0 update, Bloom wanted to make sure they had you puking rainbows by the time you were done with it.
That being said, if I wanted to nitpick, I probably would have liked to see more things going on in the background. Maybe a few distant nebulas or perhaps some asteroids flying around here and there would have been some nice touches. These certainly aren’t dealbreakers, though.
Airplay has always been one of my favorite features in iOS, but sadly, streaming all this eye candy to your Apple TV just isn’t possible at the moment. Only time will tell whether or not video will be supported in a future update (and I certainly don’t see why they wouldn’t) but we’ll keep our fingers crossed. For now, your only option is streaming audio.
Another additional feature that would have been nice is the ability to use Planetary with other playlists on your home network and not just from the library on your device. Unlike video streaming on Airplay, Bloom’s FAQ states that they are unable to implement the feature due to restrictions in iOS itself when it comes to third-party software.
I have found it quite relaxing to just have this app playing on my iPad even though I’m not even listening to anything. Beyond just making your music look good, it also serves as a functional screensaver in a pinch.
Have this playing music at your next dinner party and you’re bound to get some questions about it.
In my experience, I’ve found that although Planetary works wonderfully on a 2nd or 3rd gen iPad, I’ve frequently experienced crashes on 1st generation hardware, so using this app on an iPad 1 might bring some mixed results due to limited hardware capabilities. Navigating on the iPad 2, however, is as responsive as you’d expect with hardly any hiccups putting a damper on the experience.
Where Planetary truly shines is on the new iPad. As of this writing, the developers have just released version 2.0.3 in which they’ve rebuilt the app to work with the new iPad’s Retina display. If you’re currently using an iPad 2 and think you’re perfectly happy with what you have, it would probably be a (VERY) good idea to avoid seeing the Retina enabled version of this app. You’ve been warned.
There are tons of music visualizers in the App Store, but I would be lying if I said any of them came close to the quality and aesthetics of Planetary. Coupled by the fact that the app is free, there’s really no reason not to at least check it out for a test drive.
While version 2.0 of Planetary took the app even further with updated graphics and added much-needed features like playlist support and shuffle/repeat modes, version 2.0.3 brought forth a whole new experience with Retina support and blazing fast interactivity. iPad 1 users, your mileage may vary, but you have nothing to lose considering the free ride.
Full video support via Airplay may have been the killer feature for this app, but there is always a possibility of it being implemented in a future update. Until then, there’s still enough to love about this app to recommend it to anyone.