Apple’s mobile empire is wide-ranging, both in terms of products, and in terms of units sold. It’s worth remembering, though, that devices such as the iPad and the iPhone wouldn’t exist without Apple’s long-standing commitment to music. The iPad, however, has been somewhat neglected when it comes to audio.
Presumably, this state of affairs is something that developer, Clever and Son, wants to address with the release of their hot-off-the-press app, Couch Music Player. Described as “the music playback app your iPad has been crying out for,” Couch Player aims to improve on the somewhat clunky usability of the inbuilt iOS Music app. But is Couch Player anything more than a shiny new wrapper?
I really like what my eyes tell me about Couch Player. It’s not a design that shouts “pretty,” but it sure works well for the function it needs to perform.
The two main, lightly-coloured columns in the centre of the screen are home to your music library and the play queue respectively, while the music-sorting, playlist and music-playing controls can be found in three distinct groups around the dark edges of Couch Player‘s interface. This layout, in combination with the use of contrast to separate the columns visually, makes for great usability – you can navigate this app very easily with even the most fleeting of glances.
Bear in mind, though, that the screenshots don’t do this app justice, because its beauty is just as much about how it moves, as it is about the look of the static UI. Tap the controls, and Couch Player acknowledges your action with a muted flash of the button. Equally, as you drag music around the screen with your finger, it moves with beautiful smoothness.
The overall impression of Couch Player, then, is one of impressive usability in combination with understated elegance.
A Handheld Jukebox
No matter how pretty a jukebox is, it still needs to be good at playing music, in order to be of any use to anyone. Couch Player, of course, plays your music with exactly the same quality as the iOS Music app, but I would say that it provides a reasonably significant ease-of-use upgrade over the in-built music player.
Your entire music library is displayed in the left-hand column, and Couch Player offers several options for searching through your music. The first three options are alphabet based, and each is equipped with a first-letter selection bar, as can be found in the iOS Music app. This runs down the right-hand side of the library column, allowing speedy access to music further down the list.
The first option is to sort by artist. Artists are listed alongside their album covers, and when you tap on an artist’s name, their albums are revealed. Each album can then be tapped to reveal the individual tracks. It’s a beautiful, simple system that feels very intuitive and slick.
The second sorting option is by album, and once again, you can tap each album to reveal its contents. Finally, you can also ask Couch Player to display tracks individually, in an alphabetical list. The app is also equipped with a very speedy and efficient search function, which works with artists, albums and tracks.
Pumping Out the Tunes
All of these methods of searching are there in aid of Couch Player‘s main function – really simple queue- and playlist-creation. Once you’ve located a track you’d like to play, you can add it to the right-hand column’s play queue by dragging it across. Should you make a mistake and add a track you didn’t mean to, getting rid of it requires nothing more than a casual swipe, which dispatches the unwanted song out of the side of the screen. The queue plays in order, automatically, although the option to loop or mix up the tracks is also present.
Couch Player offers the ability to save these easy-to-construct queues as playlists for later listening. All of your previously saved queues can be easily accessed via a vertically-scrolling menu, which you navigate by sight – saved playlists are not named, so you identify them by their contents.
Also notable is the cover-view-style navigation option. While playing a queue, you can tap on the album art to make it go full screen. Then you can tap the cover to pause and play, and swipe sideways to skip around the tracks in your queue.
It’s this mix of features, when added together, that is key to the success of Couch Player, because they add up to a music-playing experience not natively present on your iPad.
One Slight Annoyance
I only have one criticism of Couch Player – a very, very small one at that – and it refers to some of the controls being a little over-sensitive. On occasion, I found myself producing audial strobing when simply trying to pause a track, and inadvertently blowing the roof off in an attempt to turn the volume down. This kind of thing wouldn’t matter with most apps, but the whole point of Couch Player is based around making your library easy to use. Hence, I feel the need to mark down Couch Player slightly for this otherwise insignificant bug. This is very much fixable with the smallest of updates, however.
It’s a little difficult to know how to mark Couch Player. It admirably performs the function it was designed for – that is, to give your iPad’s music library better controls. That said, the only unique additional functionality Couch Player brings to your tablet is the simple queue- and playlist-creation.
With this in mind, I would have to say that Couch Player is very nice to have, but inessential unless you regularly listen to music on your iPad. Whether you fall into this category or not, however, Couch Player will most definitely improve your iPad music-playing experience.