At last year’s Build developer conference, Microsoft was exciting the tech world with the introduction of Windows Phone 8.1, an update that promised improvements like Cortana, transparent Live Tiles, and the addition of “shape writing” to the keyboard. They also debuted a rewritten Xbox Music app that had been decoupled from the core operating system.
We all know how that went. That app was inexcusably poor and never should have seen the light of day. At release, it was molasses-slow, crashed frequently, and was generally rough around the edges. Worse still, any hope that it would be polished into something truly enjoyable to use – remember, it could finally be updated through the Store – diminished with each update. Bug fix after bug fix, and here we are today with an app that is still merely serviceable.
Thankfully, Microsoft has clearly recognized that blunder; the new Music Preview app in Windows 10 Mobile is very promising. Let’s get down to brass tacks.
The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the overall look of the Music Preview is different – and better, in my opinion – than that of the current iteration, and reflects the “Metro 2.0” direction that Microsoft is taking with Windows 10. Controls for play/pause, next/previous track, repeat, and the like now feature a thinner, outlined style that feels more in line with what Apple, Google, and Spotify are doing.
There are a couple of really notable improvements here. First of all, the Now Playing screen once again allows skipping to the next song via a horizontal swipe. While I wish there were a subtle visual cue to let users know about that gesture, the fact that it’s made a return is a nice nod to the original Zune client that so many here loved.
Equally important is the enlargement of the scrubber control, which now spans almost the entire width of the screen and whose “playhead” is much bigger than before. Hence, it’s trivially easy to dial in an exact time to which you’d like to skip, whereas before it could be an exercise in frustration. Finally, tapping on the middle of the Now Playing screen will produce a lock screen-like sliding effect to bring attention to the full playlist that resides below.
Navigating to another section of the app – whether you want to browse your collection, see recent plays, or manage custom radio stations – requires a tap on the hamburger menu. I don’t think the convention itself is evil, but the decision to hide these frequently accessed sections behind the menu is perhaps misguided. The consistency with the PC is good… but it works on the larger screen because the hamburger menu can be perpetually open on the side.
Room for improvement, but a great start
There are still some areas that could use some improvement. For instance, I’d love to see improved lock screen controls that aren’t hidden behind a press of the volume rocker, and buttons within the app that are bigger and easier to hit. And of course, being the beta software that it is, it will undoubtedly be receiving the bug fixes one would expect.
Even so, the new Music Preview app is looking great, and for those who decried the decline of the Zune software, this should be music to your ears (heheh, get it?). At this juncture, it seems like we’ll finally have a proper music experience on Windows Phone!
Editor's note: The screenshots above are from Windows 10 Mobile build 10080. If you agree or disagree with what was said above, please share your opinion below in a civilized manner.