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My Number One Pet Peeve In iPhone Apps

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Allow me to rant for a second here…

The iPhone sprang from the meaty loins of what? The iPod. In fact, one of the coolest things about having an iPhone is having an integrated iPod. It even has its own app.

Given that the iPhone has essentially swallowed up an iPod Touch on its way to being a smartphone, one would think that it, or maybe more appropriately, developers, would implement better controls for allowing its iPoddy goodness to shine through.

My biggest peeve with it right now is that there are a lot of apps that will completely kill whatever music you’re playing in the background when their applications launch – and while I’ll grant that a lot of times music helps create an immersive environment for a game, a lot of times it doesn’t. Unless it’s a sound-based game (like a Tap Tap Revolution), I’ve gotten along just fine while listening to the boring crap I like to listen to while slogging through the game.

The other layer of annoyance here lies with Apple’s somewhat slip-shod method of integrating their audio controls. While it’s nice to have the iPod controls replaced by Pandora when a song is playing in the background, the phone frequently forgets the last app that was playing audio when the start-up of a game interrupts the audio stream, so instead of the awesome song you were enjoying, you end up getting something random from your iPod when you try and go back to the audio quickly.

I’ll give some examples, though – from the understandable to the ludicrous. The game that started this whole rant was Braveheart Lite by Gaijin Studios, which interrupted the excellent tune “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills and Nash streaming from my home PC via ZumoCast. The game does have its own full soundscape, but nothing that can’t be separated into sound effects and music, with music kept at bay if you’re already playing something. Infinity Blade is disappointingly the same way. Its integration of sound into the game essentially consists of a bunch of slashing sound effects and an ominous atmospheric tone that plays randomly. It would be much cooler for me to be able to actually hear my own music while I play through the game then for them to limit me to such a sparse soundscape.

Where it’s most egregious, though, is in applications that either don’t have their own background music or that seem to kill the audio at random. I’ve seen this at its worst in older versions of High Roller (a Yahtzee clone that is otherwise excellent – and this issue appears to have been fixed, thankfully), and in the current version of Shopkick, which is a coupon application(!), which not only kills the audio, but also prevents it from being started up by the audio controls on the iPhone without exiting the application completely.

So what’s the solution? Correct me if I’m wrong but the solution to this problem lies very explicitly in the Apple Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), which, in typical Apple fashion, are buried… oh, on the internet.

Using the Ambient Audio Profile or, if you’re feeling randy, the Playback Profile with “Mix with Others” enabled allows your app/game audio to mix with other sounds, specifically sounds already playing on the user’s iPod.

Ok so that’s a lot of whining over a relatively minor issue, you say? Yes, maybe, but it’s those types of minor issues that cause people to stop opening apps. When you make users make a choice between stopping the enjoyment of something they’ve already got going on (like the song they’re listening to) and using your app, you’re putting yourself at a potential disadvantage. Moreover, allowing native audio to play in the background during your app is a net additive bonus to you – you’re giving the user the experience of your app in a seamless way while allowing them to continue enjoying the content they were enjoying when they started interacting with your application.

So come on, iOS devs, let’s see this get implemented. And iOS designers, start specifying the audio profile in your spec documents. I just want to get through a damned song without interruption here!

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  1. January 11th, 2012 at 23:06 | #1