Updated November 7, 2014 9:48 pm - From the beginning, the chief design principle for the Music+Videos Hub in Windows Phone was simple: make it easy to discover and consume the content you love.
In Mango, it only gets better.
The next release of Windows Phone introduces on-phone podcasts, new features like Smart DJ (my personal favorite), and loads of refinements and tweaks that make it easier to find and enjoy great music and video. As one of the program managers that helped conceive and design many of these new features (yes, I do get paid to listen to music all day), I thought it’d be fun to tell you not only what changes we’re making in Mango but also to give you a little insight into why we’ve made them.
Podcasts now included
You can already listen to podcasts on your Windows Phone. The catch is you need your computer and the Zune software to actually browse and download them. In Mango, you can now do all this right on your phone (U.S. customers only). [See the comments section for explanation of this from Josh. –ed.]
In the Marketplace hub, you’ll see a new menu option: Podcasts. Tap it to see featured, top, or new podcasts and to browse by genre. Under genres, we’ve also added audio and video pivots, so you can find exactly the type of podcasts you’re interested in. You can also search for specific titles.
Once you’ve found a podcast that interests you, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it. I like Discovery Channel video podcasts but they tend to be quite large. No problem. In Mango, I can stream podcasts directly from Marketplace. Every once in a while, I want the latest episode of The Onion for a laugh but don’t need them all. That’s OK, I can download individual episodes.
I do, however, always want the latest DJ Tiesto podcast when I leave the house every Monday morning. Easy enough: I can subscribe to the series right on the phone and it will automatically download new episodes while charging overnight. Windows Phone will be the only phone to do this without a PC or third-party app!
When you subscribe to a podcast series, you control how many episodes you want to keep and what order the episodes play back. To save your battery life, new podcasts are downloaded only if your phone is connected to a power supply. To save your monthly phone bill, podcasts download over Wi-Fi by default (unlimited data plan customers, don’t worry: there’s a setting to change this).
If you’re already a hard-core podcast listener (like I’ve become since working on this feature), have no fear. Your existing subscriptions won’t be affected when you update to Mango. But you’ll now have the option of managing those subscriptions on your phone instead of your computer. (To make things as simple as possible, we don’t allow both the computer and phone to manage subscriptions.)
A DJ in your pocket
We all have those moments when we want to listen to some music. But not just anything. We want tunes that fit the mood. A new feature coming in Mango called Smart DJ is designed to provide just the right mix.
Smart DJ takes “seeds”—an artist, album, or song— and creates a music mix that’s similar using whatever songs it finds on your phone. If you have a monthly Zune Pass music subscription, Smart DJ selects from the millions of tracks available in the Zune catalog.
We’ve sprinkled the Smart DJ feature all over the Music + Videos Hub: It’s available from artist cards, the music player, and every artist, album, and song in your collection via the tap-and-hold menu. Since we have a hunch that you’re really going to like Smart DJ mixes, we’ve add them to the History pivot and made them pinable to the Start screen, so you can quickly find favorite mixes again.
Find stuff in Marketplace easier
We listen closely to customer feedback, and one of the things we heard loud and clear was that searching the Marketplace is sometimes painful due to the lack of auto suggestions and jumbled results. We’ve fixed both in Mango.
Now when you start typing in the Marketplace search box, you’ll see search terms appear. Search results are also now organized by content type (apps or games, music, or podcasts). We make it even simpler to find what you want by indicating exactly what each search result is—artist, album, song, or playlist, for example. Marketplace search is also context sensitive. Start a search from the podcast Marketplace and you’ll land right into the podcast results pivot. Same goes for music.
If you’re like me, you probably also love to discover new music. We’d made that possible in Marketplace now, too. In artist results, we followed in the Zune HD’s footsteps and added a Related pivot that lists similar artists.
Changes to the Music + Videos Hub
In addition to new features like podcasts and Smart DJ, we also made a ton of smaller but noticeable tweaks to the Music + Videos Hub, much based on customer research or feedback from you. Here’s a rundown of some of the more notable ones:
- More discoverable playback options: Research showed we provided a great option—“shuffle all music”— that almost nobody knew we had! So we’ve moved the button and updated the icon to make it stand out. Ditto for the old Rate, Shuffle, and Repeat playback options, which were hidden behind album art. In Mango, they’re front and center.
- Improved History and New: These areas are designed to make it easier to find and play content. But usability studies taught us the horizontal layout and 8-item limit slowed people down. So in Mango, we’ve gone vertical— and added room for 25 items.
- Better mini-playback control: We noticed people were having trouble tapping the small buttons of our handy mini-playback control. Now when you tap the volume button on your phone you’ll see bigger, easier-to-tap music controls as well as the artist name and what’s playing. Tap on that info to launch the full music player and turn on options like shuffle or repeat.
- New lock-screen options: We thought it would be handy if you could easily control your music player while your phone is locked, so in Mango you’ll find playback controls there.
- New artist wallpapers: We also figured music lovers would like to see those great artist images in the Music + Videos Hub show up as wallpaper on the lock screen. In Mango, that’s now a settings option. (We keep this one off by default, since it does have a small impact on your battery life).
We also made a bunch of tweaks to the music player itself. These include:
- Better playback controls: The playback controls are bigger and are now aligned with the mini-playback control—so your thumbs always know where to go.
- Better artist images: We found that the background artist images were sometimes too bright, which made some controls hard to see. Our design team worked hard to find the right opacity for the images. The end result you’ll see in Mango has a great layered look and never interferes with the controls.
- More playback info: We’ve added the artist name to the music player queue so that when you’re jamming to your new Smart DJ mix, you know exactly what’s up next.
- More playback options: Tap the Repeat button a couple of times and you’ll see the addition of a Repeat Once mode for those songs you just can’t get enough of.
- New playlist option: Yep, that’s right—you can finally create playlists on your device. Add a mix of whatever you want to your queue or start a Smart DJ mix and save it as a playlist.
- Better data management: In Mango, Zune Pass subscribers now see an icon on the phone when they’re listening to streamed music—so you always know when you’re consuming data.
- More video options: Last but not least, for videos, we’ve added a full-screen toggle and video scrubbing (where supported) so you have quick access to the parts of your videos you love most—features we heard you ask for!
We appreciate all the feedback you gave us on the Music + Videos Hub over the past several months—and we want to hear more for Mango! Conceiving, designing and building these features has been a blast—but it’s even better when we get to watch our customers use and love them.
Josh Phillips, program manager, Windows Phone Engineering