Podcasts App Changes in iOS11

I’ve written about my frustrations with the iOS Podcasts app on the iPhone before. With iOS11, Apple decided to change how the interface works in a major way (again). I had adapted to the iOS9 UI, easily adding items to the “Up Next” queue and figuring out that I could reorder and delete episodes.

Queue Management

What I want from a podcast app is to be able to create a queue of episodes that I can manage by adding/removing/reordering with ease.

screenshot of the podcasts app player screen
Play episode screen

As with the previous version of the app, you tap the menu icon in the lower right to bring up play options.

Episode menu screen
Screenshot of menu options for an episode

The options under this menu have changed. No more history and no way to see the contents of the queue. You can choose to play the current episode next with the “Play Next” option or add it into the black hole queue with “Play Later”.

screenshot of the added to queue notification for a podcast episode
Added to queue notification

I say black hole because I cannot find the queue.

It’s hard to use this app if I can’t manage which episodes are playing. I’ve already had times where I added an episode twice or wanted to play a different episode before another one I just added to the queue. I’m stumped and upset.

Library

Some readers may have noticed there is a new option in that menu called “Add to Library”. I was really hoping the library was the queue. Instead it appears to replace the “My Podcasts” icon from the previous app version. Best I can tell, this is a list of the latest episodes the podcast thinks you would be interested in.

screenshot of the Library where you can sort through episodes
Library screen

It is useful for navigating podcast feeds and episodes with the option to download to your device.

Listen Now

This was my last hope. I really thought this would be a list I could curate, but again, disappointment.

screenshot of the Listen Now screen which lists the latest podcast episodes
Listen Now screen

What we see is another list of latest episodes which I think excludes ones you’ve listened to already. So where is the queue? I guess it’s time to search for the answer. The first hit had a great response:

The fact that we have to Google how iOS screen design works shows how iOS screen design doesn’t work any more. I hate iOS 11.

The answer for how to view the queue–swipe up on the screen where the current episode is playing–isn’t working for me. I guess I’ll keep trying but seriously, I don’t understand why Apple obfuscates functionality with obscure gestures.

Update: So if you have episodes in the queue, you can scroll to the bottom of the currently playing episode screen to see what’s “Up Next”. However, if you have nothing in the queue, the section simply isn’t there.

screenshot of the Up Next queue at the bottom of the player screen
Up Next list

My design suggestions would be to make the queue more obvious and to call it a queue. I’d love to see a “Queue” icon at the bottom of the app. Calling it “Up Next” is confusing.

Fitbit Exercise Tracking is Confusing

I’ve had a Fitbit Zip for almost three years and I use the iOS app to sync the data from it. This app lets you track exercise that wasn’t captured in full by the step counter. I use this to add info about weight training and aerobics at the gym.

The active minutes, steps, and distance often do not add up when I add one of these exercises manually. The other day, I took a moderate 1 mile walk but forgot to start the tracking feature in the app. After my walk, this is what my activity looked like.

screenshot of fitbit app showing 24 minutes of activity, 5319 steps, 2.26 miles
Fitbit activity before logging exercise

My stats showed

  • 5,319 steps
  • 2.26 miles
  • 24 active minutes

After I added in my walk manually, the stats updated in an unexpected way.

screenshot of the Fitbit app showing 5,796 steps, 2.45 miles and 0 active minutes
Fitbit activity after adding a walk

My stats changed to

  • 5,796 steps
  • 2.45 miles
  • 0 active minutes

What? I can’t figure out what Fitbit is trying to do when I log exercise manually. The distance and steps shouldn’t change when those are precisely what the tracker tracks. My active minutes dropping to 0 is what I find most perplexing. How would adding exercise ever reduce active minutes?

By way of comparison, here are my stats from yesterday before and after manually logging 50 minutes of aerobics.

side by side screenshots showing discrepancies between calories and active minutes
Fitbit comparison when logging aerobics

Here we see the number of calories burned dropped by 102 while active minutes increased by 10. Again, what? I wasn’t able to find any information from Fitbit about how its software calculates these numbers but I think it’s safe to say, something doesn’t add up.

Audio Descriptions on Netflix

For the first time last night, I stumbled across a Netflix movie offering audio description in addition to subtitles. According to The Audio Description Project

Audio Description involves the accessibility of the visual images of theater, television, movies, and other art forms for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired.  It is a narration service (provided at no additional charge to the patron) that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted—those images that a person who is blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion.

The movie in question is Hush, a thriller with a deaf woman as the protagonist. I use closed captions/subtitles all the time, even though I am hearing, because I find them useful for understanding quiet dialogue. When I went to turn captions on for this film, I was surprised to see an option for audio descriptions.

screenshot showing audio and subtitle language options in the Netflix app
Screenshot: Netflix app audio and subtitles menu

Excitedly, I chose “English – Audio Descriptions”. This film is a study in accessibility options! A couple of the characters use sign language and the descriptive audio provides spoken translation for the woman who does not speak when she signs. In a single scene we see sign language, hear audio descriptions and dialogue, both while reading subtitles.

The film has very little dialogue, providing ample time to experience the audio descriptions. I rather enjoyed them because this was a thriller and it felt less scary with someone describing the scene. It also provided a richer layer for enjoying the story since the audio interpretation at times highlighted actions and parts of the scene I might have missed as a sighted user.

It’s good to see Netflix taking accessibility more seriously and providing useful options for non-sighted customers. Netflix provides a list of content with audio description support after signing in to your account.