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.

Did I watch that already?

I use the Netflix iOS a lot. I’ve watch a lot of stuff and need to find new videos to watch. This app doesn’t facilitate that user task very well.

Screen shot of the Netflix iOS movie selection pattern
Screen shot: Selection page in the Netflix iOS app

Design Suggestions

  1. Make it obvious which videos you’ve watched already. Lower the opacity for watched items.

    Screen shot of movie tiles with the watched movie grayed out
    I’ve watched 13th
  2. On the screen for a specific video, give an indication if you’ve watched it already. Lower the opacity of the title image and change “Play” to “Watch Again”.

    Video page where the play button now reads watch again
    Watch again
  3. In settings, add an option to filter out anything you’ve watched. You can still search.

    Screen shot of the app settings with a toggle switch to remove watched videos from suggestions
    Remove from Suggestions in App Settings
  4. Provide a way to mark videos you don’t want to watch so they stop showing up as suggestions. I’ve added a “Skip” icon as an example. Icons are always hard. My first attempt was a “not interested” button but it was too prominent. I think employing the same design as other icons and putting it in line with the “close” icon gives it subtlety and context.

    Video page with a skip icon and text in the upper left
    Skip option to hide videos

    Once you’ve rated a video, the thumbs up icon turns white and the text “Rate” turned to “Rated”. I’ve followed that pattern with the “Skip” button, filling in the control and changing it to “Skipped”. Tapping this would allow this title to become a suggestion again.

    Video page with the Skipped icon and text in the upper left
    Skipped icon

    Then test it!

Fitbit Dashboard Changes are a Win

Last week, the Fitbit iOS app introduced an updated dashboard that more closely matches the UI of the desktop site. For reference, this is what the dashboard looked like for years.

fitbit dashboard with stats like steps and miles listed vertically

Stats are now tiles

The dashboard moved away from a vertical listing of stats to a more friendly tile layout, which allows more information to be displayed at the same time on a small screen. Tapping a tile still takes you to a weekly snapshot of the data point.

fitbit dashboard stats like steps and miles represented as tiles

Add, remove, move tiles like iOS

After tapping the ‘Edit’ button, you can remove tiles (or add them back) and update the layout by holding and dragging tiles between spots. You can choose between four stats—steps, calories, miles, and exercise minutes—as the main data point displayed in the largest tile at the top.

fitbit dashboard edit screen with small x icons to remove stats tiles

After tapping the ‘Done’ button, you see the updated dashboard with only the tiles you’ve selected. I’ve chosen to remove both calorie tiles.

fitbit dashboard showing only steps, miles, minutes, and days of exercise

Pull to sync your device

Fitbit now employs the ‘pull to update’ pattern to sync your device with your iPhone, which is by far my favorite improvement. This is an easy, one-step process whereas before you had to tap to the sync screen then tap to sync.

fitbit pull to sync on the dashboard screen

Goal statuses

The dashboard still uses green to indicate a daily goal has been met, but it made two other changes:

  1. It now uses a blue color instead of orange to show a goal in progress
  2. It uses a circle instead of a bar to indicate progress

I like both these changes. The orange always looks a bit like a warning and wasn’t very inviting. The circle gives a clearer indication that you’re reaching the end of something.

fitbit dashboards showing full circles to represented completed goals

Final thoughts

I like these updates a lot and they have improved my experience using the app. I hope one of the next updates is separating out the ‘track exercise’ and ‘log exercise’ features. While the ‘add’ button was made more visible by making it part of the app navigation at the bottom of the screen, it still does not provide ‘log exercise’ as its own option even though there is plenty of room.

fitbit 'add' screen with options like track exercise and log food