Surprise, surprise! The built-in iPhone music player app, simply named iPod, is our pick for the best on the platform. This is in part because there's virtually no competition, but also because its feature set really is the best.
Platform: iOS Price: Free It comes with your iPhone!
- Play music, podcasts, audiobooks, music videos, TV shows, movies and more.
- Create and edit playlists
- Search all of your content
- Control music playback with your voice using Voice Control
- Create Genius Mixes
- Audio content can play in the background while you're using other apps
- Remembers the last position for spoken-word content so you can resume next time you play
- Tilt horizontally to browser your music in Cover Flow mode
- Stream music to and from your iPhone with AirPlay
- Easily access playback controls by double-clicking the home button and swiping from left to right
- Enable subtitle support for videos with compatible subtitle tracks
- Share iTunes store links to podcasts and music when playing them
- Adjust the playback speed of the audio content you're playing
- Integration with Apple's music social network Ping (eh...)
Where It Excels
It used to be the case that the iPod app could do things other apps couldn't thanks to its use of private APIs, but that's not really the case anymore. The iPod isn't really resting on the secrets of iOS but still manages to be a competitive music player (perhaps due to very little actual competition). As you can generally expect from Apple's apps, it has a simple and intuitive interface. It's easy to navigate through your collection quickly, even if it's large. It manages pretty much every media type iTunes handles, although it doesn't feel quite so enormous. You can make playlists very easily from the app, it has multiple methods of browsing your collection, it remembers where you left off in a podcast and audio book, and does several other things (see the feature list above) to take any work out of using it so you can just enjoy your music, video or whatever.
Where It Needs Work
Like any Apple-made iPhone app, it tends to be underdeveloped due to a lack of competition. In some ways this lack of competition comes from Apple's app store requirement of not duplicating any functionality, but Apple's been fairly lenient about that these days so perhaps it speaks to the iPod's greatness that few have bothered to take it on. Regardless, the iPod app is missing a few features that would be a marked improvement.
Currently, podcasts are a pain to update through the phone. If you want a new episode, you not only have to check manually but you're taken to the iTunes Music Store app and have to figure out if a new episode is available. Sometimes it's obvious, but many shows name their episodes with the name of the show and so the actual episode number doesn't fit on the iPhone's display. Posting dates can help, but not so much with daily podcasts. While this updating method is better than nothing, there's plenty of room for improvement.
While wireless sync would be nice, and is clearly possible even over 3G, that's more of an iTunes feature. Library Sharing support, on the other hand, would be very handy and let you listen to any music on the local network. This would mean sharing directly from your device and picking up other shared libraries on the local network. While you can do this with Home Sharing (or sort of with the Remote app), that requires using your Apple ID and password, which isn't something you necessarily want to be sharing with other people.
There are other little things, like adjusting the EQ in the player on a per-song basis and supporting additional formats (like that's ever going to happen), but for the most part the iPod app is pretty solid.
There isn't a lot of competition, but there are a few apps worth noting. Amp Music Player ($1.19) is designed to be a replacement for the iPod app and comes with a few extra features like queuing, skinning, lyrics and concert information. It also has a somewhat different method of navigating through your library.
SoundHound (Free), which is primarily an app for song detection (more info here), it can also access your entire music library — and by music library we mean music library, not things like podcasts. It has lyric support and, obviously, song detection, so if you're fine with focusing solely on your music you get some nice extras.
Finally, it's worth mentioning AudioPress (Free) for those of you who don't like updating your podcasts manually (see the section above). AudioPress is very much spoken word content-specific, but it handles all the podcast-related tasks you probably wish your iPod app could do. It also can handle Internet radio and read you the current weather forecast, all for free. It's an excellent supplementary option if you're really into spoken word content.