Getting Hands On with the New Sonos iOS App

5/15/2014 1:48:00 PM

by Heather L. Sidorowicz

For weeks now Sonos has been teasing us with promises of a new app that was “coming soon.” On Tuesday May 13, at 3:33 p.m. I finally received an email announcing the much-anticipated version 5.0 had arrived. Quickly I located my phone, only to find out it had automatically updated at some point during the day.

The bright white background and cleanliness of the app proves this version was a complete facelift. The backend may be similar, but the new version does not look like anything previous.

“The Sonos Controller App has been redesigned to make it easier than ever to play the music you love today and discover the music you will love tomorrow,” the company boasted in its promotions.

One thing Sonos has always been lacking was a good way to search for songs. In previous versions you had to know the name of the song and scroll down to the letter it began with (very tedious!). This has changed, big time. Today, if I want to listen to Train, I touch my virtual magnifying glass and type the artist or song I am looking to find.

Notice that not only does the search pull music from my own library but also gives me options for Pandora playlist and pulls the word “Train” from Songza. These are currently the only two services I’ve been using. Sonos says that Universal Search will be functional across all its music platforms.

The “More Music” icon has been changed to “Add Music” and even this small feature has received an upgrade. Instead of just giving you a list of names to services you’ve never heard of, Sonos now gives a brief description of each of these services. You can organize them by popularity, or by alphabetical order. (There are some that I have not even heard of.)

The fewer button presses a touchscreen has, the better, of course. This is true for remotes that we design (pressing “Watch Movie,” which launches a macro instead of requiring multiple button pushes), to the touchscreen’s that we employ to this Sonos application. This feature is the unsung hero version 5.0 because Sonos has made it easier to get to where you want to be.

By touching the Sonos icon at the top of the display, it will always bring you to the music menu (like the “Main” button on remotes that we sell). It gives people a “do over” if they do not remember where they are, how to get out of the screen, or just want to start over; this is another nice feature indeed. Your list of rooms is at the top right of your display and what is currently playing presents at the bottom of the screen. There’s more information without any clutter.

At a glance from the “No Playing” screen I can see album art, know what song and album in playing, and see how many rooms the system is playing music in.

Other features include the ability to toggle between the “Now Playing” screen and the last place you browsed. With the iPad app you can drag and drop tracks of albums directly into the queue of Now Playing, creating the ultimate playlist for that summer backyard BBQ. The new version also has surround modes, but since I don’t have a playbar system, I was unable to check it out.

Sonos provided a big note regarding the iPad app: “If you have previously installed the Sonos Controller for iPad, it is recommended you un-install the Sonos app before installing Sonos software version 5.0. For other devices, there is no need to un-install before updating.” This will force you to relink your Sonos system, an incredibly simple task, but a task nonetheless.
Home screen on the iPad after re-syncing the system 

The iPad allows for you to view more metadata, since you have a larger screen, but it keeps the same, easy-to-use structure. You are able to view in both portrait or landscape orientations, yet the most fun feature remains the dragging and dropping of songs for your queue. Maybe this is not a feature I would use often, but my kids would have a ball with it (you’ll notice a song from Frozen is the first song in our list).

Sonos has hit a home run with its new controller, making it even easier, cleaner, and more fun to use. You can look at this as another nail in the coffin of traditional whole-house audio installs, or another solution for mainstream clients to finally have music in their homes. Either way, Sonos is here to stay.

If nothing else, play with the new version, and maybe you'll improve your own programming skills.

Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.


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