The iPhone music app got a makeover in iOS 6, which was released to the public (as opposed to developers) yesterday afternoon. At first glance, the changes don’t amount to much. Playlists have a new black and white color scheme, and the Now Playing screen sports new, svelte play and skip buttons. Though the facelift is minor, it’s hard not to appreciate Apple’s extreme attention to detail. Just take a look at the volume slider to the right: When the iPhone’s accelerometer registers movement, the round chrome slider actually changes texture, as if it were catching natural light.
Apple made some under the hood changes too, which are all about iCloud. I use iTunes Match, so my entire music library and all of my playlists appear on my iPhone and my Mac immediately, every time I add new music. On iOS 5, songs that weren’t downloaded locally were marked with an iCloud icon in playlists. When users tapped a song to play it, it was simultaneously saved to the local library, assuming you had an internet connection.
There are no more icons, and no more automatic song downloads in iOS 6. Playlists no longer indicate if a song is in local storage or iCloud. When you stream a song from iCloud, it is no longer permanently saved to your local library. If you’re trying not to clutter up your phone with loads of music, this new iCloud strategy makes sense, but beware: iCloud streams high quality files that may run up your data usage quicker than you expect.
(See also: our calculations of how fast music streaming eats up your limited data plan, or find out how to keep your unlimited data plan, if you’re lucky enough to be grandfathered in.)
When the phone is in Airplane Mode — which is what you need to do if you want to listen to iCloud music without eating up your data plan — you can navigate playlists as usual, of course, but only locally-stored songs appear. If you ride the subway each day, are on a limited data plan, or are preparing for an airplane flight, you can now download entire playlists to local memory so that they’ll play offline.
My favorite new music feature in iOS 6 isn’t in the music player at all, but in the Clock app. Say hello to my new wake-up alarm, now with customizable sounds (pictured to the right). Yes, you can now have any song in your library activated as your alarm clock sound.
iOS 6 users will also be happy to find that custom ringtones can now be added without the help of a PC, which used to be a huge pain. Apple’s own GarageBand app ($5) is the first app to support ringtone exports, but we expect third-party apps to add support soon, making it easier to mix your own ringtones (ed. note: here’s mine).