When it comes to music-streaming apps, the dozens of current options can be overwhelming. There are the major players like Pandora and Spotify, and there are the upstarts like 8tracks and Hype Machine. But none are like SoundCloud, the popular music-streaming service where established and up-and-coming artists upload their own music. Until now, SoundCloud’s mobile apps have focused on uploading, but a new version of the iPhone app released today changes that.
The new app has been totally redesigned. There’s no longer a place to upload audio files—it’s all about listening. When you launch it, you see a stream of the latest uploads from musicians you follow. If you’re new to SoundCloud and haven’t followed anyone, you’ll see a stream of popular songs and artists. A drop down menu shows your stream, trending music, and popular audio in other formats—news reports, poetry, even audio film and book trailers. This menu also lets you filter music by 36 different genres, including pop, alternative rock, hip hop and dubstep.
Along the bottom of the app, a search icon lets you type the names of artists, songs or audio files, and a “You” icon shows your user profile, liked songs and playlists. And although SoundCloud previously required you to sign in before you could use its app, anyone can stream music freely with this app, even without signing in.
As soon as you tap on a song to play, you’re treated to a full screen view of album artwork, with SoundCloud’s signature waveform along the bottom. Not only can you see how far into a track you are, you can scrub through a song by simply dragging your finger across the image. You can like or share a song via text, Facebook , Twitter or email. Want to skip to a new song? Just swipe left or right. A “hide” button takes you back to the home screen without stopping the music.
When I first opened a beta preview of the new app two weeks ago, I was surprised at how simple SoundCloud looked. Within seconds, I learned how to use the app, like songs, skip songs, search for new songs. That isn’t something you can say about rival audio apps from Spotify and iTunes.
While SoundCloud’s app is charmingly designed, and a joy to use, it does have limitations. Search doesn’t yet predict results as you type and you can’t create or edit a playlist from within the app, though Eric Wahlforss, SoundCloud’s chief technology officer, said those features will come as the new app is updated over the next few months.
Since SoundCloud is essentially the YouTube of audio—more than 12 hours of music and audio are uploaded to SoundCloud every minute—it seems like a risky move to ditch all of the content-creation features. But building an app specifically for listening, and not creating, is actually a good thing for the musicians, artists and journalists who upload their work to SoundCloud, he argued.
“One of the major things creators want from us is a larger audience,” he said. “The better our mobile app is for listeners, the better we are for creators.”
Those new listeners won’t be coming from Android just yet, however. The SoundCloud Android app will remain creator-focused, at least for now.