The MP3 player became a big deal to tech enthusiasts in 1998.
Apple delivered portable MP3 playback to the mainstream with the iPod in 2001, changing the course of general computing, just as I predicted ten years ago. (It's fun to be right. It's less fun to be wrong.)
By 2011, the MP3 player has morphed into software on all sorts of platforms (smartphone, tablet, computer, web browser, television, etc.), fueling a flowering of new functionality. You wouldn't buy a hardware MP3 player that only played a single Bjork song, no matter what else it did while that song played. But for many fans, installing a $2 app like that is a no-brainer.
Because music players can take on nearly any function imaginable now, the sky is the limit in terms of what they can do. To find out what music fans want them to do -- and to have fun coming up with some wacky ideas -- Evolver.fm launched the first Untapped Apps poll a few months ago (vote on the next one), asking our readers to vote on practical and more "out there" music app concepts.
The results from the first round are in, and they're listed below. It looks like people really want smart playlist creators for the car, musical speed-dating, and a way to track the music playing in any app on their phones.
Untapped Apps doesn't end here, by the way. We put our heads together to create an entirely new list of music app ideas, currently open for voting. As always, if you have music app ideas from the practical to the wacky for the next Untapped Apps poll, please send them our way and we'll see about including them.
Without further ado, here are the most wanted music apps from round one of our Untapped Apps poll.
1. Playlists determined by time, distance and traffic: Enter your destination, and alongside your directions, this musical navigation app would automatically generate the perfect playlist for your trip, taking into account the distance of the journey, the traffic, the listener's mood (or desired mood), various landmarks, the time of day, and so on. The same would apply for walking, jogging, or biking playlists.
2. Speed-dating for music discovery: In many cases, it doesn't take too long to decide you don't like a song. However, if you're listening to a music streaming service or a blog aggregator like Hype Machine, it can be a pain to keep clicking "skip" to get past the stuff you don't like. Borrowing a page from speed-dating events where people spend a few minutes apiece with a bunch of strangers and decide who they want to see later, this app would look at your musical preferences (based on your music library, online profile, and maybe a few simple toggle controls) and deliver a mini-mix of 30-second samples of songs. Like what you hear? Shake your phone or hit a button in order to add the full-length versions to your queue using the music service of your choice.
3. Universal smartphone music ID: One problem with listening to music on a bunch of different apps is that if you use Last.fm's audioscrobbler or any similar technology for tracking your plays in an online account and sharing them with friends, many of those apps won't be equipped to track your plays. This app, for multitasking-capable phones online, would listen to whatever music your phone is playing, regardless of the particular app, so that you'd be able to track your plays no matter where your music is coming from.
4. Music journalism app: Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, as the saying goes, but that doesn't mean some people aren't really good at describing music. This app would pull music journalism -- reviews, news, interviews, blogs, radio appearances, etc. -- about whatever artist, album or song you're listening to. By favoriting the writers you enjoy the most, you could affect the articles displayed by the app.
5. Play your music as a side-scrolling videogame: Yeah, yeah, you've played Guitar Hero before -- that's great. But what about a side-scrolling videogame a la Super Mario Brothers that incorporates the music you're listening to? Using only his or her wits, your character would have to negotiate a course that is automatically generated by the currently-playing song. Another option: a course that reflects the shape of a song's waveform (a graphical representation of sound). A worldwide leader board would display the best scores for each song.
6. Music diary: Shazam, SoundHound and other mobile apps can already identify a song merely by listening through your phone's microphone. This app would basically turn that approach into a geo-aware, online diary that you could share with your friends -- "Here's what I heard, here's where I heard it, here's what I was doing." Of course, it's now possible to geo-tag photographs as well; this app would also be able to create a musical slideshow (with beatmatching and crossfading, of course) out of any given day, week, month or year of your life using your own photos, like an automatic, instant travelogue. To make the whole thing copyright friendly, the slideshow could use 30-second samples or full songs, depending on whether you subscribe to an unlimited music service or not.
7. Workout companion on steroids: Pardon the expression, we just couldn't help ourselves. Several good options exist for listening during a workout, like the SynchStep app and Apple's ongoing collaboration with Nike on running shoes that work in concert with your MP3 player. This app would take the concept even farther by having the music app act more like a coach that knows when to push the runner and to know when to slow them down. It would program songs to play based on the type workout, as well as how much progress you have made. For instance, for a five-mile run, it would choose slower songs (either from your local library or an online music service) in the beginning, faster music at mile three, really fast music for uphill climbs, and a super-energetic track for when the runner has a half mile left to help you finish up strong.
8. Three-dimensional music browser: This one would present the universe of music in a three-dimensional interface on either normal computer/television/smartphone/tablet screens or on a 3D television or computer monitor. You'd start with one band, song, scene, decade, or so on, and then browse your way through constellations of music, discovering new stuff and reacquainting yourself with the music you already love.
9. Semiotic DJ: This app would create playlists based on song lyrics. You could start with a specific song or artist, then generate the rest of the songs in the playlist based on the two songs having lyrics in common. For instance, the folk song "Deep River" might be followed up by "Deep In The Heart of Texas," which would in turn lead to a song by Heart. Bonus points for including a multiple-choice game asking you to determine what the songs have in common.
10. Smart streaming radio for television set-top boxes: Boxee Box can already run music apps on a television connected to what are likely the best speakers in your house, and Apple TV and Google TV are likely to start doing the same next year. This idea would let you type in or select musical terms in order to hear a Pandora-style station with artist images from the web displaying on the television, with the transitions between the images synced to whatever song is playing.
11. Interactive 'MTV': Even if YouTube and other video websites don't have every video that's ever aired on MTV, plus millions of great songs that never would have aired there, it sure feels like it does. This app would analyze your taste by looking at your preferences at any number of websites where that information is available through an API (Last.fm and others), and use it to create a perfect music video show on your television, with, of course, the music playing over your sound system. When you have friends over, you could add their profiles to create a collaborative station mixing your tastes -- a great conversation starter.
12. Charlie Brown voice: Most of us are familiar with the way Charlie Brown hears his teachers talking -- "Waah waah waah waah," etc. Using music intelligence data, audio processing, and possibly EQ, it should be possible to replace the lyrics to any song with Charlie Brown's voice. Why not?
Follow Eliot Van Buskirk on Twitter: www.twitter.com/evolverfm