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3 things we need to see from Google Play Music at Google I/O

Google Play Music
Google Play Music (Image credit: Android Central)

Google I/O is less than two weeks away, and while there are a great many Google products and services hopefully seeing some big updates during the coveted keynote, few services are expected to see as drastic and possibly game-changing updates as Google Play Music. Google Play Music could see a lot of changes — or even complete replacement — on May 8th, so while we wait to see what we're getting, let's recap what Google Play Music needs.

App layout overhaul with a streamlined or compact layout

Waste of space

Google Play Music received its last overhaul back in 2013, when it traded a black and blue Holo UI for a white and orange Material Design UI. The app needs to be redesigned from scratch at this point, but the biggest things that need fixing are these:

  • Reprioritize the hamburger menu or ditch it for bottom tabs like YouTube and Spotify have. Tabs would require Google Play Music to seriously scale back on the sections, because right now things are bloated, cluttered and downright crazy.
  • Streamline and condense the UI to showcase more on screen at any given time, switching from large, album-collage thumbnails to a more compact list form on many sections of the app like Recents, Playlists, and Albums, which can become downright painful to scroll through with a developed library.
  • Speaking of scrolling, scrolling and menu controls overlap on Google Play Music to the point that it's damn near impossible to add songs from the Songs section of My Library to a queue or playlist. Switch to a better scroll bar or a jump list like Action Launcher's Quickdrawer
  • Completely replace the Home page. The bold banners suggesting stations, new releases, and music we've listened to around this time before are way too big and completely ignored by a large section of users. Make the Home tab a medley of Recently Played, suggested stations, and recommended releases, like YouTube's home page.

This playback window is a Loser

The playback screen on Google Play Music is so in need of an overhaul that it gets its own section, because the way Google Play Music does its Now Playing screen is widely hated and has several highly noticeable problems:

  • Album art is zoomed in to fill the full screen, regardless of the opaque top and bottom bars of the screen containing the track information and track controls that cover up part of the album art, often leading to awkward crops of artist's torsos, arms, or legs. This is especially noticeable on extra tall devices, which are becoming more and more prevalent.
  • The track controls are split between the opaque bottom bar and sitting above that bar within the album art. This means that the Shuffle, Repeat, and Google Cast icons can be obscured or completely lost in bright or busy artwork.
  • The seek bar is a thin orange/white line that runs at the edge of the bottom bar and the artwork, saddled right between all the other track controls, which can be accidentally hit while trying to tap a point to seek to. The seek bar is so thin that it's easy to miss, meaning that when you swipe to seek you could accidentally swipe to the next or previous song.

Dark Play Music

A vision of lovely darkness, brought to you by Substratum.

And last but not least, I've been begging since 2013, and I don't intend to get up off my knees and stop until I have it: for the love of Duarte, give Google Play Music a dark theme. A good dark theme is easier on the eyes for after-hours listening, a true black dark theme can help AMOLED phone users eke a little more out of their battery during a jam session, and if you don't think a dark UI doesn't look readable or sexy, just ask Spotify.

Better multi-device handoff and Chromecast stability

We can listen to Google Play Music on a wide, wide array of devices, but we can only listen on one at a time. However, your queue is unique on every device, and if you want to start listening to a queue on your phone and keep listening on your computer once you get to work, you'll have to save it as a playlist, rather than being able to move your current queue from one device to another like Spotify does with Spotify Connect. It's a small feature, but one that would be absolutely heavenly to have.

Speaking of device handoffs, Google Play Music was one of the launch services for Chromecast. How is it possible to still have this many issues streaming music this many years later? Google Play Music still skips random songs in playlists on a weekly basis, and good luck casting any songs longer than 15 minutes.

Device policy and upload/download changes

Download music for real

I accept having a device limit. I do. I even understand having a specific limit on phones, as much as it hurts someone like me who goes through a lot of them. But the device policy on Google Play Music needs to be revisited for a few very important reasons.

  • Your computer can be counted twice because both the web extension and Music Manager (opens in new tab) count as an activation.
  • Devices that can't download/upload to your Google Play Library can still count against the ten device limit, like Android Wear 2.0 watches and Android TVs.
  • Almost every Android phone or tablet that ships Android has Google Play Music on it, and it can often activate itself before you have a chance to go disable it.

If you burn through your 10 device authorizations (and 4 deauthorizations) with phones and tablets and watches and TVs, you could not have a way to upload new music or download what is already rightfully yours, since you can only do so on a computer.

Let me repeat that: if you run out of device authorizations and de-authorizations, you can be locked out of downloading music you own.

Being unable to upload or download music from our library on the device we use most also needs to be rectified. Local-only songs cannot be added to playlists or casted. We shouldn't need an old-looking and old-acting Music Manager (opens in new tab) or Chrome extension in order to add songs to our cloud library and cast them.

But really, all we really want is a little stability

Three apps, no certainty

The future is uncertain for Google Play Music. That much is clear. Google Play Music could get replaced at Google I/O. Google Play Music could get merged with YouTube or YouTube Music in some unholy Frankenstein magic. Google could be completely overhauling the service and changing everything we thought we knew about the service.

We just don't know. And that's scarier than things staying the way they are right now.

A music subscription is a vital piece of most users' mobile lives. We wake up to music; we brush our teeth to music; we get through the day without taking a tire iron to our enemies and annoyances thanks to music. Music makes us better, and it's too important a service to be hanging in limbo like this. With as little change as Google Play Music has seen in the five years since the last major update, no small number of users have jumped ship to other services that seem to be growing and improving while Google Play Music just sits there and bloats, like a belly-up orange-and-white goldfish.

Updated April 2018: This article has been updated, overhauled and refined ahead of Google I/O 2018, which is where we hope Google Play Music will be similarly updated, overhauled and refined.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

36 Comments
  • Wasn't GPM changing into YouTube Remix (BTW, I'm not a fan of it if feature parity isn't in YTR)
  • Nothing is certain (but I do mention that GPM might be replaced at I/O twice in the article). And even if a new service comes, I'd want all these thing addressed with that service, too.
  • I thought GPM was being retired with the introduction of YouTube Remix. edit: sorry didn't see that pablomentabo had already stated the same.
  • Read the first paragraph and the second to last paragraph. And read everything in between.
  • Haha thank you.
  • Google play music app has always been garbage. I use it because my music is uploaded there and it's free with YouTube red.
  • Pretty much this^^^
  • i just want the album art fixed
  • Nice to have would be the additon of lyrics.
  • No joke! The way that Spotify does lyrics (even if they're interrupted with dumb factoids) is great, especially on Chromecast! Google Play Music needs to get on this! They have all these songs lyrics on the Play Music website for crying out loud, why can't they be on the app?!?!
  • The app does what I need it to do for my music. I do hate that sometimes it doesn't keep the spot in the song or podcast when I pause it. Also if they can do a better podcast integration with the Google app podcast manager, or even a standalone app. I like GPM for podcast because I can download them to listen off-line, but it doesn't have the selection of the Google app podcast manager.
  • All i want is live radio like TuneIn and ability to record it
  • How about adding basic podcast functionality like queue support and manual feed adding?
  • Why do I have to upload my local music library to cast to Chromecast enabled devices?
    There are lots of apps that allow me to chromecast locally stored music, but not GPM. I like GPM, but I have to use a physical audio cable to use it.
  • I have no music on the Cloud, only local music on my phone/SD card. I used to be able to cast my local music to Chromecast, up until a couple of months ago, then the "Can't cast this song" errors came...
  • Would love to see them fix the volume issue (sounds levels vary, even if bitrate quality is the same), and upload and playback the correct album version...like if you upload an album with explicit lyrics, but on playback got the"clean" version. Also, if they really do sunset Google Play Music and fold it into YouTube, I hope my music library goes over without a hitch. Another question, if the above does happen, what happens with YouTube Red, (which I'm a subscriber)?
  • Google needs a built-in automatic volume adjustment the way iTunes does... YouTube Red is staying, so don't worry about that. I'm really hoping that libraries will either transfer to the new YouTube service or be neatly deposited in our Google Drive accounts for easy retrieval. I mean, so long as they're a place to buy music you have to have a place to download what you buy, after all.
  • Dark mode FTW
  • DARK THEMES NOW. DARK THEMES FOREVER!!!!
  • One thing I would love to see is a Download Entire Library option on the mobile app that the web version has. Whenever I get a new phone or tablet, I have to download every single album one at a time in my library in order to get all my songs downloaded onto my new device. If anyone out there has any suggestions on this or if they found a way to make it easier, I am all ears.
  • Go to Library > Songs. Click any song so that it starts a queue with all of your songs. Click the three-dot menu button. Save as playlist. Label "Full Library" Tap Download.
  • OK, cool thanks, I will try that
  • OK, that worked perfectly, thanks a bunch!
  • This only works if you have a small library, every 1000 songs you'd have to create new play list. A single list won't be your full library.
  • I keep hearing about Chromecast stability issues but have never experienced anything in the last two years. Is it really that prolific?
  • Yep. I used to cast music to my TV/Hi-FI all the time through Chromecast, then one day it just stopped letting me ("Can't cast this song" error EVERY time)
  • So tired of Google rebranding/retiring things! It is exceptionally hard to transfer streaming services. I can download my 24k songs music I've uploaded but then leaves 12k songs I've added over 8 yes to deal with, can only create 1k playlists for exporting, and then pay a premium for a service to do it for me? Google I'm loosing my self on u!
  • I really hope Google reads all the articles you've written on updating/improving the GPM app. Everything you've written is pretty much what I've wanted and asked for the app to become since I signed up. These simple improvements would make it just about perfect. The only thing I would add to your list is a faster way to add songs/albums to your library, the 3 dot overflow menu on each is cluttered and awkward, and sometimes has a serious lag before opening. I would like a fast, simple 'add' button or a plus sign like Apple music. Make it one tap to add to our libraries and long press for other options, like add to playlists or go to artist. And, remove podcasts, I don't think they belong in a music app...just more pointless clutter. It shouldn't be that difficult for Google to figure out a better UI.
  • The GPM user interface just works. It's not fancy it's not refined it just works.
  • How about adding Podcasts in the UK?
  • They need to update how you trasfer songs to Wear devices. Bring back the ability to dl individual songs, not full playlists. Also add audiobook functionality (bookmarks, 15/30s rewind/forward, chapter view). Basic stuff, this shouldn’t be so hard!
  • Fix the search.. if I want to find a music from my device library I must be able to find it from anywhere. And always give first priority to device music - why would I want YouTube videos if I am here on play music?
    And put music library quite accessible...
  • I uploaded all my CDs. Numerous albums are missing tracks. Those missing tracks seem to end up as unknowns and are a pain to sort through. I started using Amazon more.
  • I haven't been able to cast music from GPM (mobile) to my Chromecast for a couple months now. It just suddenly started giving me an error message... I also think the UI is horribly outdated and needs an overhaul. If they fix my Chromecast issue, I'll overlook the UI!
  • I want crossfading, both on the device and when casting. Spotify has crossfading, but it doesn't work when you cast.
  • For the love of all that is holy can we get some smart playlists?!?! How is it that iTunes is so far ahead of GPM still? How about sort by 'last played' date, or by 'play count'? I mean these are kind of basic needs in a world beyond 'album-format' music.