Will You Really Be Able to Set a Default Music App in iOS 14.5? (Answer: It’s Complicated)

iOS 14.5 beta 3 choose music player for Siri Credit: Jesse Hollington
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Not long after the first iOS 14.5 developer beta dropped last month, several users discovered that Apple appeared to have snuck in the long-rumoured ability to set a default music player when using Siri, but now it’s beginning to look like the reality of that change is a bit more complicated than it appeared to be at first blush.

While the feature didn’t seem to “stick” the way it should have in the early betas — Siri would sometimes ask more than once which music player you wanted to use, even after you had already presumably set a “default” — we all assumed that was just the usual bugs and growing pains, especially since it was only in the first beta.

The feature actually vanished entirely in the next beta before resurfacing this week in beta 3, with Siri sharing a new explanation that makes it clear that this isn’t really about setting a “default” music player. Instead, it looks like Siri is going to try and be smart about it.

While requesting a song in the first iOS 14.5 beta had Siri responded simply with “Which app would you like to use?” doing the same in the latest beta now has Siri explaining, “I’m learning to choose the right audio apps for you. Which one do you want to use to listen to this?”

In other words, it looks like Siri is going to try and decide which music app to open on a case-by-case basis, and while this falls short of being able to set a default “go to” music for every request, it’s definitely a big step away from simply assuming that everyone wants to use Apple Music.

In a somewhat rare move for a feature that’s still in beta, Apple has also offered up some clarification to help manage users’ expectations for when iOS 14.5 finally gets released.

Not a ‘Default’

In speaking with TechCrunch, Apple has made it apparent that this feature is not going to be about “actually allowing users to select a new default music service,” quelling earlier reports to this effect. Instead, Apple says that the feature is going to attempt to use machine learning and AI to try and pick the best music service to use based on each users’ own listening habits.

If Siri’s intelligence works correctly, this could have the same result for those who always use the same music service — after all, if you keep telling Siri to use Spotify, and that’s the only music app you ever open, it’s a safe bet that Siri isn’t going to randomly ask you someday if you’d rather use Apple Music.

On the other hand, however, if you’ve just installed Tidal or YouTube Music on your iPhone, Siri may recognize that and prompt you the next time you make a request, just to make sure that you really still want to use Spotify. After all, if you’ve just installed an app for another music service, it’s not unreasonable to assume you might want to use that instead.

According to what Apple told TechCrunch, the feature is expected to improve and change over time “as Siri learns to better understand your listening habits,” but Apple wants to make sure that users understand that they’re not setting a “default” player or music service when they respond to Siri’s question, and things aren’t broken if Siri asks them to select a music service again at some point.

Apple also points out that, unlike web browsers and email clients, there’s nowhere within the iOS 14.5 user interface where you can actually specify a default music service, so it’s incorrect to refer to the feature as “setting a default.”

Content-Based Selection

It seems that part of the reason why Apple is reluctant to simply let users set a default service is that the whole aspect of listening to audio could be considerably more complicated for many users.

Not only do you have the three broad categories of music, podcasts, and audiobooks — all of which many users will likely use entirely different apps for — but some users may even prefer to listen to classical music titles from a more content-focused streaming service like Idagio while using Spotify for their “top 40” content and Apple Music for jazz.

Presumably, the goal is for Siri to figure this out on behalf of the user, ultimately loading the appropriate app and service based on what’s being asked for.

In fact, Apple is taking an even bigger step in this direction by opening up APIs that app developers will be able to use to help train Siri by providing details on what people are listening to in each of their apps, even if those titles aren’t being directly called up via requests to the voice assistant.

As with almost all of Apple’s other artificial intelligence features like analyzing photo content, all of this Siri intelligence and training takes place entirely on the device, however, so neither Apple nor any of its partners are going to get any metrics or analytics on your listening habits — at least not across apps; individual streaming providers like Spotify can still do whatever they want with your data, of course, but Apple won’t know what you’re doing in Spotify or any other streaming app, nor will Spotify get access to your Apple Music or Tidal listening habits.

Lastly, none of these changes will prevent you from calling up specific apps by name, just like you’ve been able to do for years, so appending “on Spotify” or “on Pandora” to your requests can always be used to choose a specific service without being prompted, but the difference is that iOS 14.5 will make that part of Siri’s training, so if you keep on repeatedly asking for music to be played “on Spotify” then it’s likely that the next time you simply request a track without specifying a service, Siri will take you directly to Spotify.

At the end of the day, however, as clever as this feature promises to be, if you’re a person who only uses one music service all the time, you’ll probably find there’s almost no difference between using Siri’s intelligence to pick the best service and simply being able to set a default audio player.

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