How to make the iPad a better music device

Here are five things Apple could do to make the iPad more appealing for music fans and musicians.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
4 min read

I was at Apple's iPad launch on Wednesday, and maybe it was just Steve Jobs' reality distortion field, but I don't quite understand why the haters are piling on. A lot of PC-centric commentators are dismissing the iPad as an overpriced gadget, wondering why it's lacking features that are standard on even the cheapest notebook computers, like Flash support, multitasking, USB inputs to connect peripherals, and video outputs (HDMI would be nice). These are legitimate complaints--for a notebook replacement. But the iPad isn't a notebook replacement, and I don't think users will carry it with them on business trips. (Apple's iWork demo confused matters, admittedly.)

Instead, I agree with CNET's Ina Fried and Business Insider's Henry Blodget: this is a consumer electronics device for puttering around the house and leisure time--reading books and Web sites on the couch, showing pictures off to friends, catching up on the latest Web videos. And, yes, listening to music.

The iTunes Music Store looks great on the iPad, but I'd like to see more features for music fans and musicians. James Martin/CNET

It's also a golden opportunity for Apple to fix some of the glaring shortcomings in its portable music experience. Here are five things I'd like to see the iPad incorporate, perhaps through the next update to the iPhone OS (which it uses).

Wireless sync. The iPad is not a Mac. That means it doesn't run the full iTunes client, so you can't share music from another computer over your home network. Instead, like an iPod or iPhone, you must physically connect it to the computer on which your music is stored, then wait for the music to travel over the wire. This is, frankly, absurd. If you want me to use the iPad to listen to music in my home, don't make me walk over to my computer and attach it every time I want to load some new tunes. Wireless sync would also be great for syncing other material like pictures, videos, and apps. How hard can it be? Microsoft's Zune player has had wireless sync for three iterations and more than two years.

Cloud-based music service. Even if the iPad had wireless sync, the most affordable model has only 16GB of storage. This isn't enough for most music lovers' digital collections, especially if they're going to use the iPad for other functions like electronic books and photos. So how about taking that Lala acquisition and using it? Instead of having to load music onto the iPad itself, I could sync it from my computer to Lala's online music locker service, then stream it over the Web directly to my device. Bye-bye, storage limits. Best of all, every time I update my music collection, it's updated everywhere simultaneously. This is such a no-brainer I'd be stunned if Apple doesn't make it available shortly after the iPad launches.

Music-sharing with third-party apps. There are some surprisingly sophisticated DJ apps for iPhone, like TouchDJ and DJ Mixer, that let you play two songs at the same time and mix them together like a mulitrack DJ set-up. These apps would be much easier to use on the iPad's 9.7-inch screen. But they all share one big shortcoming: they can't just play songs that you've already loaded onto your device. Instead, you have to re-load songs into the DJ apps, either from a sync application running on your computer or over a Web server. This isn't the fault of the app designers--it's a limitation that Apple places on the iPhone and iPod Touch. I hope Apple figures out a way around it soon.

Queuing. I like to play DJ. As one song plays, it sparks associations with other songs. It would be nice to be able to load these other songs into a "now playing" queue. The Zune's had this feature since its inception, but I can't do it on the iPod Touch or the iPhone--instead, I have to wait for the current song to end, then start up a new song. (And no, I don't want to do this with playlists on the computer and then sync those playlists to the device. That misses the entire point of spontaneity.)

Decent speakers (and amp). Naturally, the first thing I did with the iPad was check out its music playback. I could barely hear it, even with the volume maxed out. It's true that the room was crowded with gadget fans scrambling for their first look at the device, but even so, the speakers sounded no louder than the iPhone's. But this isn't a phone. It's also not a Mac, where music isn't the primary focus for most users. It's a consumer electronics device. It would be great if I could set it up in my living room or bedroom without having to attach it to another device. Peripheral makers might complain--iHome does great work creating audio accessories for the iPhone--but if this is truly going to be a new product category, Apple should treat it like one. Alas, I'm going to have to wait for v.2 for this feature.