Apple clarifies iOS default music app feature, and it’s not what people thought

March 4, 2021 by No Comments

Enlarge / Siri in iOS 14.

Samuel Axon

Over the past few weeks, there have been several reports (including one of our own) on a feature found in recent beta releases of iOS 14.5 that appeared to allow users to change the default music app on their iPhones. However, Apple just clarified to TechCrunch that the feature is not as it first seemed.

In the initial reports, users claimed that they were prompted to select a preferred music app, such as Spotify or Apple Music, when they asked Siri to play a song. They then found that Siri seemed to honor that choice on future requests.

Further, those users noticed that the usual command of “Hey Siri, play [song name] on Spotify” would cause Siri to use Spotify again in the future when they spoke the same request sans the “on Spotify” part. (In the current public version of iOS, users must say “on Spotify” every single time to play songs in that app instead of Apple Music.)

But Apple told TechCrunch that this behavior is not actually setting the default player and that it will not do so when iOS 14.5 releases to the public in the coming weeks, either. Rather, this behavior is a question Siri may periodically ask in order to intelligently pick apps on your behalf based on the nature of the content you’re asking for.

Among other things, this means that Siri might serve you a different app when you ask for a podcast than it might play when you request a pop song. But in any case, it’s not a default app selection, per se, and Siri could decide to pick an app based on any number of factors beyond that. Siri may also ask you which app to use again periodically to further clarify or refine its choices.

Users of the beta did experience Siri asking a second or third time, but most users interpreted that as a bug that caused the software to forget a default setting rather than an intended behavior.

Apple also told TechCrunch that there will be no place in the Settings app to set a default music player, as there is for email or browser apps since iOS 14 launched late last year.

That change in policy and functionality regarding email and browser apps was a surprise from Apple, as the company has long insisted that its own apps be the defaults on its mobile operating system, much to the frustration of users who wanted more control. It is unclear whether Apple made the change to provide a better user experience, to undermine current and future antitrust accusations and investigations, or a little of both.

But if the goal was to battle antitrust arguments, any continual preferential treatment for Apple Music is prickly. While antitrust investigations into the company have to do with more than just music apps, one of the most threatening investigations is the one in the EU instigated by Spotify, which claims that Apple unfairly gives preference to Apple Music in numerous parts of the iOS user experience.

That said, the new way Apple says Siri will handle music-streaming services may actually be service-agnostic in terms of how it will pick services to respond to user requests based on past user behavior. But as is the case with many of these AI assistant features, it’s not likely to be all that clear to users exactly how Siri will make its judgments.

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