The first-ever major update to the Microsoft Groove apps on Android and iPhone brings most of the improvements we’ve seen in the Windows 10 version of the app these more popular mobile platforms.
Folks, this is a big deal.
As you may know, Microsoft has regularly improved the Groove app on Windows 10 over the course of the Anniversary update development cycle, adding music discovery features like Your Groove and Explore. During this time, the Windows 10 Mobile version of the app has emerged as the best on any platform, while the versions for Android and iPhone have sat, stagnant and unchanged, since their initial releases last September.
That, finally, has changed. And in issuing major updates to the Android and iPhone versions of Groove, Microsoft has in effect answered all of my major complaints about this platform. It’s so good, in fact, I could be switching back to Groove—from Google Play Music—as soon as this week.
Before getting to that, let’s look at the official list of what’s new:
- Significant improvements to product and playback reliability.
- An Explore view to learn about the most popular songs and new releases from top artists.
- Faster download of albums and songs so you can play them offline. The app still needs to be in the foreground to download music, background download coming in a future update.
- Screen resolution improvements to support today’s larger screen mobile phones.
- New sorting options when viewing your collection of music.
- Much faster sign-in to the app using your Microsoft account.
You might think, looking at this list, that most of that could be bundled under the term “performance improvements,” and fair enough. But in bringing this new app version up on my iPhone, it seems like an all-new app. In fact, I had to break out my Lumia 950 to compare it side-by-side with the version of Groove I consider to be the best yet.
It comes close.
The Your Groove feature is missing, but that’s a secondary music discover feature compared to Explore, which is in fact available on Android and iOS: This feature works like the music discoverability features in Spotify, Apple Music and other services, and provides hand-curated playlists based on mood, activity, and genre. (Note: Explore requires a Groove Music Pass.)
What I like about Explore in Groove on Android/iPhone—well, aside from the fact that it’s there in the first place—is that it looks and works just like the feature does in Windows 10 Mobile. And it offers most of the same options: You can download them, or add them to your own playlist, for example, though the “Start radio” functionality is still only available on Windows.
This similarity extends throughout the app, and is what makes it seem like something brand new: The previous versions of the Groove apps on Android and iPhone looked like something cooked up by a third party developer and then abandoned. Now, Groove seems more like … well, Groove.
The hamburger menu options are a bit more sparse on Android/iPhone, but here again we see the most important options making their way to the more popular platforms. All three versions of the app offer Albums, Artists, Songs, Radio, Explore, and Playlists views, while Windows 10 Mobile provides that Your Groove view, and there’s no Now Playing item in the Android/iPhone menu for some reason.
There’s no “Get music in Store” option either, since the Windows Store is not available on Android and iPhone, and while that seems problematic, it’s not: All of the music in the Windows Store is a search away, and you can easily see Store-based music throughout the app. (For example, when you view an artists, you see both your own music and music from the Store.) You can’t browse the Store, of course, but I suspect few people do that anyway.
Also, I’m seeing a few visual glitches: Album art that doesn’t appear, or takes a while to appear. Nothing major, but noticeable.
Still, these new app versions are so good in delivering the features I’ve wanted for so long, that I’m considering dumping Google Play Music and running back to Groove. (For which I still have my ongoing Music Pass subscription, which I had purchased a few years out when pricing was very reasonable.)
That, too, is a big deal.
Looking just at Groove, I’d long ago given up any hope that Microsoft would both support and steadily improve its app on the only mobile platforms that matter. Sure, Groove has been great on Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile. But I consume music on mobile, and like most people, I use an iPhone or Android handset.
More generally, I have seen a steady decrease in my use of Microsoft apps and services over the past few years, a trend that is driven by their lack of utility compared to the competition and not because of any partisan desire to adopt rival platforms: I simply use what works best. So I’ve adopted Dropbox, which works better than OneDrive. I use MarkdownPad for writing, and not Microsoft Word, because it’s simple and more efficient. And I’d moved along to Google Play Music, which works great—still does—and delivers the features I wasn’t getting in Groove.
But I want to use Groove. I really like Groove, despite the growing functional superiority in services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. And just I didn’t really see Microsoft taking the steps to correct that gap.
But they have been doing so. First, only on Windows 10, which was OK, but not ideal. And now on Android and iPhone as well.
My one concern now, of course, is that this app update is all we’ll see on those platforms for a long time to come: After all, until now, neither app had ever received a meaningful update since their launches in late 2015. But Microsoft says that it will do better.
“We realize having your music with you on all of your devices is important and we’re committed to keeping the Groove app updated more regularly going forward,” Microsoft’s Ellen Kilbourne claims. “We’re listening.”
Well then. I may be listening too. To Groove. We’ll see how it goes this week.