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Turning Up the Browser

Whoever’s birthday party I’m attending, they all have one thing in common: YouTube is being used to play music. I love Spotify, but many of my obscure music loving friends dismiss it for only covering mainstream music. I don’t know what that says about my taste in music, but for me Spotify usually suffices. The only exception being the occasional mashup on Soundcloud.

Apart from the fact that using YouTube just to play music is a waste of bandwidth – most of the time the active tab is not even the one playing the current track, but hosting the next already preloaded track – it’s just not suitable for the job at all. Seeing someone struggle with an array of browser tabs to manage a playlist pains my innerGeek.

But, let’s face it: a lot of people are actually using YouTube to play music and that won’t go away anytime soon. What’s more, Soundcloud has become a regular source for music lovers and Spotify has a web client as well. What surprises me however, is that browsers didn’t evolve with this trend. Sound is still being considered a second-class citizen on the web, and things only got worse the day the browser tab was born.

The interrupted-while-playing-audio keyboard salvo

There’s still no native way to control sound playing in a browser. Who doesn’t find himself pressing all kinds of key combinations when being interrupted by a colleague while listening to Soundcloud? It’s always the play-button that I hit first, but that either starts Spotify or iTunes on my system. So I hit it again to make the second music source pause, quickly try to locate which tab is playing Soundcloud and eventually just give up and hit the mute button to get rid of the playing music.

YouTube improved things a bit by notifying the user in which tab YouTube videos are playing by displaying an ASCII play-icon in the title. And recent Chrome builds show a play-icon on the right side of the audio emitting tabs. Steps in the right direction, but small steps.

YouTube ASCII play-icon in title and Chrome audio icon in tab

YouTube showing an ASCII play-icon in page title and Chrome displaying an audio icon in tab title.

I’m looking forward to the day that browsers offer native ways to control audio. In a time where browsers offer APIs to access GPS, the network stack, video input, audio input, gyroscopes and all other kinds of auxiliary hardware it’s weird that there is still no generic way to locate and control running audio.

Let’s hope browser vendors will catch up soon.

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