Feature Friday: Now Playing

I’ve written about this Android feature before. I am a bit obsessed about it.

When you are in a place where music is playing, the Android operating system notifies you what is “now playing.”

I have two things I would love to know how to do with this information.

1/ Access it via an API so I can favorite it in my preferred streaming service (which is SoundCloud but Spotify and Apple Music would be great too).

2/ See the history someplace on the web so I can search it by time, place, artist, song, etc.

This is an example of where taking an app like Shazam or Soundhound and turning it into a feature in the operating system can open up a lot of potential additional functionality.


Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Seeing this made me cue up her Amazing Grace album to play on the new Sonos Beam i just installed last evening.What moxie. What context to think that she sang at MLK rallies back when.Good weekend all.

    1. fredwilson

      she was amazing. check this out from 1971https://twitter.com/fredwil…

      1. awaldstein

        Damn! Thanks for the link Fred.BTW–since you turned me on to Sonos, you might enjoy this article.https://www.wired.com/story

  2. JimHirshfield

    I see you got the latest version of Android. Mine updated yesterday. I like the tweaks to the UI.

  3. JTio

    I know this isn’t exactly what you asked for in 1 & 2 but there is an Android app that does most of what you want called Now Playing History https://play.google.com/sto

    1. bogorad

      It’s a great app! Also records the location, which I love.However there’s an alternative, minus the location. It records *all* notifications (unless you disable a specific source/app). Extremely useful for apps that show a notification but once it’s gone you can’t see it.Personally I use both :)https://play.google.com/sto…

      1. JTio

        Oh I didn’t realize Notification History captured the songs as well. I guess I use both too. 🙂

    2. philhayford

      I was looking for the same and bought the Now Playing History app. Feature I’d most like to see in that app is to be able to play the full list of history, or the history from a particular day, in my selected music app.

    3. fredwilson


  4. Dan M Lynn

    I think Siri on iOS has a Shazam integration that if you ask ‘what’s playing’ does this, with the API to Spotify (and others?) as you suggest

    1. kenberger

      Shazam does indeed have a similar feature that you can turn on automatically, but there are differences:Shazam is a lot more powerful, has a much bigger database, and will recognise the music quicker and at lower volumes.But the Android app takes advantage of a much more tiny database completely self-contained with no server calls, so it is much more lightweight, preserves privacy, and brings other benefits. It does however update the songs database per local Geographic values periodically, so makes non-user-related server calls for that when not in use.

  5. John

    Is this a feature you turn on in Android? My Android doesn’t do this.

    1. JTio

      If you have a Pixel 2 phone here is how to enable it: https://support.google.com/…I believe this is a Pixel 2 only feature right now.

      1. jason wright

        Thanks. That link states “Pixel 2”. Is the Now Playing function not available for Pixel 1 phones? I have a Pixel 1 XL and it is not showing the Now Playing function in Sound. Odd. I’m gonna call Google.Update. I called Google. Now Playing is not available on Pixel 1 phones. What a fractured ecosystem. What additional hardware beyond a microphone and a speaker would be required to get this function working? Not the cat’s pajamas/ pyjamas (take your pick).

          1. jason wright

            Super. It works. Well played! 🙂 It takes about 20 seconds to notify the song. Not bad.Why do i bother with Google? I DO NOT KNOW.

    2. kenberger

      It’s a feature only on Android 8 and 9, probably only the pixels for now. And you have to make sure the settings thave it turned on.

  6. Quantella Owens

    “I have two things I would love to know how to do with this information.”I feel this way about most of the APIs and coding languages out there. It seems obvious to me that most suit one purpose better than another, but every single coding class and “MVP maker” class I come across never seem to mention it. I think they simply assume that everyone already knows. It would be really wonderful if someone sold even a semi comprehensive list of languages and some type of system/application applicability chart. It would be nice if a site like programmableweb.com did something like this.Whatsapp was coded using a telecom built language, makes sense to me and obviously FB, but the other dev teams don’t necessarily share their thinking and resources are scattered all over. I do realize that stackoverflow exists, but if you are trying to learn on your own outside of the traditional CS track, it is very difficult.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Perhaps the biggest bottleneck for progress in applied information technology is missing documentation or documentation that is of low quality from poor technical writing.Bluntly, software by itself, even when it does run, doesn’t mean anything. Too often a user must guess and use the TIFO (try it and find out) method, experimentation followed by guessing at the underlying meaning. Bluntly, communicating meaning essentially needs good use of a natural language, e.g., English. Current, practical information technology has not widely accepted this fact yet and keeps pushing undocumented icons, features, and behavior onto users to experiment with.E.g., before I disconnect my external hard disk drive with a USB connection, I have to click on an obscure icon something like a distorted upside down V, click on an icon something like an old gas station gas pump, etc.That I had to do this at all I had to learn from some detective work — otherwise the next time I tried to use the external drive, Windows wanted half an hour or so to run its program CHKDSK (check disk), finding no errors, all apparently for no good reason. Documentation? I have some now, I typed in myself.Cursor jumping all over the screen, e.g., killing a partially completed Web page multi-line text box input? Yup. Eventually found the cause: The “touch pad”, use fingers instead of a mouse with buttons, was picking up some contacts with my thumbs. But, I had that touch pad turned OFF. OFF, OFF, OFF, over and over, OFF. Went to the touch pad software setting and clicked over and over, OFF, in every way, STOP, QUIT, go AWAY, DIE, but turn OFF. Nothing worked. Eventually with some very different setting, in a very different part of the tree of windows of settings, found a setting that turned off the touch pad when a mouse was attached to a USB port. That DID work, for some months.Then I kept getting messages from Microsoft and HP that they had really, really important, high priority, “updates”; I kept saying NO. STOP. QUIT. Not only NO but HELL NO. Don’t want maintenance induced failures. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.But after shopping for two hours one afternoon, it was clear that while I was away Microsoft had done its “updates”. I wondered, what the heck damage they did?Eventually, yup, they had changed at least two of my carefully selected settings; one of these was the setting where I turned OFF the mouse pad when a mouse is plugged into a USB port. So, that caused the mouse jumping around the screen and loss of some multi-line text box typing. And the “update” changed two of my settings for “system sleep”.Yup, maintenance induced failures. No good documentation for any of this except the documentation I developed myself. Due to my own documentation, I was able to correct the mouse problem quickly. For the sleep settings, I now have typed in good documentation for those.With high irony, the updates intended to fix problems have problems and need updates.Once I saw a high end IBM mainframe shop doing important work. An hour of downtime in a year, and the CIO could lose his bonus; two hours, his job. And that situation was roughly appropriate: An hour of downtime would be so expensive that the company would lose much more than the CIO’s bonus.So, when IBM came out with an update, that site ran the updates on a test machine, with no access to the real work, for at least six months before considering putting the update in production. No joke.This update stuff needs more careful work and documentation.

      1. Quantella Owens

        “Cursor jumping all over the screen, e.g., killing a partially completed Web page multi-line text box input?”Oh, bless your heart Quite seriously, this is the first time I have ever heard of this happening to anyone else…and also hearing a solution. It is literally driving me crazy. There is a plug-in in Opera called Lazarus, which saves info on fill-in text boxes but I forgot to reinstall it last time I updated…and this happens to me all the time.Everything needs more careful work and consideration. In order to stop W10 updates on my machine…after the last two ate half my 200 GB SSD, I set my PC to a metered connection, so it couldn’t download at all. Now, of course, my laptop is “going naked”…but I can’t afford the HD space. I barely have room for the stuff I actually want to save because of the massive Win files. I am sure that there is some techno-babble solution, but when will the techno-babblers who want the rest of us to play also…realize that we couldn’t even change our VCR clocks back in the day and that nothing has changed? Making the surface UI easier to use/understand is great, but it doesn’t go deeply enough.Bad analogy, I know, but without a huge manual…I know what a wrench is and generally what it is used for and I can even manage to use one to stop a leak. Until tech “tools”-languages, codecs, apis et al-are at the same level of general understanding…all this mess will continue. It would seem to be in the tech communities best interest to find a way to help break down those barriers for a whole host of reasons and not just in schools that teach CS.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          ForOh, bless your heart Quite seriously, this is the first time I have ever heard of this happening to anyone else…and also hearing a solution.Such solutions are supposed to be the work of StackOverflow, some Microsoft fora, some Microsoft “artificial intelligence” popup that promises to answer questions, Cortana on Windows 10, etc., but my experience is that much better documentation is needed.For better documentation, likely nearly all the writers of the documentation will need a one month intensive course in technical writing. E.g., they get electric shocks to the ear lobes to the toes for each use of an undefined term or acronym, three shocks for use of an undefined acronym of an undefined term. Here a term is a word used with a meaning not in a standard dictionary. Terms need to be motivated, precisely defined, explained with examples, with explanations of side effects, etc. That’s week one.Part of week two is, terms must be used consistently — no changing terms for the same concept across documents or, gads, within documents. E.g., activate, authenticate, validate, register, etc. get used as synonyms. Sure, in belle lettre, synonyms are encouraged; in technical writing, each use of a synonym deserves 30 minutes of public waterboarding!Then there are permissions, capabilities, attributes, authentications, all synonyms or nearly so, making a big mess out of the basic ideas of capabilities and access control lists (ACLs), ideas that go back to the computer operating system Multics (abbreviated multi-user or some such) from the MIT Project MAC (abbreviated multi-access computing or some such) in and near 1969 — ideas still with us, e.g., Internet “certificate authorities” and similarly on, say, Microsoft’s SQL Server.ACLs are NOT very difficult: Multics was on a Honeywell computer. Some Honeywell engineers went to management and said that they thought that they could (i) bring up something a lot like Multics on a one-board (using bit slice hardware) mini-computer, (ii) sell it, and (iii) make money. Management didn’t believe any of (i)-(iii). So, the engineers went outside Boston a little, did (i)-(iii), and called it Prime Computer. One year it had the highest return to investors on the NYSE.As a part time job as a grad student, I did some applied math and software and also administered a Prime shop. Later as a first year prof in an MBA program in a B-school, I led an effort to get a Prime. I was successful, named Chair of the college computing committee, etc.Well, Prime printed their documentation on a daisy wheel printer; they had about one cubic foot in total (IBM needed a building for a small town library).On about three pages, they explained ACLs. NICE WORK. Soon nearly all the typewriters in the B-school were gone, and the word whacking was from cheap CRTs, some simple software, and daisy wheel printers. The secretaries learned quickly, taught each other, informally, quickly, very well!!!And the secretaries learned to use ACLs. So, each secretary had a file system directory. It had a subdirectory for others. With ACLs, everyone could see the secretary’s directory, see the subdirectory for others, not read anything, but could write a file in that subdirectory for others — even written, could not read it. So, ACLs gave directory read capabilities and in the directory for others also file write capabilities.So, at home I’d work up a test to be given the next day and copy the file to the appropriate secretary’s other directory. Then the secretary would print the file on paper and hand it to the basement copy shop which would make the copies and have them ready for me before class! Worked great!Secretaries learned about ACLs quickly, just fine, right way. In principle, the Windows NTFS (new technology file system) has ACLs, but the documentation is largely missing or next to useless. Did I mention documentation? Again, Prime did the documentation beautifully in three pages of daisy wheel typing.My main computer slowly got sick and suddenly essentially quit. So, I needed another computer but wanted to build one — from parts, case, power supply, motherboard, processor chip, fans, disk drives, some favorite adapter cards, etc. But to build such a computer, need a computer to get out to the Internet for shopping and technical information. So, for that computer, I rushed out to Sam’s Club and bought an HP laptop. It came with Windows 10.So, as I worked with Windows 10, e.g., installed my favorite text editor, favorite scripting language, several Web browsers, Adobe Reader 8, a Brother printer and its software, VLC (media player from France), the Microsoft .NET Framework, etc., I took notes on Windows 10 usage. I just checked: My notes are 4810 lines long in 108,909 bytes, and still growing each few days. That’sa lot’sa notesa.My notes for the mouse setting to turn OFF, GD it OFF, do you hear me, “off with its head” mouse pad when a mouse is plugged into a USB (universal serial bus) port, are, using mouse left clicks, traverse the tree of options via: Start Windows System Control Panel Hardware and Sound Devices and Printers Mouse Elan X Disable when external USB pointing device plug inThe X is my documentation for a check mark in a standard “check box control”.Gee, that’s a path of only six branches down a multi-way branched tree of options! Of COURSE, just every casual Windows user should see this right away!!! :-)!!How do I see it? My file of notes is essentially a chronological log of details about Windows 10. Each entry has a title easy to find with my favorite text editor. For this mouse pad thingy, the title is=== Touchpad OFF ===Using my favorite text editor, I just checked — currently I have 105 such log entries. In that file, and elsewhere in my software, there are cross references. E.g., I have an editor macro IDC (insert dated comment), e.g.,Modified at 15:04:57 on Friday, August 17th, 2018.If the file name has a three letter extension indicating software, then the macro inserts the line with comment delimiters appropriate for that software type. I routinely insert these time-date stamps in nearly everything — good office work practice.For such problems I’ve already solved, my little log file is better than all of Google, Stack Overflow, Cortana, MSDN (the Microsoft Web site, likely abbreviates Microsoft Developer Network). Uh, my favorite text editor, KEdit, is by far my most important tool.For your In order to stop W10 updates on my machine…after the last two ate half my 200 GB SSD, I set my PC to a metered connection, so it couldn’t download at all.For about $60 at Amazon, I bought a Western Digital Passport hard drive with 2 TB (terabyte, trillion byte) capacity and a USB (universal serial bus) connection.I plug that into my HP laptop and then use just the old Windows program XCOPY with carefully selected options /E /F /G /K /R /V /Yor for an “incremental” copy/A /E /F /G /K /R /V /YI drive XCOPY with a script in my favorite scripting language Open Object Rexx. I’m using Rexx 4.2.0 from Source Forge.I have some scripts for easy directory tree navigation, MUCH better than Microsoft’s Windows File Explorer. Yes, these tools are for command lines in console windows. I have one command FROM that copies to environment variable mark.from the tree name of the current directory. Similarly for TO. Then my scripts to run XCOPY arexcopyft1 — copy directory FROM to directory TO.xcopyift1 — do an “incremental” (making use of the file archive bits) copy of FROM to TO.Note: To tweak the archive bits, try Windows command ATTRIB for “attributes”.For nearly all of your own files, such simple, little, old tools are enough for you to have really nice backups to a Western Digital Passport.Note: Microsoft’s e-mail program Outlook sometimes has a “background” process running that keeps open, with a case of some (documentation?) severe exclusive access, its e-mail PST (personal folders file or some such) it uses for e-mail sent, received, deleted, with options, etc. Then XCOPY can refuse to copy such a file and stop. So can use the Windows program TASKMGR (task manager) to find and stop that Outlook background program (“process”). Then run XCOPY. Then next time start Outlook, it will likely recreate the background process.The Passport also comes with a LOT of software that will, e.g., somehow watch your file system activity and backup files also one by one as you create/change them. I just set aside all that software — didn’t want to learn about it or risk bugs. The software might also be slow, and my HP laptop is now too often too slow already. But it might be terrific software; I’m just not using it.So, with my simple approach to Passport, I get to use it just like any other disk drive letter. It’s terrific. It’s also how I got my data from my old computer that quit to my HP laptop and the computer I’m building (it’s built and running well, REALLY fast, but I have yet to install SQL Server).Beyond “your” data, likely you should get a few blank write-once DVDs and take the Windows 10 options to create a “rescue” DVD (bootable) and a copy of all the original Windows 10 software.Could also use the Windows 10 software, Backup and Restore, to backup your full Windows 10 operating system with all your options and settings. That software writes a directory that contains a lot of files, etc. But the directory has some goofy “owner” (likely in the sense of ACLs). Likely, could boot the rescue DVD and with the operating system backup DVDs, restore the operating system or from the backup from Backup and Restore restore the operating system. If work with some old Windows software, can take “ownership” of that directory and everything in it, etc., and then copy it with XCOPY. Maybe taking ownership will ruin the backup. Maybe copying the backup to, say, a Passport drive would ruin it. Maybe the Windows Explorer would make all such work with that directory easy and safe. I’ve seen no documentation that says.But Western Digital has for free a special version of the old software Acronis True Image, and for an operating system backup it writes just a single file that DOES appear easy to copy, delete, use, etc.in schools that teach CS.Likely the research universities don’t teach such things either!

          1. Quantella Owens

            Thank you, I’ll try it.

      2. Adam Sher

        When I managed Help Desk at University, I found that most users who experienced issues like yours did so bc of their porn collections. After all, that’s what the internet is for.https://youtu.be/zBDCq6Q8k2E

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Similarly it is also true that most people suffering from poor computer documentation breathe air.For the video, the sound quality is awful, and I can’t understand the words.There’s a LOT on the Internet other than porn.For the porn, it looks like a lot of the people are very lonely and seriously unable to connect romantically with another person — it’s sad stuff, from that aspect and worse.I’m a 100%, red blooded American male and AM interested in females: I wish my wife and I had had kids: I’d show the boys about machines, electricity and electronics, computing, physics, chemistry, math, business, etc. I’d dote over the girls, buy them lots of pretty dresses, ribbons and bows, treat them as princesses, cherish and protect them, etc. Any hints of anything like gender neutrality, gender equality, feminism would be less welcome in our home than a rabid wolf — I could just shoot the wolf and have the local wildlife people take away the dead animal and then mop the floor with Clorox solution or some such, but getting rid of the rot of feminism is more difficult, not even I actually want to shoot those, poor, confused, lost, nearly hopeless, misguided women — but Darwin is on the case and implementing a solid solution.Here what it would be like to lose a cherished daughter, sister, or wife:https://youtu.be/7pTaH8USQH4Here's the “Internet porn” I downloaded most recently, i.e., yesterday:https://www.youtube.com/wat…To go with those images, here is some even better music:https://www.youtube.com/wat…In spite of all the junk in our society, e.g., Internet porn, that music should help get the ceremony serious enough.To romance her, at a restaurant with a violinist, have him playhttps://www.youtube.com/wat…Here is a good honeymoon travel suggestion:https://www.youtube.com/wat…Or take her to Scotland:https://www.youtube.com/wat…Maybe she sings:http://www.youtube.com/watc…Here is what it’s like if don’t keep her healthy, busy, and happy and the marriage breaks up:https://www.youtube.com/wat…So, there’s more on the Internet than porn, even for men who like women.My suggestions for backup and recovery are not so much for Windows 10 but for my server currently running Windows 7 64 bit Professional SP1 and, likely, ASAP Windows Server. The Windows 10 Home Edition is only on the HP laptop I got just as a fast way to get back on the Internet and build my server as my old computer quit.

    2. Lawrence Brass

      When tools become a religion, one already lost the battle.Tools are not a religion. It is not bad to be enthusiastic about your choice but if you try and use the best tool for the job, you will be fine.Many current trends are fueled by multicore computing and increased computational power. Algorithms that were inviable in the past, now work. We need better tools to manage and channel this power, all the async trend in languages originate from this.

      1. Quantella Owens

        Well, I have no intention of turning ANYTHING into a religion, being an atheist and all….I admit to a bad analogy. I simply meant that I would like all communities to have a broader understanding of the tools and what can/not be done with them. Probably should have just said exactly that …but you peeps in this bar make me feel that I have to be fancy in order to get read. Religion is just a tool as well and we can see what all manner of folks have done with that…not at all what I’m after.I envision lots of folks in my particular community running small SaaS for money and to make their lives easier. Trading robots, scanners that search for excess inventory mentions on industry websites..just a few use cases. I would personally rather them do these things that some of the stuff that they do get up to…and my small utopial vision is possible, but only if everybody sees it-and understands- as such.

        1. Lawrence Brass

          Same here, I believe in the laws of physics but not religiously.You will always get read, people here is quite friendly compared with the jungle out there.I think that I understand what you are saying about the need of an integrated set of easy to use tools for SaaS instead of a lot of scattered pieces. There is a lot of unneeded complexity that is good business for some.

  7. kenberger

    Glad to see you finally blog about it. Haven’t seen you write about it since we discussed.

  8. kenberger

    Before anyone starts yelling privacy issues (due to it “listening” all the time):Possibly the most interesting feature of all, is that this functionality is entirely self-contained and makes no server calls at all.It will even work in airplane mode!(PS: I get to test tons of consumer electronics and apps ahead of time, so often but not always, know about this stuff)

    1. Mauricio Macedo

      You are right, and my first thought was “how could it work without a giant database of millions of songs?” The answer is that it has an offline database with “tens of thousands” of songs, according to this article https://www.androidauthorit

      1. jason wright

        So is Now Playing a partnership between Google and specific music industry portfolios?

        1. kenberger

          Partnership not needed, as this and Shazam’s comparable service are only for *identifying* songs. The playing part can happen elsewhere (as Shazam gives the option to click through to do).Android does decide which sliver of current (and older) songs it should include in its DB, which is regional– if you take the same phone to another country, it should update that DB.

          1. jason wright

            thanks. where are the services referring to to make the identification?

      2. kenberger

        another part of the answer is that the tech here (a locally-operating app) takes just a tiny footprint of each song compared to Shazam’s (a network app) sound files. And so a tradeoff is that this works often more slowly and needs a clearer/louder sound signal (ie: Shazam works faster and from further away).

    2. WA

      Is this app android specific only?

  9. jason wright

    “When you are in a place where music is playing, the Android operating system notifies you what is “now playing.”” it’s never done that for me. perhaps not surprising. i must learn to love my Android.i updated to Pie yesterday. seems not much different.Edit 19:34 GMT;I do like the new way of taking a screenshot (if it is in fact new – it’s new to me). very quick and easy. + google.

  10. kenberger

    Fred: the 2 points you’re asking for can be done today, and even more elegantly in an upcoming version. My coding team has verified.Here’s a related XDA post:https://www.xda-developers….

  11. sigmaalgebra

    Quite generally it would be from a little useful to maybe somewhat revolutionary always to be able to have an API with the same capabilities, or more, as the user interface (UI). Then could build towers of new applications, maybe one new application using several older applications as relatively general subroutines.That description is too short since more details would be needed, something like rules of the road to avoid software and system massive pile up accidents.Sure, this would be a case of “software reuse”.In my work, I get some baby versions of this general idea with editor macros, macros for TeX, my favorite scripting language Rexx, etc.

  12. Mauricio Macedo

    About a decade ago, discussing with friends about the future of smartphones, I argued that someday the smartphone would be listening, understanding and researching on real time. Then it would have answers ready to questions as they showed up, based on the context. Say, your are talking about basketball, if it was Jordan or LeBron who had more MVP awards and the phone would have the answer right on the screen. Or talking about a trip, about some great place you visited and the phone would show photos from the place.At that time we weren’t so concerned about privacy, today this feature is possible but probably not desired.

    1. Lawrence Brass

      The digital advertising business model brought the undesirable part to technology as any bit of information of our individual life and behavior has value. Tracking will probably escape the browser and location through always-open microphones. This is how it works, first you get a free service as this one, music recognition. The Trojan horse. Then you give away your privacy to an algorithm, personal conversations in this case, without actually thinking about it.Years later a breach occurs and a scandal, for a few months.

      1. jason wright

        sneaky, as ever. google is war by other means.

    2. Vinny C

      A “naive” implementation would certainly have those undesirable privacy implications. Though if such technology could be engineered in the first place, I’m hopeful we can also engineer solutions to the privacy issues. Maybe another ten years?

  13. RichardL

    For a history check out “Now Playing List” and “Now Playing List Pro” apps on Google Play Store. These apps also have the option to share the data to the music app of your choice.

  14. Tom Hart

    But, it’s sad no one’s done more with listening history insights (that I know of)

  15. jason wright

    It doesn’t work on my Pixel 1 at all. Now Playing is not listed in Settings – Sound on my version of Android 9 Pie. Google told me that NP is not available for Pixel 1 phones. Are you seeing Now Playing in your phone’s Settings?

  16. Scott Barnett

    I must have been living under a rock – I had no idea this feature existed on Android. Just turned it on. I love this. I agree with your API and history suggestions too – that would be very cool. Thanks!