Dear Audible, fix your mobile app!

Audible-app

Few things makes me more pissed than a paid service that can't get its act together. Audible has been one of my most used and yet most hated paid digital content provider for years now, and as I've lately started catching up on some book series again, I feel a rage building inside me the more I use that horrible excuse for an app the company has. 

Audible isn't cheap by any means, but as it actually produces a lot of the content it sells, it's not like you have any choice. When you pay a lot for something though, you get extra pissed off when it isn't up to the standards of free services. When it comes to Audible, its shortcomings start deep within the entire system, and get transferred over to the mobile apps as a matter of fact.

Let's start with book series. What do you expect from any platform selling something that is part of a series? Well, I for one expect it to know that it's selling a series. How would iTunes look if all the TV shows were sold one episode at a time, with no indication of episode numbers or anything like that? That's Audible for you, at least the mobile apps. While the web version now has series (after years and years of not having that listing), the mobile apps don't have the feature. You can sort by date, title, author, or length. No series. Sorting by author is the closest thing you get, but due to the random naming scheme Audible uses, you're still not getting anything in order. Take the Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd, currently counting 9 released books. In the Audible app, the closest you get to viewing that one as a series is scrolling down to the author in author view. Then you have a reversed listing (menaing that book 1 is at the bottom) which is in order until you reach book 5, which is number 6 in the list, and book 6 is number 5. Book 6 is also the only one that has the book number in the title, and none of them has the series name. If you're browsing an author with several series, chances are you'll have to squint at the tiny album art to actually see which one a book belongs to. Bottom line, if you ever try to follow a series on Audible, be prepared to have Wikipedia in a browser tab while you browse the books. 

Another shotcoming when it comes to series is any sort of listing of upcoming books. To use the iTunes example again, how would you like it if you couldn't subscribe to TV episodes, or even podcast episodes? Would be pretty hard to keep up with anything, wouldn't it? Again, that's Audible for you. Books suddenly pop up when they're released, which may or may not happen when they're supposed to be released. A lot of the series I'm following are a bit niche, so the authors interact with readers quite a bit, so I can tell you with certainty that not even the authors necessarily know when their books will pop up on Audible. While places like Amazon sell paperback books months before release with the ability to have them shipped to you when they are released, Audible won't even tell you if a book is coming out on audio book until it simply appears in the lists. I've seen so many people get tired of waiting for audio books and simply buy the ebook/paper versions instead, because they don't even know if it's coming at all. That's not a good thing for anyone, Audible in particular, as it loses customers due to being so backwards. 

As for the app, it's not just lacking the sorting options it desperately needs. The shop option sends you to a mobile optimized website, which if you compare it to the in-app shops you find on other content services, doesn't exactly invite you to do much shopping that way. There's no sync feature, so if you have multiple devices like my you'll find yourself constantly "syncing" manually or simpy using only one device. If you ask me, being able to sync the position in a book over the net is a feature that should be quite a ways higher on the to do list when making such an app than the ability to unlock what's essentially game-like achivements for listening for X hours, which the app does have (they don't sync either). So I can unlock a badge for listening for 100 hours, but I can't put my phone down when I come home and continue on my PC? 

Manual syncing isn't exactly helped by the inconsistencies between book chapters and Audible chapters either. As the narrator just announced chapter 54 in the book I'm listening to, the Audible app displays chapter 22 – because Audible's chapters are independent of the book chapters. Come home and remember that the narrator just announced chapter 10 on your smartphone, click chapter 10 on your tablet, and you're not even close to where you were. I think I actually have a solution to this lack of sync, but I won't be playing around with that until I'm done with my current books and can afford losing a bit of data. 

The widget selection also annoys me. Even the "large" widget is tiny, static (no options to configure it), and essentially looks like something thrown on in the last 5 minutes before the app went live. It doesn't scale, so forget about even filling a phone screen. Tablets? Forget about it. There's an iPhone app, and an Android phone app. That's it. 

All in all, Audible is one of those companies that don't deserve being on top in their field. Be it because of the back end or the apps themselves, using the service from a mobile device is just one disappointing annoyance after the other. As if all of that wasn't enough, the apps aren't exactly stable either. Just yesterday the entire thing froze because I used the "skip back 30 seconds" button a few times in a row. For a company whose service costs tens of dollars per book, or alternatively a couple of hundred per year for the cheapest subscription, it's simply not acceptable that the app offering is this bad. I really hope it gets a grip on the situation, and seeing things like a series listing appear on the web page brings hope to that. On the other hand, having been a customer for many years I know that it's not exactly a company that embraces change or gives a damned about what customers think. 

 

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.