Playlist Made Physical

Playlist Made Physical is an Augmented Reality iOS App that enables users to link songs to physical objects. The idea of adding music to physical objects stems from a desire to allow users to make associations similar to those made in human memories. Music, for many, triggers memories and emotions that often get lost in the translation to a playlist. Mapping the songs to physical objects, which trigger similar memories and emotions, may help preserve those connections.










Research Question

The initial concept of this project is inspired by Vannevar Bush’s visionary essay “As We May Think.” In the piece, Bush pointed out that the way we typically store, organize, and consult information contrasts with the way humans “store” memories in their brains. “When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found [when it is] by tracing it down from subclass to subclass,” wrote Bush in 1945. This is even more prevalent in today’s society. Since the rise of computers, humans have begun to store more and more of their information the way Bush described, in lists that are accessed via indexing. searching, or through some other hierarchical method.

Web Mockup
Web Mockup

In our application, we tried to create a way for users to store their information which emulates human cognition. Specifically, we chose to focus on music because music is also something that people connect with emotionally.

Initial Goal

As a result, we proposed an Augmented Reality app that allows users to link songs to physical objects. It is a way of organizing digital information that emulates human cognition. It connects the emotional response we have to physical objects and sounds.
Web Mockup
Web Mockup

Competitive Landscape

After we have decided to focus on music streaming mobile application, we looked at the popular streaming services that are on the market. According to the report from musically, the amount of music service subscriber has reached 309.1 million by the end of 2019. Below is a breakdown of the different service providers.
market breakdown
In addition to identifying the most popular music applications, we also notice that the most popular apps vary a lot between different regions and countries that have various languages as well as cultural background.
To further investigate the features and advantages of each app, especially those related to storing or organizing songs, we have picked three applications for a more comprehensive research. Because of this course project is not about making a fully functional music app, but to focus on the use of AR, we have decided to focus on some of the aspects of a music app and neglect factors such as library size and ecosystem.

We choose Spotify, Apple Music, and NetEase Music as the targets of this comparative study because of their unique commissions and features.
Spotify is launched in 2008 and headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.
Apple Music is launched in 2015 in over 100 countries and headquartered in Cupertino, CA.
Netease is launched in 2013 and headquartered in China, Hangzhou.


Playlist created both by algorithm and users.
Playlist curated by professional.
Playlist created by users.


Discover Weekly
Refreshed every Monday with 30 new songs users are most likely never heard of

Release Radar
Giving every Spotify user a weekly selection of the new releases that matter most to them. Update every Friday
Beats 1
Apple Music’s premier radio station that runs nonstop music, mixed by DJs, on live radio shows

New Music Mix
Recommend new music from artists that the user may like. Refresh every Friday
Recommended Daily
Recommend 20 songs per day based on users listening habits. Refresh every day at 6:00 am

Recommended Playlists
Recommend user-created playlists based on their listening habits


Connect with Facebook and interact with Facebook friends
Independent but active community producing high-quality user-generated content


User Study


Our audience is anyone with access to a mobile device who listens to music. The abundance of scannable objects and the increasing utility of mobile phones greatly enlarges the usability and scope of our project. Our audience includes those who would like to explore augmented reality and its capabilities, experiment with digital attributes to physical objects, and organize their digital information beyond the constraints of a hierarchical system.

After interviewed several classmates to learn their needs and habits of listening to music using mobile apps, I have made two personas that should represent the targeted audience. Some quotes are also included in the affinity map.

Research questions we asked including:



Based on the user study, we have created two personas that could represent our target audience.


Master student in urban design

She is a big music fan and listen to music when she is commuting by bus, working, cooking, and workout. Her taste is pretty diverse but mostly indie, hip-pop, and alternative.

She loves creating playlists and share them. Actually her playlist for parties are really popular among her friends.

She uses Spotify’s both desktop and mobile version most of the time because she can find new release conveniently. She also uses Tencent Music because Spotify’s library doesn’t cover all the singers she is interested in, especially those sing in Japanese and Catonese.


Software Engineer

He likes to listen to classical music when he codes because it helps him to focus. He workout occasionally and always need cheerful music to motivate him. However, most of the recommendations he got from the app are classic music so he had a hard time to construct his own workout playlists, especially to keep it fresh.

He doesn’t see music as a hobbit but mostly a tool, and don’t want to spend too much time on maintaining playlists or searching for songs.

He uses Apple music because it works well with all his Apple devices, including a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an iPhone X.

Affinity Map

By putting the research results and initial questions together in the format of an affinity map, we had a better understanding of the product we are developing.

List Everything:

Organize into Groups:


An AR-based mobile app is the first concept that came into our head. However, we have also brainstormed other ideas and discussed their differences.

Isometric-drawing-based web platform

Web Mockup Web Mockup
Web Mockup Web Mockup
We had the idea of building a web-based application, where the users can see the isometric drawing of a room and place objects into that drawing by drag-and-drop. We thought this would be easier to implement, since building a web application is a tried and true concept, and easy to access for anyone with a computer. Users will be able to choose built-in objects or upload their own objects. They could also design the layout of their own room and an isometric drawing will be generated based on that design.

Geo-location Based App

Another concept we have discussed is to store songs based on their geolocation information. In terms of scale, we discussed making a world map, where people can store things to specific locations, but we realized that this feature is not totally unique, as music streaming software has already categorized and displayed songs based on their countries or regions. We also discussed the option of using a city or MIT campus, where people can link songs to their home, classroom, gym, or jogging route, therefore creating a more personal map of songs that connects to their daily experience. This is something we would still consider adding in after developing the 3d object recognition version.

3D Object Recognition App

Web Mockup The third option is to use AR technology to scan 3d objects and attach playlists to each unique object. Through this way, we can attach additional information to physical objects that have their own unique histories, stories, appearances, textures, and even smells. We decided this method is most directly related to our concept. We didn’t feel the web-based app would bring in the physical world as much. More specifically, compared with the first concept, in which isometric drawings are used to represent physical objects, AR enables users to interact with physical objects directly, therefore eliminating the loss of rich physical features through the process of translating them into digital drawings. The richness of physical features is exactly what human memories or emotions reply on or anchor to. In addition, AR is a new realm that is fun to explore. The geo-location application could work, but we felt that locations are too general to evoke the same emotions as those triggered by physical objects.

Case Studies

While designing the AR app, we also looked at some other mobile applications that uses AR, especially object detection, even though they are not related to music.


“IKEA Place lets you virtually 'place' IKEA products in your space. The app includes 3D and true-to-scale models of everything from sofas and armchairs to footstools and coffee tables. IKEA Place gives you an accurate impression of the furniture’s size, design and functionality in your home so you can stop wondering and start doing.”

Magnolia Marketplace

Similiar to IKEA Place, Magnolia Marketplace is an AR App that allows users to view 3D models of the company’s products as if placed anywhere in their homes, anywhere in the world.


In terms of our deliverable, we not only made a mockup of the application in Sketch but also prototyped the implementation of the AR app with XCode and ARkit2.

Technical Prototype

First Interface Mockup

This mockup used some of the interfaces from Apple Music based on the assumption that this app will be used as an add-on to Apple Music, and share Library with Apple Music. We made this decision because so that we can quickly code a technical prototype.
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Next Steps

Multiple Objects Mode

In some cases, separate objects may combine with each other in different ways to produce different memories. The ability to associate music with different combinations of objects could be another feature to explore. For example, what if one could attach a playlist to a group of objects instead of just one? What if one attached a Christmas playlist to many different Christmas ornaments, and then gave each ornament to a friend? Such grouping would add an interesting extra layer to the levels of music organization possible.

Public Mode Reversed

Following from the social aspect, this application could also explore opportunities in public spaces or exhibitions, where people already are observing and experiencing the same space or object in different ways. The app could be one way to manifest all these different perspectives by allowing people to upload and share their own associations and interpretations of a public exhibition, space, performance, etc.for the rest of the audience to see.

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