Remember when you just pressed Play on your iPhone or iPad to start listening to music? Those were the days.
Now, you actually have a trio of playback options to choose from when it comes to iOS’s Music app: Play, Play Next, or Add to Up Next. (You can also pick Start Station to create a streaming playlist based on a song, artist or album, but that’s for another day.)
If you’ve been studiously ignoring Music’s confusing Up Next features, I don’t blame you. That said, it’s worth your time to get acquainted. Up Next does a great job of letting you create an on-the-fly playlist, perfect for perusing your tunes without abruptly jumping from one song to another. Up Next also keeps track of all your recently played tunes, and best of all, Up Next will stay out of your way when you’re not in the mood to use it.
Read on for six ways to make the most of “Up Next,” starting with…
Take a gander at your Up Next list
Whether you know it or not, you’ve got an Up Next playlist up and running on your iPhone or iPad. To take a look, open the Music app, pick any song, album, playlist, or artist, press Play, then tap the Music mini-player (the thin strip near the bottom of the screen that displays the track name) to reveal the main playback controls.
To the right of the Back, Play, and Skip buttons, you’ll see a button marked with stack of three bulleted lines. Tap it to open your Up Next list.
At the top of the list, you’ll see the song that’s currently playing, while the the following tracks will be the remaining songs from the same album or playlist. Scroll up, and you’ll see a (probably) huge list of songs that you’ve playing in the recent past.
If you go back to your library and press Play on another song, the remaining tracks in its album will be added to your Up Next list, replacing the tracks from the previous album or playlist.
That’s all there is to it—and if you like, that’s all there needs to be. Nothing’s stopping you from closing Up Next and forgetting about it forever.
That said, try this…
Select a song to Play Next
Scroll up a bit on the Up Next list, find a favorite track in your playback history, tap the little three-dot button to the right, then tap Play Next.
When you do, a helpful icon will appear—one that looks like a stack of items, with an arrow pointing toward the top. What you’ve done, basically, is queued up the song you picked, and it’ll begin playing as soon as the current track is finished.
Just below the track you chose to play next, you’ll see the original album you started playing, with a “Resume” heading just above the album tracks.
Bonus tip: You can select an entire album, artist or playlist to your Up Next list; just tap the three-dot menu to the right of the artist, album, or playlist name in your music library.
Now, try this…
Add a song to Up Next
Scroll up again to your track history in Up Next, tap the three-dot button next to a song, then tap Add to Up Next.
Again, an icon will pop up, but this time the arrow will be pointing to the bottom of the stack rather than the top. The idea here is that instead of queuing up a song to play directly after the currently playing track, the song will play after the last song that’s on your Up Next list.
OK, so what happened to that album we began to play before all this Up Next business? It’s still there, but it’s been pushed below the pair of tracks you just manually added to your Up Next list. You’ll see the remaining album tracks under the Resume heading.
Time for another experiment…
Press Play on a new song in your library
So, you’ve got a couple of songs queued up and ready to play in your Up Next list. What happens if you head back to your music collection and press the Play button on a random song?
If you do, a pop-up asking “After playing this, do you want to play the song you’ve added to Up Next?” will appear. Tap the Keep Up Next button, and the songs you previously added to your Up Next queue will scoot just below the track you just started to play. Tap Clear Up Next, and those old Up Next songs will disappear.
Keep in mind that if you haven’t manually added any songs to your Up Next list, you won’t be bothered by the “After playing this…” pop-up, no matter how many times you jump around and press Play on various songs.
Rearrange your Up Next tracks
Head back to your Up Next list (swipe up on the Music mini-player to reveal the main playback controls, then tap the button with the three bulleted lines), then check out the little virtual “handles” to the right of each queued-up song.
If you tap and hold one, you can slide the track up or down the list, rearranging your Up Next tracks.
It’s a nifty trick, but unfortunately there’s no way to grab and slide an entire batch of songs at once; you can only drag them one at a time.
Get rid of your Up Next tracks
Say you’ve had enough of Up Next and you’re ready to go back to playing songs the old-fashioned way. If that’s the case, there are a couple of ways to wipe your Up Next list and start fresh.
One is to simply press Play on a new song; as we already covered, a pop-up will appear with an option to clear your Up Next list. You can also go straight to your Up Next playlist and tap the Clear button next to the Up Next heading.
If you’d like to nix a specific song from your Up Next list, use your thumb to nudge it to the left to reveal a Remove button. Tapping that just removes it from the Up Next queue, not your music collection.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.