This iPhoneless Life #3 – Podcasts: Playback

March 16, 2009

iPod This is the third in a short series, documenting my experiments using a Windows Mobile 6 device (an HTC TyTN II) as combined phone and media player, in the manner of an iPhone. In the previous post, I explained how I managed to still use iTunes for podcast capture but then pass the baton to Windows Media Player 11 to get the podcasts synced to the WM6 phone.

The attention now turns to the playback experience. WMP on the PC may have succeeded in transferring the right podcasts onto the phone, but what is it like using the HTC device as an iPhone (or iPod) replacement for podcast listening purposes?

First off, could I get them to play in the right order? You might think I’m being a bit fussy but I want my podcasts to play in the order in which they were downloaded by iTunes. Most of the time it’s not important, but it can be an issue with daily podcasts. I don’t want to be presented with Friday’s Dail Giz Wiz before I’ve heard Thursday’s. Same sort of thing with daily news items. It is obviously confusing to hear the follow-up story before the podcast which broke a news item.

Getting the playback order right had not been trivial even when I was using an iPod. I had iTunes automatically sync the podcasts to my iPod, but for correct playback purposes I had to set up two playlists. I had a Smart Playlist on iTunes called “Latest Podcasts” which was defined so as to display the podcasts in the correct “date added” order. I then had another playlist called “podcasts” on the iPod. With the iPod docked, I would highlight and copy the items from “Latest Podcasts” on iTunes to “podcasts” on the iPod. Provided I listened to my podcasts using the “podcasts” playlist the correct running order would be preserved. I also had the option to make changes to the running order to suit personal preferences (for example, if I were desperate to hear the next episode of “Security Now!” or whatever) before undocking the iPod.

You can get something similar on WM6, but not quite in the same way. Remember the Auto Playlist dialog box from post #2 of this series?

There is a further useful criterion you can add by clicking on a green plus sign. Choose “Sort by” then on “click to set” and select “Date Added”. This does the trick, or at least nearly does it.

If you recall, we had to define two paths for locating podcasts as downloaded by iTunes. One had “downloads” in the pathname and one didn’t. Unfortunately, using the Auto Playlist “Sort by” criteria you can only get the sort order right for each of these paths separately. So the first batch of podcasts (from “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Podcasts”) will play in the right order, and then the second batch (from “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Downloads\Podcasts”) will play in the right order. But there is no way to define an overall running order for the complete set of podcasts. However, all is not lost as we shall see.

After syncing, the Auto Playlist is copied (and synchronised) to the phone. New podcasts are added and any podcasts which had been deleted on iTunes are removed. Note that it is safest to have WMP on the phone closed during the syncing operation, otherwise the removal of deleted podcasts can fail. On my HTC it is quite easy to see whether (pocket) WMP is running and to close it down, because there is a handy task manager utility accessible from the Today page. Windows Mobile users who don’t have a utility like that will have to use Start > Settings > System > Memory > Running Programs to check whether “Windows Media” is running and if need be select it and click “Stop” to shut it down.

On opening WMP on the phone and selecting “Library…” from the “Menu” option the following view appears:

Clicking on “My Playlists” (where “clicking” is my shorthand for normal use of the stylus) should bring up this screen:

In practice, this doesn’t always happen, which is a minor annoyance. It depends on whether the phone is “looking” for playlists in its built-in memory or on the storage card.  If the latter then it will find the “podcasts” playlist and all will be well. If not, there would be no playlists showing under “My Playlists”. In that situation, select the Library view again, “click” on the “Library” drop-down (in the menu bar, next to the magnifying glass icon) and ensure “Storage Card” is selected.

Click on the “podcasts” playlist to bring up a listing of your podcasts, which if you are lucky will already be in the right order.

Another annoyance. WMP does not always pick up the podcast name first time. Quite often the bottom few items will display as “download”.  If you select one of those items and click “Play”, then pause and select “Now Playing” it will take you to what looks like the same playlist (except that strictly speaking it is now the “Now Playing” playlist) and the correct podcast name will now be displayed, and maybe some of the other “download” items will also now be displaying the correct podcast name. It may take a couple of goes to get all the names displayed correctly as in the example above.

This is where you can do some re-ordering to suit your preferences, or to correct errors in the ordering as described above. To do this, select any podcast you want to move and click the up or down arrows at the left side of the lower menu. To check the correct overall order I look at my “Latest Podcasts” Smart Playlist which I can still refer to on iTunes.

Then just select say the top item on the list and click “Play”, and the podcasts will play in order.  You get a graphic (as you would with a recent iPod) and all the obvious controls for navigation, volume, etc.

Once you’ve got the hang of this, it works pretty well and is not specially worse than using an iPod. But WM6 phones started off as PDA+phone combinations and are fundamentally more complex beasts than iPods, which were created as very user-friendly, intuitive devices for playing back music and that was it. For that reason, a WM6 device will not be as slick as an iPod when used for media playback, but it is perfectly livable with.

I’ll go into a few more of the practicalities in part #4.

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  1. great blogg.. very helpful

  2. FTW the mobile phone screenshots were made using Ilium Software Screen Capture Version 1.1. On my phone, the “App1” button commandeers the Internet Explorer button.

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