Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

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This iPhoneless Life #10 – Almost enough to make me buy an iPhone

August 10, 2009

iPod As I have been documenting over the last few months, I have got my WM6 phone pretty much doing all the same things as an iPhone but with the added advantage of wireless stereo Bluetooth earphone support.

Of course there are some downsides.  The device, an HTC TyTN II, is not as svelte and elegant as an iPhone and the user interface, being based on Windows Mobile, is not as slick and well integrated as the Apple equivalent. Also, the looser software/hardware integration of Windows Mobile devices, and in particular the greater reliance on third-party utilities, is more likely to cause grief.

A case in point is the clash between Windows Media Player Mobile (WMPM) and Audible.com’s player. For reasons best known to themselves, Audible will not allow their audiobooks to be played on WMPM, instead requiring users to install Audible’s proprietary audiobook player. Maybe it’s because WMPM does not support bookmarking. It  would not have been that much of a problem to have to use two separate applications for music/podcasts vs. audiobooks were it not for the fact that they conflict with each other causing the phone to crash.

The culprit appears to be the Audible player.  Once it has been run, it seems to result in some persistent locking of resources which interferes with the operation of Windows Media Player, even after the Audible player application has been closed.  You can still open and use Windows Media, but when you try to close the latter down, as you would if say updating your podcasts or synchronising your music, the phone locks up and requires a time-consuming soft reset.

I have tried installing various bits of kit to try to troubleshoot or debug the problem, but whatever it is has its hooks too deep down within the operating system and I cannot fathom it.  It is very annoying but I guess I’m stuck with it for the foreseeable future unless anyone has any bright ideas.

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This iPhoneless Life #7 – Simply music

April 13, 2009

iPod Most iPhone users will think of the media capabilities of the device as mainly about music and video. So far, in looking at my Windows Mobile based alternative to the iPhone, I have been focusing on podcasts and audiobooks. That’s partly because they are important to me and partly because they need the most effort to get working smoothly on a WM PDA-phone, whereas music is obviously trivial, right?

Well, maybe if all your music takes the form of CDs you ripped yourself in mp3 format, using say iTunes. Provided it is all sitting in a folder which is “watched” by WMP on your PC it will appear in your WMP Library. If you want to sync a particular album to your phone, you just go the Album view in the Library, find the desired album, right click and select “Add to Sync List”. Next time you synchronise with your phone the album will be copied across. It is then easy to find and play in your phone’s WMP Library, and the album art will be there too if you had added that.

It gets more complicated though if you have bought iTunes music and have songs in say .m4a (AAC) format. Natively, WMP will not recognise them so they will not appear in the Library, whichever folder they are in and WMP will not be able to play them. Thankfully, there are WMP plug-ins available to fix that. As far as DRM’d music is concerned (.m4p) you really can’t use those in the Windows world outside of iTunes. The only option is to remove the DRM encryption so you end up with an m4a. I’ll leave you investigate that for yourself if you wish.

To enable desktop WMP playback of (unprotected) AAC there is a free plug-in from Orban technologies. The plug-in works well but on its own won’t make your m4a files visible to the WMP Library. For that you need a tag extender plug-in. There are several available and generally seem to work well. You can try the Softpointer Tag Support Plugin, or maybe this plugin among others.

With all that in place music is fine on a WM6 phone. The AAC files play fine natively on the phone in WMP. No click wheel but I would have to say that WMP works well enough as a vanilla music player.

Speaking of click-wheels and Apple, did I get this wrong or does the iPhone NOT support bluetooth stereo streaming (A2DP), even in its 3G manifestation? That’s a complete and utter showstopper for me. I had been giving serious thought to getting an iPhone when my WM phone’s contract runs out in December.  But my bluetooth Sennheiser earphones have transformed my mobile audio and no way would I go back to wired. Suddenly, I’m entirely happy with my iPhoneless life.

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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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This iPhoneless Life #1

February 27, 2009

iPod If you want a single device to be both your mobile phone and media player, why look any further than the iPhone? But if you don’t have one – how far would you get using say a WM6 phone to do the same things?

Well, I have been a Windows Mobile PDA-phone user for years and still have the best part of a year to run on my latest WM6 phone (O2’s XDA Stellar which is the HTC TyTN II under a different name). I might very well switch to the iPhone when the contract runs out, but for now I’m stuck with the HTC.

I had become used to going everywhere with both my WM6 phone and my ageing iPod mini, using the latter extensively for podcasts and audiobooks as well as music. When the battery on the iPod mini finally gave out around a month ago my first thought was to replace it with a current iPod nano. But then I got to wondering whether the HTC could be persuaded to play iPhone stand-in. I had always dismissed that as impractical, if only because I could not imagine how it might cope with all my podcasts. But I can now buy a big memory card, the HTC can play music and video and has a big screen. And I would only have one device to carry around, just like the iPhone.

That’s how the experiment began.

Memory

Step one was to buy a suitably capacious memory card. The HTC supports SDHC micro cards and it cost around £16 to get a top brand 8GB card, that’s more memory than I had with the dead iPod.

First (minor) drawback – the display on the Today screen of the HTC misreports the spare capacity on the memory card. It is currently telling me I have only used 1% of the total whereas I have filled over 2GB. I think this is a problem with the WM6 OS and the newer SDHC cards. I previously used a standard density 256MB microSD card with the HTC and the capacity was reported correctly. In any case, the device certainly reads/writes fine with SDHC.

What next?

I assumed music wouldn’t be too difficult.  I was more worried about podcasts.  With iPod and iTunes working in tandem, podcasts are a breeze and I had everything set up with a smart playlist to get the podcasts in the right order. If I couldn’t get something similar working on WM6 with Windows Media Player 11 that would come  as a complete showstopper.

How did I get on?  That will be #2 in this short series of posts.

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iPhone RAM issue not going away

January 29, 2009

iPod Most of the hits on this website now are coming from iPhone users who are desperately trying to find a solution to the much-loved device’s tendency to crash.  The problems are due to insufficient RAM for all those functions and apps, as described in depth here.  The iPod Touch is similarly affected.

As the number of iPhones and iPod Touches in circulation increases, the more the clamour for a fix. Here is a taste of the search strings which brought visitors here just in the last few hours:

iphone ram
iphone not enough ram
iphone specifications ram memory
iphone flush memory
how to clear ram on the iphone
iphone songs gone, but memory still in u…
iphone touch memory usage
iphone memory usage
ram in iphone
open iphone add memory
iphone memory swap device
iphone available memory
how to use less ram memory on ipod touch
128 mb limit iphone

I really can’t understand why Apple haven’t done something about this yet. Come on guys! There’s a problem here.

Sort it!

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iPhone iNadequacy – plenty of apps but any more RAM?

July 15, 2008

iPod The original iPhone was already hampered by its limited 128Mb RAM; restrictive enough to make it crash on browsing websites with a large number of images or when using Cover Flow with a large album collection.

Well, the problem has just got worse. The new 3G iPhone invites you to download lots of fascinating apps from the iTunes app store. This will place yet further demands on the iPhone’s RAM so you would have thought Apple would have taken the opportunity of the upgrade to boost it by the odd few hundred megabytes.

Well Apple are being rather coy about the specifications so it is hard to be sure, but it does look like the RAM has not been beefed up.

The release of the 3G iPhone has coincided with a big increase in hits to this website (particularly this post) from iPhone users (or maybe potential buyers) trying to find out about the amount of RAM on the iPhone or because they are encountering Safari crashes or other similar problems. It is probably too early to say but I suspect Apple have just exacerbated a problem they should have been acting to fix.

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AudibleReady Zune … Sune

April 22, 2008

iPod Audible.com and Microsoft have finally reached agreement on audiobook support for the Zune.

It’s confirmed by Paul Thurrott so I would trust this.

I gather the delay has been something to do with firmware. Audible require compatible devices to have the required support in the firmware, but MS were being difficult about this.

Maybe they didn’t like the idea of an outside party dictating what goes in the Zune’s firmware, but Audible support is too important these days. For many people, lack of Audible support alone is a deal-breaker. That would certainly be the case with me.

The Zune (in its second incarnation) is a credible and attractive proposition, but I am one of a growing army of converts who enjoy listening to audiobooks in the car or otherwise out and about. I have enough junk to take with me when I am travelling around so there is only going to be one mp3 player type device. If the Zune remained unable to play audiobooks it would definitely not come into contention when I retire my current iPod.

As it is, with this latest news, it stands a good chance.

I’m assuming here that if, as suggested, it is all about support for Audible in the firmware, then existing Zunes can be made compatible by means of a firmware upgrade, as opposed to having to wait for the 3G Zune.

As for when all this will happen: by the end of the year according to the link above, … so reasonably sune.

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