The following are some news items that have caught my eye over the past few weeks regarding the iPod, the larger iPod ecosystem, and the world of digital music:
- Are Dedicated Music Players Useless? In today’s world of multifunction devices, such as your smartphone, is the dedicated MP3 player useless? The answer is a resounding “No!”, as this article shows. In addition to the 10 ways in the article, there are some even more important reasons. Dedicated MP3 players don’t use streaming bandwidth, and can be used in places where you have no Internet. They are also not visually based, so you can often operate them without looking. Being more narrow function, they are also usable in situations where phones are not (for example, MP3 players are not treated the same as phones with respect to moving vehicles). Lastly, if you upgrade storage, you can often have a much larger music library with you than you can even with services like the Amazon cloud or iTunes match, especially if you come in with a lot of preexisting music.
- Upgrading an iPod. Stories about how one can upgrade a later generation (5G or later) iPod classic to use solid state memory come around periodically. The most recent iteration was The Verge and the Circuit Breaker Podcast having an article how to do so. However, they made one major error: they indicated you get the boards and supplies through eBay. Nonsense! I’ve had three iPods updated, and a 4th will eventually be upgraded as well, and in all cases I went straight to the source: the iFlash Adaptor site. I’ve used their iFlash Dual card for all three of my iPod Classics. They also have a useful blog with advice on batteries and memory cards. If you’re local to LA, I’ve found a good person to install the card, if you’re not a hardware person (and I’m not). Drop me an email or a comment and I’ll get you in touch with the person I used.
- Digital vs. Physical Music . In the days before there was an iTunes store, how was digital audio and video shared? The answer is: via Usenet, and it was this new style of digital sharing — across a forum originally intended for textual messages — that led Usenet to its slow death, while spurring on the growth of the web and online music and video stores. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the death of the physical form for digitized media — CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays — in favor of streaming. This is a very bad trend, and we must all work to support physical media. There are a number of reasons. First, the physical media made available many rare shows and albums that were saved from obscurity. It also preserved additional information, such as directors cuts, audio tracks, bonus tracks, commentary. Those aren’t present for streaming media, and there is no assurance that rare material will be available for streaming. It is also much easier, with only streamed media, for the media content owner to make the content unavailable. You also can’t easily share streamed media with friends. It is a bad move for the consumer.
- End of the Headphone Jack. The simple 3.5mm audio jack. It has been around for over 50 years, coming in with the transistor radio, replacing the large headphone jack. It is now starting to disappear, and we should mourn (if not protest) its demise. There are many advantages to this format. Being analog, it is not subject to restricted digital format or digital rights management. It works across all vendors, and you don’t need different products for different devices. Its analog signal is also adaptable, being used for not only sound but any electrical signal such as a card reader, health monitors, and such. By moving to proprietary digital connectors (as they did with streaming), vendors are tying you to using their product, and their enforcement of accessibility to your music. They are creating waste and making obsolete numerous devices, which often go to landfills.
- Music Management Software. Those who use an iPod or Apple device have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. Often you must use it, but it could be so much better. Here’s a review of 7 iTunes alternatives. The problem is that none of them are iTunes replacements: it is unclear if they handle accumulated metadata, such as the number of plays; it is unclear if they can communicate with older Apple devices (such as the iPod Classic); and it is unclear if they support Smart Playlists. Often, these replacements aren’t too intelligent: they don’t understand synchronization, and they presume album-oriented play. That’s great for a college student with perhaps 50 albums; its bad when you have over 2000 albums and over 42000 songs.
- Wither iTunes? Of course, the issue with iTunes may be forced. Apple has the ability to make your device obsolete. Just ask the people with first-generation Apple TVs, who are being disconnected from iTunes. Just ask those who use iTunes on Windows XP or Vista. Just ask those hoping to purchase iTunes LPs with additional album content. All have had, or will have, support discontinued by Apple. This is a big worry for me: Why does Apple have any reason to continue to support the ability to synchronize with discontinued iPods, such as the iPod Classic. It is one reason I will not buy an iPhone (requires the latest iTunes), and one reason why I haven’t upgraded from iTunes 11. I still worry that, one day, iTunes 11 will not work on Windows 10, or will no longer support podcasts. At that point, will I be forced to Rockbox, if it still exists? Their iPod Classic ports aren’t stable. Will I need to find a new media player, such as the Fiio Players? What will that mean for my metadata and smart playlists.
We’re going to a world where we may not have physical LPs or CDs for our music. As we age, what will guarantee we’ll be able to bring our music with us? Are we destined to copy our music from server to server (I hope you remembered that backup), or paying companies indefinitely to store it in the cloud? And when that cloud or drive goes “poof”, how will historians discover our music? Analog is essentially forever (or as long as the media lasts), but digital is remarkably ephemeral. Enjoy your music while you have it, for tomorrow it will be gone.