Needless predictions and speculation about iTunes 9

The rumor is that iTunes 9 comes out on Wednesday.

I bet that in iTunes 9:

  • Playlists will be easier to share with friends.
    Whether it’s done through some new Facebook app or Last.fm, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some service that syncs with your Apple account (maybe Facebook connect). Ultimately there will be some more interest in generating sales in the iTunes store. They did it last year with Genius. This year it will be about what your friends like.
  • There will be some ideas taken from the iPhone and iPod Touch.
    When flipping through albums in Coverflow you’ll be able to click on artwork, flip it over, and select tracks like on an iPhone. Or not.
  • There will be some Snow Leopard optimizations
    64-bit support for OSX, and scrolling through albums in grid view will scroll like butter

I’ll be amazed if:

  • Apple releases an iTunes controller like Coversutra or Menuet.
    I don’t think a lot of users really care about this stuff. I think they just leave iTunes on random, so what do you need to control it for?
  • Apple does a Snow Leopard on iTunes
    They could take out movies and TV shows, anything that doesn’t have to do with music. I don’t think it will happen.
  • Social networking features are anything more than scrobbling to Last.fm and sharing playlists
    Tweeting out tracks will get annoying really fast.
  • Anything about Spotify
  • Blu-ray is even mentioned.

I have no guesses about:

  • Cocktail
    When people are complaining about how difficult it is to sort out iPhone menus I don’t think every album will suddenly become an app. Remember the days of CD Extras? Remember how worthless they were?
  • Discontinuation of iPod classic
    Not yet. My iTunes music library is at 134 gigs. Does that mean there won’t be an iPod for me or others like me? Flash storage can’t support those sizes yet, but there’s no denying there’s an interest in moving everyone towards iPod Touch.

There is no reason to trust me – I have no idea.

Photo by kevinspencer

A System For Global Keyboard Shortcuts

I used to never use keyboard shortcuts, but these days a few of them are so ingrained in my brain that I can’t live without them. On the keyboards I use, the S key is beginning to fade. It starts with Command (or CTRL) + S. From there you begin copying and pasting with keyboard shortcuts and within a week you get a little irritated when you need to use the mouse for something, or when some application (for instance, some programs from Microsoft and Adobe) uses non-standard keyboard shortcuts.

But what about GLOBAL shortcuts? What do you do on your Mac (or PC) that you need to do no matter what application is active?

Music Playback

No matter if you use an app like Coversutra or just Quicksilver, once you begin to control iTunes with your fingertips you’ll never want to go back to the old way of stopping what you are doing, switching to iTunes, and picking up where you left off. Quickly muting, rating, and forwarding to the next song is a wonderful way to work without having to stop any flow.

On Macs, what’s worked for me is this:

CTRL+OPTION+(whatever you want here)

I’ve reserved CTRL+OPTION for iTunes functions (with the exception of Omnifocus for spacebar). Want to go forward? That’s CTRL+OPTION+Right Arrow. Rate the currently playing song 3 stars? CTRL+OPTION+3. Playback/Pause? CTRL+OPTION+P. It goes on like that and works for me.

Coversutra Shortcuts - 3/14/09

Keyboard shortcuts in Coversutra

Being able to quickly rate songs like this is essential to bending iTunes to your liking, I’ve argued.

Make some app active

There are some apps that sit in the background all day that you want open, but not active. For me these are typically messaging apps like Adium and Twitterrific. To bring these up, I just hit:

CTRL+OPTION+COMMAND+(whatever you want here)

For instance, to bring up Adium I use CTRL+OPTION+COMMAND+D. For Twitterrific I use CTRL+OPTION+COMMAND+T

Not all apps let you assign a global shortcut like this. For those instances you could build a trigger in Quicksilver. I’ve switched to Launchbar which, unfortunately, doesn’t offer triggers. If you use the site-specific-browser Fluid you can assign each SSB a shortcut like this. I’ve assigned CTRL+OPTION+COMMAND+R to Google Reader to it the active app when it’s running.

Other uses

Global shortcuts like this are really useful for actions you want to take right now. Task apps developers, like the people behind Omnifocus and Things, have made it easy for you to save an idea immediately after hitting a key combo.

The Quick Entry window in Things – by Flickr user Torley

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p>If you want to do something quickly and get back to work, think of how you can get a global keyboard shortcut to do it.</p.

Maybe the labels just haven’t re-encoded it…

The iTunes Producer About Window

Have you ever wondered why one of your favorite albums you purchased on iTunes isn’t offered at 256kbps AAC with iTunes Plus? The reason could simply be that the label hasn’t re-encoded it.

As a publisher on iTunes, one of the tools you use to send your music to Apple is a piece of software called iTunes Producer. With iTunes Producer you import your music (through the original, mastered audio files or through a CD), encode it, and upload it directly to iTunes. iTunes Producer manages the library of submitted music through playlists for compilations, albums, and other collected works.

The latest version was released shortly after iTunes Plus was unveiled. The Readme includes this note:

What’s new in iTunes Producer 1.6 With iTunes Producer 1.6, you can now re-encode and resend your music for iTunes Plus. If you imported your music using iTunes Producer 1.2 or earlier, your audio is encoded at 128 kbps and not eligible for our new premium offering. iTunes Producer 1.6 will indicate which playlists need to be re-encoded and resent to iTunes.

One of the questions I’ve always had about iTunes Plus is how do we know if Apple isn’t simply transcoding their original 128k files to 256k? This answers that question.

Surely the publisher could do that – but at least Apple does not. And the publisher would need to work a little harder to do that: iTunes Producer will not accept MP3s or AACs. In fact, it seems that Apple has provided strict guidelines for sending them music – right down to how big the album art should be.

What’s also interesting to note is the information about the music that you can provide to Apple, but just simply isn’t being used yet (maybe because it’s so extensive that it’s a bunch of work that publishers just aren’t doing?). iTunes Producer includes fields for:

  • Liner Notes
  • Lyrics
  • Beats per minute
  • Credits for remixer, producer, engineers, and other performers
  • Where the album was recorded

If you can’t get an album in iTunes Plus from a label that’s already selling iTunes Plus music it’s likely that the label just hasn’t gone through the process of re-importing the music and sending it to Apple. I hope Apple has some information on how much better iTunes Plus music sells than the regular 128k music – I assume the answer is “much better.”

Oh, and by the way, iTunes Producer sends the music to Apple as Apple Lossless files.

Party Shuffle: A Test In Scrolling

Feedback I submitted to Apple about the following:

iTunes Party Shuffle

I use playlist folders to help sort through the various static and smart playlists I have. Party Shuffle is a great iTunes feature that doesn’t use these folders to its advantage, in my opinion. When picking a party shuffle source, users with a folder setup like mine get a long drop down list of iTunes folders and the playlists they contain – mine takes up more than the entire height of my 1680×1050 display. Why not treat these like bookmarks in Safari? Safari doesn’t show me every bookmark I have in the folder until I hover my cursor over that folder. If that was implemented in iTunes’ Party Shuffle it would be more efficient than the current method and simplify picking a playlist as the Party shuffle source.

I used to never use Party Shuffle – but when I started using Quicksilver to navigate through iTunes (I’ve moved on to Coversutra, but I digress) I saw how this is much like how I used to listen to music 10 years ago, queuing up a few CDs and running through them – and I still like to do that.

Even with iTunes’ new Grid View that brings back album love, I still find it more convenient to pick out something I want to listen to now and follow it with something I think I’d like to listen to an hour from now.

Lovin’ The Amazon MP3 Store: Passive-Aggressive DRM

Suing Me

Besides saving a dollar here and there using Amazon’s MP3 store, the main reason I like Amazon over iTunes is its use of what I call passive-aggressive DRM.

Passive-Aggressive DRM is the way Apple keeps you from sharing music you’ve purchased from the iTunes store. It doesn’t have any digital lock, anybody can play it without a problem, but what turns me off from it is this one tiny bit of information that can be used to personally identify you, the account used to purchase the music, and, if need be, used to bring in the law to enforce the EULA that you agree to adhere to everytime you buy from iTunes.

Your email address is in every file you purchase from the iTunes Store. That’s the passive-aggressive DRM.

When iTunes Plus first arrived, the email address in the metadata was noted – but many, including Daring Fireball, brushed it off, stating that Apple gave us exactly what we asked for; DRM-Free music.

This doesn’t bother me because I plan on breaking my agreement with iTunes. I’m not worried about what Apple would do – I’m worried what organizations like the RIAA could do.

If your music folder is wide open and somebody grabs your iTunes purchased music, shares it with their buddies, who share it with more buddies, and in a week it’s on P2P networks, who do you think the RIAA is going to pursue and who do you think will find themselves in the middle of a legal nightmare? You – all because you left a window in your house unlocked either intentionally or unintentionally.

A little extreme? Maybe. Possible? Absolutely.

Amazon may watermark their MP3s to show that they were the ones who sold it, but I haven’t seen anything in their files that personally identify you as the purchaser. For iTunes, this is such a con for me that if it weren’t for this one thing I’d choose iTunes over Amazon almost everytime, except in very specific instances…

Lovin’ The Amazon MP3 Store: The AAC/MP3 Fidelity Argument

MP3 vs AAC

I’ve been getting upset that AAC hasn’t gotten as much support as MP3, but the more I think about it the more I realize that MP3 is the smarter choices for these stores. I prefer AAC, but MP3 has wider compatibility and has much larger recognition behind it. MP3 is synonymous with digital music.

The other part of wanting AAC over MP3 is the encoding quality, but things have changed. The codec used to matter when bitrates hovered around 128-192kbps. Now that everything is basically 256kbps it’s a wash. It doesn’t matter anymore.

The file sizes are the same and you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between AAC and MP3 at these bitrates. Don’t even try. Stop worrying about codecs and start listening to more of the music you love.

Lovin’ The Amazon MP3 Store: Intro

Amazon MP3

I’m finding myself eating my own words on the Amazon MP3 store. About a year ago I wrote:

I’d like to see more details on the pricing, but from what the early indications are there is nothing unique about what Amazon is doing.

Meanwhile, I’ve probably used the Amazon MP3 store more in the past year than I’ve used the iTunes Music Store since Apple launched it.

So why the change? What does Amazon have over iTunes? I’ll write about my reasons in the next few posts.

The iTunes “Last Chance” Playlist

If you’ve read the iTunes Zero article you’ll know that I’m very meticulous about everything in my iTunes library – and chances are you probably do the same things.

One of the other problems you may be facing is that there’s SO MUCH STUFF in your iTunes library. How do you handle it all?

Here’s what works for me – the “Last Chance” Playlist.

The Process

Here’s the method I use when I add new music to iTunes and homogenize it into the library:

  1. Everything new goes into a static Process playlist. It’s a holding cell for me to verify the metadata before I’m comfortable unleashing it into the wild. Consider it the GTD inbox for iTunes.
  2. Music that hasn’t been listened to shows up in the Playcount = 0 smart playlist.
  3. 3 months after that first listen, music shows up again in the Only 1 Listen playlist. This is my opportunity to make sure that the assigned rating is what I want it be, because after that it’s banished into the iTunes abyss, until the special day when it arrives in the…
  4. Last Chance playlist.

You’re Up For Review, Tune

Why do this?

The purpose of the Last Chance playlist is to listen to tracks in shuffle mode, out of context, in order to rate each track on its own. Let’s take a look at its properties.

lastchanceplaylist.gif

The Last Chance smart playlist is the last hurrah of a misfit song. If after two years I still don’t like the song enough to give it a 4-star or higher rating, in it goes to the huge library, likely to be skipped over and ignored for the rest of eternity.

But, there’s the chance that after 2 years I’ll suddenly realize the genius in a song, and grant it a 4-star or higher rating and save it from the 82 gig (as of this writing) Rancor pit.

Rancor

And with a 4-star or higher rating, the track enters regular rotation in smart playlists that rely on ratings.

This works for me for the following reasons:

  1. Anything I’ve already rated on the extremes (2 stars or less, or 4 stars or more) doesn’t really change for me – but I’ve still got my eye on those 4-star rated tracks.
  2. 3 listens should be enough for me to know if I like a song or not.
  3. 2 years (or 1 year) is far enough out for a song to be removed from the popular culture of the time to realize I like a song because it’s a good song, and not because it’s in a car insurance commercial or something.

This is what works for me. Storage is cheap these days, so if you set up a system with this and other smart playlists you can keep only the good stuff on your iPod and regular playlist (or Party Shuffle sources) and not have to delete anything based on the idea that you might like it years from now.

Mojo — IM-like iTunes Sharing

Lifehacker writes about Mojo – a freeware app that lets you browse your friends’ iTunes libraries, listen to them, and download songs.

Essentially, Mojo makes sharing music with your friends through iTunes wildly simple, from its simple interface to its brilliant implementation. If you’ve ever used apps like previously mentioned ourTunes to download music from shared libraries, you have an idea of what Mojo does, bu you should still prepare to be amazed.

It looks awesome, but the account creation makes me feel uneasy. I give it until the end of the month for its first cease and desist.