A New iTunes?

I have got to the point where I have even bored myself predicting a new solid state storage based iPod model to replace the iPod Classic. If it happens, it happens - you heard it here first and a long time ago. Then I suddenly thought, what about iTunes itself?

History first. When Apple launched their first portable music player they relied on a non-Apple pice of software, MusicMatch. It wasn't bad, very mainstream computing interface. It was subsequently swallowed up by Yahoo, pretty much faded away. When iTunes hit it was a breath of fresh air, particularly compared with Microsoft's Windows Media Player. You could tell iTunes was built by music lovers, it did what people want when they enjoy music. And it put the track (not the album / CD) at the centre of the music library. Of course it was imbued with all the loveliness that so many people like about the Apple brand. It wasn't to everyone's taste, and there's still a cottage industry in non-Apple, non-WMP music playing and ripping systems. However for 95%+ of the tune loving populace, it has to be iTunes.

Just looking across the range of Apple's current applications, on a daily basis I use iPhoto, Aperture, Pages, address book and calendar, I get the feeling iTunes is creaking a little. So what next for the music monster?

First - CD ripping. OK, that's my business and it's where my thoughts turn first. I'd like ripping to be faster, maybe that will happen. For the typical iPod owner why do they even have to bother? Couldn't they just say they have bought a CD and allow Apple's vast music cloud to place that set of tracks into their library, to be downloaded as and when necessary?

Second - compression. When we started people had tiny hard drives against big record collections. Today the collections are only a little bigger, but iPod drives (not to mention laptops and desktops) are huge. If Apple could do to their Apple Lossless codec what they seem to have done to their jpg algorithm in Aperture, you'd get effectively lossless music quality in file sizes only a little larger than decent AAC files. Then, users wouldn't have to dance to the AAC, MP3, Lossless jig and agonise on what's right for them.

Third - DVD ripping. Movies are as much part of home entertainment as music, Come on Apple.

Fourth - bury the database. Yes, easier said than done, but all that wordage on the standard iTunes screen just confuses most users. Sure it needs to be under the hood but the look and feel of iTunes is dated and clunky. Apple is brilliant at interface design, this one needs an overhaul.
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MP5? Apple Less-than-lossless?

A few weeks ago rumours appeared suggesting Apple may be about to release a new music file format, one that would make music sound better. Well, suggestions are that this will see the light of day at an imminent product launch Apple have scheduled. Also, over the weekend I noticed the company behind the maths that made MP3 possible had launched a new way of making sound better on mobile phones.

An idle thought - MP4 is taken for movie files - so maybe this will be MP5? From Apple's perspective a new format, now, will cause a headache for them and their users. Generally better sound means more hard drive space. This won't help Apple directly as they buy in drives and it will put more pressure on the ageing iPod Classic, more than due an upgrade. Bigger files would be a major ouch for iPhone users too.

If I were Apple, why? Well someone is going to do it so it might as well be you. It would head off an interloper gaining traction within iTunes, it would keep the iPod / iPhone / iPad ahead of the game. maybe it would give Apple a toe hold in non IOS areas too. However they'd probably have to re-encode their entire iTunes Music Store library to keep their Music Match function operable and that's no small task.

I think it would be a positive move, one we'd jump on and would be appreciated by our clients. Better sound, what's not to like?
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CD Ripping Service Enhancements

Hard to believe at times that we've been ripping CDs for seven years. Wow.

At the start we made a decision to focus on the Apple iPod, indeed that's mainly why the first CD ripping offering was podserve. As we grew our market became defined as iPod owners in or around London.

But we got people ringing us from all over the UK asking if we could collect / return to Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol etc as well as places I'd never heard of. Almost as many clients as we had in London. So I had a bright idea. Another CD ripping service was born - MP3 by mail. I wanted to avoid confusion between the two services, which was one of the reasons we opted for an MP3 focused second identity.

OK, that was a bit petty. Sure we can rip MP3s faster (hence cheaper) but that was the main reason. There then followed two years of ear bashing from folk who simply want AAC files, or maybe Apple Lossless. Now we've relented and from today MP3 by mail offers AAC and Apple Lossless alongside MP3 music ripping.
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Data Grooming Upgraded

I don't often get excited about computer software, but our new Data Grooming software is really exciting (well for me anyway).

The features list is greatly improved so in turn our clients get a better service. First, we've increased the list of classical composers in the database. Previously we'd found 40 pretty adequate but we've got many more now. I'll be surprised if we find any names to be added to the list.

Handling artist names is also much better. We can now remove one of the most annoying features of modern music - tha apparently endless use of 'featuring', 'feat.' and so on. It can increase the number of performers in a collection and make it hard to find the track you want via the Artist route. Well, say that annoyance goodbye.

Handling Disc 1 etc is more thorough, adding artist name to 'Best of' and 'Greatest Hits' works just as well, and is a little faster.

There's a facility to correct the inappropriate use of capital letters though I've yet to get to grips with the detail of how that works.

Anyway, enough for now, I'm off to play with our new toy. Any data you'd like us to groom for you?
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AAC 1 - MP3 0

Looking at the small print in the recent Apple / EMI announcment about DRM free music it seems that the music file of choice will be Apple's AAC, and not the previously universal MP3. Why?

Well, recently Microsoft got hit by a massive lawsuit alleging copyright infringement over the technical rights to the MP3 codec. Perhaps neither Apple nor EMI fancied being hit in the same way.

Maybe EMI saw this as another way of controlling the distribution of their tracks. Maybe the thinking was MP3 is synonymous with those evil file sharing pirates, so AAC could be 'safer' in that respect.

I originally thought this was a simple marketing ploy to enable Apple to market their products (ie iTunes Music Store tracks) to Zune and the users of other MP3 players. It's more than that, each MP3 manufacturer will come under pressure to release firmware updates to support AAC on their players. users will have to find the upgrade, download it, apply it to their machine - how many will just not bother and buy a new iPod instead?

At a sweep Apple and EMI may have changed the drift of digital music. Where once MP3 was seen as the universal standard that accolade could fall to AAC.
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