Apple’s iOS products were very useful when they were the only real option. For a long time I carried my Android phone for most of my normal use and an iPod touch for specific media uses. At the time, there were not a lot of real good alternatives for some of the options that iOS offered and I was stuck in-between using two devices.
These hold-outs included:
- Music – albeit iTunes is a bloated POS on both Windows and MacOS, there is not an easier way to organize and synchronize your music to a portable music device. Windows Media does sync, but it is temperamental at the best of times. There are tons of 3rd party apps that try to synchronize, but I have found most to be more buggy than iTunes- and none of them do a decent job at Audiobooks or Podcasts (see below).
The replacement for this was moving to a monthly music service. At first I used Spotify as it tied into Facebook, but the novelty of this wore off and I eventually stopped using it. When Google music announced an all inclusive option for $7 (for early adopters) I was interested as I had already synchronized my music collection to Google over a year ago. All my music + every other song I can imagine = awesome!
Now if Google could just make their Play Music work more like a real music player (like PlayerPro or PowerAmp)…
- Podcasts – This was a long hold out as I have a few odd podcasts I actually pay for (Mysterious Universe) and they require a login to access. I tried BeyondPod Podcast Manager and Podcast Addict, but both were lacking in one feature or another. I eventually sprung for DogCatcher. This app isn’t the easiest to figure out- but once I did it is like having all the functionally of iTunes podcast setting in my phone- plus additional features I probably will never use. :)
Additionally, with an extra plugin, I can change the playback speed of podcasts; 1.5 is the default max, but tweaks can allow up to 3x playback (2x is a good speed for me).
- Audiobooks – This was the last great holdout. I listen to audiobooks quite a bit. Audible has a good selection of Audiobooks and their player is very good on both platforms, but I also obtain audiobooks from other sources. For a while, the best option was to take MP3 versions of audiobooks, brink them into Audibook Builder on a Mac and convert them to M4B format that would work with iTunes and iOS devices.
M4B format is an Apple proprietary format that allows for chapters, bookmarking and other nice audio formatting. On iOS devices, the M4B audiobooks can be played back as ‘faster’ to reduce the listening time by speeding up the reading with no noticeable change in pitch- just a faster canter of speech. This format does not allow for variable speed playback on other applications without licensing- and iTunes appears to limit the playback speed to 1.5x. (This seems unbearably slow after listening to the Audible app playback at 2x).
As M4B was initially awesome, but its downfall is destined due to licensing, limited playback speed and lack of compatibility with most things non-Apple. I tried Akimbo Audiobook Player, Smart Audiobook Player and a bevy of others. Most of them are chunky, do not offer decent playback speed options or feel like the UI was designed 2 years ago and never updated.
Listen Audiobook Player broke the last link in the Apple audio dependency for me. Listen will intelligently scan for audiobooks, download cover art, provides variable speed playback (under labs settings) up to 3x, has a useful high-speed scrubber bar (Audible should take note of how this works) and many other features.
- Audio Interface – The final revelation came when I realized my USA Spec PA15-HON2 iPod interface for my car also had the option for an RCA audio input. I popped open my dash, flipped a dip switch, installed a RCA to 3.5mm headphone adapter and cable and I was able to play back EVERYTHING from my phone- and at any playback speed I wanted... :)
The only feature I do miss is the ability to track up/fast forward from the controls on my steering wheel. Hopefully Android will one day provide an interface for such features (and a working headphone volume/remote interface!) as it would be useful to control an Android music player with a remote.
I have an iPod Touch and an old iPod classic 160GB that I will be putting up on eBay. They were good for for their time, but having to dock them on a computer to get updates for podcasts or music has become a bother. The newer iOS devices have a new proprietary plug that I have little interest in investigating any further.
It is very comforting that I now have one device that can do everything I want for entertainment, home automation, security monitoring, email, web browsing, GPS directions/logging/tracking and games- and much more… Along with a Mophie juice pack to keep all of these things going for 24h+ :)