Tag Archives: apple

Does DRM-free music on iTunes really matter?

At MacWorld ’09, one of Apple’s “big” announcements was that the iTunes music store would be completely DRM free by the end of 2009.

As long as there are no competing hardware innovations from other companies, DRM-free music doesn’t matter one bit.

The majority of people use iTunes because they love their iPod (or iPhone) and not the other way around.   The announcement for DRM-free music doesn’t do anything for the normal user, that has a one or two computers and an iPod/iPhone.   Amazon has had DRM-free music for quite some time, but Apple hasn’t been any closer to losing their death grip on the digital music industry.

As it currently stands, the player and music store business is a parallel to the wireless phone  industry.

Traditionally, wireless carriers  would lock you into their service in 4 ways — service contracts, wireless coverage, handset selection and most important, the inability to move your cell phone number to another service provider.  Switching carriers meant that you’d lose your phone number, so for years and years, we put up with each carrier’s BS because we didn’t want Mom inadvertantly calling some stranger because you switched to AT&T.

However, after wireless phone number portability came about, wireless carriers lost their biggest leverage over us.  With this, came lower prices, shorter contracts and an increasing equality in coverage as they all fought to keep our business.  Carriers quickly realized that handset selection could be a big differentiator and became the new reason why customers would stay begrudgingly loyal.  This is why AT&T’s exclusive deal with Apple for the iPhone was key to give AT&T Cingular AT&T a significant advantage over Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile.  Customeres from other services ran to AT&T not because of their customer service, superior prices, or even their coverage area.  It was because they had the iPhone.

Apple’s dominance with the  iTunes store is not due to lock in from DRM.  It’s because they made kickass elegant devices.  Even though it is an expectation today that buying and sync’ing music is easy, back when the iTunes store launched, it was considered icing on the perfect hardware cake.  This caused more and more people to flock to the holy temple of Steve Jobs for their music purchasing needs.

Until someone comes around and makes a phone or portable music player that is both better than the Apple products and has a music service that is at least on par in terms of selection and ease of use, DRM-free music is just a marketing bullet that Apple can use to show they’re “open“.

Fix for MP3 songs not playing in iTunes

The problem

About a month ago, while at work listening to music on my iPhone 3G, I noticed that certain songs weren’t playing.  The iPhone would pause for a brief moment at the start of the song and then skip to the next one.  It happens so quickly that if you weren’t looking at the screen you wouldn’t notice it.

At first, I thought it was an issue specific to the iPhone.  However, when I tried to play those same songs on iTunes 7.x, they would also refuse to play.   Since I am almost always playing music on “shuffle” (random) mode, it’s easy to see why I didn’t notice this earlier.  In fact, I had no idea how long this was occurring.

The odd thing was that these same songs would play in other media players like Windows Media Player, Winamp and Foobar2000.  It was just iTunes, and consequently the iPhone, that was giving me problems.

After researching the problem by scouring the web, I found that this was in fact a common problem hitting a lot of users.  I read a ton of suggestions, some dating back quite a few years.  Here are some of the suggestions that I found and tried in desperation:

  • Deleted the ID3v2 tag and rebuilt it
  • Disabled “Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device” from the advanced properties of my sound card
  • Re-installed DirectX
  • Removed song from iTunes Library and Re-added it
  • Completely uninstall iTunes and re-install it

None of these worked and I was making no progress.   I even tried upgrading to iTunes 8 hoping that it would be one of the hidden bug fixes.  Unfortunately, the new version of iTunes didn’t help.

Finding a solution

After quite a few more days of troubleshooting and experimenting, I finally stumbled upon the solution.  It turns out that the MP3s that wouldn’t play had out of spec MPEG headers, which I verified and repaired using a freeware tool called MP3 Validator.

(Update (2/5/2009): In the comments, “Chris” found an app that apparently works for Mac users called ID3 Editor.  Warning, I have not tried this app myself, just passing on teh recommendation. If it works for you, drop a comment a let me know.)

(Update (2/28/2009): In the comments, Vince determined that ID3 Editor on the Mac did not fix the problem.  So Mac users, don’t try that app.  Instead, the best method is to find a friend on with a PC!)

(Update (5/29/2009): In the comments, bowlerboy_jmb found out that there is indeed a Mac OS X equivalent for MP3Val called MP3 Scan + Repair which uses the same engine as the MP3Val program mentioned in this post! Mac users rejoice!

I scanned my entire library of music and turned out that about 60% of my music collection suffered from this problem.  Since only a subset of these songs wouldn’t play in iTunes (but would play fine in others), it seems that while iTunes is tolerant of some MPEG header errors it is not as forgiving as all other media players I tried.  Since I”m positive these songs played on older version of iTunes 7, something must have changed under the covers along the way in later iTunes update.

After scanning and repairing all the afflicted songs in my library, all my music happily plays in iTunes (and my iPhone).

Step-by-step guide on how to fix your music

Here’s a quick guide on how to fix this problem using free tools in case you’re suffering from the same problem.  I’ll show you how to fix one song, then you can use the same technique on your entire library if you need to.

  1. Download MP3 Tag Validator and extract it to a folder on your PC.  It doesn’t require any installation.
  2. To start the program, just run mp3val-frontend.exe. You’ll be shown a simple application window:image
  3. (Optional) First thing I did was to enable the option Keep file timestamps since I didn’t want all the timestamps to change from the repair.  Go to File | Preferences and make your configuration look like this:
    image
  4. Find one of the songs that won’t play in iTunes and add it to the MP3 Validator window.  You can either drag-and-drop it into the main program window, or you can go to File | Add File(s).  For me, one of the songs was Stealth by Way Out West. image
  5. We’ll now run a scan of the file first, to see if you are suffering from an MPEG header problem.  Click Actions | Scan all. The app is quite fast and you’ll get a modal confirmation dialog almost right away.  Dismiss it with OK.
  6. In order to see the results of the scan, you have to select the song in the main window, and then you’ll see status messages from the scan in the status area.imageHere is a copy and paste of the output, from which I’ve bolded the specific MPEG errors that are present in the file:

    Analyzing file “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3″…
    WARNING: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3” (offset 0xa301a3): Garbage at the end of the file
    WARNING: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: Wrong number of MPEG frames specified in Xing header (13122 instead of 13056)
    WARNING: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: Wrong number of MPEG data bytes specified in Xing header (10711873 instead of 10658221)
    INFO: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: 13056 MPEG frames (MPEG 1 Layer III), +ID3v1+ID3v2, Xing header
    Done!

  7. Now that we’ve verified there are indeed MPEG header errors, let’s fix them.  Click Actions | Repair all files.  Similar to the scan we did in step 6, you’ll see a modal confirmation dialog informing you the repair was completed.  After dismissing the dialog, select the song and you’lll see a more detailed confirmation of the repair in the status area:

    Analyzing file “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3″…
    WARNING: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3” (offset 0xa301a3): Garbage at the end of the file
    WARNING: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: Wrong number of MPEG frames specified in Xing header (13122 instead of 13056)
    WARNING: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: Wrong number of MPEG data bytes specified in Xing header (10711873 instead of 10658221)
    INFO: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: 13056 MPEG frames (MPEG 1 Layer III), +ID3v1+ID3v2, Xing header
    Rebuilding file “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3″…
    FIXED: “D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Way Out West\Intensify\06 Stealth.mp3”: File was rebuilt
    Done!

  8. You should now be able verify that the song now plays in iTunes.  Since MP3 Tag Validator doesn’t rename the file, you won’t even have to re-import the song into your iTunes library.

In the default configuration, MP3 Tag Validator keeps a backup of the original song in the same directory with the added file extension .bak. If your library was as big as mine and spread over countless sub-directories, you’ll want to clean this up to reclaim the disk space.  In Vista (or Windows 7), this was really easy using the file search in Windows Explorer.  All you have to do is run a search in the root of your music folder for “ext:*.bak” (without the quotes) and you’ll get search results for all the backup files that were made. Just select them all and delete them and you’ll reclaim all the disk space.

image

Alternatively, you can configure MP3 Tag Validator to delete the backup files when it successfully finishes repairing the files, but I opted against this as I wanted to be absolutely certain the repaired files were OK before deleting the originals.

I really hopes this helps and saves time for at least one other person out there.  I probably wasted a total of 12 hours over the course of week trying to figure this out.

iTunes 8 skips forward multiple songs instead one

ituneslogoAs soon as I upgraded to iTunes 8 I immediately noticed a problem where clicking the “Next track” button when shuffle was off would skip ahead 2 or 3 songs instead of going to the next track.  After consulting with a few friends that couldn’t reproduce the problem, I realized it was something specific with my setup.  I started up iTunes in safemode (hold CTRL+SHIFT as you start up iTunes) to disable all plugins:

iTunes starting in safe mode

After doing this, the problem was solved! This obviously meant it was one of the plugins I had installed was the culprit, which meant it was either the plugin from iLike or Last.fm.

I first uninstall Last.fm, but that didn’t fix it, so I then uninstalled iLike. Bingo!  Problem was immediately solved.  To make sure it was specifically the iLike plugin, I re-installed the Last.fm plugin to double check.  Yup, iTunes was working as expected still.

I’ll have to shoot a bug report over to Craig, who is now working at iLike to get them to fix this.  It’s good having “connections” sometimes!

Problems with the iPhone 3G

I’m still in the process of authoring a blog post on what it was like to move to an iPhone 3G after nearly 6 years of using Windows Mobile devices.  My most recent phone was a Motorola Q9H which was running Windows Mobile 6.0.

However, in the meantime, I’m getting super frustrated over the crazy bugs and problems I’ve been having with the iPhone so I wanted to spend a bit of time venting.  While Windows Mobile is not perfect by any means, the iPhone is definitely getting a lot of undue accolades in my opinion.  There are features and scnearios that work fantastically such as GPS integration into Google Maps, Yelp, etc, and not to mention the obviously superior web browsing experience.  However, the things that don’t work well, are absolutely horrible.

This writeup is in no way trying to compare Windows Mobile to the iPhone.  Instead, this is isolated feedback on the iPhone 3G.

In no particular order, here are my gripes:

  • The UI and Application performance is horrible. There is unacceptable lag in so many scenarios, but the most glaring one is with the Contacts application.  Even after updating to the new 2.0.1 firmware, it can take up to 4 seconds for the Contacts application to load.
  • Why does it have to “backup” my iPhone everytime I dock and sync with iTunes?  Even better, why isn’t this configurable?  This is made worse because these “backups” can take as long as an hour for me.
  • When the first generation iPhone launched last year, Steve Jobs stated:

“…iPhone’s battery life is longer than any other ‘Smartphone’ and even longer than most MP3 players… We’ve also upgraded iPhone’s entire top surface from plastic to optical-quality glass for superior scratch resistance and clarity. There has never been a phone like iPhone, and we can’t wait to get this truly magical product into the hands of customers starting just 11 days from today.”

When the iPhone 3G launched this year, he said:

“If we compare this to WiFi, we’ll see 3G approaches WiFi speeds. We’re also really proud that we’re doing this with great battery life — standby time is 300 hours.  2G talk time is up from 8 hours to 10 hours. 3G talk time… other phones have 3 – 3.5 hours, we’ve managed 5 hours of 3G talk time, which is an industry-leading amount of time.”

I have no idea how the Apple Engineers have their phones configured, but there is not way I’m getting this type of battery life.  With 3G, push email, bluetooth and Wifi turned on, I can barely get through half the work day with a single charge.  I’ve had to resort to either 15 min email sync’ing on the “fetch” setting, bluetooth off and wifi selectively turned on.  I can now last a full day now, but as a contingency plan, I bought an iPhone 3G dock for my office.  Goodbye $40.

  • I get continued errors about applications not being able to install or update, and when that happens I get obscenely useless errors messages. Here’s the latest gem I get from iTunes:

image

  • iTunes still has horrible performance after all these years.  It doesn’t like the fact my music was on a network share, so much so, that there would be a noticeable lag between keystrokes in the search box.  Did I mention I have a gigabit ethernet network at home?
  • I get random crashing from applications.  At first I thought this was the fault of the 3rd party application developers, but the biggest offender is Safari.  If Apple can’t even get it right, then how can 3rd party developers?  Something is amiss either in Apple’s hiring competency for developers or the iPhone OS is pure crap.  Either way, the end-user loses.
  • Apple gets continually praised for making things “easy to use”, but the iPhone is an counter-example, and a big one at that.  There are weird UI inconsistency exist all over the place, one example is between SMS and Email.  For SMS, why is there no way to delete a message when you’re viewing it like there is with email?  You can only “clear” the message thread, but this leaves an entry in the SMS inbox.  To delete it you have to do it from the inbox.

This is all I can think of off the top of my head.  Stay tuned for a later post on specifically commenting on an enterprise user like myself going from a Windows Mobile device to an iPhone.  That’s where it will get interesting.

iPhone 3G Compatible accessories

Many First-gen iPhone owners are dimageiscovering that after they upgrade to an iPhone 3G that their existing accessories will not  work.  This includes accessories car chargers , alarm clocks, and in-car chargers like in my friend’s new infinity G37.

Apple decided to change the way the iPhone 3G charges and disabled the 12V Firewire (pins 19 and 20 on the connector) in favor of USB (ping 16 ground and pin 23 5V).  This has royally hosed the entire accessory market with an endless supply of forum messages of people wondering (and outraged) at why their iPhones aren’t charging properly.

I figure it’s only a matter of time before someone create an adapter to “fix” first-gen iPhone accessories.  Until then, here is a list of accessories I know for certain work with the iPhone 3G:

Car chargers and connectors:

Docks and Hubs:

Speaker systems:

Battery Packs:

These do not work:

  • Alpine 9856
  • Alpine KCE-422i Connection Cable
  • Apple iPod HiFi
  • Belkin Auto Kit for iPod with Dock Connector.
  • BlueTouch
  • BOSE SoundDock
  • Dension ICE
  • DLO auto charger
  • Homedics SoundSpa
  • Kenwood KCA-IP 500 iPod Interface
  • Monster car charger
  • Monster FM tuner
  • Infinity G37 iPod interface
  • Pioneer D3
  • Pioneer Elite AV receiver VSX-84TXSi
  • Scion TC iPod connection
  • SIRIUS Soloist Universal Sound System
  • Sony XA-110IP iPod Interface Adapter
  • Subaru Forester ‘09 iPod connection kit
  • USB Fever iPod Direct Cigarette Plug FM Transmitter and charger
  • VW OEM iPod adapter

If you have any accessories you know for sure do or do not work, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.