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iTunes Overhaul?

iTunesThis post started as a simple screencast reveling in the simplicity that was early iTunes. Remember the multi-button? Click on a CD and the button became an Importer. Click on a playlist and it was a Burner. The interface was fantastically simple and surely helped iPod mania spread like wildfire.

That interface element is long gone. In its place Apple has added new innovations including DJ, Genius, remote speakers, and of course – video. It’s come a long way – so far that it’s hard to believe folders for organizing our playlists were once on the still-not-there list.iTunes 4

Now on the brink of iTunes 9 the murmurs have begun about what to expect. Topping the list is social networking. Also likely: The ability to arrange your iPhone / iPod touch icons on your computer instead of playing the tile game on your iPhone. Far less likely: DVD ripping.

If you watched the screencast and you appreciate a good interface you have to wonder what happened to iTunes. It’s become somewhat scattered. And you have to wonder at what point Apple realized TV Shows and Movies would reside in the iTunes Library.

iTunes could improve in a few areas:

  • Why can’t I search Movies, Music, and TV Shows at once? Clicking the node seems a wasted step, especially when search results could easily be grouped by container.
  • Adding information for imported video, like episode information, is messy. This is one of the places where iTunes shows it wasn’t built for video.
  • Why isn’t there something like the Migration Assistant to help someone move iTunes to a new computer? I would never expect anyone to be able to accomplish this feat without help from someone who reads stuff like this.
  • Why can’t I remove a watched episode from a playlist from my Apple TV? Or my iPhone? So it doesn’t come back on the next sync.
  • Why does syncing my first generation iPod touch take twenty-five minutes?

I’m not saying iTunes is a disaster. Some of the features are great. I use an Apple TV, an EyeTV, an iPhone, and an Airport Express. I remote control iTunes from the iPhone. I stream from the Apple TV directly to the Airport Express. It’s all good – and they could take it further. How about Starbucks running iTunes in DJ mode and letting customers vote songs up the queue with their iPhones?

But at some point iTunes needs an overhaul. Apple should take a look at tools like PowerTunes and the massive AppleScript library at Doug’s Scripts. They’ll find functions that should be built into iTunes. Maybe they can give it a better name too.  The screencast is short, take a look.

AirFoil Adds Features

Murphy uses AirFoil to send audio from a web browser to an Airport Express or an Apple TV.   It’s great for listening to Pandora throughout the house, with various speakers all in sync.  There’s an Apple TV connected to the stereo and an Airport Express connected to a Tivoli radio in the kitchen.  AirFoil can also send audio to another Mac, like the G5 upstairs that has decent speakers connected.  Three sets of speakers all playing one stream throughout the house.

Airfoil keeps getting better.  Recently it gained the ability to ‘hijack’ audio from an application that’s already running.  Previously, you had to start AirFoil, and then launch the application from AirFoil to send its audio to another device.  Not anymore – AirFoil can access already-running applications now.  And they’ve added an iPhone app.  So Murphy can bring a portable radio out on the porch – connect an iPod touch – and listen to the same stream that’s playing in the house.  In a nutshell, it turns an iPhone or touch into a battery powered Airport Express in terms of music streaming.

The software is rock solid, no drop-outs.  The interface is simple and unobtrusive.

Using Quicktime Murphy could listen to the aapl quarterly conference call over AirFoil.  Sending the stream into the kitchen beats lugging a laptop in there.  It’s great for Songza, Pandora, YouTube – or whatever audio you want to transmit.  You can even transmit an iTunes stream to your iPhone or touch – enhancing its multi-speaker functionality.

The iPhone / touch application is free.   The desktop software is $25.  AirFoil for Mac / Windows.  There’s a bundle with both for $40.

AirSharing

AirSharingan application for your iPhone or iPod touch, turning the device into a wifi storage drive and file viewer.

It would be nice if Apple would let you copy files directly to your iPhone or touch over the USB cable, but they don’t.  What we can do is copy files over from a Mac or PC using AirSharing.  As a bonus you get a viewer providing support for a variety of file types.   More on that at the end.  First, let’s look at how we copy files onto your device, and how we get them off.

Placing Files on Your Device
connect
To copy files on from your Mac just go to the Go menu in Finder and select Connect to Server.  Or  hit Command-K.  In the box that opens (see image to the right) enter  http://w.x.y.z   — but replace w.x.y.z with the ip address of your device.  Don’t know the ip?  Don’t worry, AirSharing will help with that as we’ll see in a minute.

foldersA Finder window will open displaying whatever folders you’ve created on your iPhone or touch.  You can drag files in or out, delete files or folders, or create new ones.

connectIf you’re on a PC you’ll start with Internet Explorer.  Go to the File menu and click open.  Enter the address of your device just like the steps above – and make sure to check the box.  A window will open displaying the folders on your device.

Getting Files Off Your Device.  

When activated on your device, AirSharing turns it into a pocket web server.  Your friends (on the same wifi network with your device) can access your files by pointing their web browser to http://w.x.y.z:8080. connect Again, replace the w.x.y.z with the ip address of your device.  The 8080 is the port number where the web server is running.  For more on what port numbers are read the end of this post.

Just like any other web page, users can right-click the file links to perform operations like saving the referenced file to disk.

File Viewer
list
As a bonus, AirSharing includes viewers for many file types you might want to open.  iWork, photos, office docs, pdf, web docs – in addition to music and movies.  This really comes in handy.  See the developer site for a list of file formats supported.  Instead of having to use iTunes to copy photos onto your device you can just drag a folder of images over and use the AirSharing viewer to display them.

Notice in the image to the right that the ip address of the device is displayed at the bottom of the screen.  The ip address can be seen elsewhere in the interface of AirSharing too, like the settings page.  You can also turn AirSharing off when you’re not using it, which Murphy would recommend.

If you’ve got a big web page you want to review later you can save it as a web archive in Safari and transfer it to your device using AirSharing.  That way you can read it later offline.

Summary

AirSharing makes ferrying files using your iPhone or touch easy.  Yes, wifi is a little slow, but it’s a pretty simple solution that doesn’t need any third party software on your Mac or PC.

In addition, you can copy content like photos, audio, and movies to your device without going through iTunes.  For some that might be worth the price of admission.  Check out AirSharing at the developers site.  $6.99.

Remote Desktop Control – iPhone or iPod touch

iphone ipod touch remote

A true Apple fan from deep in the backwoods of County Meath – that’s Ireland – dropped two nuggets of info on Murphy today:  Two ways to remote control a computer from your iPhone or iPod touch.

logmein.com

First, there’s logmein.com, which has become a favorite remote control option for Murphy.  It’s secure, it’s free, and it makes maintaining a list of the computers you connect to simple.  When Murphy signs into logmein.com he sees which computers are online – and can connect with a click from a web browser.  From anywhere.

This post by the Technology Evengelist shows how you can make a simple change to your logmein.com preferences so your iPhone or iPod touch can be used as the client.  First you select the computer you want to make the change for, then update the preferences to use an html client when connecting.  Details in the post.

VNC Lite

If you prefer VNC there’s a client in the App Store called Mocha VNC Lite, as reported by Just Another Iphone Blog.  I was connected to my Mac in about 45 seconds including the install.  VNC on a tiny screen requires a little patience, but it’s great to have the access when you don’t have a computer.

More Remote Tips

Murphy has tons of posts – tons – to help you with gaining access to a remote Mac.  We’ve got you covered from getting started with SSH and SCP to emailing yourself a filename – and automatically having the file sent to you in a reply.  Murphy also has posts on auto-emailing a file that’s dropped in a Finder folder.  So you can ssh in, copy a file to a folder, and it’s on its way.

Twitter While You Sleep

TwitterWait until you see what a clever pun this title is. Using the sleep command in Terminal you can update your Twitter status while you’re away. Or sleeping.

Apple has jumped around a little with regards to command line scheduling tools, but the sleep command is still dead-simple to use. (Read more about scheduling with lingon and launchd here)

Suppose you have a command you want to run once, at a future time. Use sleep followed by the number of seconds to wait. Then use a semi-colon to separate the command to run at the appointed time.

sleep 30 ; command

The above example will execute command 30 seconds after you hit the return key. 3600 seconds is an hour. 86,400 seconds in each and every day.

So now you just need a command to update Twitter. The curl command comes with your Mac. Twitter Development Talk boasts the easiest way to update Twitter from the command line. Scroll down to The Easiest Way to Play Around with the Twitter API. Christopher Penn has a post on it too, but the command is cut-off on his blog.

The command should look like this:

curl -u username:password -d status=”your message here” http://twitter.com/statuses/update.xml

Enter that all on one line. It would be better to make it into a shell script. Just copy that line into a text file, maybe name it tw.sh, and replace the your message here part with $1. Then use chmod to make it executable.

Note: Don’t know how to make it executable? Read more about making a shell script. Learn even more about shell scripts: make an interactive shell script.

From there you can enter the following in the Terminal:

./tw.sh “Looking into starting my own airline…”

And you’ve updated your Twitter status.  You can make that cleaner by setting an alias for your shell script.

Finally, to have your tweet post onto Twitter hours later you could enter something like this in the Terminal:

sleep 7200; ./tw.sh “I’m sleeping” (you’ll need to leave your Mac on)

If you’re a stickler about your Twittering and want to be accurate, this is the way to go. Schedule that I’m in the shower tweet in advance. People need to know.

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