Lynne d Johnson

 

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01.06.11 05:43 PM

Learning to Listen to My iTunes Music W/Out an iPod (and Maybe even w/out iTunes)

I've owned an iPod since the very first version, and in the time since I've only owned 2. It was iPod 1 and I guess iPod 5, which is now Classic in some regards. But I'm also an Android user, and I couldn't wait for the opportunity to not have to carry more than one device. So with my latest Android (I've had 3 -- G1, Legend, and now G2) I decided to turn it into my main music player.

Of course my first problem was that all of my music is on an external HD that I play via iTunes on my MacBook Pro. How was I going to get my iTunes music synced with my Android device in a proper way?

Double Twist
The first app I tried, DoubleTwist, bills itself as "the iTunes for Android." Well, that wasn't my experience, and back when I first tried it, my device had to be wired to my computer (DT now syncs via what they call AirSync) and it only syncs non-DRM music (that means anything I purchased prior to DRM free doesn't sync). On the desktop, the app isn't only your music player (fully loaded with all of your iTunes music, but it also gives you access to the Android Market, and Amazon MP3 store. It's also a full media player, loaded with your photos and videos, that you can also sync to your Android device. As great as I wanted the experience to be for me, half the time I couldn't even get the desktop version of the app to load (in fact, I just downloaded the latest version and it wouldn't load on my machine). Not really sure what that's all about. So I was never able to actually sync using DoubleTwist, save for the first time I tried it.

TuneSync
But, I didn't stop there. I asked around on Twitter for a solution, and my friend, media technologist Deanna Zandt suggested TuneSync. Well, I tried TuneSync Light, and for the most part, the experience worked. You can sync over WiFi, but there are limitations. You've gotta sync playlists (not albums) and you can't sync any DRM music. Foiled again. Those are limitations I'm not willing to live with, I want to experience my full iTunes collection, not just the playlists, and I want all my music and not just the unprotected tracks.

While I was trying to figure all of this out, and started thinking that what I really wanted was a music experience and perhaps I even wanted everything in the cloud as that's the direction I'm moving with most everything else that I do. But whatever I am going to adopt, would have to play nicely with my Last.fm profile, as I didn't want to lose any of my scrobbles (basically a tracking system that generates charts of the music and artists I play).

MusicWithMe
So another friend suggested I go to a meetup in NYC, where her company was being represented. They had a nice little syncing app called MusicWithMe. Similar concept as TuneSync and what DoubleTwist claims, over-the-air syncs with iTunes playlists. MWM was probably my favorite of the bunch. It's in beta for Android on Mac right now, but it's proven some ground as a BlacBerry app already. What I liked is that it has an easy enough interface to select your playlists and you can sync with wifi on or off. Doesn't really matter. I've also heard that syncing artists or albums is on the roadmap for coming versions, so this is getting me closer to what I want. It even brings Amazon MP3 purchases on the phone back to the computer. The only problem, the music has to live on the phone (or MD card). Not the worst of things to live with, but a cloud option would be excellent. MWM is sort of slow and has some problems on the desktop end of connecting to the server, but for a beta app I wouldn't complain.

Rdio
Here's where I started thinking about the best of last.fm and Pandora as radio services and players and how those experiences could live on my Android. That's when I started checking out Rdio, a social music service (that reminds me of a lot of things that Apple's Ping could aspire to). Where Rdio loses for me is that it only matches my music collection according to which tracks are currently available on the service. For instance, I matched Rdio w/my music collection (it's sort of like syncing in the cloud, but here's where it gets tricky). If Rdio doesn't have Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt, although it's in my music library, I'm not going to be able to listen to it on Rdio. But I can listen to American Gangster, or whichever other album they have available.

I loved nearly everything about Rdio. It's a great discovery tool, great for making playlists. Great all around, except for a person who already has an awesome music library and wants to be able to access it. It costs something like $9.99/month, and though it didn't work out for me, it worked out for my significant other whose iPod recently died and who doesn't have as many outlets to disover new music as I do, and who also doesn't have a deep music collection already tied to iTunes. But what I did like about Rdio for my personal use is that it scrobbles to last.fm and let's me socially connect with friends to see what they're listening to and downloading. And like last.fm and Pandora, Rdio has a Google Chrome extension.

None of these services actually solved all of my problems, yet all of them have their benefits. And right now, MusicWithMe is winning on many accounts, especially once the new sync options come online. And why I don't just use last.fm or Pandora is that I don't actually have access to my own library, or at least not my full library. And in the last.fm case, I'm not making playlists there when I already have playlists on iTunes and again, as I've said many times here, I've got shit loads of music on iTunes.


Instinctiv
The kind of music experience I really want, is something that does a bit of what MWM does but also lets all of my music live in the cloud so that I can access from any computer or device. Throwing in a social component like you have on last.fm, Ping, or Rdio would be nice too. What's coming close is a new New York startup, Instinctiv. Trying out the service right now didn't make me a happy camper, and I give the company the benefit of the doubt because their only in alpha with it. But what it promises is totally exciting. Here are some of the features: wireless sync, smarter playlists than iTunes (it creates them based on your music listening behavior), cover art cleanup, song ID, intelligent navigation and search based on your listening and search behaviors. Of course there's more, like your music doesn't have to copy from to device to device because it all lives in the player.

Like Rdio and DoubleTwist, Instinctiv is a music player and it communicates with an app on your phone. I haven't been able to get wireless sync to work yet, but connected my Android did recognize the music living on my external HD. Instinctiv also scrobbled to last.fm when I used it on the desktop, but not on the Android app. There's also a social sharing element that let's you tell your friends what you're listening to on Twitter and Facebook, and you can even do some check-ins on Foursquare and posts to Tumblr.

Since I don't yet have a solution that syncs all my music (not just non-DRM), syncs songs and artists, as well as playlists (because my music experience isn't always driven by playlists), puts my music in the cloud (so music purchased and downloaded on the device is in a library along with music purchased and downloaded on the computer) , and enables social sharing and discovery, I've often thought about just going back to my iPod and carrying two devices again. But I'm not giving up just yet.

Though I've installed and uninstalled a couple of these apps a few times, trying to figure out exactly which one works best for me, right now MWM is my standard. It syncs wirelessly over WiFi and 3G or 4G, it gets music off the phone and onto the computer as well as the other way around, and it will soon have artist and album syncing. I think I can live without it being social or in the cloud if what it offers works seamlessly.

What about you? How are you getting your iTunes music to work with a non-Apple device?

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