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Friday, April 04, 2014

iTunes 11: You Don’t Have To Take It Anymore!

First things first: why am I
talking about iTunes and Apple devices on a site dedicated to Amazon’s
Kindle Fire? It’s because many—maybe even most—Kindle Fire owners aren’t
taking advantage of all the Fire’s music features because they’re
already chained to iTunes and Apple devices for digital music purchases,
downloads and management. Nobody wants the headache of having to manage
separate media libraries for different devices.
Many would LOVE to free themselves from their iTunes/Apple shackles
and find a digital music/media solution that would work seamlessly
across all their computers and portable devices, but fear they
can’t do it without major hassle and losing a huge chunk of content or
functionality. Having made myself a guinea pig for the sake of all of
us, I’m now ready to report back and can reassure everyone: it can
be done, and without losing anything but the ongoing iTunes nightmare
to which we’ve resigned ourselves for far too long. And now that iTunes
is about to force a totally redesigned, new and (reportedly) buggy
version on us, it’s as good a time as any to make the switch at last.
As Slate’s Tech Reporter Farhad Manjoo says in his article,
Won’t Someone Take iTunes Out Back and Shoot It?:
Apple’s horrible, bloated program needs to die.
Anyway, so iTunes 11
finally hit the Internet today. If you start downloading it
immediately, you might be able to get it up and running by the time the
ball drops over Times Square. People always wonder why this is—why
a simple music player weighs in at around 90 megabytes and requires
many long minutes to install and “prepare” your library before it
becomes functional. Don’t ask questions—this is just what you get with
iTunes. Each new upgrade brings more suckage into your computer. It
makes itself slower. It adds three or four more capabilities you’ll
never need. It changes its screen layout in ways that are just subtle
enough to make you throw your phone at the wall. And it adds more
complexity to its ever-shifting syncing rules to ensure that the next
time you connect your device, you’ll have to delete everything and
resync. At this point, you shake your fists and curse this foul program
to the heavens: iiiiiiiiiiiiiTuuuuuuuuuuunes!!!
Since I’ve been buying my music exclusively from Amazon’s MP3 Store
for years now (it’s generally less expensive, and I get the convenience
of free Cloud storage and accessibility from all of my household’s Fire
devices—plus, it was also easy to import to iTunes), I’ve been very
keen to free myself from the iTunes beast as well. But like everyone
else, I worried that:
  • I wouldn’t be able to find a device to match my iPod’s functionality as a portable music/audiobook player
  • I wouldn’t be able to find a media library management program to match iTunes
  • It would be a pain trying to learn how to use any new library management program
  • I’d lose a lot of my content during migration to any new library management program
  • I wouldn’t be able to find a backup/cloud storage solution like iTunes Match + iCloud that would deliver all the same features
Now that I’ve got a non-Apple digital media player (the Samsung Galaxy Player,
4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $119.99 – $149.99 for the 3.6″ screen
model) and have put myself and the device to the test by going without
iTunes or my trusty iPod for over a week, I can tell you from personal
experience that all my fears were unfounded. There IS a better way, and
you CAN free yourself from the monster iTunes has become once and for
What Finally Pushed Me Over the iTunes Cliff
If you’ve been using iTunes for any considerable period of years, you
don’t need me to tell you that many of us will keep old PCs and laptops
clunking along, stuck together with duct tape and paperclips if need be,
for as long as possible ONLY to delay the inevitable nightmare of
migrating our iTunes libraries to a new machine. That migration always
involves hours of time to re-build or re-import your music and media
library, plus many hours more of manual cleanup to deal with all the
files that didn’t get imported or were imported as duplicates.
I went through that digital music purgatory just a few short months
ago, and at the time, decided that since I was in for many, many hours
of media library management work anyway, it was as good a time as any to
sign up for iTunes Match + iCloud. This service would enable me to
upload my entire digital music library to Apple’s iCloud cloud servers,
saving me the trouble of regularly backing up, and would (supposedly)
make all my digital music available to all my Apple devices
simultaneously, without the need for manual syncing.
What Apple didn’t tell me up front was that when you sign up for iTunes
Match + iCloud, you can ONLY manage and sync your music from iCloud, you
can no longer access your local library files in iTunes. That means
that on a touchscreen device, like an iPad, you must re-download
anything you want to listen to before you can use it, and on a
non-touchscreen device, like my iPod Classic, you must still connect the
device to your computer, re-download anything you want to put on the
device from iCloud to iTunes (and yes, this creates a duplicate copy on
the hard drive where your local iTunes library is/was stored), and THEN
copy the content onto the device. Using iTunes Match + iCloud merely
inserted a new delay and step in the sync process for me—after making me
PAY for the privilege!
Finding out how to turn off iTunes Match + iCloud wasn’t easy, it
involved some Googling. But worst of all, turning those services off
(and losing the fees I’d paid for them) also meant starting all over
with my iTunes library from scratch, just the same as if I were
migrating to a new computer! I’d had it, and made up my mind right then
that if there was a better way, I would find it. Never again would I be
forced to go through this colossal and frustrating waste of time and

My New, Fire-Compatible, Digital Music and Audiobook Solution

Better Portable Device: I now use the Samsung Galaxy Player
instead of my iPod. It costs much less than the comparable iPod Touch,
and has better functionality. The Galaxy Player comes with quality
earbuds that have an in-line volume control, as well as a charger that’s
the same micro-USB type as that used for the Kindle Fire! One charger
works for both devices! The Galaxy Player not only plays music and
audiobooks, it has pretty much all the same functionality as the Samsung
Galaxy smartphone line—without the built-in phone. The Galaxy Player
does have VoIP functionality though, so you can use it like a phone by
installing certain apps that harness the VoIP capabilities of the
Better Music Library Access and Management: I now use Amazon’s Cloud Player
for digital music instead of iTunes. Cloud Player runs on the Kindle
Fire as well as computers and any portable Android device that can run
apps, so I can access and listen to my music on my Fire or computer when
I’m at home, or on my Galaxy Player when I’m at the gym, in the car, or
otherwise on the go. All I needed to do was invest in an $8 stereo audio-out/aux cable to plug the Galaxy Player into my car stereo.
There’s an Audible app for Android devices too,
so I can still listen to audiobooks in the car or gym just like I used
to do with my iPod. As an added benefit, I don’t have to download copies
of all my audiobooks to my computer and import them to iTunes, then
manually copy them to the Galaxy Player, like I used to have to do for
the iPod. I just launch the Audible app right on the Galaxy Player, pick
the book I want and download direct to the device when I’ve got a wifi
connection. Another plus is that when I use the Audible app, no matter
which device I choose to use for listening to an audiobook (e.g., the
Galaxy Player or Kindle Fire), the file picks up and plays right where
it left off the last time I used it. I can switch between devices
easily, which is something I could never do when using an iPod for my
Audible audiobooks. When I’m done with the book, I can delete it from
the device to free up space but my original, purchased copy is still
right there in the Audible/Amazon cloud, if I ever decide I want to
listen to it again.
Enjoy your music anywhere
Amazon Cloud Player Premium: Any music you buy from
Amazon is stored in Amazon’s Cloud at no extra charge by default, but I
already had a huge music library before Amazon even got into the digital
music business, and I wanted all of it to be accessible in a single,
centralized location, just like I was used to having with iTunes.
Luckily, Amazon has its own answer to iTunes Match + iCloud, and it’s
called Amazon Cloud Player premium. This service lets me upload all my
non-Amazon-purchased music to the cloud and store it there so I don’t
have to make local backups anymore, just like with iTunes Match +
iCloud. Once my music is in Amazon’s cloud, I can access and stream or
download any or all of it from the cloud to any of my
household’s computers or Fire devices, as well as to the Samsung Galaxy
Player—not just Apple devices, which was the case with iTunes.
What About My iPod Docking Devices?
True, I am letting go of the iPod docking/charging use of the iPod
dock clock radios I have in the bedroom and kitchen. However, I’m not
losing the functionality. Since I can stream anything from my Amazon
Cloud Player music library to any of my household’s Kindle Fires,
computers or portable Android devices, I can just prop my Fire up on the
countertop in the kitchen to play music there, or use my laptop or
Samsung portable player in the bedroom. I can plug the Fire or Samsung
player into a wall socket while I’m using it if remaining charge is an
issue. I never did use the ‘wake to iPod’ or ‘sleep to iPod’ functions
of my docking clock radios anyway, I really wanted them just for the
speaker functionality. I can keep using the clock radio in the bedroom
for my daily wake up to the radio, same as I always have.
I may treat myself to an Android speaker dock to replace the kitchen
clock radio dock at some point, but it’s not a necessity. By the way, I
wouldn’t even have to get a dock with a radio because the Galaxy Player
has its own radio, built right into the device!
But Wait, There’s More!
This is just the first in a series of posts about making the switch
from Apple/iTunes to Amazon/Android. In upcoming posts, I’ll go into
more detail about the Samsung Galaxy Player
device and how it stacks up against comparable Apple devices, as well
as the specific process involved in migrating away from iTunes and into
Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium and handling any iTunes music purchased
prior to 2009, with DRM attached.
I’m an especially good test case, because my digital music library is
very large and consists of music imported to iTunes from CD, bought
from iTunes both before and after the iTunes store turned off DRM in
2009, plus music purchased from the Amazon MP3 store.
I have freed myself from the tyranny of iTunes once and for all, and so can you!

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