Thursday, July 17, 2008

A busy week for streaming radio to your iPhone

This week was the launch of the new, faster iPhone, and the opening of the iPhone app store.  While the launch had a few rough times, and the app store is pretty underwhelming, there are a few great things.  I already commented on the Pandora app (and should have blogged about the one, since imho it's waaaay better than the Pandora one).  Anywho, lots of cool stuff in the future, even if the app store's pretty anemic for now.

So, what's new with ooTunes?  I just uploaded a brand new version (  Here's a few of the changes/fixes/improvements:

ooTunes can now stream windows media streams (lots of internet radio stations use this format...  usually the stream address begins with mms://).  iTunes can't play these streams, but with the help of a wonderful free (and open source) program called VLC, you can now play these streams on your iPhone.  See the transcoding help section for the nitty gritty details.

Trying to keep up with the big guys, we added the ability to start a new Pandora station from a search term.  In the future we'll have a way to start one from any song in any of your playlists (like you can by dragging and dropping songs on the pandora playlist in a regular browser), but for now, manual search will have to do.

Continuous play playlists in mobilesafari (the browser on the iPhone) have been re-implemented.  Apple has left things in a pretty frustrating state when it comes to playing music in anything but the iPhone's own song library... (e.g. no javascript player controls or events in safari, no background processes in SDK applications, no way to keep playing when the phone is locked, no way to use the double button push to bring up the controls, the modal quicktime player in safari, the skip buttons won't skip to the next song in the quicktime player, can't show album art, etc., etc.)  Nonetheless, we've done the best we can given the current state of things.   The nice thing about playing music in mobile safari is that you CAN put it in the background and it will keep playing... you just can't show anything else (even art)... you can even lock the screen and it will keep playing... so it's the closest thing to "usable" that we have. 

Previously, we used a javascript timer to guess when the next song should be played.  Unfortunately that broke things when you put safari in the background since javascript stops... so we use genuine playlists now...  there are two (new) downsides to this... 
1.  You have to push "play" twice to get the playlist to start... once to load it, once to start it playing.
2.  When you put safari into the background or lock your phone, the next song doesn't start playing until it is COMPLETELY DOWNLOADED!  So, even though the player is CAPABLE of buffering and playing before the whole song is streamed, it choses not to when in the background... if you have a fast connection (wifi) this download is fast and it's not super annoying.  On slower connections, it's more annoying.  As a (crappy) workaround, you can simply switch back to Safari for one second and it starts playing, then go back to whatever else you were doing.  

Seriously though, it sucks that developers are left with two (differently) sub-par solutions for streaming music on a device that is designed to do so.  Hopefully apple will address this in the future. 

Bugs fixed:
windows iTunes interaction was broken in a previous release... songs should be marked played again with this version (if you have that turned on).

A "remember me" login option was added.  NOTE: you should be careful with this since it's stored in a cookie (it expires in 7 days), so you probably don't want to use it on a computer that others use.

Fixed a minor bug with the seeqpod playlist showing up as playable without anything to play.

Now that we have all the hooks in to use VLC, that opens the door for future support and transcoding of lots more formats and thus, lots more content.  

Apple says they're "processing"  my iphone developer program application.  Hopefully that gets approved quickly... I have a great "flashlight" application that just HAS to be in the store ASAP!

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