The Break Up of iTunes, a musician’s perspective

Piggybacking off of yesterday’s post, there was a rumor earlier in the month that the next wave of iOS apps to come to the Mac are Apple’s very own media apps.

9to5mac.com - Next major macOS version will include standalone Music, Podcasts, and TV apps, Books app gets major redesign | Guilherme Rambo:

Fellow developer Steve Troughton-Smith recently expressed confidence about some evidence found indicating that Apple is working on new Music, Podcasts, and perhaps Books apps for macOS, to join the new TV app.

I’ve been able to independently confirm that this is true. On top of that, I’ve been able to confirm with sources familiar with the development of the next major version of macOS – likely 10.15 – that the system will include standalone Music, Podcasts, and TV apps, but it will also include a major redesign of the Books app. We also got an exclusive look at the icons for the new Podcasts and TV apps on macOS.

I have been arguing that iTunes should be broken up into separate apps on the Mac for years. As a musician and teacher who is an absolute iTunes power user, and who depends on music library management tools, I thought it was worth digging into the implications of this a little bit.

If you are a podcast listener, and have room in your diet for some shows that discuss Apple technology, there was an astoundingly good conversation about this topic on last week’s episodes of Upgrade and ATP. Both shows discuss not only the implications for the future of iTunes, but for the very nature of the Mac itself.

I am so excited for the TV app and the Podcast app to get their own attention. They have been much needed for a long time. I imagine Podcasts will be solid out of the gate. I will kind of miss the current TV app icon on iOS and the Apple TV but I understand that Apple needs to brand it with their logo since it is going to be coming to third party TVs and Amazon Fire products this fall with the launch of their new TV service. I don’t know how a Books app based on the iOS version would work with my imported PDF book library, but it is already wildly inconsistent between iOS and macOS so I cannot imagine it could get any worse.

iTunes is a place that I have traditionally relied heavily upon to organize my music library, recordings of my ensemble, and video performances of my concerts. I detail my entire music and video workflows in my book, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers.

iTunes is the only app that allows me to store my personal library alongside a streaming music library, and sync it across multiple devices. This is what has set it apart from Spotify for me over the past few years. iTunes also has some great video organization tools. For years now, I have organized all video of my school ensemble’s live performance (amongst numerous other musical performances and home video) into the video section of iTunes, and then pointed a Plex server towards the folder of files so that I can stream them from my Apple TV and iOS devices on the go.

If the new Music and TV apps are just like their iOS counterparts, there are a whole lot of features I depend on that could potentially get ditched. Here are a few of them...

-Importing my own music. The iOS version of music can’t even import a song. That’s right! If I buy an album on Bandcamp, or take an audio file of a professional band performing a tune my ensemble is working on, I can drag them right into iTunes on my Mac, and they will sync to my mobile devices over Apple Music Library. I would imagine Apple has to have at least figured this one out for iOS if they are going to ship this app on the Mac in the fall.

-Metadata control. It would be a sad day if I could not press the info button on a song, add my own comments, rating, and adjustments to the title, album name, etc.

-Smart Playlists. Jazz and classical recordings are notoriously difficult to manage in iTunes because of how complex their metadata is. In addition to editing artist and album information in these recordings, I have spent some time adding extra info to the comments section of my songs and then creating smart playlists to filter them. If Miles Davis is tagged in every recording he sat in on, you can make playlists like ‘Songs Miles Soloed On Between 1961-75.’

-Adding video. QuickTime (much like Preview) is an app that exists only on the Mac, because it is natively built into iOS whenever you tap a media file (or PDF in the case of Preview). Apple never had a dedicated app for managing video (although there is the awkward iMovie Library feature which has an arbitrary file limit). That said, iTunes is a pretty great utility for this purpose. I would hate to loose its video management features, even though they were never on iOS to begin with. The TV app is looking more and more like it is built to fulfill Apple’s TV strategy, which is to aggregate as much TV and Movie content from as many providers as possible, into a unified entertainment service. Don’t get my wrong, I am excited, I just don’t see myself using it to organize recordings of my band concerts.

Presumably iTunes isn’t going anywhere any time soon. For these legacy features, and including the need to sync older iOS devices to a Mac, I imagine it will still come on the Mac, buried in the Utilities folder, for years to come. Hopefully, users will still be able to do actions like I listed above in iTunes, and enjoy the benefit of them in the new Music app.

In conclusion, I remain highly cynical about this transition because Apple does not seem interested in making good apps in recent years. Conversely, I am enthusiastic about the long term benefit. If Apple developers are writing code for just one version of their apps instead of two, it is more likely that iOS versions of software will get elevated. That is exciting, even if it means that the Mac apps cannot do all of the same stuff they could always do at first. Coupled with rumors that Apple is going to release an ARM based Mac in the near future, I would like to believe that years down the road, we will be getting closer to a shared app platform between all Apple devices, with feature parity, and less distinction between input devices and which hardware its running on.

iOS apps I would love to see come to the Mac, a musician’s perspective

There has been a lot of buzz lately around ‘Marzipan,’ a set of developer tools that Apple is making to help third party developers more easily port their iOS apps to macOS. It is heavily rumored that Apple will detail this initiative at their developer conference, WWDC, this June (during the keynote on June 3rd).

Last year at WWDC, Apple unveiled four Mac apps that use this new set of tools to bring iPad-like versions of iOS apps to the Mac. The apps launched were Home, Stocks, Voice Memos, and News. The apps have been met with much criticism for their lack of Mac-likeness. For example, when you double click a news article in the News app, you can't see an article in a separate window, a behavior you would expect from the Mail app or Notes app on Mac. Likewise, the Home app, when setting up a time based automation displays they iOS style date picker, with scrollable numbers, rather than the calendar like interface that you would see when selecting a date in traditional Mac apps.

I agree that these four Mac apps are garbage, but I would much rather have the utility of them than not. Even if all these Mac apps do are act like iPad apps that accept input from a cursor instead of a finger, I would still kill to have any of the following on macOS:

-Tonal Energy Tuner. There are no tuning drone based apps, even on the web, that do 1/100th of what this iOS app does. My Mac is my primary device for sharing audio and visuals with my students during class. This would get used every single day.

-forScore. I have a weird way of managing my digital sheet music using the file system of my Mac, but then importing duplicate copies into my iPad’s forScore library. It would be really nice to have one place where this is all managed across all devices. Of course, this would require forScore to sync a library across devices, which the team has told me is too difficult a task to prioritize currently.

-Twitter. Twitter killed their Mac app recently and as someone who recently started using their app on iOS (Tweetbot is still far better but Twitter no longer provides the proper APIs for them to stay up to date on modern features), I would really prefer to not use the web browser on the Mac.

-Apollo. To my knowledge, there has never been a good Reddit client on any non-mobile device. Apollo is great.

-Facebook Messenger. I hate Facebook but it is a necessary communication tool. I would love to use it for that without going to their stupid website ever again.

-Overcast. My favorite podcast player. Would love to have it on Mac.

-Health. An app that excels in showing me data on graphs and charts sure would be useful on the big screen of a Mac.

-Due. My favorite reminder app is already on Mac but it looks gross.

-Instapaper. I use ReadKit on the Mac as an Instapaper client on Mac now, but would not mind something more minimal. Instapaper is the perfect candidate for a Marzipan app for its simplicity.

-Instagram. Who wouldn’t want this on Mac?

-Tempo. There is only one good metronome app on the Mac (Dr. Betotte). Opening up UIKit to Mac developers would bring a whole lot of competition in this space. Frozen Ape’s Tempo would be my first choice to get ported over.

-AnyList. Their Mac app is already just a gross port of their iOS app. Using Apple’s tools would surely make it prettier and more responsive.

-Ferrite Recording Studio. My podcast audio editor of choice is only on iPad. It sure would be cool to use these tools on a bigger screen with keyboard and mouse.

Email

I was ‘triggered,’ so to speak, by this New York Times Op-Ed over the weekend —> No, You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude. 

 

After reading it, I was admittedly less put off by the content than I was the headline. It’s a short one, so I wont even quote any of it here. Just read it.

 

I have have had a particularly rough year with email, mostly because I have had a rough year with time management. Simply put, I bit off more than I can chew this school year. I have had more instances of emails collecting dirt at the bottom of my inbox for weeks, than ever before, and this poor practice has even started to bleed into my text message conversations, which I often claim is the far easier way to get a response from me. It still is, but my lack of ability to respond is obviously due to time management, not email.

 

Or is it? Email, by nature, is still a part of the problem. Email is so flexible a tool, and used for such widely different purposes, that it is hard to prioritize its content. And everyone has different email practices, expectations, and writing styles, that it is impossible to know how to please anyone. I prefer the efficiency of digital text over phone when possible. But my tone comes across indisputably better in person than in email, in which I am short and to the point when I am crunched for time. It would be easy to think I am mad at you from my email messages, if you know me personally, and I am responding briefly. 

 

Tools like SaneBox and email apps like Spark mail help. Snoozing message, defering todo emails to OmniFocus as tasks, and filtering my inbox are things that have cut my email time down by an average of six hours a week. Replacing email with Slack and Trello on my music team has also helped tremendously. And using TextExpander to type default messages to parents also cuts down on hours. If you are interested in these strategies, I welcome you to check out my podcast, The Class Nerd. Episode 1 and 2 on email, episode 5 on team communication, and a forthcoming episode on parent communication tools.

 

So why am I still stressed? I find that 90 percent of the time it is due to getting ‘stuck’ on certain messages. Messages that require a careful answer, the tone to be crafted precisely, not knowing the proper conventions to which someone desires to be replied to, etc... I never get stuck on emails that are a keystroke and a click away from being dealt with, or deferred.... but I guess that’s the point of the Op-Ed. You can’t defer ‘people.’ And the emails that require the most human touch are the ones I get hung up on.

 

But still, I find the mixed conventions of email utterly perplexing. Do you expect that I reply within a day? An hour? A week? Do you want me to address the message Dear ___? Would you like me to address you with an introductory sentence? A closing thought? An email signature? Would you rather me tell you I got it, even if a proper response can’t be delivered for weeks? And how do I deal with email while still actually doing my job (which is music teaching, by the way, not sitting in front of a computer screen)? How many times a day should I check my email? Should I leave the notifications on? Should I even have the app open all the time in the first place? If I open it intentionally, how many times a day, and when? How do I respond like E.B. White when I perceive others to expect more in the modern age? 

 

At the end of the day, I think this article is a little unfair. I do not think that everyone deserves my attention, and they definitely don’t get it when they want it. But there are also some clear examples in my life of when my slow email response to others is inconvenient and disrespectful to them. So, even if I cant find a good answer to the questions in the previous paragraph, what do I do during weeks like these past few, when I am hopelessly behind? The article had a good idea: Recommending to others, when you are behind, that they find some other channel to reach you... a Slack channel, Twitter, post-it notes, etc... I love this idea, but Slack and Twitter don’t seem professional for school use.

 

So here is my proposal. A free app idea for anyone reading... I would like an app that... 

 

1. Has a user interface like a chat app.  

2. Allows anyone to reach me. 

3. Can interface with my SMS but does not give others access to my cell phone number. 

4. Has ‘office hours,’ meaning that messages don’t go through to me during hours I set. 


Something like the Remind app but that works in the opposite direction. I can give someone a link in my email signature, and they can message me through it informally, and expect at the least, a quick “I got it.” Know of anything?

Editing audio with toUch gestures and apple pencil

I Tweeted a thread yesterday about the superiority of editing audio on a touch screen by manipulating regions directly with my fingers and an Apple Pencil.

It became clear that it wasn’t suitable to explain just how comfortable and precise the experience is in written text. So I have done my very best to communicate it through video. Enjoy…

Ferrite is still a very immature DAW by modern day professional standards. And the iPad is still a very immature platform for creative professional software by modern computing standards. What the iPad really needs is something like Logic Pro X. Apple has got to set the standard for professional apps by releasing their own.

Logic or not, Ferrite can get the job done. And gesture/stylus support aren’t the only things that make editing on an iPad more fluid. The form factor of a tablet makes it perfect for “couch-editing.” Plus, iPad is a lot easier to pick up and move from room to room while I am listening to hours of my own podcasts play back.

Off to the Ohio Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference

I am so excited to be returning to Cleveland for the weekend to present at the Ohio Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference.

Here are the session notes of all three presentations I am giving this weekend…

Teaching Intonation with Tonal Energy | February 1, 2019, 12:30 pm | Room 21

Become a Mac Power User | February 1, 2019, 5 pm | Room 21

Going Paperless with iPad | February 2, 2019, f11 am | Room 21

I am wishing all of my friends at Maryland attending the MMEA conference and my students who are participating in the All State Bands a great weekend.

Favorites of 2018

Earlier this month I blogged a series of ‘Favorites of 2018’ posts where I reflected on the albums, live music, apps, and things that made my year a better one.

Now you can conveniently access all four of those posts from this one. Click below to read about my…

Favorites of 2018: Favorite AlbumsFavorite Live MusicFavorite AppsFavorite Things