ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

What’s wrong with Music and Podcasts in Windows Phone 8

1/2/2013 7:06:55 PM

7more8

I love Windows Phone 8, all the new features it brings and this Nokia Lumia 920 phone. That said there’s one area that degraded so much from Windows Phone 7.x that it makes me really sad. To make things worse it’s not some obscure area that no one ever uses. It’s the part of the system that I use every single day. It’s music and podcasts.

It may not be as painful to those who used these features on WP7 differently from how I used them. For some it maybe even worse though, because Podcasts for some wildly inexplicable reason are only available to users in US (I use my phone in US “mode”).

So here’s a list of things that bother me. You may have your own list or I may have missed something that would make my life easier. In this case, please, let me know in the comments.

Music

  1. Sync. I don’t feel the need to have my whole music collection on the phone. I mostly listen to music on the phone when driving. I listen and “discover” music on my PC. So I had a “current” playlist and gradually added (or removed) songs to it in Zune (PC) and it was set to sync with my WP7. That’s it. Worked like a charm.

    Zune knows nothing about WP8, Xbox Music on Windows 8 knows nothing about WP8, Windows Phone app doesn’t know much about Xbox Music, Windows Media Player knows nothing about Xbox Music DRM, Windows Phone desktop sync application can (manually) sync playlist from PC to phone but some (all?) DRMed songs refused to play on the phone. I may need to play more with that sync app, but it’s definitely not going to be as seamless as it was with Zune until something more fundamental changes.
  2. wp_ss_20130102_0001Cloud music. The [theoretically] cool feature of Xbox Music on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 is that the music you get on your PC shows up in your library on the phone. The actual files are not downloaded to the phone. They just appear as “links” to the cloud. So when you play the music it’s streamed over whatever data connection you happen to be using. As I mentioned, I mostly listen to music on the phone while driving so it uses my mobile data connection. Now I don’t know about global mobile data situation, but my understanding is that unlimited data plans are not widely available and are actually on the decline (at least in US). And honestly, I don’t want to pay more for data to get an unlimited data plan. Especially to listen to music that I’ve already downloaded to my PC.

    So I thought I’ll just copy the album I wanted to listen to the phone and it’ll play locally. Little did I know that it’ll play the same songs twice – once from the local storage and once from the cloud. So as far as I understand at this point you either have to go download the same music twice – once on the PC and once on the phone, or you just disable the “cloud music” on the phone and copy the files.

Podcasts

Here’s a part of Windows Phone 8 FAQ admitting there’s something terribly wrong with podcasts on WP8 if Microsoft is “forced” to recommend using iTunes!

▼How can I get my podcasts on my phone?

There are a couple of ways to get podcasts, but not with the Windows Phone app. The first way is to get them from the Store on your phone. If you'd prefer to get them from your PC, you can download them in iTunes, then use the Windows Phone app for desktop (beta) to sync them to your phone. To learn more, see Sync with my Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC.

So here’s my list for podcasts:

  1. Sync. I know many people don’t see this as an issue since they didn’t use podcasts this way on WP7 either, but I used to subscribe to podcasts on the PC (in Zune) and then autosync them to phone whenever it’s plugged into the PC (which is for 8-12 hours every day).

    What are the benefits of this? 1) you can easily mark multiple episodes as played (more on this later); 2) you can finish listening an episode on your PC (it autosynced position); 3) you can force a check for new episodes (more on this later); 4) you can subscribe to podcasts via RSS.

    I know that most of these issues were identical on the phone side in WP7, but they were mitigated by my use of Zune to manage podcasts.
  2. wp_ss_20130102_0002Sort order. It’s not about sort order itself. It’s about sorting by oldest being unusable for any podcast with a sizeable history and sorting by newest being quite an odd experience when you are not 100% done with all of the episodes when a new one comes out.

    When you sort by oldest you get the whole history of the podcast as unplayed until you mark all of the old episodes as played. And you have to do it one episode at a time (unless I missed something).

    Sorting by newest doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Maybe only if you choose to store one latest episode only and delete the older episode independently of it’s played status. If you choose to keep more than one episode you’ll end up listening to the newest episode when you hit the play button next to the podcast even if you were only half way through the previous one. So to have any sort of reasonable listening order you have to monitor the progress yourself and manually pick an episode you want to listen to.
  3. Manual refresh. The podcast service/app on the phone chooses when to check for new episodes based on some black box algorithm. It’s very annoying when you know for a fact that the new episode of your popular show is out but it’s not yet on your phone for some reason. The only workaround I know is unsubscribing and resubscribing to the podcast which is annoying, looses listening history, etc.
  4. Podcasts from store only. There’s no way to add podcasts other than looking them up in the store. I guess that’s the reason why podcasts are a US-only feature. In any case not every podcast in the world is listed in the Zune store. And it’s going to get worse since there’s no equivalent for the podcast part of Zune on Windows 8.

Even though it was a pretty long post, I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten to mention. I really hope that situation changes as soon as possible. I assume the podcast situation can be somewhat resolved by using a 3rd party app. Which one is your favorite? As far as music goes, I wouldn’t want to drop the Xbox Music Pass, so I hope to find ways to make it work the way I want.

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Podcasts on Windows Mobile

5/27/2008 3:53:55 PM

Couple of years ago I had to walk 25-30 minutes to work. I listen to music while I work (can't work otherwise) so I was kind of tired of music to listen on the go too. That's when I discovered audiobooks.

But 2 years ago we've moved our office closer to my place and now I have to walk for 10-12 minutes only and that's too short for audiobooks. As far as I remember average book is about 600 minutes long so I would've had to listen to it for more than a month. So I stopped and walked in silence (read "city noise"). And I actually enjoyed it for some time.

Recently podcasts became really popular but I couldn't project the idea onto my daily routine. I can't listen to someone talking while programming and simply sitting staring at the wall listening to some podcast is ridiculous. But then an idea hit me that podcasts would be a nice replacement for my audiobook addiction.

The player - S2P

podcast_s2p I'm totally satisfied with HTC Audio Manager and/or Windows Media Player on my HTC Touch for occasional music listening. I never watch videos on my phone. So I didn't have any 3rd party players on my device. But podcasts/audibooks require at least one additional feature that neither Audio Manager nor WMP have - ability to resume your last played file from the same position. So I started a quest for the right player.

There is only one 3rd party player name that I had embedded in my head - CorePlayer. Based on feature set and recommendations this is considered the best media player for Windows Mobile. However it has way more features than I need (actually I needed a very tiny addition to WMP), costs $25 and there's no trial download. So I decided to look for alternatives.

Then I found PocketMusic Bundle ($20). It supports bookmarks which is most likely a more advanced version of what I needed. There's also a free version of PocketMusic (requires registration though) which I tried. There are no bookmarks in free version but options dialog has a checkbox labeled "Continue from last position on start". But either it doesn't work or I misunderstand it's purpose.

After looking at some other alternatives which had no mention of the feature I was after in their feature lists, I found S2P (pictured). The player looks nice (a bit rough around the edges and a little too inspired by iPhone though) and resumes from where it was closed.

So the quest is over for now.

Getting podcasts on your device

I've tried 2 apps to automatically download podcasts from their RSS feeds. One for desktop Windows - FeedStation. And one for Windows Mobile - HubDog. Both worked fine but I realized almost immediately that the nice thing about podcasts is that you don't have to listen to every episode of every show and so you definitely don't have to download every episode of every show.

So I ended up manually subscribing to RSS feeds in my RSS reader and downloading episodes I want manually. Then I created an automatic playlist in WMP11 based on "Podcast" genre and set up automatic synchronization of this playlist with my phone. Works like a charm.

Podcasts

Currently I'm catching up on only 2 shows:

  1. Hanselminutes by Scott Hanselman. Very nicely produced podcast mainly focusing on Windows and web development related issues with occasional forays in other areas. Episodes are 20-40 minutes long which I think is quite optimal size. I would say 25-30 minutes would be perfect for me (one day's walk to and from work)
  2. DotNetRocks with Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell. As the title implies it's focused on .NET and related stuff. The episodes are too long for my taste (usually a little longer than 1 hour) and the flow is not as good as Hanselman's but interesting and educational nevertheless.

I'm not looking for many more (since I have up to 25 minutes a day for podcasts) but once I finish with "back catalogs" of these two I think I'd like to add a couple more to this list. So, your recommendations are welcome and highly appreciated. Subjects I'm interested in (in no particular order): programming in general and web development in particular, windows mobile software, photography, popular culture (music, movies, books, etc.). So if you know a really good podcast along these lines, please, let me know.

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