Thursday, July 10, 2008

Remote control of iTunes and AppleTV: will AirTunes return?

Three years ago I fought a bloody battle with AirTunes, OS X 10.3, my AirPort Express, and iTunes remote control.

I lost. The microwave didn’t help

… The devils of Digital Rights Management, AirTunes fundamental inadequacy, and the lack of a fast-user-switching compatible tool for remote control of iTunes finally defeated me….

… I was streaming some music using AirTunes. A rare event, but I do it on occasion. All was well, until the music vanished. I wondered what was up; then I realized the microwave was running. It's not all that old a model, but it is death to our 802.11b LAN…

Since then I’ve switched to a MacBook and a mixed b/g WLAN, but the MacBook is even more susceptible to microwave interference than the iBook was. (Though we also bought a new microwave, so maybe it’s just leakier than the old one.)

The post still gets read quite a bit, yesterday I corresponded with someone who’s just returned their Bose speakers because AirTunes failed.

Now Apple has, years late, added a remote control feature to the iPhone/iTouch:

Two Apple iPhone apps: Remote Control and Texas Hold'em - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

… 'Remote' [iTunes Store link] and oddly enough it lets you control iTunes on your Mac from your iPhone. You can stop, start, and pause music, and browse your library... all via your iPhone or iPod touch. Remote requires the use of a Wi-Fi network, and is free…

A bit late! This means more will try out AirTunes. I’m wary though. I suspect:

  1. It won’t work with background sessions.
  2. The AirTunes streaming will still be messed up by microwave use.

It’s not totally hopeless though. I haven’t tested AirTunes with 10.5 or the new AirPort Express. If the remote will communicate with iTunes running in a background user session on a 10.5 machine I might try testing again. The background user problem doesn’t apply to an AppleTV of course.

Update 8/18/08: Son of a gun, it works. It really, really works. I've been controlling my upstairs Library from my iPhone, streaming music to my AirPort express, and listening to speakers in two rooms. Years after the AirTunes hype died off, Apple finally delivered.

There's even intriguing/worrisome support for multiple libraries, which brings me to a comment from someone who's gone another step beyond me (note this only works if you wisely avoid the plague of DRM):

Jan sad ...

It looks like Remote with iPhones/iPod Touch and AirTunes is the solution for for the multi-room audio setup I was waiting for years to come.

I installed several AirPort Express boxes with AirTunes in the rooms and installed 3 users on a mac mini with fast user switching on. All users have their own iTunes setup and have access to a central NAS Server with all the MP3 files. This won´t work with Windows because Windows won´t allow fast user switching running iTunes !

With this setup every family member is able to hear their music independently on different AirTunes outlets. It really works !
Note Jan has one set of files, but 3 libraries. So each user can sync their iPod or iPhone with their own account and save their own Address Book and preferences, but share one set of music. I'm going to do this one day.

4 comments:

Jeff said...

hey - came to your blog searching on airtunes + squeezebox, have been contemplating the squeezebox duet but am underwhelmed by the softsqueeze and squeezecenter software. I realized with the remote announcement that I could buy an airport express and an touch for less than the duet, leaving me with a remote that was also an mp3 player and aux display. On top of that, I could buy an appletv instead of a airport and have video functionality, something logitech doesn't seem to be looking at for the sb - though i am equally underwhelmed by the appletv (i run mostly highdef, looking at the upcoming popcorn hours) but one could implement the apple infrastructure and upgrade. I am actually a pc household (last mac was a mac plus in 85 - have it in a box here somewhere) and I even use sansa's for my mp3 needs, BUT, itunes is still the best bulk mp3 player manager (tried foo, monkey, winamp, songbird) and this seems to be a cheap solution with a lot of growth potential. What do you think?

John Gordon said...

hi Jeff,

It'll take some time to figure this one out Jeff. I think it really increases the value of an AppleTV for example.

Jan said...

It looks like Remote with iPhones/iPod Touch and AirTunes is the solution for for the multi-room audio setup I was waiting for years to come.

I installed several AirPort Express boxes with AirTunes in the rooms and installed 3 users on a mac mini with fast user switching on. All users have their own iTunes setup and have access to a central NAS Server with all the MP3 files. This won´t work with Windows because Windows won´t allow fast user switching running iTunes !

With this setup every family member is able to hear their music independently on different AirTunes outlets. It really works !

John Gordon said...

I bow to your airtunes genius. I'll put together a followup post describing your setup. Thanks for sharing!