Background Music Queue with AVPlayer and iOS4

Update 2010-Nov-11: Apple has come out with AVQueuePlayer in iOS 4.1, and presumably most people are going to move to the latest version now that it performs well even on the 3G, but the AVPlayer can still be used to manually create a queuing of items, but if you want all the hard work to be done for you, with only a few limitations, then use AVQueuePlayer instead.

Update 2010-Oct-19: Apple has been updating their documentation slightly, and it has more information now with regard to setting up an asset. This is more specifically for video, but it might help fill in the blanks for just audio. AVPlayer Playback Guide

The iOS 4.0 framework introduced AVPlayer which allows playing a MP3s from the iTunes Music Library in the background without using the iPod music player. This has a couple benefits over the MPMusicPlayerController in that you can add new items, stop, or play music in the background. Also, a custom icon can represent your app in the multitasking menu where the ipod controls are located. If you stick with [MPMusicPlayerController iPodMusicPlayer] you can play music in the background through the ipod player, but once an app goes into the background, it no longer has control over the playback of the music.
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Startup Weekend Boulder 2010

Back in April I ventured to Boulder to participate in a event called Startup Weekend, founded in 2007 by Andrew Hyde. The idea is for people with different backgrounds to gather together to form a startup company with the hope of having a working prototype to present by Sunday evening. The focus of the event is to pitch ideas, then form one or more startup groups and create a product or service based on the selected ideas. However, it also gives people an opportunity to network with other locals who share a similar interest in entrepreneurship, as well as with a few venture capitalists or other mentors and sponsors who are willing to share their expertise and experience, as well as ideas and comments on the various projects.
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It’s not a Phone! It’s not a Computer! It’s an iPad!

This has been discussed to death, but I have decided to weigh in a few thoughts. If you love to customize your PC, run Linux, or would give up your netbook only from your cold dead hands, then this post is not for you. If, on the other hand, you think that the iPad is actually a bit more than just a large coaster, feel free to continue reading.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the iPad hasn’t been released, has only had a limited hands-on time for a handful of people, there will be a version 2, and most of my thoughts could be somewhat translated to another appliance-like tablet device.

That Really Is The Name. No Joke.

There have already been hundreds of jokes and parodies about the name, some recent, a few in the past. Will we continue to mock it 6 months from now? Probably not, as either it will have failed as a product, or the name will fade into the background as almost every name does (think Microsoft, Bing, even Google for that matter). Sure this name may sound the most ridiculous right now, and there is merit to women being upset that it wasn’t thought out even a little. But over time it will just be the name and in six months it won’t matter anymore.

Hyper-Hyped Up Beyond Imagination

Is it even possible that Apple’s reveal could have lived up to most of the hype showering the internet? I don’t think so. It may have been short of many reasonable expectations, but the hype was definitely an impossible goal to be reached (especially since Jobs did claim the device to be magical). I think I can safely say that the version they showed off at the event was not magical, and really was just a larger iPhone. That said, I think Apple delivered a product very similar to the first iPod, something that initially is a letdown, but with lots of potential.

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Unexpected Results with iPhone Launch

I didn’t think the iPhone would do so well in the opening weekend, but I did expect them to sell most of their inventory. I guess they had more in stock than I thought, and people waiting in line seemed to be very pleased with their new $600 phone. A little too much for my taste, but after hearing and reading from real users of the phone I have to admit that I would love to have the money lying around, and be willing to switch carriers. Alas I do not.

The phone has many neat and cool features, Apple has managed to fit an amazing amount of technology into a sleek slim form factor, and the tests have shown that the iPhone lives up to many of the claims made earlier in the year. Also, as discussed at the WWDC the iPhone has no real 3rd party support, but instead relies on the Safari browser and quicktime to bring users all the good and bad of AJAX and web applications.

Some of the Cool Features
The photo experience is very good with the touch capabilities making it seemless and intuitive to use. Visual Voice Mail is a neat feature that allows you to treat voice mail just like you do email and play any individual message and manage them through an inbox. Using the Safari engine and having a great interface to navigate the internet experience is very good as well. The touch screen itself is an amazing feature, and will continue to invade other areas of our lives as the technology progresses, it allows both innovative UI like the pinch and slide, but also allows such things as the keyboard to change over time with software updates. The last cool feature I’ll mention is google maps, even though no GPS is built in, having a map available anywhere is a great feature in my opinion. Maybe in the next generation of the iPhone we’ll get a real mapping experience with GPS.

Real World Tests
According to CNET’s German the iPhone has a very good battery life, with talk time around 8 hours, and video and music playback times around 7 and 24 hours, respectively. This is very good in my opinion, and is close to the limit with the current technology, only efficient utilization can extend it much further until new technology arives. The WIFI device drains the battery, so beware of using it for surfing all day long without a power source near by. I’m sure an extra battery accessory will be available shortly.

Also people are raving about the photo experience on the iPhone, especially showing off the photos. The intuitive nature of the experience is what makes it actually fun to show people photos on your phone. The camera is okay, but not great. It’s only 2 Megapixels, and there is no optical zoom, or flash (not that phone flashes work), but it does take decent photos in daylight, and you can always bring along your hefty camera for any real photography work, as I’m sure no one is using their smart phone yet for any real photography.

Applications

Steve Jobs introduced the SDK for the iPhone at the WWDC Keynote. He said that it is the web standards, bleh to that! No native 3rd party support from Apple, but instead all of the technology used to create web applications can be immediately used with the iPhone.

Even though this makes it much easier for people to develop for the iPhone, at least if they’re currently in the web space, it doesn’t allow for any creative, and ingenious uses of the full technological capabilities of the phone. I support the use of AJAX and web standards, and even think this is a strategic move, but I’m not sure that such a capable media device is benefited by limiting technology.

Currently, you have to use Quicktimefor any video content you want to share with iPhone users; except for Youtube, which is converting their videos to use the H.264 standard that natively plays in Quicktime. No Flash, Java, Silverlight, AIR, or any other media and rich application technologies are currently incorporated into the iPhone and probably won’t be for a while, if ever.

All this said, web applications are powerful and even without these other technologies the iPhone will indeed have a decent if not excellent application experience, especially since anyone can put up a website in a few days or weeks and have a fully capable application that works on the iPhone and on any browser. Once you start to see the apps that are coming out on lists like Rev2.org’s Top 25 Web Apps or iphoneapplicationlist.com you realize that Apple’s move wasn’t such a terrible idea or strategy. It makes sense to want to have people be able to make and use the apps as quickly as possible.

Shortcomings
There are a few drawbacks to the iPhone currently. The price is high, but comparable. You can only use this with AT&T for now, at least in the US and this will likely be true for a year or two until people make Apple break their contract with AT&T. Hackers have already claimed that they have made an iPhone unlocked and didn’t need to activate it through iTunes.

The display is great, but be careful as it is made of glass and can break easily from a hip height drop [link]. Another thing that’s tough to use is the keyboard, as it provides no tactile feedback. It would have been great if they used a little vibrating device to have each keypress give a slight haptic feedback to the user. No real 3rd party applications will be allowed for now, unless partnered with like YouTube. Finally no GPS is a downfall, but would have hampered battery life as well as the size and weight of the device.

Conclusion
As a final thought I believe that the iPhone is an amazing and even revolutionary device, with some shortcomings that will hopefully be resolved in the near future through firmware updates or hacks. If you already have an iPod, and use iTunes regularly than this phone will definitely be a great device for you. If you are a hard core Apple fanboy, or a disciple of Steve Jobs, then I you already have one of these and you shouldn’t have read this post.

I will, however, stay away until the following generations before I’d purchase this phone, and I’ll probably never switch to AT&T so hopefully there will be a way to get an unlocked version eventually.

Resources
Info
http://www.iphone.com/
http://www.engadget.com/2007/01/09/the-apple-iphone/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone
http://www.cnet.com/apple-iphone.html
http://www.everythingiphone.com/
Video
Will it blend
WDDC Keynote
A look at the iPhone @ WWDC enclosed in glass
Funny Conan Spoof
Audio
Macbreak Weekly on the iPhone
Revision3’s Systm Cracking the iPhone
The Apple Phone Show Podcast