AudioBook Builder

I have learned that there is something about the mac that makes for really nice, easy software. It’s sort of a cross between a Unix ethos (that is, programs that do just one thing and do them really well) and an Apple ethos (it just works). One fairly simple task that, in practice, is a huge pain is concatenating .mp3 files together to create an audiobook (typically an .m4b file1). I had found a few scripts and such to do this sort of thing, but all were multi-step processes and often didn’t produce the results I wanted (at least not for the effort I had put into them).

Enter Audiobook Builder by Splasm Software. In a nutshell, it simply collects audio files together and then puts them in a single, compressed .m4b file. Now, it does have a few more bells and whistles available along the process, but the standard process is as easy as:

  1. Name and optional cover art.
  2. Add the audio files, likely from .mp3 or from ripping a CD right into Audiobook Builder.
  3. Click Build Audiobook.

Which are the steps laid out on the three main buttons along the bottom of the window. Once the program is finished (and it might take a while), the finished audiobook is added into iTunes for you.

Creating an audiobook of Wicked using Audiobook Builder

One of the first uses I had for the software was to put the 13 CDs of Gregory Maguire’s "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" for Angela. She had purchased this to listen to on our move down from Richmond. Fortunately, the audiobook being nearly 20 hours, she didn’t have time to finish during that drive (long as it was). Plus, with 13 CDs to fool with, having it all on an iPod seemed like a better way to have the content, anyway.

As I described above, there’s not much to it. Inserting 13 discs for the ripping process wasn’t much fun, but all of that is done right within Audiobook Builder, so there’s no program switching or hunting for files. The only task that I did outside of the program was go to Amazon.com to get the cover art and meta-tag information.

I do have a couple of complaints about Audiobook Builder. First, I’d like to be able to add more meta-data than what is currently possible. I would recommend some sort of Add more info… button on the first screen. Secondly, you control the individual file length2 by means of a slider in the Preferences dialog. I find myself fiddling with this a lot as I want to balance file length number of files. I think that there could be two options, within the third screen, for either limiting length of files or number of files. I change this for every single audiobook I create, and try different lengths for each, as well. Having to go to the Preferences dialog each time is fairly cumbersome.

Ever wanted to read some classics? Well, go get the volunteer-read files from Librivox and put them together in Audiobook Builder (I’ve got the first half of Don Quixote already done, even with chapter artwork added within Audiobook Builder). For $9.95, this program is a steal even if you have even a couple of CD audiobooks laying around. Rip ’em, and then donate them to your public library. Then you don’t have to worry about them taking up space and someone else can get to listen to them.

  1. The .m4b is a relatively common format associated with audiobooks. Most players know to remember the last stopping point on these files, which alone is important enough to merit using on a 6-hour long file. []
  2. It would be nice if you had exact control over the length of files, but basically it is really setting an upper limit. Audiobook builder won’t split individual files that you have added or ripped into it, as it has no way of knowing if the split is in an appropriate spot or not – mostly likely not. []

The iPhone SDK Announcements

Naturally, the internet is glowing white hot with people talking about Apple’s iPhone SDK (software developer kit) meeting earlier today. Anything Apple related gets a lot of buzz, and iPhone news pegs the hype-o-meter. However, lest I sound bitter, I think today’s announcements deserve the attention. I wanted to point out some of what made today’s meeting important.

Business-Conscious

There were three important items that showed just how serious Apple wants to corner the business smartphone market. I don’t think anyone argued it wasn’t a huge market, but there have been some rather loud Apple pundits cough fanboys cough who seemed to think that much of this was unimportant to Apple and their market plans for the iPhone. I think it’s pretty obvious that such a huge portion of the smartphone market with some very particular demands are either going to get those demands met or they simply aren’t going to use iPhones. Apple is likely to completely ignore them.

First, and most obvious, is the fact that the iPhone is going to support Microsoft Exchange e-mail. This is important for me, personally, if I want to use an iPhone for business in any practical way (web mail isn’t what you’d call an efficient method of checking mail on the go). Not only is the iPhone going to support it, they are integrating it directly. This is a much better implementation than what RIM currently has for their Blackberry phones. For Apple to have taken the mentality that because Exchange isn’t in-house (or simply just because it’s Microsoft), they should ignore it, would have been a huge and costly mistake. Possibly at the chagrin of many an Apple fanboy, Apple is simply licensing this popular enterprise technology from Microsoft; which is absolutely the right move.

Next, I found Apple’s choice of demo applications particularly interesting. While they had the obvious crowd pleasers like AOL’s Instant Messenger, EA’s Spore, and Sega’s Monkeyball, they also showed off to apps for very specific business markets: Epocrates and Salesforce. Of course, most of the internet just gave a collective "uh, okay. And?" because these aren’t sexy or flashy pieces of software for the masses. In fact, that’s exactly the point. By choosing these apps for the demo, Apple sent a clear message to users of high-end, specific apps: We got your backs. Epocrates is widely known among medical professionals (just ask my wife1), who adopted the Palm platform early on and have been with it for a very long time. Of course, as Palm slowly dies, they’ve gotten little love in the Windows Mobile world. Now, Apple comes along and shows off something that speaks directly to them. Getting Salesforce on stage, I suspect, is the same for the sales people of the business world. The fact that most of the tech pundits have no idea what these pieces of software are, nor do they care, must feel like status-quo for the people in these markets. However, here’s Apple saying we care, guys. We care.

Lastly, on the business side, was Peter Schiller’s response to ArsTechnica’s question regarding private organizations distributing applications internally:

We are working on a version of the AppStore for enterprise that will allow corporations to distribute apps to their end-users securely.

So, while it is essentially true that the only method to get your app on iPhones is via the AppStore, Apple is recognizing business’ need to distribute applications internally only.

So there’s the three things for business: first-class Exchange support, showing off specialized business apps, and opening the possibility for internal app distribution at the enterprise level. Sure, most of the tech pundits don’t really care about those things, except that they don’t represent a huge chunk of Palm and Blackberry users, do they?

VOIP

Another very short, yet very important piece of information came during the Q & A. When asked about the possibility of VOIP on the iPhone, Steve Jobs responded:

We’ll limit them over the cellular network but WiFi will be fine.

As well as when asked about dealing with the carriers (emphasis mine):

We have a great relationship with our carriers. We struck a new kind of relationship with our carriers where Apple is responsible for the software on the phone. Really, this is our program and we’re running it.

So Jobs says VOIP is fine over WiFi and the cellular networks aren’t going to get to decide what apps get on the phone. Well, I’m not sure why you’d use VOIP over the cellular network. VOIP over WiFi is there to replace voice over cellular! Which of course, is why the networks wouldn’t want it there in the first place. Apple will, of course, be selective as to what apps make it. They’ll be no where as bad as the cellular networks would be, though.

But is VOIP on the iPhone practicle? I suspect there are a number of urban users who could use Skype (etc.) over WiFi and never even activate their phone with AT&T. Of course, that’s a bit hypothetical right now since there are no VOIP apps available right now and we don’t entirely know the specifics of how the AppStore is going to work. However, I think the cellular-less iPhone is not just possible, but a real solution for some people.

Small Developers

A sizable portion of the apps on my Mac aren’t even to version 1.0 yet2 That is to say, they is a lot of great "Beta" software out there that is available for download and, despite not yet being fully baked, can be very useful. These are, by and large, from independent developers who have bigger ideas to offer than they have time to devote to. They want something out there for folks to kick around (for any number of reason, self-promotion and prior-art arguments not the least of). However, with Apple controlling the gateway (just as I, and pretty much everyone else, predicted), we may not see a lot of these potentially useful little apps getting onto iPhones. I don’t really know just how tight Apple is going govern this. They may not at all, especially for the free apps. However, given they’re just now opening up the platform at all, I suspect they’re going to keep a pretty short guest list at the party. Given my desire to see long-tail apps on the iPhone, this would a real disappointment to me3.

I was really impressed with the developer tools. I think Apple has provided a great package. By doing so, and by stressing just how easy it is to develop apps quickly (how many times was “I can’t believe this was done in two weeks!” said?), they’re really hoping to entice developers quickly. Apple is doing a great job of betting customers and developers to come to the platform at the same time with this. Often, the developers don’t want to code for a platform with no customers and the customers don’t want to buy into a platform that doesn’t have any software. Apple looks like their straddling that problem with near perfection.

Regardless, over a year after it’s first formal announcement, I’m ready to just go ahead and buy an iPhone. I may not do it tomorrow, but pretty much all my demands have been met. It’s time I just go ahead and drink the Kool-Aid.

So, anyone interested in buying a used 80GB iPod Classic or Sony Ericson W810i?

  1. Angela told me she is going to seek out the people at Lexi-Comp, Epocrates’ main competition, at her conference next week. She’s pretty much going to tell them that either they get their app on the iPhone platform, or they lose her to Epocrates as a customer – and probably many more like her. Then again, since the iPhone already has over 3x the market share of Palm smarthone users, they’re likely to do just that. []
  2. Some good examples of sub-1.0 software that I use fairly regularly:

    []

  3. Of course, the obvious solution to this is just to call you’re first piece of software v1.0 – and never have a 0.X "Beta" version. That’ll work, right, Apple? []