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? []