An open letter to MP3-player and mobile-phone manufacturers:
Your devices are no longer just for music. We’re using them to listen to longer spoken-word content such as audiobooks and talk-radio programs. Because we can’t always listen to these longer recordings all the way through to the end in one sitting, we need the ability to “bookmark” locations in each file. The iPod supports this, but only for files encoded in an Apple-proprietary format, not MP3s. And most other devices don’t support bookmarks at all.
This should be a function of the player device. It should have nothing to do with file formats, etc.
The availability of a bookmark feature will soon become an important buying-decision criterion.
The Podcasting Community
12 thoughts on “Dear MP3 Player Manufacturers”
My Rio 500 does a great job of bookmarking MP3 files. Sady, it’s an outdated, discontinued, and more or less orphaned device…
I’ve read of a few people on the RioWorld.org site that say they do prefer the Rio over the iPod for audio books just for the bookmarking feature.
I know the neuros (neurosaudio.com) (20-80gb) supports bookmarking and auto-resume, but sadly not the audible format.
Two corrections: 1) The AAC format is not proprietary to Apple. Only the DRM (copy protection) that Apple layers on top of AAC is proprietary. Unprotected AAC files are not Apple only. In fact, the AAC format is really more free than MP3 because distributing MP3s require royalties once you start earning over $100,000. 2) The iPod supports bookmarks but not very well. It has bugs in its bookmark code. I’ve been repeatedly frustrated that it loses bookmarks in long audio books. It’s amazing that such a simple feature (storing one integer) could be so difficult for them to get right, but I’ve been in contact with the iPod team about it and they have not been able to solve this one yet.
Dan, You’re correct that AAC isn’t Apple-proprietary, but I believe that the bookmark extension to the format is. If you transfer a standard AAC file to iTunes/iPod, you can’t bookmark it. You must convert it to an .m4b file for that feature to work. To date, the only method I’ve found for creating an iPod-bookmarkable file is to convert/create it using iTunes, then rename the .m4a to .m4b, change the file type, etc. I have not been successful at bookmarking files created by other AAC encoders.
Doug, I agree 100% with the request. However, podcasters could solve this by cutting up long programs into tracks. We don’t expect a music album to arrive as a single MP3, so why should the same be true of long talk shows, especially where multiple topics are discussed?
This pause function does exist on the Pocket PC platform using Microsoft’s Sync n’ Go audio and video content download synchronization software. This is a function that is recognized as needed these device makers need to insist the software installed in those player support this type of function.
Mike your idea is a good one, but the time it takes to cut up shows and create different tracks would be huge. Most podcast shows are volunteer activities. The editing, encoding and uploading those many files is not something that is reasonable to expect unless it can be automated with software some how or the podcaster can make good money doing shows?
Mike, as far as cutting up long programs into tracks, we’ve discussed this a bit, and there are apps that allow this on the client end, mp3splt is one (see http://mp3splt.sf.net/) Eventually I’d think that this feature will start to appear in podcasting software.
A good model would be use the same capability that the Sony MD (Mini-Disc) players (and possibly other MD players) have that allows you to set a “TMark” at arbitrary locations while the music is playing. You can skip from Tmark to Tmark, delete TMarks etc. There are also some “editing” capabilities that allow you to erase a track marked by two TMarks.
This is one of the reasons that I use the MD at the gym to listen to recorded radio programs (recorded in MP3 and then transferred with some pain to the MD). The radio programs range from 1 hour to 4 hours in duration and its useful to mark something and go back to it to hear the DJ announce the track. I’ve found a few dozen new artists because of the capability (if I had to keep rewinding to locate the track, it would never happen).
I’ve been looking for a new player as podcast are a pain in the as with only 128mb on my creative muvo nx and the issue of bookmarking has been an issue for me also. Until a recent bios update the device would loose it’s place when it automatically powered down. Which was a major pain in the butt. But I digress. I’ve been looking at the new Creative Zen Micro which is supposed to be an Ipod Killer. Well I don’t know if it’s going to be or not but from what I’ve read from the manufacturer, cnet and other sites it does support up to 10 bookmarks. That’s all I know but if that’s true and with it’s ability to record from it’s built in FM receiver it might really offer some competition to Apple.
But Hey All’s fair in love and computer interface stealing.
Plugging my own script here, but I’ve got a little Perl script that does a decent job of cutting up podcasts. It will cut an MPEG into equal sized portions of seconds. It’s worked well for me so far. Words in the audio sometimes get split across tracks and make a little blip sound, but it seems like a small price to pay because it’s pretty much hands-off and makes my listening experience much more enjoyable knowing that I don’t have to listen to the entire cast at once.
I agree 100% as I’m an audiobook adict (1st step… admit you have a problem..)
Anyway – it would be nice also to make a list of which players support bookmarks well. Most MP3 player reviews – and even manufacture feature lists – don’t mention bookmarks even when they are included.
The one vendor that seems to consistantly have good bookmarking is Rio. And although I still use my Rio flash based player, I’ve given up on getting a reliable HD based product from them.
As an aside – a few months ago I ‘discovered’ the Archos GMINI XS200 and am very happy with it. About the same price/size/weight as the new mini 5G players from Apple and Creative but _20Gigs_, with bookmarks, simple ‘usb hard-drive’ interface, and supports playing via tags and/or folder/files. Doesn’t have all the other slick bells and whistles, but does what I need pretty well. And I hear the guys at rockbox.org are porting their software to it.