Unless you’ve been sticking with the same CD collection you’ve owned since the 90s, or you’re one of the hardcore vinyl-collecting crowd, odds are good that most of your music is now sitting in MP3 or AAC format on your PC, MP3 player or smartphone. And while each of these devices are great for organizing your tunes and listening to them privately, they lack the group-listening vibe afforded by our stereos, boomboxes and home theatre systems. Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to widen your music’s horizons. Here are three ways you can get into the wireless streaming game so that you can enjoy your music wherever you are in your home and on any existing audio device.
1. RIM BlackBerry Music Gateway ($50)This tiny black module is the absolute cheapest and easiest way to get your digital music to flow through the speakers of your choice. As long as your music is stored on a smartphone or other device that is Bluetooth 2.0 (A2DP) compatible, you can pair it to the Music Gateway and then connect the Gateway to your home stereo using the included mini-jack audio cable. The Gateway needs power but you can use the same Micro-USB cable and AC adapter that you use to recharge your phone. The music is controlled straight from your smartphone. Bonus: If you own an NFC-equipped BlackBerry such as the new Bold 9900, you can skip the Bluetooth pairing process by simply tapping the phone to the Gateway – voila! Instant streaming. Keep in mind however, that Bluetooth streaming isn’t as flexible as Wi-Fi. Bluetooth typically maxes out at 10 m (30 feet) whereas Wi-Fi can often extend up to 300 feet, particularly when used outside.
2. Apple Airport Express Base Station ($99)The Airport Express might just be Apple’s best kept secret. This all-white unit, which is about the size and shape of a deck of cards is deceptively simple: A plug for AC power, an ethernet port, USB port and an analog/optical mini-jack. But the list of things it can do is impressive. Most relevant to this discussion is that it can turn any stereo system into a Wi-Fi (or wired) receiver for your iTunes music whether you keep that collection on your Mac, PC or iOS device. Apple’s AirPlay technology which recognizes the AirPort Express on your home network, treats the Base Station as a set of speakers that you can “push” your music to from your iTunes software.
Want to stream your music to multiple stereos? Simply add more AirPort Express Base Stations. Each one can be labeled according to whatever makes sense e.g. “Living Room”, “Kitchen” etc. and if you’re streaming from a PC or Mac, you can have them all receiving the music simultaneously. Each AirPort Express can be muted or volume-controlled from your computer, but it’s way cooler to do it remotely using your iOS device with Apple’s free “Remote” app. Want to stream from your iOS device instead? Again, each AirPort Express will show up as AirPlay devices in any app that supports AirPlay e.g. CBC’s Music app. The AirPort Express has some other cool features up its sleeve beyond music streaming: it can repeat the Wi-Fi signal from an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station, giving your Wi-Fi greater reach; it can act as stand-alone wireless router when connected to your DSL/Cable modem via ethernet or if you’re in a hotel room with only wired internet access and finally it can act as a print server when a printer is connected to the USB port – now everyone on your network can print to the same printer.
3. Sonos Play:3 ($329) plus Sonos Bridge ($60) Long before Apple started to hype their AirPlay technology, Sonos was inventing the gold standard for wireless home audio. The company has been refining their very successful formula for years now and they’re still the company to beat when it comes to liberating your music. Every Sonos system starts with their $60 Bridge. It doesn’t look like much and it only does one thing: create the SonosNet proprietary wireless network, and allow Sonos devices to access online sources of content. From there however, Sonos users have unparalleled choice. You can buy Sonos Connect receivers that connect directly to your stereos or other powered speakers. Or, you can buy a more powerful Connect Amp which as the name implies, houses an amplifier so you can attach virtually any pair of bookshelf speakers. Or, if you want a more portable solution, their Play:3 and Play:5 speaker systems are all-in-one sound systems combining a wireless receiver, amp and speakers. N.B.: You don’t actually need to buy the Bridge as long as you’re ok with positioning the Play:3 in a location where you can wire it to your router with ethernet cable. In this situation, the Play:3 can create the SonosNet network and act as the Bridge on behalf of the other Sonos devices in your home.
While more expensive than Apple’s AirPlay scenario, Sonos offers more options too: Each Sonos unit can be individually controlled even letting you choose to stream the same or different music sources to each device. You can also access far more content – in addition to your iTunes collection, you can access subscription services like XM radio, Slacker, LastFM and others. Another plus is that if you keep all of your music on a Network Attached Storage device (NAS) you don’t need your computer to be constantly on to get to your music. Sonos can access it directly. Finally, some Sonos devices can be used as AirPlay devices, as long as you buy an AirPort Express and your Sonos component has line-in support (N.B.: The Play:3 is NOT equipped with line-in). Once connected and configured, the AirPort Express that is connected to your Sonos device will show up as an AirPlay speaker on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
The entire Sonos network of gear can be controlled from any Android or iOS device through the free downloadable app. Sonos used to make a dedicated controller, but apparently the market for these dried up once people began buying app-driven gadgets. No surprise – you can pick up an 8GB iPod Touch for less than the Sonos controller and you can play Angry Birds!
Apple’s iCloud is possibly the best thing to happen to smartphones since the touch-screen. Not only does it seamlessly synchronize your data between all of your iOS devices, it does the same thing for your Mac or PC – and – it acts as a tether-free way to backup the contents of your iPhone.
When I recently switched from my iOS 5 equipped iPhone 4 to the loaner iPhone 4S I started using last week, I used the iCloud restore feature to port all of my settings and apps. The result was astounding. After the restore, which by the way was completely done over Wi-Fi – no tethering to a computer or iTunes – my 4S looked like a complete clone of my 4, right down to the wallpaper for my lock and home screens. The only thing I had to do was re-enter my Wi-Fi passwords.
But I digress…
One thing I noticed about this process was, while the backup and restore via iCloud was impressive, my backup size was really big. In fact, I had already come close to using up all of the free 5GB that Apple allots to all iOS 5 Apple IDs. If I only had the one device, that might not be the end of the world. But the iPhone is just one of three iOS devices I use under my Apple ID and there’s simply no way I was going to be able to back the other two up without needing some more room.
But it turns out there’s a simple way to drastically reduce the size of your iPhone backup.
When you go into your iCloud settings, and check out the options for Backup and Storage, you’ll see that each and every app on your device can be set to have its data backed up, or not. Including the Camera Roll. That’s key, because if you’re like most iPhone users and you make regular use of the awesome camera on these phones, you probably have plenty of photos and videos.
When I checked mine, it was sitting at 4.4 GB!
No wonder I was almost out of room. So I turned it off.
Huh? Yep, I turned it off and saved myself nearly all of the storage space I had been sucking up. I know what you’re thinking, but my photos are *still* backed up.
Here’s why: The PhotoStream feature on iOS 5, when turned on, automatically keeps a copy of the last 1,000 photos you’ve taken, regardless of which device you used, on a 30-day rolling period. And those photos do NOT count toward your Backup and Storage capacity. It’s free storage from Apple, and it’s even better than using your iCloud storage space. PhotoStream sends your photos to your computer which is ultimately where you want them anyway.
There’s only one caveat. If you take a lot of video on your iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll need to remember to back these up manually, since PhotoStream doesn’t backup your videos – only your photos.
One last thought if you’re thinking that backing up your Camera Roll is something you want to keep doing: your iCloud storage space isn’t the only area that is impacted.
When your phone is locked and plugged into power and connected to Wi-Fi, it will automatically backup your data. For most people, that means overnight while you’re sleeping at home.
Consider that even a backup of 2GB can consume a good chunk of your bandwidth cap, it’s well worth keeping your backups as small as possible.
Make sure you check the full list of apps that are backing up to iCloud – most use virtually no room, but some can be hefty. Check out those Songify and Kindle items in the image above. Only 70Mb between them, but I have very few books or songs in there. It could go much higher.
I’ve never been a MobileMe user. So when I upgraded to iOS 5 the other day, I happily went along with the instructions on how to create a free account and never gave the experience another thought.
But that was decidedly not the case for one of our mobile developers here at Sympatico.ca. Chris Tsang has been a MobileMe guy for, well, a *really* long time. But this loyalty to Apple’s much-criticized product nearly had him tearing his hair out when he upgraded to iOS 5.
Let his experience be a cautionary tale (and a darn good explanation of what *not* to do) for all you MobileMe folks out there, especially if you want to use iCloud…
After downloading the ios 5 update, my iphone 4 was ready for me to setup. You’ll get to a screen that asks you for your Apple ID. If you previously had a mobileme account you need to make sure that you enter in your mobileme email instead of your AppleID used for iTunes purchases. If you enter in your AppleID you’ll find that you won’t be able to use icloud services with your precious mobileme email. If you go to iCloud settings and attempt to slide email to on, it will ask you if you want to create a free .me account which won’t make sense because you already have one.
To fix this, I had to erase all content and settings and start over. Once I got to the Apple ID screen again, enter your mobileme email address and then continue with the setup. Once you are finished with the setup you will see notice another unpleasant surprise in that you will notice that all of your apps are now missing. Don’t freak out just yet. You aren’t done yet.
The next step is to go to Settings>Store and then tap on your Apple ID at the bottom. Sign out and then sign back in with the account that you use for store purchases (your Apple ID that you have been using). Once you have done that you need to sync with iTunes once more and all your apps will come back.
This is actually an important step to transition from mobileme to icloud. In fact, if you don’t follow this process, you won’t be able to complete the iCloud setup on your Mac.
After doing all this you will be able to get access to all your previously purchased apps again and use the new iCloud services.
Got all that?