Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fetch Art 1.2 Verified Compatible with iTunes 6

I've done some testing with the new version of iTunes, and am happy to report Fetch Art 1.2.0 is fully compatible with iTunes 6.0.

I've tested under Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.2.

For the people who have contacted me with questions:
1) Yes, I am working on a new version.
2) I haven't been able to reproduce most of the bugs reported. Many of them seem to be installation issues with the Apple installer.
3) I do try to respond to all my emails, but the response to this application has been overwhelming, and it's difficult to respond to every one.

Thanks for all the support and kind words. This application seems to work for most people but a few do report bugs or installation problems. I will address some of those issues with the next release hopefully by the end of the year.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Alpine KCA-420i Interface Adapter for iPod is the buggiest piece of consumer electronics that I’ve seen in years.

Ok, so normally on my tech blog, I mention fixes and solutions to technical problems. Unfortunately no such fixes or solutions exist, so this amounts to a review of the Alpine iPod interface along with the CDA-9853 head unit. The review, unfortunately for me who has already invested in the product, is not favorable.

First the basics
Here is Alpine’s info on the iPod connection kit they sell
and here is information on the 9853 head unit to which I connected it.

And lastly my iPod is the 60GB Photo version. I don’t store many photos on it and have about 7.8GB free. Some of that music was purchased off of iTunes although most has been ripped off of my own personal CD collection. Yes, all of my wife’s music that I don’t like is on there too.

Now previously I was using my iPod with a cassette adapter in a cassette stereo. This worked as well as can be expected. It sounded much better than any FM transmitter I tried and it charged my iPod. It wasn’t integrated in any way, however, so that I had to have my iPod out and handy, and navigate using the iPod’s scroll wheel and screen which is not as easy while driving as operating an in dash stereo.

Enter Alpine
I purchased the Alpine 9853 CD player (in dash head unit) and the 420i iPod connection kit at the same time. They MSRP at $400 and $100 respectively. I was very exited to have integrated control of the iPod and to be able to keep the iPod out of site. I had the dock cable installed in my center console where my iPod would spend most of its time.

The KCA-420i does work about as well as the cassette adapter. It provides high quality sound (actually better than the cassette adapter) and it charges the iPod. However, it doesn’t do much more than the cassette adapter did.

Navigating Playlists, Artists, and Albums
Alpine claims the KCA-420i will allow you to control your iPod with the head unit. Well, sometimes. When connecting the iPod to the Alpine deck it always sees the iPod and will play songs from it but for some reason that I haven’t been able to identify about 50% of the time the Alpine deck will not display playlist information, allow you to search, or scan, or do anything other than skip to the next or previous song. It seems to default playing from the whole library in this case, instead of a play list. The navigate button (which looks like a document icon) is supposed to bring up all the items you could normally navigate on the iPod screen such as Artists, Albums, and Playlists. However, in this case it simply doesn’t function. It beeps, so you know it’s being pressed, but it does nothing. Power cycling the head unit doesn’t solve the problem either. I have found the only thing that works is disconnecting the iPod and reconnecting it. This has always solved the problem, and suddenly you will be able to navigate your songs and playlists as expected. Very frustrating but at least we found a work around.

Shuffle and Repeat Settings
Most people I know listen to their iPod music in shuffle mode (or random or as Alpine calls it MIX or M.I.X. mode, I’ll call it shuffle from here on out) so the songs are never played in the same order and I too personally always listen in shuffle mode. I also always have repeat turned off. When I’ve listened to an entire album or playlist, I want the iPod to stop playing, so I know it’s time to choose another album or playlist instead of thinking to myself later… “did I hear this song already?” Of course the Alpine controller understands these functions and has the same settings.

That would be great if it remembered your settings. I expected the head unit to use whatever settings the iPod was currently set for. So for example, after connecting my iPod I expected it to active shuffle (shows up as MIX on the Alpine display) and make sure repeat was off based on my iPod’s settings. It doesn’t. It starts out at the factory default of shuffle off and repeat All. Ok, so I have to manually go through the process of changing those on the deck. It requires a total of 5 presses of three different buttons to make those changes. A bit cumbersome, but you figure, you’ll only have to do it once, right? Wrong! You’ll have to do it, not only every time you disconnect your iPod but every time you turn off the car. That’s right. It remembers these settings for CD playback after you’ve turned off and parked your car, but even if you leave the iPod connected in the vehicle, after you turned off the ignition it goes back to the default settings. That’s an example of how CD playback works better than iPod playback.

Messes the iPod's Settings
While that’s annoying, I’ve saved the best part for last. Ok, so right now you are thinking, “Wow, Alpine didn’t debug their product very well, and has a lot of issues, but still, it seems like maybe it’s ok.” After you’ve used your iPod in the vehicle connected to the KCA-420i, when you remove it, you’ll find not only does the Alpine not remember the settings you gave it correctly, it modified the settings on your iPod to be repeat All and shuffle Off. Every time I disconnect my iPod I have to turn these settings back on. Even when I already turned them back on in the Alpine head unit. Amazing! So not only does the Alpine not handle its own settings correctly, it messes up your settings on your iPod. Seems to me a playback device should not write data to the iPod, it should only read data from it. Anyway, the cassette adapter never had THAT problem.

So in summary of my review…the KCA-420i promises a lot, and delivers very little. It’s obvious it was rushed to market with little debugging and will not operate as expected, or even as the Alpine instruction manual claims. If all you care about is getting the sound from your iPod into your Alpine stereo, it works, however, if you expect flawless song and playlist navigation or consistent playback settings, you will be disappointed. So in conclusion, it really doesn’t work as well as a cassette adapter.

I contacted Alpine. They are aware of all of the issues. The customer service person on the phone was very friendly and said he owned an iPod and had the KCA-420i product in his vehicle as well. He said Alpine engineers were aware of the issues. He also said they would post information on their web site when a firmware update was available. I asked him, “Oh, so a consumer can update the firmware on the KCA-420i? You supply them with a downloadable CD ISO image they can burn and load into their deck and it’ll update the firmware or something like that?” He replied, “No, it would be an Apple firmware release for the iPod to fix the issues.” At that point I asked him how an update to the iPod would improve how the Alpine product worked. He insisted all the logic of the KCA-420i was handled on the iPod. If that’s true why does it cost $100? Anyway, so it doesn’t sound like Alpine has a way or any plans to fix the issues I’ve listed. Seems like false advertising and misleading marketing to release a product that doesn’t perform as stated, and then not try to solve the issue.

I’ll post here if an update or solution to any of these problems are found.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Software Update in Mac OS X Tiger Doesn't work if Ethernet is turned off.

Ok, found a bug today in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. I have a computer, and the only networking it uses is wireless (Airport). So it made sense to me to turn off the Bluetooth, FireWire, and Ethernet ports in the Network settings, since they weren't being used.

Once I turned off Ethernet, however, I found Software Update hangs right after launching. The Software Update progress bar display fills in about 10% and just sits there forever. As soon as I checked the Ethernet port in the Network settings it worked. I'm not using Ethernet, there is no cable connected, and it's set to DHCP right now, but for whatever reason Software Update won't work without it.