The Mighty: A Portable Spotify Music Player

Currently on Kickstarter:

Mighty is the first and only device that plays your Spotify music without being connected to a smartphone. Lightweight, durable, and small enough to clip-on to any piece of clothing, it’s the perfect device for your active life. Mighty comes equipped with Bluetooth and WiFi, is compatible with iPhones and Androids, and can play 48 hours of music without any internet connection. All for under $80.

This is a really good idea, an Android-powered portable music player for Spotify that can sync with a smartphone. I keep an iPod shuffle around because I really like having a portable music player that isn’t my phone for some cases, such as running in the rain, and back when I was a Spotify subscriber, I missed having access to my library.

I’ve switched to Apple Music but if I were still using Spotify, I’d back this.

Making My Way Through The iTunes Store’s Border Control

Once I left the UK and became a permanent resident of these United States, I needed to change my iTunes account’s country so I could begin making purchases on the US store. Apple’s support article on how to complete this process makes it appear pretty straightforward, yet there are some consequences which are only briefly mentioned:

  • You won’t see the items that you purchased from the previous country’s store in your Purchased section.
  • You won’t see the items from your iCloud Music Library that you matched, uploaded, or added from the previous country’s store.

I’ve been purchasing music, videos and apps from the iTunes and App Stores since the iTunes Store first launched in the UK back in 2004, so these seem to be pretty major consequences. I have a lot of content that could be potentially affected by changing my iTunes Store account’s country, so this support article left me with more questions than answers.

Further (mis)information

I spent some time trying to find any helpful advice from others who have been through the same process but there is, unfortunately, a large amount of conflicting stories and experiences in the Apple Support Communities. Most of the information I found had been from users wanting to circumvent the lack of iTunes Store in their own country or as a way to take advantage of currency exchange rates and pay lower prices by using the US store.

While I did find a few blog posts on the web about how the process works, these were also somewhat vague1 and, more importantly, a few years out of date which meant that newer features like Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, iTunes Match and even iTunes in the Cloud2 weren’t being taken into account.

Expectations

After trawling the web for what seemed like an eternity, I was able to piece together a likely outcome of what would happen once I change my iTunes account’s country:

  • My iTunes Store purchased history would be blank so I won’t be able to re-download any previous purchases that I haven’t already downloaded3. As far as media content goes, I’ll need to have a local copy of everything on my Mac before I make the switch, or else I’ll have to buy it again.
  • All of the music stored in my iCloud Music Library (iTunes Match uploads, content saved from Apple Music) will be removed. Once I switch countries, I’ll be starting with a new iCloud Music Library so I’ll need to re-activate my iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions if I want my music to be available across all devices again. Any music I saved to my library from Apple Music will also be removed, so I’d need to add that again, too.
  • All of my purchased media content (music, movies and TV shows) will still be playable, provided I have a local copy. Changing iTunes account country won’t affect anything related to the DRM.
  • All of the apps installed on my Mac and iOS devices will continue to work and update.
  • Unlike media content, I will be able to download apps I’ve previously purchased again, albeit in a somewhat counterintuitive way.
  • Since I can’t use iTunes in the Cloud because I’ll be losing my purchase history, if I want to watch any previously purchased TV shows and movies on a device other than my Mac, I’ll need to sync devices with iTunes4.

Preparation

While I do have a local copy of all my music on my Mac, the same cannot be said for my movie and TV show purchases. I have hundreds of video purchases, totalling just under 1TB, so I would regularly use iTunes in the Cloud to simply stream or download them as and when I need to, on any device I own. Now that I’m changing country, I lose this functionality so I needed to have a local copy of everything on my Mac.

Changing Country, Take 1

After making sure I had a local copy of my music and video purchases, as well as a Time Machine and Backblaze backup5, it was time to make the switch. I decided to perform this process on my iPhone so I followed the steps in the aforementioned Apple support article and attempted to change my account’s country. Unfortunately, I didn’t get far:

iTunes Match and Apple Music errors

  • “You have an active iTunes Match subscription; you must cancel it before you can change stores.”
  • “You have an active Apple Music membership billed through Apple; you must cancel it before you can change stores.”

At first, I didn’t see this as that big a deal. These are two subscriptions that were set up on the UK iTunes Store as part of my iCloud Music Library so it makes sense that I’d need to cancel them first (though it would be helpful if iTunes offered to cancel them during this process).

I decided to refer to the support article If you can’t change your iTunes Store country or region which explains how to cancel these subscriptions and, well, this is where the whole process starts to fall apart and explains why Apple doesn’t provide an option to cancel these memberships:

If you subscribe to iTunes Match or have an Apple Music membership, you need to wait for your iTunes Match subscription or Apple Music membership to expire.

I’m a monthly subscriber to Apple Music, so I could simply disable auto-renew and wait it out for a few weeks. However, iTunes Match only offers an annual subscription and mine had just renewed three weeks prior. More importantly, there is no way to cancel an active iTunes Match or Apple Music membership. You can disable auto-renew, but you cannot cancel. The only option I had was to cancel auto-renew and wait until iTunes Match expires. In my case, I’d have to wait until December 2016 – only then would iTunes Match be cancelled and I’d be able to change my iTunes account’s country.

Unfortunately, this creates a paradoxical situation if I want to purchase content in the future. I now live in the US, so my payment method and billing address would only work with the US store, yet I need to remain as a UK store customer because I cannot cancel iTunes Match, effectively meaning I’ll no longer be able to purchase any iTunes or App Store content until the end of the year since I no longer have a UK billing address and payment method.

Contacting Apple Support

At this point, I decided to contact Apple Support to see if they could either cancel or transfer my iTunes Match at their end. After arranging a call back from someone in the Apple Support team at a specific time and day6, I was able to speak to someone and explain the issue I was having.

Although the person I spoke to sounded somewhat confused at first and had to place me on hold for what felt like an eternity, the support rep came back and told me that they’d cancelled my iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions effective immediately.

Changing Country, Take 2

As soon as I had spoken to Apple, I attempted to change my country using the original support article and the whole process was completed without any further issues. As everything is connected by way of my Apple ID, this change was also reflected within iCloud.

Starting from Scratch with Apple Music & iTunes Match

One unavoidable step in the country change is that both iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions had to be cancelled. This means any matched or uploaded music, as well as any music I’d saved through Apple Music (such as playlists and albums) was lost. This wasn’t too concerning for me because I still have all of my purchased content in my own iTunes library, so I could just sign up to iTunes Match again, and I didn’t have that many playlists or albums saved from Apple Music that I’d miss.

I re-subscribed to both services and let iTunes upload/match all my music again which pretty much got my music library back to where it was before. If I compared what my music library looked like before and after the country change, all I had missing were a few playlists and albums I’d saved through Apple Music.

However, one casualty of the change was the album artwork for a lot of music I had was overwritten with what I can only assume iTunes Match or Apple Music decided was the matched version of a song. In most cases, the artwork was for a song purchased through the iTunes Store, and certain artwork was just plain wrong. Thankfully, no sounds or albums were lost or mismatched, but I really wish iTunes Match and/or Apple Music hadn’t messed around with the original artwork that was already correct.

Losing iTunes in the Cloud for Previous Purchases

Now that my purchase history starts anew, all the movies and TV shows that I’d purchased can no longer be streamed or downloaded from any of my devices. This particular issue is a major inconvenience for me because I’d often use an Apple TV or iPad to watch content on, rather than my Mac. For any movies or TV shows that I bought on the UK Store, I can no longer directly access them on my iPad and, instead, have to sync it with iTunes.

This only affects the purchases I made in the UK store but it is still a hassle that I have to rely upon iTunes whenever I need to get that content onto another device.

Apps

Unlike media content, Apps aren’t subject to regional restrictions and laws that vary from country to country. At most, developers have the option to not list their apps on specific stores7. Instead, any apps I had purchased can be downloaded again for free, provided they’re available the US store, but it’s not as straightforward or obvious as you may think.

A record of all the apps I’d previously purchased would normally be stored in, you guessed it, my iTunes purchase history. Although this is empty when switching country, the App Store still recognises which apps I’d purchased, so for all of the apps currently installed on my Mac and iOS devices, updates happen uninterrupted and continue to work as expected.

For apps that I don’t have installed but may want to download again, the App Store displays the price instead of the more familiar download button, but “buying” the app results in the App Store displaying a message to say that the app has been previously purchased so it’s free. While this does mean I effectively don’t need to re-purchase any apps, I need to remember which apps I’ve purchased before, or consult my iTunes payment history or email receipts.

Afterlight is an app I purchased previously. It initially shows its price but after "buying" it, I'm notified that the download is actually free

The End… I Think

Despite the ambiguity and lack of comprehensive information available on this process, changing my iTunes Store account’s country wasn’t a complete disaster, but there are a lot of things to watch out for, especially if you’ve been using the ecosystem for a number of years.

While I haven’t lost any content, I have lost a lot of the convenience of the iTunes Store for previous purchases. This may not sound particularly worrying since I have the content on my Mac, but I’m fortunate enough to have a Mac at home that I can keep what is effectively a backup of all my content on. For many iOS-only users out there, going through this process would effectively mean losing a lot of content with the lack of iTunes in the Cloud functionality for purchases on a different store country8.

I’m not sure whether the lack of iTunes purchase history (and, by extension, iTunes in the Cloud) is a technical, legal or contractual restriction, but it doesn’t seem right that movies and TV shows that I purchased through iTunes cannot be made available after changing my country. I’m inclined to think that this is more a restriction by the studios and labels than Apple but, whatever the reason, it’s a huge disappointment for anyone who moves abroad.

Update: My purchase history now appears in the iOS and Mac App Stores. Some of my purchased movies and TV shows are also available in iTunes in the Cloud.

  1. It seems that many of the posts I camd across were just written expectations based upon the support article and not from personal experience, or too out of date to be relevant anymore. 

  2. When the iTunes Store first opened its doors, there wasn’t any way to redownload purchases you’d made if you didn’t have a backup. As a former Genius, I had to refer a lot of customers to iTunes Support who had thought that their iPod was the only place their music needed to be (and subsequently deleted the music from their iTunes library once they’d synced it, in a misguided attempt to save storage space). 

  3. An iTunes Store account’s purchase history appears to be country-specific so purchases can only be re-downloaded if you’re account is set to the country the content was purchased from. The country cannot be changed frequently and requires a valid payment method and billing address to be added. 

  4. Syncing an iOS device with iTunes, like an animal. This especially sucks with an Apple TV in the house but at least I can easily stream this from my Mac. 

  5. The entire process of downloading my iTunes video content and making sure there were adequate backups took just over a week. 

  6. To Apple’s credit, their support process was flawless. I was able to pick a specific day and time to receive a call and the person I spoke to was great and I didn’t need to be transferred to another department. 

  7. One example that springs to mind is the Bank of America app – it’s not available on the UK store. 

  8. To prevent abuse, Apple restricts iTunes account country changes to once every 90 days. 

Apple Publishes Open Letter on Privacy and the FBI’s Backdoor Request

After a court order demanding that Apple assist the FBI with unlocking an iPhone was issued, the following open letter was published on their website:

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The outcome of this case will have serious ramifications about user privacy.

Adobe Creative Cloud Installer Deleting Hidden Files in OS X

From the Backblaze Twitter account:

Worse than we thought @Adobe @creativecloud v. 3.5.0.206 update alpha sorts hidden files on main dir, nukes the top one. Reproducibly.

Just for clarity, it deletes ANY data in the first alpha-sorted hidden directory. Backblaze is just first b/c of “B”.

Absolutely inexcusable. Thankfully, Backblaze have a workaround to avoid it deleting files until Adobe fix this mess.

Update: It gets worse:

[…] The first folder whether hidden or visible (space at the front) by alphabetical sort will have CONTENTS deleted – folder remains.

Update 2: It gets even worse:

Adobe Creative Cloud Deleting Files on Sign In

Update 3: Adobe has reportedly pulled the update and is investigating.

A Personal Podcast Feed With Workflow

After creating a static blog generator in Workflow that also generates an RSS feed, I started toying with the idea of using Workflow to create a personal podcast feed that I can curate and add individual episodes to, in much the same way as Huffduffer.

The result of this is a workflow to create your own private Dropbox-hosted podcast feed and add links to individual podcast episodes you come across on the web, without needing to subscribe to each individual podcast, and it even works with DRM-free audiobooks.

The resulting Workflow-created feed in Podcasts

Get the Personal Podcast Feed Workflow.

Usage

To use this workflow, navigate to a podcast’s episode page (for example, a recent episode of Upgrade on Relay FM) and then run this as an action extension. The workflow will do its best to detect the title and description of the podcast, as well as the link to the audio file, all of which are displayed in an input dialog so they can be confirmed when running. If it can’t automatically detect any specific information, you can still enter it manually.

Getting the title

The workflow outputs two files to your Dropbox /Public folder:

  • podcast-feed.txt
  • workflow.rss

Every time you add a podcast episode, it’s prepended to the podcast-feed.txt file – this is the list of all the podcast episodes you’ve added which the workflow uses when creating theworkflow.rss feed each time.

The workflow only needs three pieces of information to add an episode or audio file:

  • Title
  • Description
  • Link to audio file

If it can’t detect them automatically, the text input dialog will simply be blank for you to manually provide them.

Subscribing

Both of these files are placed in the Dropbox Public folder so that the direct public link to the RSS feed can be used when subscribing1. You can get this from the Dropbox web interface by selecting the workflow.rss file and then “Copy Public Link”.

Add the direct link of the RSS feed to your podcast app of choice and any time you add an episode using this workflow, your podcast app will download it the next time the feed is refreshed2.

Limitations

A couple of things to keep in mind when using this workflow:

  • Every podcast website works differently and there’s no standard layout for providing a podcast episode link or its show notes. I’ve tested this workflow with a variety of different shows, both on podcast networks and individual offerings, and added some fallbacks for detecting the direct audio file link3.
  • Similarly, show notes are tricky because of the way they are often formatted. Instead, this workflow will pull a short description of the episode and include a link to the episode page.
  • It won’t be able to detect any information if you run it directly from within podcast apps if you try and share a show – this workflow only supports visiting a particular show’s episode page.

Further Usage (Private audiobook feed, anyone?)

Similarly, you could make some tweaks to this workflow and use it to create your own podcast RSS feed, directly on your iOS device. As a basic podcast workflow, you could:

  • Record an episode in Voice Memos and then save the recording to Dropbox
  • Add the recording as a podcast episode to a feed using this workflow
  • Provide the RSS feed for people to subscribe to

Going beyond podcasts, you can use this to add any audio file you come across on the web. For simplicity, this workflow filters out anything that isn’t an MP3 or M4A file, and none of the episode detection is required. Each step requires confirming the text or filling in the blanks, so you could simply run this as a normal workflow and enter the title and description, along with a direct link to an audio file.

If you’ve got an audiobook in a DRM-free MP3 format, for example, you could host it on Dropbox and then add each file using this workflow. This is a great way to use Overcast‘s speed features with audiobooks.

Using Overcast as an Audiobook player

  1. The standard Dropbox link generated by Workflow or the Dropbox iOS app isn’t a direct link to the RSS feed and won’t work. There are ways to get the direct link from a Dropbox link by swapping out the www.dropbox.com with dl.dropboxusercontent.com but I couldn’t say for certain if the link would ever change as the file changes. The Dropbox Public folder, however, is much better suited for long-term direct linking. 

  2. During testing, the Apple Podcasts app would pick up the feed changes instantly. Overcast takes a little longer, likely as it has a fixed schedule for checking feeds, so an episode might not appear the moment you add it, but it will do shortly. 

  3. This workflow has three different methods it will try to detect an audio file, each with an increasing level of unreliability. Sometimes, it just isn’t possible but you can always copy the direct link and try again. 

Apple Launching New Broken iPhone Upgrade, Screen Protector Installation Programs

Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac:

Also involving iPhone displays, Apple Stores will start offering official plastic screen protector installations on iPhones in the coming weeks.

Apple has partnered with at least one screen protector maker (Belkin) to bring dedicated screen protector installation machines to the back of stores. Before this new program, Apple Stores were told to not perform screen protector installations on customer iPhones given the possibility of the installation of a third-party product not going smoothly.

This is surprising as Apple often highlights the toughness of the iPhone’s screen. I don’t use a screen protector (I detest them, personally) though if anyone knows what iPhone customer’s want and use, it’s Apple, using the data they gather from their retail stores.