How I listen to music, and how the new Apple Music Voice Plan might actually be good for some people

Apple’s new Apple Music Voice Plan
When I was in 7th grade, my Dad got a radio walkman for Christmas, but soon after he loaned it to me i used it much more than he did. That was my introduction to hearing stereo through headphones, it was mind blowing. Until 9th grade all of my cassette tape recordings were still in mono, even pre-recorded tapes I had, I only heard in mono, in 9th grade I got a walkman for Christmas that also played tapes and the game change to stereo was complete.

Around the same time, I was also using books on tape. The National Library Service for the blind used tapes in a cool but different way. They recorded at half the speed of typical tape recorders, and also split the audio into 4 tracks, kind of the opposite of stereo recordings. This meant you could get 4 hours out of a 60 minute tape, at a lower audio quality. Perfectly fine for a book on tape or class lecture. There was a walkman, that cost about twice as much as all the others at the time, that could do both stereo audio and 4 track slow speed audio. I longed for a tape that could hold many hours in stereo high quality audio, digital audio wasn’t at all a thing for the average person, and my mind then couldn’t conceive of it either.

When I was in college my PC had a 200MB hard-drive, ye that was big in the early 1990s. I had a few .wav files on it but 10 second .wav file was 1.5 MB so it was only good at the time to impress my friends. Today, I have hundreds of CDs extracted in lossless formats with terabytes  to spare, things have greatly improved.

The twentieth anniversary of Steve Jobs announcing the first iPod passed a few days ago, that was the beginning of the end of storing everything on tape. I had a collection of CDs by then, and had started extracting them to my hard-drive in 192mb .mp3 files. I had even bought a minidisk player in 1999, sadly they weren’t quite goo d enough yet to replace tapes, but things were still progressing. The original iPod wasn’t really accessible to a totally blind person, and none of the others by other brands were either. Although Rockbox did make some of them somewhat accessible over time, it took until the iPhone to really make portable music players truly blind accessible.

Somewhat older people like me still prefer to own their music on tangible media, but many young people today just stream everything. Most streaming services have all the music just about anyone would want, though audiophiles might complain about the quality. I had subscribed to Apple Music for a year or so, but found i rarely used it, so I canceled. Ten dollars a month was a bit much not to use, and then Apple announced their new Apple Music Voice Plan last week.

Almost everyone said things all over social media like
Simon J – @Simon818: I don’t understand Apple Music’s $5 plan. It’s an artificial restriction with no real financial incentive. It’s like saying “Here, you can use our terrible voice assistant and nothing else. When you get fed up with our terrible assistant, you can pay us more to stop using it.”

Parker Ortolani – @ParkerOrtolani: ok the voice plan is hilarious – it’s like the third generation iPod shuffle as a service
Basically, many think it’s worthless and silly. Basically, they’re only thinking about their own use case.

I saw other tweets like

James Rath | 😈🎃 – @JamesRath: Apple Music for $4.99 for a voice-only service… kinda interesting for accessibility. Blind and low vision folks just using Siri to curate music could benefit too…

Reminds me a bit of the 3rd gen iPod Shuffle with VoiceOver. #AppleEvent

The Verge – @verge: What is the new Apple Music Voice plan, and who is it for? Their article.

The voice plan does have limitations, you can’t use playlists created outside of Apple, but I’ve never made a playlist in my life, so that doesn’t bother me. You can play specific pieces of music, entire albums by name. One can say “play some Beethoven” or “play chill” so you can do quite a bit.

Some might think this plan would be good for people who don’t have use of their hands, but then there’s the problem all voice assistants still have;
Steven Aquino (he/him) – @steven_aquino: The new Apple Music Voice Plan perfectly encapsulates the schism of smart assistants and accessibility. On one hand, it’s super convenient and liberating to shout into the ether and have Siri play something. On the other, success is predicated on whether you have typical speech.

Dave Hamilton on his Mac Geek Gab podcast recently said a farmer had written to him saying the new voice plan would be perfect for him while he did barn chores. Maybe, this new plan also might be good for people who drive a lot, or for those who have lots of HomePod Minis in their house. I also think it might be what fits my music listening too. I have many CDs, I would prefer physical media and/or lossless files over streaming, but occasionally I want to hear a song I don’t have. Until now, I’ve begrudgingly looked selections up on Youtube. Asking Siri will be much more convenient, and the audio quality even if streaming, will still probably beat Youtube most of the time.

I also listen to music differently than some, I don’t just play an album straight through. I study the music, compare passages, so I scrub (scan) through music files a lot, that’s also easier when not streaming. I haven’t yet grabbed Apple’s new music voice plan, but for the price, I think it’s something I probably will go for in the end.

As for storing audio, Between all of my music in lossless and audio books in lower quality files, together they still take up less than a terabyte. I took 50 CDs to Europe when I was in grad school, and bought 20 more while I was there. Thankfully today I could store that all on my iPhone. The National Library Service is more modern too. Although they can still send audio recordings of books to their patrons on a proprietary cartridge, many readers just download them from bard on to their mobile devices or computers.

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