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The sweet sound of Audible

Phillip Miller, (phillipmiller@home.com), November 21, 2001

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Want to hear Robin Williams’ manic comedy on your Macintosh? How about your favorite audio book, magazine, public radio program or political speech? The same material that’s available on cassette and compact disc can be streamed or downloaded from Audible (www.audible.com), one of the leaders in audio content on the Net.

What’s the benefit of listening to audio books on your Macintosh? Cost savings, since Audible has wisely chosen to pass the media savings on to its customers. No physical media means no physical media to pay for. Imagine saving four bucks over Amazon.com on Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, or getting books at even greater savings when you choose one of the subscription plans.

What about actually playing this content on your Mac? To start with, you have to use RealPlayer 8 with Audible’s authentication plugin. You log in, it streams, you listen. Audible works well and is stable under OS 9, 9.1 and 9.2.1. There are no sound quality differences between RealPlayer 8 Basic and Plus. Do you use some other application, like iTunes or Audion, to listen on your Mac? Too bad – Audible doesn’t currently support those other players on the Mac. You’re out of luck if you run Mac OS X, too.

Audible offers extensive support for other portable devices as well, including the Casio Cassiopeia, Compaq iPaq, Digisette DUO-Aria, Franklin eBookMan, HP Jornada, Phillips Rush, Sonicblue 500, 600, 800 and Sony IC Recorder. Where’s Apple’s iPod in all this? Not on the “supported” list. This isn’t too surprising given that no portable can be synced to Audible content from the Mac. Adding further disappointment, Audible offers the Audible Advisor Springboard module specifically designed for the Handspring. The Handspring is Mac-compatible while the Audible Advisor Springboard is not. Audible also offers for PC users a standalone application and Windows Media format in addition to RealAudio.

Along with phone and telephone support, Audible provides a bulletin board as part of its support structure, and it is no surprise that angry Mac users are taking time to post plenty of rants there. Why? Audible’s Web promotion, where you get a free (refurbished) Rio 600 MP3 player in exchange for selected annual subscriptions, isn’t really valid for Mac users, since Audible doesn’t yet support transfer of content to portable players under the Mac OS, and the Mac users’ frustrations are apparent on Audible’s support boards.

With the rest of the world supporting all these devices, it’s easy to understand Mac user frustration with the pace of Audible’s Mac support. The company has been promising Mac-based portable support for many months but it has been delayed by “unexpected technical difficulties.” At this point, if you listen at your desk, or your portable device happens to be a PowerBook or iBook, Audible might work out well for you. All the rest of you Mac users may want to watch closely for signs of Audible’s progress.

— Toiling in the support field with both Macs and PCs and dabbling with anything Mac he can get his hands on, Phillip Miller is thrilled to be writing about the Mac.

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