Looking for an iTunes store replacement? Check out Amazon MP3

If you use a Mac, iPod, or iPad did you know that the iTunes Store is not the only place you can buy digital music for your device? In fact, Amazon.com has a great MP3 store which will work with those devices in a couple of ways. Basically, if you can get a DRM free music file compatible with iTunes, you can buy your music almost anywhere. This article, however, will be focusing on Amazon.com.

The old way: Download music to iTunes

Until recently, Amazon only had one way to get music onto your devices, which required you to download the music on your computer, then transfer it to your device. To use this method, you can download songs or albums from Amazon.com and using the Amazon MP3 Downloader, which you install on your computer. After the music has been downloaded, it will be instantly sent to iTunes with the names, artwork, etc.

amazoncloudapp

The new way: Use the Cloud Player App

As I said, this used to be the only way to get these tracks onto your devices. “Used to be” is the key there. Amazon recently released their Cloud Player and a Cloud Player app. The app allows you to have access to all of your purchases for streaming and/or downloading on your device when you log into your Amazon account. The only problem with this is that you can not mix and match tracks from iTunes. If you want to do that you will have to download the tracks to your computer and into iTunes using the downloader tool mentioned above.

Bottom Line: Price

You might be wondering what is the benefit of using Amazon if you have to go through all of this trouble? For me, the benefit is price. There are many time when Amazon will have a cheaper price on an MP3 album than iTunes. In some cases it is a lot cheaper. For me, it is worth the money to buy from Amazon and download the music to iTunes. Once it is in iTunes I don’t notice the difference, or care.

iTunes is great, and I buy most of my music in iTunes. However, it is nice to know there is another option out there for users.

How to: How to set an alarm using any song in your iTunes library

When iOS 6 was released in September it boasted over 200 new features. I am sure you are well aware of the major ones like Apple Maps and Facebook and Twitter integration, but if you haven’t had the time to thoroughly go through all the cool new things your new operating system can do, you may have missed a few things.

One of the best, yet surprisingly simple new iOS features is the ability to set an alarm using any song in your music library. It makes waking up in the morning a more enjoyable experience. So if you are tired of waking up to standard instrumental alarm music and would prefer a little Metallica or Rihanna to wake you up in the morning, here is a quick walk though on how to set an alarm using a specific song.

To get to your alarm open up your clock app, which will probably be in your ‘Utilities’ folder (if you are having trouble finding it, it’s just an app that looks like a clock).

Add an Alarm by hitting the ‘+’ button that will be on the top right corner of the app. After you have set up the alarm time, tap ‘Sound’. In this section you will see a few song options, but if you do not see the specific song that you were looking for tap ‘Pick a Song’ and you will be taken to your iTunes library where you can choose any song that you please.

If you are enrolled in iTunes Music Match you can choose any song you have stored in the iCloud as well. But be warned, if you choose a song from the iCloud and lose internet connectivity or reception, your alarm will go off but a song will not play. So your best bet is to choose a song that you already have downloaded onto your device just to be safe. When the alarm goes off it will play the entire song if you let it and will not stop until you shut off or snooze it.

This alarm feature is available on all of your Apple devices that are running on iOS 6. It is easy and pain-free to set up, and is a great new and convenient feature to have for your iPhone or iPad.

How to create a slideshow on your iPad

The iPad has many uses and one its features is presenting slideshows of your photos. In fact, slideshows look fabulous on the iPad. How do you create a slideshow on the iPad? You can create slideshows through the built-in Photos app or using a third-party app.

Adding photos to your iPad

Whether using Apple’s Photos app or a third-party app, you must have the photos you plan to use on your iPad. You can load photos from a memory card using the Camera Connection Kit sold by Apple, or you can load them through iPhoto and iTunes.

To load photos using iPhoto you need to have an album in iPhoto with the photos you want to add to your iPad. Next,with you iPad connected to the computer, go to iTunes and select your iPad in the devices list on the left. Choose the “Photos” tab and click the options that allow you to load photos from specific albums. Choose the specific album (or albums) you want to load onto your iPad.

For the purpose of making a slideshow it is a good idea to have the album specifically assigned for your slideshow. It should not contain any other photos in it. You can use another album for that.

Now you are ready to make your slideshow.

Making a slideshow with the built-in Photos app

Let’s start with the easiest and quickest method based on the idea that you loaded your photos through iPhoto. After synching your photos, open the Photos app on your iPad. The photos will be grouped into an album with the same name as the one you created in iPhoto. Open that album.

On the top right of the screen you will notice a “Slideshow” button. Tap this button and another window will open. In this window you can set basic setting for the slideshow such as a theme. Pick your settings and play the slideshow.

If you aren’t loading your photos through iPhoto, but are loading from your camera the process is just as easy. Instead of making and loading a playlist through iPhoto you make the album in the Photos app. However, you do need at least iOS 5 installed on your iPad. Earlier versions of iOS do not allow you to create albums on the iPad.

Next, open the Photos app on your iPad. Find the photos you want to use and tap the curved arrow in the top right of the screen. Tap all of the photos you want in the slideshow. Now tap the “Add To” button and choose “New Album.” Enter a name for the album and these photos will now be in that album.

To create the slideshow, go to the album and follow the same steps laid out above for playing a slideshow in the Photos app.

One important note is that you are not creating any specific slideshow file when you follow these methods outlined above. You are only using the Photos app to play a select group of photos in a slideshow. To actually create a slideshow file you will need to use one of several apps available in the App Store.

Creating slideshows in a third-party app

If you do a search for “Slideshow” in the iPad App Store you will be presented with numerous apps that can create a slideshow for you. Each one will have different features and you will have to read the features and the reviews and decide which one might work for you.

You can also consider using Keynote to create slideshows, which another great option on the iPad. It is a lot more complicated than using the method of using the Photos app, but it does give you more control. You can choose transitions on a per photo basis, add music if you want, and export it from the iPad to your Mac.

Whichever app you choose to use, you will still need to load photos to the Photos app using one of the methods described above. All of these types of apps access the photos  stored in your Photos app.

Now you have several options for creating slideshows on your iPad. If you have a preferred technique or app for creating slideshows leave a comment below!

How to update your Apple iOS device to iOS 6

Recently, Apple released iOS 6 for iPods, iPads, and iPhones. Apple has stated that it comes packed with over two hundred new features. So how do you get this update onto your device? It is actually very easy to do.

First you need to determine if your device is compatible with the update. iOS 6 is compatible with:

  • Phone 3GS and newer
  • 2nd generation iPad and newer
  • 4th generation iPod Touch and newer

You also must have a wireless internet connection and/or be connected to iTunes on your computer to install the update.

How to update via wireless

First, make sure you are plugged into a power source. Next, open the Settings app on your device. The app might actually have a red one on the icon indicating an update is available. Tap “General” and then tap “Software Update.”

You should see a screen telling you there is an update available with a button to install the update. Tap that update button and wait. The update will download and install. It will probably take a while, so you should probably go run an errand and come back in about an hour.

Once the update is finished the device will reboot and you will go through a mini set up to get up and running in iOS 6. Make sure you have your iCloud information available, if you use iCloud (you can also skip these steps).

How to update via iTunes

Start by connecting your device to the computer (which needs an internet connection). If you aren’t prompted to install an update you can manually initiate it. Click you device in the Library and go to the Info tab for the device. There will be a “Check for Updates” button on this screen. Click that and if your device is compatible you will be told an update is available.

Go through the steps and, just like above, this will take about an hour (your time may vary depending on internet connection speeds). Once finished, the device will reboot and you will go through the same procedure mentioned above.

Conclusion

So should you update? That is up to you. If you have an older device you might want to search the internet for reports on how your device works after the update. Some older devices might have issues – even though Apple has said it is compatible. Also, depending on your device, you won’t get all of the new features.

Personally, I update my devices. I like having the latest and greatest (or not so greatest) new features. You, on the other hand, may be happy with the way your device works and it does everything you want it to do. Either way, now you know how to get your device up to date with iOS 6.

Apple announces iBooks 2 and iTunes U app

After giving enough time for CES-goers to recover from a long week of gadgets, Apple hosted an event today at the Guggenheim museum in New York City that focused on education, and they announced updates to a few of their digital products.

iBooks 2 Reinvents the Textbook

In a way to “reinvent the textbook,” iBooks 2 was announced, which brings textbooks to the forefront for high school students at an attractive price: $14.99 per title. Each textbook will be able to display in a text-heavy portrait mode or a more pictured-oriented landscape mode. There’s also the option to have pop quizzes appear randomly throughout the textbook to make sure the student is comprehending what he or she is reading. Annotations is also a big feature here. You can add stickies to individual pages and aggregate them into digital 3×5-inch note cards.

Apple has partnered with Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Those three publishers alone are responsible for 90 percent of all textbooks sold.

The iBooks 2 app is up in the App Store and ready for your free-downloading pleasure.

iBooks Author

Along with the new iBooks is something completely new: iBooks Author. It’s a free Mac OS X Lion app that’s available now. iBooks Author allows you to create your very own books. The process to make such books seems quite easy – you’ll have the ability to drag and drop photos, videos and even Microsoft Word files into different templates. Publishing your book to iBooks is a lot like publishing an app to the App Store. You have to go through the rigorous approval process and must split the revenue 70/30 with Apple.

iTunes U

Keeping on the theme of education, Apple implemented a major facelift on iTunes U, bringing in full online courses for students. They will be able to see the class overview, the syllabus, credits and even the professor’s office hours. The app is integrated with iBooks, so that with a tap of the finger, you can view your coursework and mark it off when its done. Several universities are in on the fun, including Duke, MIT and Yale. The iTunes U app is available now in the App Store for free.

What Can The New iTunes Match Do For You?

iTunes Match

iTunes Match

iTunes Match is the newest offering from Apple, an addition to its popular music player. The new service promises to store your iTunes purchases in the cloud, as well as backing up your non-iTunes media for $25 per year. In order to use it however, you need to have iTunes 10.5.1 installed. You can find the update right here.

How Does It Work?

Once prompted, Match will chew through your media library and identify any and all songs that are eligible to be uploaded to iCloud (Apple’s cloud server). Although it’s good to note that this doesn’t mean you have to use a web-based player for your music. If your tracks match, Apple gives you access to their high-quality music in their collection. The collection has absolutely no copy protection and consists of encoded 256kbps AAC files (this means it’s awesome). Access is not dependent on the quality of your files either. Even if your files aren’t that great, you can still use the higher quality audio stored in Apple’s server.

If your files don’t exist in the library then Apple will upload a copy for you to store and sync, but this will be rare as their collection is huge. So why do you care? Well, music stored in the cloud can be synced effortlessly between all of your devices. Of course, those devices must have a copy of iTunes installed or be running a version of iOS. You can now consider your iTunes safe, able to be recovered after hard drive failure or the purchase of a new computer (remember what a nightmare that used to be?).

Should I Use It?

I mean, I don’t see why you wouldn’t… Match only costs $25/year, which is definitely affordable. Especially when it can save you from a world of loss because we all know that iTunes’ libraries do not come cheap. But my recommendation hinges on whether or not you are committed to Apple’s ecosystem. If you have a Mac, an Android tablet, and a Windows Phone then iTunes Match isn’t going to be a good choice for you.

In that case (when you use numerous operating systems), you might be better off choosing one of the competing music services like Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, or Google Music.

Few Notable Limitations

  • No dedicated streaming if you don’t have enough free memory (the file must be downloaded to your device)
  • No option to stream from a web browser
  • Only five devices can be synced at one time

Google Music Beta Soon To Meet Google Music Store

I’ve been using Google Music (beta) for several months now, and if you haven’t already, request an invitation for yourself. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the simple interface, the surprisingly full set of features, and the nearly unlimited cloud space…but reports of the upcoming Google Music Store make this service all the sweeter.

Google announced the long-anticipated Google music download service at the All Things Digital Conference in Hong Kong around mid-October. The release is placing emphasis on the idea that the store won’t simply sell music, but will add a “twist” with social recommendations by exploiting Google’s rising star Google+, allowing users to share their favorite music with friends as a single-play track. The major concern now is timeliness and selection — Google is having a difficult time closing deals with Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, a problem that has ailed other internet music services like eMusic.

A new store may be just the touch that Google Music needs to become a viable replacement for iTunes or Zune Marketplace. The browser-based application comes with the basic features you’d expect in a music manager (albums, playlists, artwork) along with some nice surprises, like a “Instant Mix” tool that lets you select a single song to generate a playlist of similar music. The Google Music blog, Magnifier, offers daily free songs from all genres to jazz up your collection. The Android app lets you stream from your library without needing any local storage, though downloading to your device is an option. The ability to instantly add music to your library from your phone may give Google the bump it needs to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon.

Google Music (beta)

Google is making a serious effort to dethrone Apple as the king of integrated music services, and with Google+ as its social ace in the hole, it may have a shot. Google hasn’t officially announced a specific date, but insists the Google music store will be here “soon.”

But one question remains:  now that Google has developed a strategy for competing with established “paid” internet music stores, will it make moves against Pandora and Spotify to really put a stranglehold on the music distribution business?

Techerator Holiday Gift Guide: Gamer’s Edition

The holidays are right around the corner, and if you’re anything like me you haven’t even thought about starting to shop for gifts. In the past this situation might have ended with you in tears at the mall, desperately fighting against throngs of soccer moms and biting children, hoping to grab the last of whatever this year’s best seller ends up being in the final days leading to Christmas.

This year, however, with our series of gift guides and the convenience of online shopping, you can buy gifts for everyone on your list in between matches of Call of Duty.

Gamers can be a tricky bunch to buy for. Taste in games varies wildly, and if you’re unlucky you might accidentally buy Kinect Sports for someone who was hoping to play Fallout on Christmas morning. Talk about embarrassing.

Thankfully, some games have near universal appeal, that any gamer would be happy to find in his or her stocking. I’m here to tell you about these games, one for each of the major systems available today.

PC – Minecraft

Do you have someone on your list who likes Legos? Of course you do, everyone likes Legos. It should then follow naturally that everyone likes Minecraft.

Minecraft has been around for a while now, but this past summer it saw an explosion in popularity, and it seemed like every PC gaming website on the planet was giving their take on the indie sensation. All this attention didn’t come without a reason, and Mincraft – though it’s still in the alpha stage of development – manages to live up to the lofty expectations set by its success.

In its current form Minecraft is a pure sandbox style game. There are no goals to accomplish except those set by yourself, and you can do anything you want, whenever and wherever you want. All the geometry in the game (including your character) is based around the simple Lego-style block, which can be combined with other blocks of different types to form new objects. Punch a tree for long enough and a block of wood will fall out. Combine two blocks of wood and you get a stick. Combine that stick with blocks of coal that can be mined, and you end up with a torch that can light your path.

Blocks of material can also be moved around to create structures in the game world. This comes in handy, as you can build yourself a house to protect you from the monsters that come out during the game’s nighttime.

On top of how fun and engaging Minecraft can be, until it’s final release the game can be bought at a discount. That means you can afford to buy yourself a copy as well!

Try building THAT with your Legos.

Xbox 360 – Fable III

Peter Molyneux, the mind behind the Fable series, is a bit of a controversial figure in the world of gaming. He’s the man responsible for some of the greatest games in the history of the PC, including Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Magic Carpet, and Black & White. More recently, however, he has a habit of making claims that his games cannot possibly deliver on (see his Wikipedia entry for more information).

Thankfully, Fable III manages to live up to most of the hype and offer an enjoyable gaming experience. If you played Fable II, you should feel right at home as you’ll be slinging the same spells at the same Balverines, working to level up your melee, ranged, and magical arsenals.

On top of the familiar gameplay, your character now also has to deal with the day to day management of a kingdom, with your decisions influencing the direction the game takes. Heavily tax your citizens and let criminals wander freely and the world responds by becoming visibly poorer. Take the opposite strategy and watch as your kingdom flourishes.

Fable III isn’t without its flaws, but is absolutely bursting with charm that makes it impossible to not enjoy, making it an excellent holiday gift for that gamer on your list.

Playstation 3 – Gran Turismo 5

Ok, I lied a little bit earlier. Gran Turismo 5 might not have universal appeal, but to the right person it might be just what they’re hoping for, and it’s definitely going to be a big seller this holiday season. Does the person you’re shopping for make their own motor noises while cruising around town in their purple Dodge Stratus? Get them Gran Turismo 5 and they’ll love you for life.

Any car/driving/racing enthusiast will find plenty to do in Gran Turismo 5. The fifth iteration (obviously) of the critically acclaimed driving simulation series Gran Turismo, GT5 is a game that’s been in the making for six long years. It boasts a roster of over 1000 cars (though some are more detailed than others), and you’ll be doing everything from go-kart racing at 75 MPH, to learning about NASCAR from Jeff Gordon, to, of course, lots of racing in cars you’ll never be able to afford on real world tracks you’ll never visit.

Gran Turismo 5 certainly isn’t perfect, but it still manages to succeed on a level never before seen in a racing simulator. If you want to know what went on during those six years of development, hop into your favorite supercar and take it for a spin around Nürburgring. As you open up the throttle on the track’s long straightaway, taking in the beautiful scenery, the roar of the engine loud in your ears, you’ll know you’re playing something special. Or at least whoever you buy it for will.

Yes, it's that pretty

Wii – Goldeneye

Ah, the memories. Four kids huddled around a tiny TV. Each looking at their quarter of the screen, pretending not to look at anyone else’s. Ripping each other apart with RCP-90s and blowing each other to bits with the dreaded proximity mine. That one kid who always (annoyingly) picked Oddjob. If you played video games in the ’90s, you know exactly what I’m talking about: Goldeneye. The name alone brings back waves of nostalgia.

Unlike Perfect Dark for the Xbox 360, Goldeneye for the Wii isn’t a direct port of the N64 classic. Instead, it’s more of a re-imagining. Throughout the game you’ll see some familiar areas, but there’s plenty of new ground to cover and people to shoot. Additionally, Pierce Brosnan’s visage has been replaced by the most recent actor to play James Bond, Daniel Craig.

Multiplayer can be enjoyed by up to four people on one console, split-screen style, or you can opt to take the more modern approach and play with up to seven other people online. All your favorite classic characters make an appearance (yes, even Oddjob), and even the one-shot-one-kill Golden Gun returns to wreak havoc. Any classic gamer on your list lucky enough to get it will certainly enjoy Goldeneye.

Nintendo DS – Super Scribblenauts

Before its release, the original Scribblenauts was set to be quite possibly the greatest game of all time (I might be exaggerating slightly). It allowed you to think of nearly any object, type it out, and watch it appear before your eyes. Particularly tough enemy got you down? Instantiate a time machine, take it back to the past, and ride back to the present on a freaking dinosaur and eat the problem away. Or just summon Cthulu and watch as one of the Great Old Ones demolishes your opposition. Only your imagination (and the game’s nearly bottomless dictionary) stood in the way of solving all the puzzles the game had to offer.

Unfortunately, infuriating controls and some lame levels marred an otherwise enjoyable experience. This year, Scribblenauts is back, bigger and better than ever.

Super Scribblenauts manages to solve most of the problems of the first game. The annoying touch-based only controls of the previous installment can now be replaced by more precise d-pad controls if you wish, and the level design is much improved. Additionally, adjectives can now be attached to objects you summon. Why wield a simple sword when you can instead brandish a much more intimidating flaming sword? Almost anyone can find joy in playing Super Scribblenauts, making it a perfect gift.

Sony PSP – God of War: Ghost of Sparta

The God of War franchise is known for its stellar gameplay and polished gaming experience, and this excellence carries over to its latest mini form, Ghost of Sparta.

Just like in past incarnations of God of War, you play as the demigod Kratos, and like usual you’re mad as hell.  Thankfully there are legions of mythical creatures just waiting for you to hack and slash them to bits and release some of your anger.

And boy is that hacking and slashing pretty. Somehow God of War‘s developers have managed to cram the graphical quality of a PS2 game into the aging hardware of the PSP. Ghost of Sparta is one of the must-have games for Sony’s portable console, so it’s a safe purchase for that special someone on your list.

And now for a bonus stocking stuffer idea:

Xbox 360/PS3/Wii Online Points Card, or iTunes Gift Card

If you’re having a tough time deciding what to get, take the easy way out and buy the gaming equivalent of a gift card. All three of the major consoles have an online service where plenty of downloadable games are available for purchase, so they’re bound to find something they like.

While iTunes might be most recognized for its music store, there are also plenty of games available. If your giftee owns an iPod Touch or iPhone, an iTunes gift card makes a great gift idea.

That’s it from me. If you have additional suggestions for good gifts for gamers, feel free to leave them in the comments section found below!

Image credit: wlodi