Sync anything to anything: ultimate iTunes replacement?

Here is an interesting new app (Mac only at present)

Danny Gorog 06 March 2009, 11:12 AM

Some people have hailed doubleTwist as “possibly the world’s best media player”, with promise to break the iTunes monopoly.

One of the strongest selling points for using Apple hardware (computers, phones, media centres and software) is that the stuff, generally just works. But you do have to do things the “Apple way”. You’re meant to use iTunes to sync your iPod; Time Machine and a Time Capsule for your backups and so on. If you try to use a competitor’s product, Macs aren’t always quite so cooperative.

In particular, trying to share the media that’s on your Mac (in iTunes, iMovie and iPhoto) with any smartphone or other media player that’s not an iPhone or iPod can be tricky for the non-geek crowd. You’ll either need a third-party product from your phone manufacturer (like Blackberry Media Sync or Nokia Sync for Mac) or know how to mount a USB volume, convert the files into a file format and bit-rate that’s compatible with your phone, and manually copy your files to the appropriate folder.

But a new program from the infamous DVD Jon (creator of the old DeCSS DRM stripping software) could mean that any mobile phone or media player can become a first-class citizen on your Mac.

doubleTwist (note the lower case ‘d’) has already been out for a while for Windows but Mac users are now getting a taste of what the product can do. It’s been purposed and marketed to do a few things.

First up, doubleTwist lets you copy and media (images, music or videos) to any device you plug in – like an HTC Dream (A.K.A. T-Mobile G1), Sony PSP, Windows Media portable player and even an Amazon Kindle.

Since DVDjon isn’t a fan of DRM, this actually includes any music you have that is wrapped in Apple’s Fairplay DRM. Apparently, rather than cracking Apple DRM, doubleTwist simply plays your DRM’d music file and silently re-records it as a non-DRM file to transfer to your media player.

doubleTwist can also transfer photos and videos to your media device, but these need to be non-DRMed files, but can be in any format you want, as doubleTwist will transcode them depending on the requirements of your media player.

doubleTwist is being marketed as more than just a tool to transfer media to your device. Like lots of products there’s also an aspect of social networking thrown in for good measure too.

For doubleTwist, this means that photos can be uploaded directly from doubleTwist to Facebook or Flickr, and you can send any other media file to your friends, as long as they’ve signed up to doubleTwist. To send a file just click on the media file and use the ‘Send…’ link at the bottom of the toolbar.

When transferring media this way, doubleTwist uploads the media to their data servers and then sends the recipient a link.

doubleTwist for Mac is in beta, and in my testing the product works, but not reliably. First up, I had problems actually signing up for an account. Unfortunately, until you register and verify your account, you can’t actually run the software.  In reality, if I wasn’t reviewing the beta I probably would have given up at that stage. Finally, after a number of emails with support (with DVD Jon himself) I got signed up.

I tested doubleTwist with an HTC Dream and a Nokia E71. On a number of occasions doubleTwist froze while I was trying to move photos and music over to the handsets. When doubleTwist does freeze it stays responsive but doesn’t do anything. Honestly, it all felt like hard work, and if I actually used one of these devices day-to-day, I’d probably have given up on them as media players.

While basic drag and drop is OK there’s no playlist or album support for each device, so adding and moving content is a severely manual process.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that products like this exist, but with DRM fading (on music at least) there’s not much room for this type of app in my library at this stage. As evil as Apple’s stranglehold on iPod/iPhone syncing may be, it does work rather well, so I’ll be sticking with my iPhone for now (complete with full playlist and album support).

For people who can’t stand the sight of an iPhone or iPod, on the other hand, doubleTwist might be worth persisting with — it is at least a free download and can only get better with bug-testing.

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