With a large number of albums and tracks of folk dance music now available for purchase as ".mp3" files, a means of using these for folk dancing is required. The obvious choices of a smart mobile phone or a pocket-size MP3-player can be diffcult to use. The size and controls on such devices which have a touch-sensitive screen of limited size, tend to be very small. You need to be dexterous and careful to manipulate one of these devices while calling. Instead I use a tablet computer with an 8" touch-sensitive screen as a large-screen MP3-player.
The most widely known of such devices is the Apple iPad Mini. However, this tablet does not allow external storage to be inserted. This means when the device dies, which it will as the rechargable battery can not be easily replaced, then music and any other data is lost or at best has to be downloaded/installed again. Apple charges significantly more for versions of this device that have increased internal storage. Devices from several other manufacturers have a slot to insert a micro-SDHC card. This means the whole collection of music, images, and so on can be removed for transfer to or from another device, including a PC.
I have used two such tablet computers. Both run under the Android operating system which is produced by Google and is based on the Linux operating system.
The picture on the above right shows this on an Arkon folding tablet stand (an excellent piece of kit) with the tablet's headphone output connected to the stereo input sockets of the Fender Passport PD150+ amplifier.
This tablet runs Version 4.0 of the Android operating system; this version is also known as Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS.
The picture on the right shows it with a stereo cable for connection to amplifier (or headphones) and a miniature USB connector which also provides power.
This tablet now runs Version 7.0 of Android which is known as Nougat.
When preparing either of these Android tablets, they can be connected to a PC via a USB2 cable. For a PC running MS Windows, the internal storage on the tablet and any micro-SDHC card that is plugged into it, appear as drive(s) to, and from, which files can be transferred. If you want to delve deeper into the innards of the tablet's operation, then debugging modes and software allow such access from a PC over the USB link.
Although Android installs a default music player application (or "app"), a range of other music player apps are available. Finding one with suitable behaviour and features to use when calling folk dances turned out to be rather less straight forward than I imagined.
All the players that I've tried have on the screen:
|a "pause" button, and|
|a "go back" button.|
However, none of them (in their supplied Android version) have a "stop" button to move back to the beginning of the track that is currently playing and wait.
The problem with the "pause" button is whether or not the paused state persists when you perform other actions, such as going back to the start of the track that is currently playing or moving on to the start of the next track of music. When calling it is much, much easier if a pause persists.
The "go back" button can do one of two things when it is pressed in the middle of a track (whether actually playing or paused): it can go back to the start of the current track or to the start of the preceeding track. The latter behaviour is a real nuisance when calling.
I settled on using PowerAMP because, amongst many useful features, it has the following characteristics:
Of course, no software is ever perfect for a particular application (unless, that is, you have written it yourself). Four problems with PowerAMP are:
However, there is a well-hidden setting which can be adjusted to give more useful results when search "all songs".
Make sure this option is on.
I keep information about dances on 5"×3" cards, with detailed instructions on the front and calling prompts on the back (see picture on right). The risk of loosing these (an evening's programme, or worse a whole boxful) worried me for many years. Access to digital scanning provided a backup, and a tablet computer takes this further as it means images for all my hundreds of dance cards can be immediately available. I still use the cardboard versions as reminders when calling an evening's programme, but it is useful having the full set of images easily to hand to satisfy requests and queries.
The Gallery app for viewing images that is supplied with Andoid has poor navigation facilities, although recent versions do allow the ordering of images by file name; earlier versions insisted on ordering images by date which was utterly useless!.
Fortunately there are numerous alternative apps. Simple Gallery Pro from Simple Mobile Tools is an appropriate app and, at the time of writing, was free. The two screen shots on the left show the appearance of Simple Gallery Pro when it is displaying each side of one of my cards. You can move between these two images by swiping a finger across the screen. The annotation and the control buttons that are visible in the upper shot disappear (or re-appear) when you tap the screen. The lower shot shows the uncluttered appearance without them.
It should be noted that recent versions of the QuickPic app, which I employed and recommended in the past, are now plagued by full-screen pop-up adverts that make it just about unusable.
Unfortunately I have yet to find an Android app that can read a "playlist" of images. All apps for displaying images, including Simple Gallery Pro and QuickPic, will display or move-through the images that have been placed together in a folder (i.e. a directory), but this means copying the images that constitute a programme of dances into such a directory, a process that would be unecessarily wasteful of storage space. For such an app the images would also have to be renamed or re-dated to ensure they come up in the required order. I have, therefore, implemented a web application (running within a browser) that reads an ordered list of image file names and displays each image. When used with a touch-sensitive screen, movement between the images of dance cards can be done by swiping. Please contact me if you would like further information.