Macintosh True Story: Audion

Cabel Sasser at Panic Studios writes about Audion, arguably the first industrial strength MP3 player for the Mac—certainly the coolest—and his decision to retire it. It’s a pretty fascinating story, replete with “interrupt time,” Steve Jobs meetings, near-mergers with giant mega-corporations, and the market forces that led to the retirement of the app.

I downloaded Audion when I went to business school. It was one of the first apps on my first PowerBook (a G3 Pismo), and it was always on. I downloaded a bunch of wild skins before settling on the one that was the smallest possible space, and proceeded to raise eyebrows every time one of my Windows-using colleagues saw my screen. (“What is that? Oh, cool!”) I loved that it was hard to crash, that the music kept playing no matter (well, almost no matter) what I did to it in the foreground, and that it was just so damned cool.

And then… the Mac OS X Preview Release came out. And Audion wasn’t OS X native, but iTunes was. And I agonized over it for a while, but iTunes kept adding more and more stuff. And its library management was frankly a hell of a lot better than Audion’s, which relied on the filesystem. With iTunes, I could sort and search by all kinds of obscure attributes, and it didn’t move around the MP3 files in their folders when I did so. And so Audion shuffled slowly off into obscurity. I just recently got around to deleting the playlist files it left behind.

Cabel’s story is instructive—for small software developers, for Mac developers in particular, for fans of the digital music revolution, and for anyone who wants to work in a small company. It’s exhilarating and heartbreaking and very, very informative.