The Death of an Essential Mac App

If you use a Mac, you probably have used something called “media keys”. They are the standard Play/Pause, Forward, and Previous buttons you see on most Mac-configured keyboards. The buttons are extremely convenient, as is most of the functions on those rows. They’re so useful that their actual function, “function keys”, are the secondary function.

But as anyone knows in user design, a thing that is designed for one thing that doesn’t do its job perfectly the majority of the time is not good design. Imagine pressing a Spacebar and it didn’t give you a space? Or only gave you a space ever so often. Things with specific functions must be reliable and perform as expected.

One of the most infamous Mac problems is how it handles media. Sometimes, the Play button doesn’t pause your Spotify client. Sometimes, the Play button plays iTunes/Music instead. Sometimes, the Play button literally just does nothing. It can be extremely frustrating, especially if you’re listening to music. It should be intuitive: Clearly, I want to pause Spotify if it is sending output to said device.

How Big Sur internally sees media players that can use media controls.

Why this occurs is because of media player prioritization in macOS. If you have only one client running that accepts playback commands? It should work flawlessly. But once you add more apps to the mix, the priorization gets a bit shuffled. And you’d be surprised on how many apps support playback support. It could be a YouTube video you’ve watched, a QuickTime movie in the background, or a Google Chrome tab that’s gotten lost in the sea of 100+ tabs.

Luckily, the Mac app ecosystem is full of apps that fix the little annoyances of macOS. There are countless examples. There is Toothfairy, an app that literally acts like a menubar shortcut to pair Bluetooth devices. (Yes, it is that trivially simple. And it’s 6 US dollars!)

You can set up the app to send commands to iTunes, Spotify, or both.

But one of my favorites, one that I’ve used since High Sierra, is Mac Media Key Forwarder. It’s a simple application: it forces all media key commands to either one or both iTunes (Music) and/or Spotify. You don’t have an iTunes Library or don’t and probably never subscribe to Apple Music? This is your best friend! Now, your media keys will always work for Spotify. Hurray!

However, the app is unfortunately on its dying knees. The GitHub repo for the application appears to be dead, and the primary developer has supposedly moved on to Linux.

Unfortunately, Bearded Spice has suffered the same fate.

It sucks that apps like this die down. (A similar app, BeardedSpice, that allowed media control of specific web browser tabs, also seems to be inactive.) The issue of media keys and unexpected or unreliable behaviour is still prominent with Big Sur, and I can’t see it getting any better. The app still works on Big Sur with a few permissions turned on. But you never know. Playback control could be completely overhauled. M1 Macs currently run Intel-based apps, but that’s not going to last forever.

Developer response to slowed down development of BeardedSpice.

I’ll continue to use Mac Media Key Forwarder until it dies. And once a macOS update kills it, I’m going to low-key mourn it. For saving our asses when we really needed to pause a song. For actually making the media keys usable. For fixing a macOS issue that really, really, really should not be an issue.



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Zed Rach

Zed Rach

That neighbour bringing I.T. guys out of business on a regular basis. You can find me taking photos in weird angles and lurking the PopHeads subreddit.