Posts Tagged‘itunes’

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Apple’s WWDC.

Every year around this time the world seems to collectively wet its pants over the announcements that Apple makes at its World Wide Developers Conference, usually because Apple announces their new iPhone model. This time around however there was no new iPhone to speak of but there was still a whole bunch of news that’s sure to delight Apple fans and haters a like. As always I was impressed by some of the innovations and then thoroughly annoyed by the fans reactions, especially those who extrapolated wildly based on ideas and technology that isn’t even out in the wilds yet. I really should have expected as much, but the optimist in me doesn’t seem to want to keel over just yet.

Arguably the biggest announcement of the conference was iCloud, Apple’s new cloud service. With this service 9 of the in built applications will become cloud enabled, storing all their data in the cloud so that it’s accessible from almost anywhere. The majority of them are rudimentary cloud implementations (contacts, pictures, files, etc) but the most notable of the new cloud enabled services will be iTunes. Apart from doing the normal cloud thing of backing your music and letting you play it anywhere, ala Google and Amazon, Apple has decided to go for a completely different angle, and it’s quite an intriguing one.

iTunes will not only allow you to download your purchases unlimited times (finally!) but for the low low price of $24.99/year you can also have iTunes scan your current music folder and then get access to the same tracks in 256Kbps AAC directly from iTunes. Keen readers will recognize this feature as coming from Lala, a company that Apple acquired and seemingly shutdown just over a year ago. It would appear that the technology behind Lala is what powers the new iCloud enabled iTunes and the licensing deals that the company had struck with the music companies before its acquisition have been transferred to Apple. I really like the idea behind this and I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to come up with an entire back catalog of what’s available through iTunes, letting everyone on the service get whatever music they want for the nominal yearly fee. It’s probably a lot better than the alternative for the music companies who up until now were getting $0 from those with, how do you say, questionably acquired music libraries.

Apple also announced the next version of their mobile operating system, iOS5. There are numerous improvements to the platform but there are a few features of note. The first is iMessage which will be Apple’s replacement for SMS. The interface is identical to the current SMS application on the iPhone however if both parties are on iOS devices it will instead send the message over the Internet rather than SMS. Many are quick to call this as the death of SMS and how mobile phone companies will teeter on bankruptcy due to the loss of revenue but realistically it’s just another messaging app and many carriers have been providing unlimited SMS plans for months now, so I doubt it will be anywhere near as revolutionary as people are making it out to be.

The next biggest feature is arguably the deep level of integration that Twitter is getting in iOS. Many of the built in apps now have Twitter on their option menus, allowing you to more easily tweet things like your location or pictures from your photo library. It’s one of the better improvements that Apple has made to iOS in this revision as it was always something I felt was lacking, especially when compared to how long Android had had such features. I’m interested to see if this increases adoption rates for Twitter at all because I find it hard to imagine that everyone who has an iPhone is using Twitter already (anecdotally about 50% of the people I know do, the others couldn’t care less).

There’s also the release of OSX lion which honestly is barely worth mentioning. The list of “features” that the new operating system will have is a mix of improvements to things currently available in Snow Leopard, a couple app reworks and maybe a few actual new things to the operating system. I can see why Apple will only be charging $29.99 for it since there’s really not much to it and as a current owner of Snow Leopard I can’t see any reason to upgrade unless I’m absolutely forced to. The only reason I would, and this would be a rather dickish move by Apple if they required this, would to be able to download incremental updates to programs like Xcode which they’ve finally figured out how to do deltas on so I don’t have to get the whole bloody IDE every time they make a minor change.

Overall this WWDC was your typical Apple affair: nothing revolutionary but they’re bringing out refined technology products for the masses. iCloud is definitely the stand out announcement of the conference and will be a great hook to get people onto the Apple platform for a long time to come in the future. Whilst there might be some disappointment around the lack of a new iPhone this time around it seems to have been more than made up for with the wide swath of changes that iOS5 will be bringing to the table. With all this under consideration it’s becoming obvious that Apple is shifting itself away from the traditional PC platform with Lion getting far less attention than any of Apple’s other products. Whether or not this is because they want to stay true to their “Post PC era” vision or simply because they believe the cash is elsewhere is left as an exercise to the reader, but it’s clear that Apple views the traditional desktop as becoming an antiquated technology.

Apple’s iPhone: Don’t Think This Makes Up For What You Did.

There’s really no love lost between Apple and I. Whilst I’ve blasted them many times on this blog I’ve never made a sweeping statement against all their products since frankly, if they were crap Apple wouldn’t be in the position they are in today. Still I’ve got a beef with how they deal with developers and how they keep features from their users (citing that it’s not required or bloat) and then releasing that very feature to wide fanfare in another revision (MMS anyone?). Still with them pushing over 42 million handsets worldwide they’ve created a market that I can’t rightly ignore if I’m in the business of mobile applications that strive to have widespread adoption. So about three weeks ago I took the plunge and dropped a cool $1040 on an iPhone 3GS and I’ve spent every minute with it pushing the phone to its limits.

Now I’ve spent a considerable amount of coin on phones before but the iPhone still tops out as the most expensive one that I shelled out for. Usually when you part with this much dosh you’re greeted with packaging fit for a king with extras and accessories flowing from the box. Apple, true to their minimalistic design philosophies, give you little more than the phone, ear buds, usb cable and charger, with the whole thing fitting in something roughly the same size as a house brick. Sure I wasn’t expecting too much but I’ve bought phones for hundreds of dollars less that came with more, so my initial impressions, whilst impressed with the minimalistic nature, were soured by the fact that I had parted with so much for so little. The blow was softened somewhat by the fact that my company paid for 90% of the phone, one of the perks of being a contractor 😉

I then took the time to get the phone set up which (groan) had me installing iTunes. Now I’ve had an iPod shuffle for about a year so you’d think I already had the software installed but this isn’t the case. I’d managed to avoid it by using a program called Floola which allowed me to drag and drop music onto it. After getting the software installed (and making sure not install the bug ridden port of a browser Safari¹) I had my iPhone up and running and something caught my eye.

It was the screen on this phone, it’s really quite gorgeous. Even though my Xperia X1 has almost double the screen resolution it just doesn’t seem as nice as the one on the iPhone, even with Sony’s UI smothering the beast that is Windows Mobile’s default UI. For a long time geek like myself the UI was very intuitive and my better half (who I bought an iPhone for as well since she’d been pining for one for years) didn’t have any issues navigating around her new toy. After getting the basics out of the way I decided to go straight for the heart of the iPhone’s apparent success: the App Store.

Yet again I was met with extremely slick UI design that was done to facilitate the non-tech crowd through a world that was ostensibly for techies. In minutes I was downloading all manner of applications: Echofon, Facebook, Shazam, AroundMe all found their way onto my phone in a matter of minutes of getting it onto the world wide web. My initial disappointment with the lack of included extras was soon pushed aside by the overwhelming amount of functionality that could be unlocked with few clicks on the App store. My inner Apple critic was still shouting loudly in my ear that this was the devils store and any more attempts to dive deeper into this world would be met by damnation of all those who sit atop a pylon of free and open ideals. But the apps called to me because it was just so damned easy.

It took me a long time to be willing to part with extra money to buy something on the app store but it finally happened when I had 30 minutes to kill and I was stuck in a parking lot with just myself and my iPhone. Browsing through the free games section nothing really caught my fancy so I looked through the paid section. Noticing that a long time addiction of mine, Bejeweled, was available I happily signed my soul away and not less than 2 minutes later I was busting jewels like a pro. The game has since brought me a couple hours of entertainment, well worth the $4 I parted with for it.

I was quite surprised by the browsing experience on this phone. With many sites now creating mobile versions specifically for the iPhone (this site included, if you’re on a mobile device it will switch to an iPhone-esque theme for you) browsing sites is quite a lot easier than I thought it would be. With sites that don’t implement it the multi-touch interface makes zooming around the pages quite smooth and very enjoyable, a long way from my roots in Windows Mobile world. I haven’t had a chance to compare the experience to Opera Mini, but from what I’ve heard you gain page loading speed at the cost of some things not rendering quite right. Still I’ll stick with the default browser for now since most people design for that first if they’re creating a mobile site.

In the interest of doing a full review of the iPhone I decided that I’d best buy some music as well, and while I’m at it let’s see how it would perform downloading an entire album over the cell phone network. Hitting up the store I decided that I’d grab an album of a band I’d just recently come across: Miami Horror. For the princely sum of about $8 I was treated to a full album of tracks and in the space of a 15 minute walk all but 2 tracks of it had finished downloading. Colour me impressed as I’ve tried doing things like this before on other phones and been quite disappointed. The whole experience left me wanting to do it again just for the sheer novelty of being able to think of a bad, look them up on iTunes and have their album on my phone in less time than it would take for me to drive to the closest record store. Once again Apple’s philosophy of “It just works” seems to be a winner.

But of course since I am at heart a geek there are some things about my new iPocketCandy that aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. In the nation’s capital 3G coverage is somewhat spotty for my carrier (Three) and this usually incurs me roaming whenever I go indoors. That’s not too much of a problem since the iPhone has a switch to not use Internet when roaming (which is bloody awesome, I had to get an application for Windows Mobile to do that). However the process of getting it to switch back to 3G takes about 2 minutes or so to complete when the same operation on Windows Mobile took about 10 seconds. Given that the device also freezes for about 5 seconds when switching networks by itself this has become a bit of a bugbear, especially considering I’m in and out 3G reception most of the day.

I’ve made a habit of keeping a good contacts file in my Outlook ever since I moved to a Windows Mobile phone. You can then imagine my elation when I saw an option to sync directly from Outlook in iTunes. That was until I actually tried to sync them to my phone upon which I received the error that there was no default mail client installed. Funny that since I had the email client open at the time. A couple furious Google searches later proved that I wasn’t alone in this problem and it in fact lies with Apple, since they haven’t built in support for the x64 version of Outlook. For a company that likes to tout itself as an innovator it gives me the irates when they miss something as simple as this, especially when the problem has gone unresolved for months. I ended up creating a CSV file of my various contacts and uploading them into Google Contacts (I’d never seen this before) and syncing them that way. That’s 4 hours of shenanigans that I shouldn’t of had to go through.

There are also some other tasks, like importing your own ring tones, that feel like they were purposefully made difficult so that you go for Apple’s solution. When you first plugin your iPhone iTunes won’t even show the ring tones folder, which would send most people straight off to the store to buy a ring tone they want. Sure its relatively easy to work around but is it really that hard to have the option there right from the beginning? I’m sure the sales department had a say in how that whole thing went down.

The iPhone is also the reason why I believe the iPad is not a revolution of any kind. Whilst I’ve yet to get my hands on an iPad the countless videos and reviews I have read show me little more than an overgrown version of the very phone I now carry with me. Most of those 42 million people who bought the iPhone did so because they actually had a use for the damn thing. The iPad however fills a need that none of them had previously and subsequently I can’t fathom that the initial rush of purchases are anything but people who would buy whatever latest widget that Apple released. Sure it would make a great “coffee table device” but really think about how often you would actually use such a device, and then think again if you had an iPhone in your pocket. The use cases for the iPad shrink considerably the more thought you give to purchasing it, which ironically I think is the exact reason why it has so sold many (yes I just called all iPad owner’s thoughtless brand whores, what are you going to do about it?).

That all being said however I can’t detract from the fact that the iPhone is the best mobile phone I’ve ever had. Everything about it just works (eventually at worst) and the amount of functionality that can be unlocked through the App store is quite phenomenal. Apple’s commitment to making what was once geek now chic works incredibly well with the iPhone and I can see the reason why over half of my tech oriented friends choose the iPhone as their smart phone. For anyone that can afford one the iPhone is a purchase that you won’t soon regret and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how my future Android purchase (currently shaping up to be a HTC Incredible) shapes up along side it.

¹Seriously, Safari on Windows is a bloated piece of garbage with numerous security holes. From all accounts its fine on OSX but it seems the team who ported it to Windows didn’t put a heck of a lot of thought into it and as such I can’t recommend it to anyone. Chrome/Firefox are still the safest and best browsers on this platform.