Tag Archives: iTunes

Episode 138: Where streaming video needs to go (and why Game of Thrones was made for this era)

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Streaming has come a long way in the last few years. We look back on those changes and predict where the future will go. And where streaming needs to go. This is our look ahead issue for where tech should go.

Game of Thrones, House of Cards and other shows are made for this era. They have deep story arcs. They are the kinds of shows you need to be able to catch up on. In the pre-streaming era, catching up on a show was really hard to do.

Imagine someone telling you that Game of Thrones is awesome, but it’s six episodes into the season. In 1995, how would you have caught up? You wouldn’t. And Game of Thrones’s popularity would have suffered greatly.

How come I can’t watch more things on my tablet around my house? I only own one TV but my wife and I own two TVs and two laptops. So even if I can watch a football game on my TV, I probably can’t watch it on my TV. That’s very 1990 thinking.

We also talk about making a modern, responsive website. I recently relaunched washingtonian.com.

And a long-term Apple Watch review.

P.S. Google Cardboard is awful VR.

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Get The Incredibles in HD for free

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We’re big fans of streaming video and getting away from physical media, so we couldn’t let you pass this up.

If you connect a Disney Movies Anywhere account to an iTunes account, Disney will give you The Incredibles for free. Download the app on your iPhone or iPad, sign up for an account and then hit the connect to iTunes button. That’s it.

You’ll have access to The Incredibles forever to stream or download onto a variety of devices. Speaking of which, who wants a DVD copy of The Incredibles?

Episode 68: Cord cutting for a more purposeful watching of TV

Credit: ReadWrite.

Credit: ReadWrite.

Jeremy has the power! He finally has fast Internet. Before now, he was using DSL. Yes, DSL. Like an ANIMAL.

Jeremy is also an official cord cutter and owner of a new Apple TV. This leads to a discussion of how we watch TV shows and movies now, and how not have cable has led to a more purposeful watching of TV.

When we first started this website, I opined about my desire to store movies in the cloud. That has happened, and now I own a ton of movies. Apparently if you make it easier to buy, own and store something, people will be more likely to buy something.

Since iTunes in the cloud came out a year ago, I’ve purchased 19 movies. Before then, starting in 2006, I had purchased five movies. Storing movies myself was a huge barrier to buying digital movies.

I now sit about five feet from my router, and that seems to have helped some of the recording issues we had last year. This leads to a discussion of wifi interference and how there is still a place for wired ethernet connections.

Jeremy fills us in more on how he plans on using Google Glass.

And then we get into academic publishing. Should academic information be free, instead of being tied up in text books?

Yes, it’s a jam-packed show.

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Episode 62: Surface Pro, no compromises?

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We discuss whether or not the Surface Pro is a no compromise machine or a machine filled with compromises.

Good design is about compromises, after all. And is the future of computing having a tablet or smartphone and docking that device into a keyboard, mouse and big monitor when needed? Are we going to move away from having separate computers, tablets and smartphones?

We also discuss how Skyfall was released first as a digital download before DVD/Bluray. The end of physical media is near. Other big releases such as The Hobbit are coming first to iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and other digital download services.

There’s more.

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iTunes should be split into 3-4 smaller, more focused apps

Should iTunes be split into smaller, discrete applications that focus on specific tasks? iTunes being bloated and slow is not a new meme, but there has been a lot of discussion recently about breaking iTunes up into separate applications for different tasks.

It’s important to note that iTunes began just as a music jukebox app. All it did was play music files, and it was very good at that. It was also a very good companion to early iPods, but as iTunes aged and took on more tasks, it became a poor application for most uses.

By making iTunes into several small apps, Apple could deliver more features and granularity without overloading users.  Imagine iTunes with more features and granularity. That sounds like a terrible proposition.

Doesn’t iTunes already do too much?

iTunes has the paradoxical distinction of both doing too much and too little. It does too much because it handles too many discrete function. But it also does too little because it often doesn’t delve that deeply into what each discrete function can too. iTunes is a music jukebox application that also plays movies; iTunes is also movie management software that has almost no movie management controls.

iTunes is a bloated piece of software that does a lot (Apple bills it as an application that has “Everything in one place,” which is sadly too accurate). Adding more features to it — even features that make a lot of sense — comes with the cost of making the application needlessly more complex and slow. As long as iTunes is one giant application — almost an operating system for digital media — Apple will hesitate in adding too many features for a specific area of the application.

Take the iTunes Store; it exists as one section of a big application. Giving it more features and granularity would only increase the feeling that iTunes is overloaded (and would make the application even slower to load). But, there are a lot of features missing from the store that would make it easier to shop and find interesting content.

There is no way to search for movies by rating — either customer ratings or Rotten Tomatoes ratings. I’d love to have the ability to find out the highest rated movies by genre, decade and overall. Or how about seeing reviewers and users lists of which movies to check out? But if that functionality was added in today, it would make iTunes seem even more complex.

Without features like this, it’s difficult to discover great movies. The only thing that the iTunes Store is good at is showing what is popular right now. It’s not good at showing me historically popular movies or highly rated movies (or music or TV shows).

This is what happens when one app tries to do the job of three-to-four applications. What does purchasing movies have anything to do with making music playlists? What do music playlists have to do with syncing content between my Mac and my iPad?

iTunes tries to do too many things. When I plug in my iPhone to sync files, it launches iTunes, which then triggers automatic downloads of video files that I may have available for download. When I’m trying to sync my device, I don’t need video files from TV shows that I purchased on my Apple TV to automatically start downloading.

Because iTunes does so many things, it feels slow. It takes several seconds for the app to launch and for me to finally be able to do something. If I just want to listen to music, why am I being greeted with the iTunes store or my movie collection?

Whenever I open iTunes it opens to the last section of the application that I had open. Considering that iTunes does so many different things, this can greatly impede my ability to do what I want to do. If the last thing I had open for the iTunes Store, the application has to load, than the store and then I can finally do what I want to do in the application. If all I want to do is listen to music, having the iTunes store load first makes no sense. But when you have an application that does so much, how do you even decide what should be the first thing that people see when they start the program up? If an application ever has a big identity crisis where it can’t decide what makes the most sense to start with each and every time, that application has become too bloated and is trying to do too many things.

An application like that lacks focus.

When I open up Sparrow, I’m shown my inbox. When I open up Twitter for OS X, I’m shown my Twitter feed. With Safari, I get my homepage. With iTunes, I get whatever I had open the last time I closed the app.

There are a bunch of ways that it could be broken into separate, discrete apps. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to how to do it, but the right answer is surely to separate iTunes into distinct apps.

Syncing should have always been a separate app for iOS devices. iTunes not only handles syncing of my music files but it also handles syncing of movies, TV shows, applications, photos, contacts, preferences, etc. This makes no sense. Apple is moving away from iTunes as a syncing platform towards iCloud, and eventually anything but iCloud syncing could be eliminated, but that won’t happen for years.

iCloud is not, nor is much of the world’s Internet infrastructure, in the right place to only allow cloud-based syncing and backups. Thus, the syncing portion of iTunes should be an entirely separate application. Something lightweight, easy to use and with plenty of granularity.

And something that I only see and load when I’m trying to sync.

After separating syncing into a new app, there are several routes to go. Apple could simply break up the rest of iTunes into two applications: One for playing media files and one for purchasing media files. All of the sudden the store area of the app would be gone from iTunes (iTunes Store, iTunes Match and Ping), as well as Genius and the Devices section. This has significantly pared down the left-hand navigation column, while also removing a lot of code and bloat from the application.

Where Ping, iTunes’s built in social network, fits in is anyone’s guess. It speaks to how hopelessly lost iTunes is as an application that it also comes with a social network. You can’t search for movies in the iTunes Store by best rated, but you can share the latest song you purchased in a ghost town of a social network.

The other major option would be to split iTunes up into separate audio and video applications. iTunes is a pretty good music player. Yes, it is missing some functions that more dedicated music playing applications have, but it’s pretty good for playing music and this is where iTunes is at its best. iTunes, however, does the bare minimum for storing and playing video files.

iTunes doesn’t have a good way for people to store large video collections in different ways. Nor does iTunes really work for any video management and playback for files not purchased in the iTunes store (imagine if iTunes only handled audio files that were purchased through the iTunes Store). iTunes functions as the most bare minimum video storage software that you can think of, but there is no reason that it isn’t more full featured like the music portion of iTunes.

For instance, why doesn’t iTunes show all of the TV shows and movies that I have available to stream through iCloud? With movies and TV shows in the cloud, the idea of locally storing video files on my Mac is going away. Rather, I’d like to have a good interface to see all the movies that I have purchased and am storing in the cloud.

Because I’m much more apt to buy movies and TV shows now that I don’t have to handle local storage, I could really use a way to categorize my video content and make playlists. One day when I have a 100 or so movies from iTunes in the cloud, I’d greatly appreciate the ability to sort and categorize movies the way that makes sense to me.

From this audio/video split two different directions can be taken: the store functions can be kept on each app or the store function could be its own app. The biggest question is how much does being able to purchase music from the same app as you listen to it help consumers buy and enjoy music?

From a usability perspective, it’s very convenient to purchase music from the same app that you listen to it in. The iOS App store, however, seems to suggest that people understand the difference between an app for buying something and an app (or OS) for using something. Users are downloading a lot more apps than songs these days.

Seeing how successful downloading and running apps on the iPhone and iPad are makes me realize that average users clearly understand how to use two separate apps that work together. Because of this, I’d recommend that the iTunes Store become its own application, no matter how the rest of iTunes is split up.

This leaves us with two good options for splitting up iTunes:

  • iTunes (for music and video management and playback), iTunes Store and iOS Sync application.
  • iTunes (for music playback and management only. Back to its roots), iTunes Store, iOS Sync and a much more robust video application (for file management and playback).

Both of these options are much stronger than what we have today. These apps would be small, lean apps that could support additional features that iTunes couldn’t dream of adding it its bloated state. This is the kind of win-win that a company that focuses on usability and focus should do.

These apps could finally have UIs that make sense for each distinct function that iTunes tries to do. Why exactly would you use the same general UI concepts for music management software as you would for a store to purchase movies?

iOS and the Mac App store have proven that people enjoy using smaller discrete apps (I prefer using Instapaper to Safari’s built in Reading List because I get a lot more features with Instapaper without adding bloat and complexity to Safari itself). Perhaps the reason that Apple made iTunes do so many things was that in the past the average computer user didn’t buy and install a lot of new applications. Before the iOS App Store and the Mac App Store, it was a hassle for a non-geek to get new software.

Now it’s easier for me to purchase a new application on my Mac than it is for me to make coffee in the morning. I’m talking about real software from big-name companies and great upstarts. And keeping all of my applications up to date? Dead simple.

Apple itself has shown that users will embrace smaller, more focused applications. It’s time for Apple to focus iTunes.

Episode 8: Our cloud/streaming future — get excited, but be prepared to cry

This is our Net Neutrality episode, and it’s a great discussion about what could be and how that may not come to be.

We go into this whole big discussion about our cloud/streaming/awesome future that may be derailed by our terrible ISPs. So get excited — but be prepared to cry.

We ask some big questions:

  • Do younger generations who have never paid for music have interest in owning digital content? Are we exiting the age of ownership?
  • Can our Internet support our awesome cloud/streaming future?
  • Will streaming digital content and better user experiences vanquish piracy?

We kick off the show by asking, are people being too harsh with Google and the whole Google+ deleting users for not using their real names? We think that people should cut Google some slack during a field test.

And organizations? Well you knew from the start that Google was rolling out pages for organizations at a later date. So, really how upset should you be that your organization’s page was deleted?

Out of nowhere we kind of do an Apple TV review at the end of the show. We talk about whispers of NFL Sunday Ticket coming to Apple TV.

Also, I lecture people about how only stupid people use P2P services such as Limewire. Is your computer acting weird? Is it slow? Might be because you’re using a P2P service filled with malware and viruses.

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Netflix killing piracy?

The reasons:

It’s convenient, it’s not that expensive, and the selection is just good enough.

Yes. Yes. And Yes.

Just as the best way to slow music piracy was to make it easier and more convent to not pirare (think iTunes and now services such as Spotify). When piracy is the easier option (think Napster before iTunes), people will do that. Make being a legal customer the easy and fun option, and people will pay.

Here are some reasons that Netflix stopped this pirate:

At the time, pilfering movies was a whole lot easier than watching them legally. Netflix’s streaming catalog had a tiny number of titles, most of them not to my liking. Apple’s iTunes rental plan had more titles, but too many restrictions (paying $4 for just 24 hours of access to a movie was a bad deal). I outlined what I called the perfect online streaming service—I wanted a plan that had a library as extensive as Netflix’s DVD plan, but which allowed for unlimited viewing—and I promised to pay as much as $40 a month for it. Netflix’s instant watching service isn’t anything close to that, of course. But in the last year it has improved its selection and accessibility (you can now get it on pretty much any device you own) just enough to hit a tipping point. I’m happy to pay $8 a month for not-terrible selection and amazing convenience. And nowadays, I almost never turn to BitTorrent.

Spotify is a music social network. A real one. And I love it.

Spotify is one of those moments in time. Spotify is something special. It’s the kind of product that you’ll remember the first few times you used it a few years from now.

It’s my job to use technology, and I haven’t felt like this over a new Web service in a long time. Maybe it’s because I love music. This is the biggest revolution to hit music since the iTunes Store.

Spotify has the ability to get us to rethink digital music again. I used to not get how this was different than the streaming services available in the US. Now I understand; it’s the perfect marriage of free and paid service, discovery with control, with a healthy dose of social thrown in.

The way Spotify makes me feel is how Google+’s hype should have made me feel. I’m almost at a loss about how much I like this service. I got teary eyed in the first few minutes I was using the service.

Spotify lets me manage music like I do in iTunes, while also being a great way to discover new music and see what other people like. I love the ability to publish playlists and share them with the world. I love the idea behind collaborative playlists.

I love the idea of having millions of tracks at my disposal. I love the idea of being able to try music before I commit to it. Maybe I’ll still keep buying MP3s, but Spotify at least gives me the ability to hear new music all the way through a song before I commit.

Did I mention that I love the social aspects? Ping was Apple’s half-hearted attempt to make music more social. Last FM and Pandora have some social aspects, but Spotify really seems to nail it. The core of a good social music product is the ability to see what your friends like, send them recommendations and share playlists.

I can click on any song I love, send it to a friend on Spotify with a message about why they’ll love it and/or share it over other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. And then that person can start listening to that song immediately — for free.

It’s a music social network. A real one.

Spotify also has premium features. The biggest additions that paying gets you is more streaming hours (the free tiers gives you 10 hours of music a month), the ability to listen to music on mobile devices and the ability to cache songs for offline listening. This feels right to me.

The best way to beat piracy is with a free tier of music service that is ad supported and good enough for a lot of people’s uses. Then you offer a premium upgrade that has features that people really want.

Are the days of buying music coming to an end? I’m not quite sure of that, but music just got social. It’s about time.

My dream for streaming movies

It’s a simple dream: I want to be able to stream any movie ever made in HD to my TV, computer, smartphone, iPad and other devices.

It’s a reality that could happen today. It should have happened already, but it hasn’t. If this happened, I would spend more money on movies.

I would spend more money on movies.

But the movie studios have resisted this idea, because they are more tied to what has made them money in the past than what people want in the present. They don’t like streaming. They have begrudgingly given Netflix some older content to offer up and a few newer releases. They allow iTunes, Amazon and other companies to allow most newer movies to be streamed and some older movies, usually at prices that feel a little high, with really restrictive windows on watching the movie ($4.99 to watch a movie once at home within 24 hours?).

There should be no outrage that Netflix wants to charge customers separately for its streaming and mail services. They are separate services with separate costs, but people are angry almost entirely because Netflix streaming doesn’t have enough content for most people. It’s not the price, it’s the product.

But it’s not Netflix’s fault. They have all the content they can get. The movie studios just don’t want to give up the ghost — the dream that you’ll keep buying DVDs.

They want you to buy movies that you only want to watch once. Sure, you can watch a DVD as many times as you want. That’s the dream they want you to believe, but it’s not the reality for most movie purchases.

It’s like how music labels tried to cling to CDs desperately because it’s so much more profitable to get people to buy an entire CD for one or two songs.

But this is myopic. It’s silly. It’s retrograde.

Heck I would even buy more movies if I could buy them how I want to buy them. I would love to “buy” a movie that would allow me to stream it as many times as I want to any device I own. I don’t want to have to deal with storing a digital file (and backing it up), and that whole dance of trying to sync the movie to different devices.

This whole situation is anti-user. The technology is available to make more movies available for streaming. The technology is available to make movie watching easier than ever.

Streaming movies is so easy. I can just sit down on my couch and select a movie that I want to watch on my Apple TV and just hit rent. Watching Netflix streaming movies is just as easy to. The service even saves my location, so that if I go from watching on my TV to my iPad, I can pick right up where I left off. I like that.

No going to the store, no waiting in line, no dealing with out of stock issues. If you make a product or service easier to consume, people will consume more of it.

I’m done with physical media. It doesn’t fit my life. I don’t like needing shelf space for it. I don’t like going to stores to see what is in stock, nor do I enjoy wasting my time, energy and gas/public transportation money to get there.

Frankly, even with Netflix’s mail product, I couldn’t be sure that the movie I selected on Tuesday to ship to my house to watch on Friday would still suit me when I actually sat down. How can I judge my mood days in advance? With streaming I sit down, look through what is available and select something — often an impulse (most companies try to encourage impulse buys).

These impulses should be fed by making moving watching easier and more social. Why doesn’t iTunes and other movie services have a social component or integration with existing social networks. I want to see what people with similar tastes like. I want to see what my friends are watching. I want to watch movies with them.

Make these things happen, and I will watch more movies. I’m not alone.

We shouldn’t have to dream about putting existing technology together. We have seen bits and pieces, but it is time to give the people what they want.

My current movie watching setup is like this: Netflix streaming for whatever I can find and all those awesome esoteric movies and documentaries it has, iTunes on an Apple TV for renting of new releases and other movies not available on Netflix and I buy blu rays of movies that I want to watch a lot, particularly movies that look great. I can never watch Lord of the Rings enough, and it really shines on blu ray.

This is why everyone should go Netflix streaming only. Drop the DVD portion of your packages. The studios shouldn’t force us to watch DVDs as a fallback because they don’t want to make more content available for streaming.

Users should never be forced into an inferior user experience. DVDs are an inferior user experience, especially when you have to ship them back and forth with the post office.

You’ll always make more money by getting people to like your product more.