Category Archives: itunes

Apple Pursues Perfection

Apple iPad 3As the Apple roadshow rolls out of town for another few months, I doubt anyone will claim that this was a classic performance. Even the most zealous worshipper has to admit that it was a straightforward and by the numbers presentation with no real surprises. You might even argue that there have been two mediocre events in a row and while it was easy to give Apple a bye last time because of the death of Steve Jobs, this time there’s no such luxury.

What did Apple announce today? An improved set-top box, a faster tablet with a better screen, an OS point release and some jazzed-up software. Hardly big news – Samsung had a better showing last week at MWC by miles.

So what’s gone wrong? Resting on their laurels and counting their considerable cash pile? In a previous post I mentioned that Apple was about perfection, not innovation and today’s event backs this up. Nothing ground-breaking but good solid improvements which undoubtedly will sell well. Not a mis-step, but not a stride forwards either.

To be fair, it’s easy to be armchair critic without contributing anything – what would I’d have considered as new innovations from Apple?

  • iOS Apps on the Apple TV. Not unique to Apple but an interesting step forwards with great potential.
  • Full control of the Apple TV from iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. What you see on the TV, you see on the device in your hand, making it easy to control.
  • Similar situation but in reverse. Show off your photos or movies from your iPhone or iPad on the Apple TV without cables.
  • Pass running apps between iOS devices. Playing Angry Birds on your iPhone but now want to play the iPad? Pass it on over and continue playing from where you left off.
  • (Inductive charging would be nice, too.)

This would create an even more tightly knitted hardware ecosystem that would encourage owners to be all-Apple, rather than the existing media-orientated ecosystem.

Apple, while you might be raking in the cash, you need to and can do better. Next time round, let’s see some real innovation. Perfection is boring.

Withings Internet Connected Baby Scale

At CES in Las Vegas, Withings has announced its wireless Internet-connected baby and toddle scale, winner of a 2012 CES Innovations Award. Developed by the French company, the Smart Baby Scale incorporates WiFi, Bluetooth and the low power Bluetooth Smart connectivity and allows parents to accurately record their child’s weight from birth.

Withings Smart Baby Scale

Using the Smart Baby Scale, parents can view the weight readings from any net connected device, such as PC, laptop, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch using the already available WiScale app. Parents can easily pass on their child’s weight profile to their doctor, family and friends and the scale can also update Facebook and Twitter. Messages can be sent to email addresses with new readings and, if desired, parents can put together a scrapbook with notes and photos to create a story of their child’s growth.

Cédric Hutchings, Withings co-founder says, “We are very excited to announce our Smart Baby Scale and offer parents an amazing new way to take care of their newborn or young child. The success of our WiFi Body Scale has proven the benefits of connected weight tracking on adults and we were eager to also bring these benefits to babies and children. We are thrilled that our Smart Baby Scale was awarded the prestigious CES Innovation Award and this further reinforces our vision of designing smart communicating devices that help families take better charge of their health”.

The Smart Baby Scale complements other Withings products such as the adult Withings WiFi body scale and the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor. Parents are able to monitor their child’s weight on the same dashboard they view their own weight and blood pressure. (Hmm, I wonder if parents are as inclined to put their own weight on Facebook!)

No news on pricing but the Smart Baby Scale will be available from Q2 of 2012. The WiScale app is available now for iOS devices from the App Store for free.

Apple Releases New iTunes Beatles Ad

It seems Apple thinks you may want to give the gift of the Beatles this holiday season as they have released a brand new iTunes Beatles ad.  The new ad comes right on the heels of a free children’s eBook hitting the iTunes store.  The Yellow Submarine eBook carried with it the simple “For Steve” dedication and tells the tale of the 1968 movie in the form of a children’s book, with clips from the film, animated illustrations, and a read-along from actor Dean Lennox Kelly.

The new TV ad, which was posted to YouTube by Apple yesterday, features a clip from the song Magical Mystery Tour as the video rolls seamlessly through a history of the Beatles albums with real and animated pictures.  The commercial excludes U.S.-only Beatles releases like “Meet the Beatles” and focuses exclusively on the core U.K catalog, ending with Abbey Road.  The ad ends with a simple “The Beatles on iTunes”.

With Beatles music still fairly new to the digital form and still just as popular as it was when it was released more than 30 years ago, it’s not really a surprise that Apple would put out this little reminder in time for holiday shoppers looking for just one more little gift.  The Beatles music has now reached a whole new generation of fans, including my own children who were 13 and 10 when we took them to their first concert two years ago – Paul McCartney won them over.

Starbucks’ Free Pick of the Week

Starbucks Coffee CupI’m possibly a bit slow on the uptake here, but Starbucks in the UK are offering a free “Pick of the WeekiTunes download. Some weeks it will be a music track, other weeks it will be an e-book, some will be well-known, some will be up-and-coming.

I came across this freebie last week while frequenting my local coffee house but after checking on-line, it looks like the promotion has already been running for a few weeks.

You’ll find little credit card-sized vouchers with a download code on the back close to the tills. I picked up The Damned United by David Peace. Enter the code into iTunes / iBooks and it’s added to your collection. Easy.

iTunes Match: The First Day November 15 iTunes Match became available. I learned about it’s availability about 14:00. However when I tried to join it told me to try back later. Around 15:30 I was finally able to sign up and pay for the service, which is approximately $25.00 a year. After signing up, it asked me if I wanted to add my  library to iCloud Match,  I said yes but it didn’t do anything.  The only songs it recognize were the ones I had purchased from iTunes. Around 7:30 I reopened iTunes and it asked me again if I wanted to add the library to iTunes Match I said yes again and this time it started the process. The first thing it did was go through and match the songs in my library that were also available in the iTunes store. That took a couple of hours to complete. Once that was done it started taking the remaining songs and adding them. When I went to bed around 23:00 it still had a couple of hundred songs to process. Everything was completed by the time I got up this morning. There were about a 100 songs that had a cloud with an exclamation point in them and the word error. I highlighted those songs and hit control and then add to iTunes Match, it added most of the rest of the songs. It also showed duplicate songs that I had in my library that it did not upload.  It is not clear what iTunes considers duplicate and what part of the metadata it is looking at, so if you delete the songs from iTunes I recommend keeping the files. Once iTunes match is finished with your library, then you can then start it on your iOs devices. To do this on your iOS device go to Settings and then Music and turn on iTunes Match. Right below that is Show All Music if you leave that off it will only show the songs that you have downloaded to the device. Turn it on and you will see all the songs in your library that are available through the cloud. Beware that once you turn iTunes Match on, it will erase all the songs that are on your iOs device.

There are a couple of things that I have noticed while playing around with it. The first thing is I am missing a lot of album artwork. It does takes a couple of seconds for songs to start while they are caching. If you have more than 25,000 songs in your library that were not purchased from iTunes, iTunes Match will not work.

There is a way around the limitation but it is a little convoluted. If you have songs that are greater than 246 Kbps ACC quality then you will want to back those up and save them elsewhere. iTunes Match will only render the 246 Kbps version. Some people are also having issues with iTunes Match not picking up the right meta data and matching the wrong song.

So far after playing with it for only a day I like iTunes Match, especially since I only have a 16 kb iPhone.  I love the fact that now all my songs are available anywhere I have a connection. Playlist that are created on the iOs device will also appear in your iTunes library and vice a versa.  It has freed up a lot of space for other things. What do you think of iTunes Match do you plan to use it or not.

Pocket Computers As Learning Devices

Normally I have very little interest in games. However, a friend got me to install an app on my iPod called “Words With Friends,” an iOS/Android cross-platform app that allows games between people and utilizes push notification to let you know when it’s your turn to play. This allows for asynchronous play in spare moments.

That caused me to start thinking about other possibilities. I searched the Apple iOS App Store for the term “vocabulary” and found quite a number of different apps, both free and paid, that are designed to help the user master words for purposes such as taking an SAT or GRE test. Or, as in my case just enjoying myself. I know, I know, it’s weird, but I enjoy perusing words and their meanings.

After experimenting with a couple of free apps, and a “lite” version of a paid app, I ended up buying a $4.99 app called “GRE Smart Vocab.” One thing I really like about the app is that it figures out your level of progress and deliberately concentrates on helping you learn words that you don’t know or have trouble remembering the meanings of. The app has two alternating modes, a study mode as well as a quiz mode.

Even though you may be penurious or feeling impecunious, acquiring vocabulary apps such as these will fill your torpid, vapid, prosaic hours with a turgid, torrid plentitude of fun.

Create Your Own TV Station

One of the problems with watching video podcasts as an alternative to conventional television is that you have typically and deliberately watch one video at a time. On longer videos it’s not as much of a problem, but with short videos that last 5 minutes or less you have to keep manually restarting the next video after the previous one has finished.

I now have three Mac Minis – one is an old somewhat underpowered Power PC Mac Mini that I’m using as a video podcast aggregator. I have that machine’s iTunes database located on a much larger shared drive that’s available to every machine on my home network. I’m subscribed to a variety of tech podcasts, most of them in the highest resolution file sizes available.

I have two other Mac Minis that are of the latest design. I have an “Eye TV” USB HD tuner connected to one that’s connected to a substantial external antenna. Depending on atmospheric conditions I can receive up to 18 channels counting the various digital sub channels. This enables the Mac Mini to function as a DVR.

The second Intel Mac Mini is in another room and the Eye TV software also loaded on it is able to work from the other Mac Mini’s shared recordings.

Today I discovered by accident when playing around with iTunes on one of the Intel Mac Minis that the shared videos show up in the shared playlists from other iTunes databases. So, in other words, I can pick a shared iTunes list from the Power PC Mac Mini’s shared iTunes and a list of video files shows up. Since the videos are in the list just like audio would be, I am able to start a video file playing and when one file ends it will immediately start playing the next video file on the list. This is particularly useful because I can start videos playing as I do other things and it will continue to play just as if it’s a TV station. This is quite a handy capability to have. The lack of an ability to set up continuous video playback has long been one of the Apple TV’s biggest shortcomings.

Periodically I go to the Power PC Mac Mini and delete the video files that have been played, since iTunes keeps a play count, so I always have fresh material to watch.


Pocket Cast a Podcast Alternative

I am a big consumer of podcasts I listen to them mostly on my iPhone , however I am not a big fan of the way iTunes handles podcasts. First it is slow to update, many times a Web site has a podcast available but it will not show in iTunes till the next day or even later.   Syncing takes forever and since I am usually running out the door it’s not a very good option. I usually end up sitting in my car outside my place downloading one on the iPhone, if I forget I am pretty much out of luck because you can’t download a podcast over 10 MB over 3G. So I have been looking for an alternative for awhile. I think I found it, Pocket Cast. Pocket Cast is a product of Shiftyjelly. I first heard about Pocket Cast while listening to the interview of one of the developers Russell Ivanovic on the 200th episode of the GSPN’s Podcast Answer Man. By the time they got to the middle of the interview I was trying to find the application in the iTunes App store.

When you first open the application up it will ask you if you want to import any podcast, I clicked yes and in a very short time all the podcast I had appeared on the screen in front of me. The icon’s of the podcasts appear in a grid, you can make the icons either large or small. You have the choice of three colors for the background, red, blue or orange.  There is a menu icon for any podcast notes. The number of un-played episodes of a podcast appear in the upper right hand corner of the podcast. All un-played podcast appear in the bottom dock. If you click on an individual podcast you have the choice of either downloading it or streaming it over Wifi or 3G. Unlike Itunes you can download any podcast no matter the size even over 3G. If you want to get a new podcast you can search by name, within popular podcasts or add by url. Once you choose your new podcast it will download the latest 2 episodes. Finish playing a podcast, hit the edit button and then delete.

ShiftyJelly keeps track on their servers of when a new episode is available. When a new episode is available it will download automatically. They appear much quicker then in Itunes. Episodes download in the background. so you can continue to read your email or play a game while they download. When you are playing a podcast if you click on the icon you can go forward 30 seconds or back 10 seconds. You can use the application with Airplay. The one problem I did run into was when I tried to add a premium podcast that required a user name and password it didn’t download. Other then that problem I really like the application and I am no longer subscribing through Itunes to get my podcast.

NHK World TV iPod App

Like millions of others, I’ve been glued to news sources to get as much current information as I can about the ongoing disasters in Japan following the massive earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear plant disasters. This has to be the biggest natural disaster that has occurred in my lifetime.

In pre-Internet days, we had to rely on newspapers and television for news. Those forms of information have their problems. This is the Internet age. I want current information directly from the source NOW, not later. I want current information of my choice, not what news agencies that aren’t directly on the scene think is or is not important for me to know. If I want 24/7 disaster coverage, in the Internet age that becomes possible, allowing me to completely bypass limited conventional coverage.

It took a while for me to find, but there’s an iPhone/iPod/iPad/iOS app from Japan’s NHK called NHK World TV Live. The app is free. Once the app is installed, it operates very simply. You simply open the app and the live video directly from Japan’s NHK World news service immediately begins streaming. Search iTunes for NHK World TV Live.

The service has an English translator that talks over the lowered volume of the original Japanese broadcasts. The English translators aren’t slick and you can hear them become a bit confused from time to time.

There’s also an app from the Al jazeera TV English news network that operates live out of Doha, Qatar. Al jazeera TV English is highly produced from a beautiful state-of-the-art studio. The on-air newsreaders seem to be British nationals. Though Al jazeera gives more news from the Arab world than the typical American is used to, they do a pretty good job of covering international news, including the situation in Japan. Search iTunes for Al jazeera English Live.

Savvy TV news agencies in today’s world have to make themselves available if they want to continue to be relevant. News agencies such as the BBC, CBC, CNN, Fox, etc. seem to be dragging their feet regarding available-to-anyone-anywhere 24/7 Internet TV broadcasting. I believe they are already losing world market share.


PureSound Technology and ClarityOne Earbuds

Todd and Tom tune into Patrick and Dean from PureSound Technology, Inc, who talk about their patented PureSound processor that will shortly be launched within their ClarityOne earbuds. Because of the processor, the earbuds can use 8 ohm impedance rather than the more usual 16 or 32 ohms, giving greater clarity and less distortion.

The range will be extended later in the year with over the ear models for professional studio use.

Available late February /early March for $140 with a 15% pre-registration discount and iTunes gift card for the first 500 orders.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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