Tag Archives: iTunes

Dumping Netflix After 10 Years?

27 Jan

We’ve been with Netflix since 2000, so long, in fact, that we get four DVDs for the basic monthly subscription fee instead of the three that most subscribers receive. Still, Cathie and I are considering dropping the DVDs and moving to the eight dollar a month streaming-only service. Or quitting Netflix completely.

It’s clear that Netflix wants its customers to shift to streaming and stop using DVDs. Despite the lower monthly fees, the costs of streaming for the company are 5% of what it costs them to handle DVDs. Labor is involved in processing DVDs; only machines are needed for streaming. Like any capitalist operation, Netflix hates its workers. No, not in a personal sense, but as line items that require salaries and benefits as well as people to manage them.

The problem for me in making the switch to just the streaming service is that the company offers so few choices. And what it does offer is, for the most part, frankly, crap.

Go to the Watch Instantly tab and click on New Arrivals and then, say, Drama. I got 11 pages of choices recently with 30 movies on a page. Sounds promising. And the first page looks fair: Precious, Brooklyn’s Finest, Casino, Apocalypse Now, and The Client stand out. After that things start getting iffy. Old made-for-TV Perry Mason flicks show up a lot. As you get deeper into the list the movies get more obscure and silly: The Boy With Green Hair, Those Secrets, The Rocking Horse Winner, Sand, as well as 50-plus-year-old losers like So Evil, So Young and So Young, So Bad.

Yes, so very bad.

Unless you’re studying film, there’s no earthly reason to see the vast majority of movies available to stream on Netflix.

But there’s always TV shows to stream, right? I admit to having watched 30 Rock not on television but via Netflix. But that show is only available through the 2009 season. According to one study, Netflix has a pathetic list of TV show options compared with Hulu, Amazon, and Apple services. If you missed the latest House you’ll need to visit Hulu. Or if you think The Good Wife is hot, you need to be a member of Apple’s iTunes service. Netflix doesn’t have them. If you want to watch the complete series of a TV show, Netflix has a mere two: Lost and something called Mercy. Hulu has 12, Amazon 28, and iTunes offers 39.

Company CEO Reed Hastings has argued that investors who bet against Netflix might lose their shirt. He may be right. I’m not saying Netflix isn’t a good investment. I’m just saying it doesn’t offer enough compelling choices to long-time subscribers. We’ve seen most everything and the New Arrivals they throw up on their site are time wasters. And we don’t want to waste that time or our money on mediocrity.


MacBook Air: It’s All About the Hardware

23 Nov

The computer industry is obsessed with software and services. That’s not surprising given that most of us spend countless hours moving between and staring at applications on our computer displays. When we think about our computer we think about what we use it for, which is software, not so much for the thing itself.The MacBook Air is the first machine in a long while that has me thinking more about its hardware than any of its software. Despite having a relatively pokey CPU, my MacBook Air’s hardware still boosts application performance because of the device’s flash storage system. Opening, closing, and executing applications and tasks that require any I/O function are flat out quick. Hands down, it’s the most responsive computer I’ve ever used.

Then there’s the wonderful trackpad. It feels so much nicer on my fingertips than when I use Ubuntu on my aging, but eminently serviceable IBM ThinkPad T43. More importantly, now there are new ways I can leverage OS X through the trackpad’s advanced user interface.

Great operating system UIs let me move within and between applications and tasks, windows and files using hardware in the way that suits me best. The more choices I have, the more efficient I’ll be at using the machine and its software. The MacBook Air trackpad has added new, logical choices for me to use.

Inside documents on my other computers I can jump around via function keys on my keyboard or through scroll bars with my mouse. With the MacBook Air’s trackpad I can now also move inside files by gliding two fingers up or down the trackpad and the document with roll up or down the screen accordingly. It is now my preferred way to move within a document. To me, that’s a radical step. It took me years to get comfortable using a mouse to scroll up and down a file when keyboard shortcuts were so much faster. Now, however, within a couple of weeks I’ve embraced the two-finger scroll on the new trackpad as the best way to work inside a document.

Plus, the clever trackpad has broadened my choice for how to navigate between open applications. Let me explain with a typical scenario:

I’m typing in Pages. I want to change the song I’m listening to. With my MacBook Air I can:

1. Hit the F4 button and open my Dashboard widgets, one of which lets me flick through iTunes’ selections;

2. Hit the F3 button and launch Expose’ so I can find the iTunes window and click into it and make my change;

3. Move the cursor to the Dock and pick iTunes and a new tune;

4. Close window after window until I find iTunes on my display and can choose a new song.

And now I can also:

5. Swipe four fingers across the MacBook Air trackpad, which brings up the Application Switcher and lets me pick iTunes and make a new selection.

Adding this fifth option gives me another easy and useful method to find my away around an 11-inch display cluttered with too many open windows.

I could also extol the virtues of the responsive keyboard, the tight packaging, and other hardware traits. But those items, I think, are about taste and fashion and not about true hardware improvements that benefit all MacBook Air users. That is, because of the MacBook Air’s sophisticated hardware I waste less time fooling around with ways to get to the software and more time actually using it. And ultimately that’s what great hardware does: makes using software a better experience.

iTunes Genius and Her Cousin Dumbass

15 Oct

Sheepishly, I admit to liking the iTunes Genius feature. I use it regularly while cycling. Click on a song and Genius generates a selection of related music on the fly. All I need do is pop in my iPhone’s earbuds and I’m on the road, pedaling to a well-conceived string of tunes.

Despite my best intentions, I don’t devote the time I once did to creating Playlists from the 10+ gigabytes of music I store in iTunes. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to hear even my old favorite lists, so I use Genius to generate a meaningful and immediate collection of songs. They’re not unlike the compilations you’d find on late-night television, producing musical themes around Beethoven or Coltrane to Woodstock or Tilith, which is why I feel sheepish. While clever, Genius is not creative. But it’s drop-dead simple to use and a surprisingly savvy bit of software. It’s a nice addition to my digital life.

The way it works, as I understand it, is that once I opt in to iTunes Genius, I permit Apple to snag data from the music program’s database on my Mac and combine it with data from thousands, maybe millions of other iTunes users’ music libraries from around the world. People who like similar music tend to like other similar music, so working up lists from such a large sample of users makes it an effective, intelligent service in the cloud. As a result, Genius is able to cobble together a solid list of tunes from a single suggestion.

You would think that Apple would exploit Genius more than as merely a tune selection program similar to Netflix’s movie recommendation engine. But you’d be wrong.

iTunes Genius has a Dumbass e-mail cousin that makes a mockery of Apple’s so-called marketing genius. iTunes Dumbass is a standard html-formatted e-mail that only knows that I bought this or that genre of music and wants me to buy more of the same. Every time some Apple marketing suit thinks it’s time to promote that genre, he sends Dumbass to annoy me. Because I did something in the past, even years ago and never repeated buying in that genre, I get Dumbass in my mail queue on cue.

Genius tells me that Apple has the business intelligence (BI) tools at hand to put Dumbass out to pasture and create something new and useful. For some reason, though, Apple sticks with Dumbass.

I want an iTunes e-mail that groks my recent and trending music purchases. It should know what others with similar tastes in those trending or recent buys have in their music collection but I lack. It should select those tunes for my consideration. This Smarter e-mail should send me 60-second mp3 files of a few such songs, or a link to a one-time full play of music I do not own, but would likely buy. Such a service would increase my spending at the iTunes store and improve my customer experience. That’s real BI like Genius not Dumbass.

Apple’s iTunes 10: An Off-Key Upgrade

8 Sep

Unless you’re a big fan of Ping or have fancy AirPlay speakers, iTunes 10 is a flop. It’s not faster. It does not automatically include existing settings in different albums from previous 9.x versions. And it is much, much less attractive.

Also, at least for me, it introduced a glitch. Since I upgraded my Mac to iTunes 10, every time I connect my iPhone to my computer, for some inexplicable reason, the ImageCapture application launches and stops the syncing process until I close app. There does not appear to be a straightforward way to stop it from happening. (Any help here is appreciated. Image Capture 6.0.1 does not have a Preferences file to fix and the one in iTunes does not offer any help.)

My biggest complaint, though, is the new look and feel of iTunes. Is BORING the new cool at Apple? Have color highlights that help navigate through software been banned by aesthetics idiots at the company? Is making an application more difficult to use considered hip and cutting edge? By comparing version 9 on my wife’s machine and version 10 on mine I’d say Apple responded with a resounding “yes” to all those questions.

Sometimes app developers, particularly on the user-interface side, feel compelled to change things just to rationalize their existence on a payroll. They eschew the famous expression “If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Instead, they just rush ahead and break things.

I wish I had never upgraded to iTunes 10. My advice to others is to skip it as well.

Rebooting the Confused

1 Jul

I had to reboot my stove again this morning. Once in a while the digital controls get, as the customer support person told me years ago when it first happened, “confused.” That confusion can only be fixed with a reboot.

Since I no longer use a stereo component system for my music, relying instead on my iTunes collection and some upscale Klipsch speakers, I had to reboot my music once during a social gathering. I’ve also had to reboot my Siemens Gigaset 8825 office phone on occasion as well as my now deceased digital alarm clock.

Being of a certain age, I foolishly think of the functions of a stove, a stereo, a phone, and an alarm clock as being decidedly analog. Certainly analog things themselves break, but from obvious causes, such as from age or abuse (case in point: the alarm clock). They never just stop because they get “confused.”

Alas, confusion reigns among devices in our digital world. For whatever reason, bits and bytes get discombobulated and the fastest, most effective way to set them straight again is to reboot.

Rebooting our tools and toys will become an ever-increasing part of our digitially-ruled lives. I’m betting in the near future cars will come with a “reboot” button to clear their on-board computers and electronics of their confusion. I bet Toyota wished it had already designed and installed them on their increasingly confused Prius and Lexus lines. It might have saved them a few tens of millions of recall dollars. Not to mention an alleged life or two.

Equally troubling is the Pentagon’s flirtation with the digital soldier. Some elements inside the Department of Defense are obviously oblivious to their own experiences rebooting their digital devices that they see no reason not to equip our men and women in the field of battle with confusion-prone electronic gear. Call me old-fashioned, but I am having trouble envisioning John Wayne storming Utah Beach, conquering Pork Chop Hill, or whatever other bit of war-torn real estate Hollywood set before him and having to pause to reboot his weaponry.

Then there’s robotic surgery. That’s where doctors are assisted by or remotely use a robot to perform surgery on a patient. How often do robotic surgeons get confused and need a reboot?

There’s no doubt that the digitalization of devices have complicated as well as enriched our lives. While they may improve how we get things done, they also can make tasks more confusing, too. But I thought most of the confusion would be among the people using the damn things not in the devices themselves.

Is iTunes an Android Killer?

11 May

As I become more familiar with Ubuntu, I begin to fantasize about not being held hostage to proprietary technology from either Microsoft or Apple. Maybe “hostage” is too strong of a term. After all, I do enjoy a lot of what I do with both companies’ technology. So, you might say, I’m a user with a software Stockholm Syndrome.

To one degree or another, both companies have worked together just enough to make it possible for me to use both platforms with minimal pain. I have Microsoft Office for the Mac, which one of my publisher clients insists I use, even though I’ve never had trouble converting Pages or Numbers files to Word or Excel.

“Just in case,” he said.

I have iTunes on my Windows laptop because it’s nice to listen to music without wearing my iPhone’s earbuds once in a while when I’m traveling. And sometimes I want to share my music with others using portable speakers.

Neither Apple nor Microsoft wants to help Linux, though. I’m guessing we’ll never see an iTunes client for Linux. And we’ve all read plenty of quotes from Microsoft executives on their views of the open source operating system. (CEO Steve Ballmer once famously called Linux a “cancer.”) So, any further steps I take down the open source road will have to be without either company’s help.

This brings me to my iPhone. I’d really like to get an open source-based Android phone when my contract with AT&T expires. (Talk about a hostage syndrome.) But there’s one application that makes me hesitate: iTunes. None of the other apps I have on my iPhone are Android killers for me.

In fact, one of my favorite apps, Motion GPS, an excellent product, makes me hate my iPhone. That is, I’m an avid bicyclist. On occasion I will ride for as long as eight hours, and I often take three-plus hour pedals. The problem is that while running the iPhone’s GPS with everything else turned off the battery consistently craps out at 2 hours 45 minutes. So I can either use the GPS knowing that the phone itself will become useless or take shorter rides. Neither option is appealing. Maybe…maybe the next iPhone will manage battery power better. But I’m betting that with multiple vendors delivering various Droid phones, I’ll find one that can handle my GPS needs while allowing me to have a usable phone after three hours.

So, I’d happily dump my iPhone for a better smartphone, except for iTunes’ shackles. Like many people, I have a substantial investment in the music I’ve purchased through the iTunes Store. I am loathe to leave that behind. There do appear to be workarounds that would permit me to export my iTunes collection to an Android device as well as to a choice of open source music players on Ubuntu. But there also happens to be a lot of chatter about the difficulties people have in synchronizing their music with Droid phones. Apple has spoiled me and everyone else with its technology. So, I’m not ready to jump onto the Android bandwagon just yet.

But here’s the thing that Apple needs to understand: those difficulties appear to be diminishing. More and more open source developers appear to be working on the problem. It had to be much more difficult to make it easy to switch from Windows or Mac to Ubuntu Linux, which it really seems to be, than it will be to switch mobile phones. So, maybe by the time I am released from my AT&T servitude, I’ll be able to make a real choice for both my smartphone and my music. And I’ll have one less reason to feel like I’m in captivity, no matter how pleasant they make me feel.