Posts Tagged apple

The Unfollower

One of the problems with working at a company like Spotify is that my Spotify account gets filled up with all sorts of work-related playlists. Over the last few years I’ve built lots of apps that create playlists. When I test these apps I end up generating lots of playlists that I will never ever listen to. If I were a tidy soul, I’d clean up my playlists after ever project, but, alas, that is something I never do. The result is that after working at Spotify for a year (and using Spotify for 8 years), I’ve accumulated many hundreds of garbage playlists. Now I could go into the Spotify desktop client and clean these up, but in the current client there’s no good way to bulk delete playlists.  Each playlist delete takes at least 3 clicks.  The prospect of doing this hundreds of times to clean up the playlist garbage is  a bit overwhelming.

I had  a few hours to kill in a coffeeshop yesterday so I decided to deal with my playlist mess.  I wrote a little Spotify web app called The Unfollower that lets you unfollow any of your playlists with a single click.  If you change your mind, you can re-follow any playlist that you unfollow.

The Unfollower screenshot

The Unfollower uses the Spotify Web API to make it all happen. In particular it relies on the  Follow/Unfollow API that was recently added by the API team.

If you are like me and have lots of dead playlists clogging up your Spotify, and you are looking for a streamlined way of cleaning them up, give The Unfollower a try.

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Fixing my Mavericks woes

When Mavericks was released last week, I updated my MacBook Pro (17″ Late 2011 vintage). The install went just fine, and I had no problems except that the UI seemed a bit laggy. Navigation in Vim seemed just a bit slower as did switching workspaces, but no big deal. Xcode was unusably slow, but I thought that was due to the recent Xcode update. All in all I was pleased with the upgrade  until …

Friday evening I went over to the #TuftsHACK to talk about The Echo Nest API. This was my first time on Mavericks giving a Keynote presentation with an external display. My Echo Nest API talk has audio, video and lots of links to external web sites like the Infinite Jukebox. I had upgraded to the latest keynote this week, so before the talk I made sure that my slides survived the keynote upgrade. My talk was going just fine until I hit the first web demo. When I switched over to  Chrome the browser appeared to be hung and wouldn’t accept any of my input. When I returned to the keynote presentation, I could no longer go to full screen – instead I received an error message telling me that I didn’t have enough VRAM to go full screen and that I should try to adjust the resolution. WTF? It is great fun standing in front of 100 impatient college students trying to debug a 10 minute talk.  I ended up rebooting my computer and trying it all again … with the same error. Finally I gave up and limped out showing a few web demos from Thor’s computer. Really though, it was total Demo Fail.

I spent a few hours online this weekend seeing if anyone else was having similar difficulties without luck.  When I tried to fire up TF2 (the only game worth playing), I got nothing but an icon in my taskbar showing me that it was really trying to start, but couldn’t. That was the last straw.  I buckled down and carefully read Siracusa’s Mavericks review looking for new tech in Mavericks, especially tech related to the video system as suspects for my woes.  

One new feature is that Mavericks now treats each attached display as a separate domain for full-screen windows. This lookedpromising in that both Keynote and TF2 are apps that  create full-screen windows. This feature can be disabled in Settings -> Mission control:

Mission_Control

After I did this, I had to logout and re-login – but since then, the laggy-ness is gone, TF2 works like a champ, Xcode is zippy again, and so far, no problems with full screen keynote (but I need to test this more to be sure).

Bottom line – if you are having trouble with full screen display apps, or Xcode performance, or are getting errors about not having enough VRAM, try disabling the ‘displays have separate spaces’ feature in Mavericks.

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Amazon strikes back

Last month we saw how Amazon had to change its Kindle iOS app to comply with Apple’s TOS.  Amazon eliminated the ‘Kindle Store’ button making it harder for Kindle readers to purchase books.   Today, Amazon has fought back by releasing the Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader – A pure HTML5 web application for reading books.  The cloud reader lets you do anything that the native Kindle app does, including offline reading. And,  since HTML5 apps are not subject to Apple’s TOS,  the Kindle Cloud Reader  brings back integration with the Kinde Store.

This may ultimately become the most viable route for music subscription services as well.  Instead of creating native iOS apps, music services may look to create rich web apps instead. HTML5 is certainly capable enough, and soon audio support and local caching will be mature enough to support even the most sophisticated music listening app.  MOG has already converted their main application to HTML5.  I suspect more will follow suit.  As HTML5 improves,  we may see an exodus away from iOS.   The more you tighten your grip, Apple, the more applications will slip through your fingers.

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How are music services responding to Apple’s new TOS?

There’s been quite a bit of turmoil around how IOS developers can sell products and subscriptions within their IOS application.  Apple says, essentially, if you sell stuff within your app you have to give Apple a 30% cut  and you can’t try to pass costs onto the customer by charging more for items purchased within an App. The cost for an item must be the same  whether  it was purchased through the app or through some other means. Update: In June, MacRumors reported that Apple updated its TOS so that content providers are now also free to charge whatever price they wish for content purchased outside of an App.   Apple also says that you can no longer have a button or a link in your app to a website where a user can purchase content without giving Apple their 30% cut.

For most media industries,there is not enough left of the profit pie to allow Apple to take 30% of it.  This has left most media companies in a quandary of how to continue to give their users a good experience, without bankrupting their company.   Many folks looked toward Amazon to see how they would react. Amazon’s Kindle reader is used by millions of iPad and iPhone readers to purchase and read digital books.   Amazon’s solution was simple. Last week they issued an update to their Kindle Reader IOS app that removed the  Kindle Store button. After the update, The [Kindle Store] button is no longer present in the app. This means that users of the Kindle IOS app can no longer launch a book shopping session from within the Kindle app.  Here’s the update:

Before the update, the Kindle app looks like this, with a very visible Kindle Store button that will take you to the Kindle web store, where you can buy Kindle books:

After the update, the Kindle App looks like this.  The Kindle Store button is gone.

What are music services doing?

I was curious to see how various music subscription services were dealing with the same issue.  I fired up the apps, checked for updates and this is what I found.

Spotify

Spotify updated their app to get rid of any in-app purchases or subscription links just like the Kindle. You can only listen to Spotify mobile if you already have a Spotify mobile account.

When you login to Spotify there is no option to register an account. Spotify just assumes that you have already registered and are ready to login in and start using the app:

Curiously, there is a ‘Get help at Spotify.com’ button on the More page of the app. This will open a web browser and bring you to the Spotify Help page, which puts you two clicks away from a ‘subscribe’ button. This must cut pretty close to Apple’s rules about links to web sites.

SiriusXM

As with Spotify, SiriusXM, removed any links back to their site. Only people that already have a SiriusXM account can use the SiriusXM app.

Rhapsody

Same story for Rhapsody, there’s no way to get a subscription for Rhapsody within the Rhapsody Application.

MOG

MOG issued in update in July that removed links to the MOG subscription portal.

Napster

Interestingly enough, the very latest version of Napster happily allows you to register for Napster through the application. On the Sign In page there is a prominent Register for Napster button.

Pressing the button brings you to a Registration page where you can sign up for a 7-day free trial

I wonder what happens if a 7-day free trial user converts to a paying subscriber.  Does Apple get 30% or is Napster hoping that no one notices?

Update – A Napster update was released one day after this post was published that eliminates the direct signup link:

Slacker

Slacker’s $3.99 a month Radio Plus product is included as a prominent upgrade in the Slacker app. If you hit the upgrade button you will get a form to fill out with all of your credit card info so they can start charging you the 4 bucks.  The question is whether or not Apple is getting $1.20 of that 4 bucks.

Pandora

With Pandora you can create a free account through the mobile app, but there is no mention of a premium account, nor are there any links to Pandora.com as far as I can tell.

Last.fm

Just like Pandora, the Last.fm app will let you sign up for a non-premium account via the app and makes no mention or attempt to upsell you to a paid account:

Rdio

Rdio takes a similar approach to Pandora and Last.fm. It allows users to sign up for a 7 day free trial account via the app. It makes no mention and has no links to a premium subscription page.  It is not clear to me what happens at the end of the trial period, whether they will prompt you to visit Rdio, or if they just say “Your free trial is over, thanks for listening”.


Update  – It is a moving target out there. Rdio issued an update yesterday that now allows you to purchase a monthly subscription in the app.  With the new version you can now click on the ‘Subscribe to Rdio Unlimited’. When you do you receive this confirmation dialog:

This allows you to purchase the Rdio subscription for $14.99, which just happens to be 33% more than an Rdio Unlimited subscription would cost if purchased directly from the web.  Rdio is taking advantage of Apple’s recent relaxation of the rules and seeing how effective in-app subscription purchases stack up against cheaper out-of-app purchases.  There’s a good  LA Times article Rdio attempts to survive Apple’s subscription tax that describes Rdio’s approach to dealing with this issue.

A monthly Rdio Unlimited subscription is 33% cheaper when purchased on the web.

Playme

The latest version of Playme doesn’t have a button or link that brings you to the Playme subscription page.  It does, however, display http://www.playme.com prominently on the sign in page so you can type the URL directly into your browser.  I guess technically the words http://www.playme.com are not a link if you can’t click or tap it to go there.

Grooveshark

Grooveshark has never been timid of walking up to the line and stepping across it. The only way to get Grooveshark on an IOS device is to Jailbreak your device.  With a Jailbroken version, Grooveshark doesn’t need to pay anyone for anything.

Conclusion
Apple has always been a company that prides itself on encouraging an excellent user experience. However, when Apple had to weigh a good user experience against potentially making 30% of every music subscription they decided to screw over the user and go for the pot of money.  The reality, is, however, that no music streaming company will ever be able to afford to give Apple a 30% cut. The result is that these apps have to work around Apple’s rules, the result being a poor user experience, and no money for Apple.   Hopefully, by the end of the year, Apple will look at the bottom line and realize that they’ve made no extra money from the 30% rule, and instead have encouraged the creation of a big streaming pile of  music apps that make the user jump through all sorts of unnecessary hoops for no good reason.  Note however, that the story isn’t over. Rdio is experimenting with in-app subscription purchases. If they  are successful at this, in a few months time, perhaps we’ll see Spotify, Mog, Rhapsody and the others try the same thing.

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Software that makes you buy hardware

Some software is so good is makes you want to buy hardware so you can run it best.  The classic example is Visicalc which is responsible for making the Apple ][ successful.  Over the years a few software apps have been compelling enough that I bought hardware for them:

  • AppleWriter -> 80 column card – The original Apple ][ could only render a 40 character wide, uppercase display.  However,  one of the first WYSIWYG word processors, AppleWriter supported an 80 column card.  This was a card you’d plug into a slot in the back of the Apple that will let it render 80 column, mixed-case text.  It was a must for word processing.  
     snap27
  • Doom -> Gravis Ultrasound – Doom was the breakout 3D FPS shooter.  It also had awesome sound support – spatial audio with a kickass sound track.  The best way to render all that audio was the Gravis Ultrasound. It had really fine sounding midi soundbanks to make the distorted electric guitars sound like it came from a NiN album.  I can still remember with great fondness the soundtrack for Episode 1, Level 1:
  • Quake – > 3DFx Voodoo –  the first gaming 3D accelerator (remember video passthrough cables)- all of a sudden 3D FPS games could render at 25 Frames per second.
      voodoo1

It has been a while since I’ve been engaged enough with a piece of software to buy some hardware for it. Sure I’ve upgraded memory and video cards to run a new game, but those were natural upgrade stepping stones aligned with the release of software.  However, now, once again,  I find myself with a piece of software that makes me want to upgrade my hardware in order that I can get the most out of the software.  The software is the Spotify iPhone app.

 

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I installed the Spotify app on my 1st gen iPhone yesterday and have been playing with it all day.  There’s something about having 5 million songs available in my pocket ready to listen to that is just indescribable.    On the drive home, I listened to the WeAreHunted playlist, During dinner time with my 14 year old daughter we listened to the Glee soundtrack.  On my after dinner walk I listened to some tracks that  I hadn’t listen to since High School.   It is quite an interesting feeling to be out in the middle of nowhere, have a song come to mind, and moments later be listening to it.  And so I want more.  My feeble 1st gen iPhone with its edge network doesn’t get the music fast enough for me, so I have to rely on Wifi syncing.  Plus the paltry memory size leaves me with less than 2GB  for the local Spotify audio cache. Perhaps enough for  a thousand songs, but I want more!  And so I shall be upgrading my iPhone soon – the 3G and 32GB footprint will help me take full advantage of  this wonderful app.

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Spotify for the iPhone

On the Spotify blog they have a video of the latest version of the Spotify iPhone app that has just been submitted to the iPhone app store for approval. Notice how on the video, the Spotify client  is in the position on the home screen that the iPod app normally occupies.  I wonder if Apple is going to like this.

Some of the interesting details emerging about the app are:

  • Won’t be released in the US app store since Spotify is not available in the U.S (sniff)
  • Free Download
  • Only works for premium users
  • Offline mode allows you to cache 3,333 tracks (!)
  • Works on iPod touch
  • Music stops when you switch away from the app

I’m really looking forward to being able to run this app.   And rumor is that  it won’t be long before people in the US get to play.

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