Firebug

The recent post about my frustration with Apple’s Music app for iOS, and my preliminary observations about Amazon’s solution have had some ups and downs since then. I have not necessarily resolved all of my problems (more on that later), but I am having a bit of fun. I’ve shared some of these thoughts with Marko Savic in Unhelpful Suggestions 13: ‘MarkoGyvering the Situation’.

Have You Heard About Cesium?

Until the post went up, I had not heard about Cesium, but several people that read my post reached out to ask me what I thought about the application. I’ve since looked into it, and it won’t resolve my underlying issue of the library on my iPhone losing, and altering data, because Cesium accesses that same library. Cesium is a different kind of player, so it may comfort people that are not having library problems, but would like a different player solution.

Amazon or Amazon Prime?

I didn’t have Amazon Prime at the time I wrote the post. I had a free trial from aeons ago, but I only have Prime shipping benefits through my boyfriends Prime account. That kind of benefit sharing didn’t allow me to access any of their digital content so I mostly relied on people telling me that it wasn’t very good in order to feel like I wasn’t missing out on anything. I also found out there is a “household” program where certain benefits beyond shipping can be shared by adults, and kids, in the same household. Instead of going down that road, I upgraded my account to a full Amazon Prime account. $99 seems like a lot, until you realize that you’re spending $8.25 a month, and I estimate I’d easily get that level of value out of the membership.

This prevented me from evaluating Amazon’s Cloud Music Library — where you can upload 250 songs to Amazon, and they’re available to you through their player, either streaming, or as a download. For an additional $25 you can upgrade that 250,000 songs. What the hell? I took the plunge on that too. It’s roughly analogous to iTunes Match — a service I didn’t pay for — or Apple Music’s iCloud Music Library during the trial.

Anything available on Prime Music is also available for streaming or download to my library (as long as I maintain my subscription, similar to Apple Music). This opened up elements of the Amazon Music iOS app that were not previously available to me. Without these membership levels, you only have access to your Amazon MP3 purchases, which was enough for my initial post — but I was feeling the urge to see a little more.

I found the utility of the app increased dramatically. Playlists, recommendations, stations, etc. I have to say that recommendation systems are often derided in favor of the human touch — at least that’s a narrative that Beats started — but all of these music services use recommendation systems to some degree. There are playlists in Prime Music made by people, and radio stations, all that you would expect. Apple Music tried to do this pairing as well (matching you up to a list an editor crafted by hand using only the finest vellum), but I found their recommendations to be complete misses. Amazon has even less data about me than Apple does because I’ve made far fewer purchases with Amazon, and almost everything I’ve listened to for over 10 years has been through iTunes, or the Music app. Yet, here’s Amazon, with two twigs and a piece of gum, and they nailed the indie-electro-synth-pop I was in the mood for.

However there was a drawback: Uploading my library. I downloaded the Mac app and installed it. While I find the iOS app to be beautiful and responsive, I can’t say the same about their Mac app. The app feels like an Adobe Air app. Gray, blurry, compressed graphics — just generally weird. There were also bars all over the place instead of the paging interface I appreciated in the iOS app. I very quickly decided that I would be spending as much time with the Mac app as I spend with iTunes these days. I opened the tab to upload my personal music and dropped my whole iTunes Library folder on it. Perhaps that was not the way to go, because it seemed unhappy with trying to add some elements which were not music tracks. Any Amazon MP3s I had previously purchased also turned up as a red “duplicate”. This onboarding process could really be improved, and is not even remotely polished. Once the upload completed, I was left with many albums where one album should be. Albums featuring multiple artists had been split up by “album artist” which … is wrong. Editing the “album artist” field to “mixed”, like iTunes had them listed, combined the albums. iTunes, and the iCloud Music Library, both have similar problems trying to figure out where music from an external source goes on import. I’d call it a wash. As long as changes stick, unlike what’s happening with my iPhone’s media, then I’m fine with putting in a little elbow grease. At least it feels like I’m doing something and not just throwing my hands up in the air.

I’m still evaluating what’s up, but I remain more positive about Amazon than Apple for music right now.

Kindling

What started as a small exploration of Amazon’s Music app for iOS spiraled wildly out of control and I ended up not only buying an Amazon Prime membership, but an Amazon Fire tablet as well. Whoops.

What’s even more worrisome is that I used Prime Now to get a Logitech K480 BlueTooth keyboard shipped to me so that I could try typing on it. I’m typing on it right now. Yikes.

Why in the world would I want to do such a thing? I’ve owned an iPad (3rd generation) since it came on the market and I’ve never once bought a special keyboard to type on. I haven’t bought a special subscription service to fill it full of media. Even though that’s an old clunker, it can run circles around this Amazon Fire tablet. I could even be using this keyboard — the one that I am using with my Fire tablet to write this post — to write on my iPad. I could be in Editorial, or Byword, flicking my fingers over the keys. Why am I using what is essentially a plastic toy? Am I regressing? Is this the 1990s PDA I wanted when I was a teen and couldn’t have? Bring me the finest Sharp Zaurus in all the land!

It’s all pretty inexplicable. I have to assume that most of this is tied to using something that is new. A mere novelty to do something novel with. Heck, I can even read novels on the novelty.

The build quality and hardware doesn’t warrant any in-depth review. It’s a sub $50 consumer electronics device with a touchscreen, two cameras, an SD card slot, and a battery. That means every part of that is compromised, even the power cord it ships with is a joke. It’s not an iPad, or iPad-like device. Think of it more like a thin-client for cloud media services, and storefront for digital or delivered goods. Low price barrier to entry, you can chuck it around or give it to people, etc. It’s lack of best-in-class ambition allows for this. If you want an iPad than save $50 and don’t buy this.

You can, however, live the Picard dream and do this to your desk:

Is any of this better than iOS? Better than using my iPhone 6 or my iPad? Not really. Amazon’s Fire tablet is a device designed to service Amazon’s ecosystem and provide an easy way to engage with Amazon so that you’ll hopefully buy more things through Amazon. I have already done that. I joined my ComiXology account to my Amazon account, and I’ve installed the comics app. I’ve read a “trade paperback” of The Wicked and the Divine that I bought through a Goodreads recommendation. It all just builds on top of itself. One layer after the other.

That’s something I do think is missing from my iOS experience. Well, “missing” — like I desperately need more ways to spend money. In the same way that Amazon’s stuff feeds into the ouroborous of Amazon, Apple feeds into next fall’s Apple hardware. Unfortunately, I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with the content solutions Apple is providing for me on their very nice hardware.

Almost every book I’ve read in the last 4 years has been in iBooks. I stopped buying comics on my iPad when Amazon bought ComiXology and killed in-app-purchase, but I didn’t replace that with any Apple service. Every movie I’ve purchased digitally has been in iTunes, and nearly every rental as well. I’ve bumped into all the awkward parts of those exchanges. Books that refresh, or lose my place. An iBooks app that opens to my library and slowly animates a book toward my face has lost all its magic. The iBooks app sticking red badges on books I’ve already read. A movie rented on the iPhone not appearing on the Apple TV and requiring me to AirPlay from my iPhone to my Apple TV like an animal. The changes to the Music app pushed me over the edge to finally try some other vendor for these things.

The other day, former analyst, and former Apple employee, Michael Gartenberg asked this on Twitter:

Services I use. GOOG: search, mail, photos, music, voice MSFT: iPad Office AAPL: everything else. Facebook: none you?

I wedged a response into 140 characters but here’s a better one:

  • Google: Search, mail, maps.
  • Microsoft: Work email through Outlook for iOS.
  • Dropbox: Cloud storage.
  • Adobe: That menubar thing that crashes.
  • Apple: Music purchases and playback, movies, apps, Siri (to set timers), iBooks.

And now:

  • Amazon: Kindle, comics, Prime Music, Prime Video.

Does that mean it’s a good idea to type up a blog post on a Kindle Fire tablet? No, of course not. Would I go scrounge around eBay for a Fire Phone? HA. HAHAHA. HA.

No, I’m just exploring new things I had previously dismissed because they weren’t Apple. “Only Apple” is something that the Apple executives like to say in presentations, but the thought of only using Apple services doesn’t make me feel excited. Instead I worry about what will go wrong with them. What data loss I will experience? What media will be unavailable when I reach for it? What service will behave differently on one Apple device than another?

If I have an iPhone in my pocket, a flaky Apple TV, and the cheapo Fire tablet to throw around than that’s really something I can live with.

Firestarter

I’m the trouble starter. Several people in my life were poking fun at me for buying an Amazon Fire tablet, including one of the cohosts of my podcast, Dan. Dan also puts HFCS pancake syrup on his waffles and I can’t abide it. So I sent him something.

Punkin’ instigator. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

All this Amazon talk, and the ridic Fire tablet purchase seems to have inspired Apple collector Stephen Hackett to evaluate the Fire tablet. This made me laugh quite a bit. Stephen is someone that appreciates craftsmanship and design and … I’m not sure he’s going to write up anything pleasant about it. His hands-on, first impression seems to bear that out:

BREAKING: the $50 Kindle Fire feels cheap.

2016-02-12 09:00:00

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