Unauthoritative Pronouncements By Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ 2023-08-28T18:35:59.712671ZCopyright 2015, Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/2023-08-25-The-Californians.html The Californians 2023-08-25T22:53:00Z 2023-08-25T22:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ On the most recent episode of Accidental Tech Podcast, Marco Arment described a recent ordeal with a moving truck. He recounted his list of grievances from using a rented box truck in New York, and mentioned the issue of roads that trucks aren’t allowed on, or won’t fit on. New York parkways (park on the drive way, yeah, yeah we all know the joke) apparently don’t allow trucks. The major mapping applications he mentions - Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze - don’t have a feature to avoid roadways that don’t allow trucks, as they do for avoiding tolls.

He used two crappy apps that offered truck routing, but both were poor quality and he lamented that this isn’t just a feature of Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze.

Then John Siracusa joked about how this is because Apple’s based in California. “I don’t even know if they have toll roads in California. If you live in California please don’t tell me you don’t have toll roads, I don’t want to know.”

We have freeways which have free in the name because the West Coast was very pro-car after WWII. There are very few toll roads, because then they wouldn’t be free ways, and the unfortunate use of free influences a lot of our infrastructure. With only High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, and HOV stickers for some EVs to try and shape all that free, bumper to bumper traffic.

Another day of sun. The 105 110 interchange with one of the lanes of traffic going the wrong direction, but don't worry about it.

A quirk of this is the conversion of some of those HOV lanes into a number of toll lanes, referred to in some places as High Occupancy Toll (HOT), express lanes, or managed lanes. Several of those are great ways to dodge the word toll. There are different regional agencies that operate under the toll collection brand of FasTrak.

A FasTrak transponder

FasTrak lets everyone have their cake and eat it too. The freeway stays “free” but the HOV lane is usually expanded and repurposed to allow for vehicles with transponders to use the lane, and be charged a dynamic, demand-based fee. Depending on the time of day, and occupancy of the vehicle, it could be $0. Buses also use these lanes, and even have very bus-rider-hostile transportation centers shoved in the middle with their own entrances and exits that cars should not enter or exit.

Two-Dimensional Thinking

However, this means there are now lanes of fast moving traffic on the inside of a freeway that need to enter and exit past all the people not using these lanes. Also some of these older freeways have a lot built up around them so they can’t always expand their lanes, which means some sections are elevated above the regular traffic. To enter, or exit, the lanes you must either be in a section of the freeway where all lanes are at the same elevation, and a break in the lanes allows for merging, or there must be a grade-separated flyover to allow direct entry and exit from the lanes.

All of this stuff is visible in Apple Maps, and Google Maps. You can even see these complex interchanges in 3D in Apple Maps, or tap right along the route in Google Street View. Marvel at the volume of data collected about, but not applied to, this problem.

Apple Maps views of the 105, and 110 interchange and elevated sections

That is the 110-105 interchange in Los Angeles, which is a good example of every kind of lane connection possible. It is a monstrosity, but we’re not debating whether or not it should exist, it’s there, and it’s been there since the 90s, with the HOV/busway converted to FasTrak in 2012.

Now it’s time to engage in every Californians favorite pass time, talking about roads that connect to other roads. If someone is heading South on the 110 to travel from Pasadena, East Los Angeles, or Downtown Los Angeles they can enter FasTrak lanes just south of Downtown. Those two left lanes then travel in several elevated sections above the rest of the 110 traffic without any flyovers, and only a couple spots where the elevation changes to allow for merging in or out. When the 110 meets the 105 the FasTrak lane splits in two, with one lane for the 105 heading toward LAX, and the other continuing to other overpasses to go East to Norwalk, or continue South towards San Pedro.

Hideous markup on top of a map with truly vomit inducing ASCII colors.

Let’s say, theoretically, that you’re by yourself, in a car with a FasTrak transponder heading from Downtown LA to LAX, which means taking the 110 S FasTrak lane. You enter the FasTrak lane, and receive no objections from Google. Then it tells you to exit right to get on the 105 W, but the signs say to stay in the leftmost lane for the 105 W and LAX. You dutifully ignore your navigation app, and it tries to urgently reroute you as you arc across every other possible lane of transportation layered in that spot. The apps assume that you have logically fallen hundreds of feet through the air to one of the many other roads, Blues Brothers style, and then fallen over, and over again.

It eventually stops freaking out once the flyover has fully merged with the 105 W, because you’re oriented with the 105 W, but that lane is a HOV 2+ lane, because the 105 is not FasTrak. There are signs that “FasTrak must exit” so your single-occupancy vehicle needs to do that immediately. That’s not a big deal, because you should be reading traffic signs, but it should be something a navigation app can remind you off, just as it reminds you of any other lane change.

Google Maps view of the reverse direction from 105 E at the interchange.

If you are traveling in the reverse direction, eastbound from LAX and northbound to Downtown LA, then your single occupancy vehicle will be in the flow of regular traffic and you will be directed to the right lane to exit for the 110 N. Unless you ignore the navigation, read the signs, and enter the HOV 2+ lanes to use the flyover from the leftmost lane. Of course attempts will be made to reroute you as you get a lovely view of the Downtown skyline, and eventually settle into the FasTrak lane of the 110 N.

If you were in that same 105 E HOV 2+ lane, with two passengers, and no transponder, heading from LAX to Downtown LA you would need to exit the HOV lane and merge on to the 110 N at the right. If you stayed in that HOV 2+ left lane because you didn’t understand the signage, you would be dumped into the FasTrak lane that requires a transponder.

I’ll leave it at just those examples, because you get the idea. These paricular lanes have been like this for over a decade. Other lanes like this exist elsewhere throughout the state, and more are being completed right this very minute.

Existing Metro ExpressLanes in Los Angeles County, and proposed expansion.

Apple and Google are totally clueless about these lanes, which is bizarre when you can see them represented in maps, satellite views, Street View — everything.

Waze HOV toggle

Waze, which is owned by Google, added a “HOV 2+” toggle when it shows you a suggested route with HOV 2+ lanes. This is a mixed bag, because they don’t differentiate between FasTrak and HOV 2+. So no information is presented about transponders, or other rules. Remember that a vehicle could be crossing into and out of various requirements along a route, and that HOV 2+ is an over simplification that could lead to bad directions.

The lack of proper routing extends beyond the directions alone, because it means there’s no accurate representation of the flow of traffic. You’ll notice in some of the screenshots above that Traffic data is drawn on the elevated sections of the road, but that traffic data is from the part of the freeway below.

Generally, when my boyfriend and I take certain FasTrak lanes, we know it can shave at least 10 minutes off of the route a route estimate, or more. However, if the traffic is extremely heavy the route may not be suggested at all, because there’s no understanding that we’ll be bypassing the flow of the stopped traffic. We can trick it sometimes by changing our start, end, or adding a middle position that puts us specifically on a route to see why it’s not recommended, but that still relies on our knowledge, and hunches about things. You’re also assuming the FasTrak lane is completely unaffected by the traffic, which is not always true. That’s not really want you want in the mapping applications from two of the most powerful companies in the world, who just so happen to be in the same state as you.

I know that from a user interface perspective anything added to the interface makes it less clean, and straight-forward to use, so there’s no simple suggestion of “just put toggles in for everything.” However, the reality of different kinds of traffic regulation — whether that’s occupancy, transponders, box trucks, or other forms of traffic control — isn’t going away. Our phones are integral to transportation, so maybe someday, in the far future, we’ll have ways to manage electronic toll collection through them, and then it could all become a part of the navigation process itself.

Both Apple and Google need to tackle this problem in a way that helps their navigation apps perform better, especially when Apple is working on whatever that misguided car thing is, and Google is working on being the infotainment backbone of the automotive industry.

At the very least, they can do better for The Californians.

http://joe-steel.com/2023-06-11-visionOYes.html visionOYes 2023-06-11T18:38:00Z 2023-06-11T18:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I felt, well in advance of Tim Cook unveiling the Apple Vision Pro at WWDC that it was nearly impossible it would be a product that appealed to me. Other people knew well in advance that they absolutely wanted whatever it was. It could have been an Apple-branded ViewMaster and they’d want it. I don’t seek to tell those enthusiastic people that they’re wrong, far from it, but I’ll explain why I don’t want anything on my face, and I feel like my explanation might be applicable to other people as well.

After working on stereoscopic “3D” movies for many years I know this well. We would sit at our desks, with our active shutter glasses, and work for hours. We would go to the small screening room, equipped with a projector and polarized glasses, and we would try to get final approval there because it was better than the active shutter glasses. It’s not fun to wear stuff for extended periods of time, even the uncomfortable active shutter glasses that are featherweight compared to the world-building power of the Vision Pro. Thus I was unable to envision anything I’d wear on my face when the rumors were circulating. It’s not for me, and I suspect it’s not for some other people either. There are ways to shave down the device here or there over time, or redistribute the weight — like the top strap only visible in one shot of the WWDC keynote. But it will always require pressing something to your face because that’s how it has to function. Even the electrostatic paper masks we’ve all used leave unpleasant creases on our face, or pinch in the wrong spot (and I gladly masked the fuck up out of necessity).

What I was absolutely enamored by though was visionOS. Not from the WWDC keynote presentation, which just made it seem like a movie computer interface, but from the WWDC developer videos released after. I highly recommend watching those regardless of your level of skepticism about the hardware. Functionally, it seems like such a natural and organic extension of interaction metaphors we’re already using, while at the same time being adapted to inputs in space. What was unclear in the Keynote, was that your eyes are your “cursor” which is natural because they are your focus. Your hands are at your side like you’d have them for a touchpad or mouse. The array of cameras and sensors monitoring your hands and eyes make this all possible.

It made me want to use visionOS … just not with a Vision Pro.

I know that might sound a little contradictory, and silly, but I’d rather sit at my two UHD monitors with a camera pointed at my face, and move windows around inside the confines of those monitors, than wear anything. With all the complaining people have done about not having touchscreen MacBooks, imagine not pressing on anything on a MacBook just to scroll a web page. Hell what if — not to go all Gene Munster — what if they shipped a HomePod/AppleTV that had a series of projectors and those hated passive glasses for people to use exclusively in dark rooms?

I mean, that’s not going to happen, but that’s where my mind went. Apple does apply their effort on one platform on to their other platforms, in some scenarios, so some cross pollination might be possible, but that really is wishcasting.

With the focus on building a headset empire, I guess I’ll return to critiquing that product and how Apple currently pitches using it.

  • 2D and 2.5D windows arranged in space to do office work and web browsing.
  • Teleconferencing.
  • 2D and stereoscopic theatrical experiences.
  • 3D family photos
  • Immersive locations.

Notably absent was gaming. Everyone expected Hideo Kojima’s presence in Cupertino to be tied to this headset but it was for porting old games. At this point we should really all know better than to expect anything significant with gaming. It’s for the best that they don’t either, because Apple doesn’t believe in making game controllers. There still isn’t one for the Apple TV, and it doesn’t matter how many times Apple says you can bring your own controller to use, it’s not the same thing. Controllers are a shortcoming of competing VR headsets because you have to use them, but the benefit of having them is mostly physical feedback. Nothing about physical response is present. Functionally every interaction people have seems to be at more than arms length.

Let’s talk about those arms-length interactions:

Cocooned in Email and Spreadsheets

Windows in virtual spaces are nothing new, and honestly I’m happy Apple didn’t try to do some bizarre 3D application interface. Emails should just look like emails, and spreadsheets should just look like spreadsheets.

That’s not to say that I have any idea why anyone would want to work on their email or spreadsheets with a headset on. That seems like something for ardent futurists and not practical for large groups — let alone office environments. Even virtualizing screen real estate doesn’t seem to be a tremendous boon if you’re going to get eyestrain from lower text resolution (WWDC videos note that body text weight should be increased to be legible in the headset if that helps visualize how the displays in the headset aren’t exactly like having multiple real monitors).

Safari seems like a better use case, because that is laid-back on the couch stuff. You’re shopping, or reading sub-par blogs like this one, and it’s more about consumption than work.

Calls From Creeps

A poorly received part of the WWDC keynote was the teleconferencing story. Apple doesn’t want you to feel cut-off from people, which is why they have the creepy eyes on the outside, but making a full creepy avatar of a person to have calls with isn’t helping. That persona, as they call it, has more in common with a Sim than a human being. Not just in terms of performance (seriously look at that mouth move) but in terms the qualities we expect in a video conference call.

99% of people are bad at video calls, but they’re still fundamentally people. We see their messy rooms - not particle cloud voids. We see their cats, their dogs, their kids, what they’re drinking, what they’re wearing. For people that don’t want to participate in that we have this amazing technology where the camera doesn’t turn on.

It’s also pretty telling that Apple doesn’t offer up Continuity Camera so the people you’re on the call with can see you, with your Daft Punk headset and creepy eyes because Apple considers that to be a real world solution for talking to flesh and blood.

The real teleconferencing solution is that you just take off your headset.

Best Seat in the House

Apple didn’t invent virtual movie theaters in VR either. They seem to have made it very nice though, by virtue of their displays being better than competitors. It doesn’t seem like it’s a great social experience though. I know that there’s SharePlay, but I mean social in terms of in your own home. This is designed for an audience of one. Which is a valid movie watching experience to have, some of the time, for some people.

What’s particularly interesting is an emphasis on stereoscopic media — which is almost entirely movies from that window of time when “3D” was being used as a way to charge more for ticket prices, and get people in to theaters for experiences they couldn’t have with their HD TVs, or projectors. Then the HD TVs and projectors started to build it in whether you wanted it or not.

Companies realized that it was very expensive to make these stereoscopic movies so they tried to reduce labor costs, and the quality of the stereo movies notoriously went down. Most filmmakers had very little to do with stereo and it was an afterthought for someone else. A requirement of making the thing that didn’t have to do with them.

This is notably why James Cameron’s most recent Avatar movie was used in demonstrations for the press, because he spans that time period from the original Avatar until now as an ardent proponent of stereoscopic movies.

So, as you might imagine, that makes it a little bit of a niche use case and people will mostly be watching good ol’ fashioned 2D on a really big virtual screen.

Also if I hear one more person say that Apple TV+ shows might all be “3D” now because of machine learning to generate depth I will jettison them from this planet.

Family Photos

This is a really interesting use case, just not with the headset. The most chilling moment in the whole keynote was when that guy took a photo of the kids with the headset. There are no “we just aren’t used to it yet” arguments I will accept, nor does the analogy to the VHS camcorders of yore work. This is an inhuman scenario and I’m perplexed that no one working on this presentation had a similar reaction.

What I will accept is some kind of volumetric capture coming to iPhones. The demonstration seemed to indicate that everything dithered into a stochastically pleasant point cloud as it got further away from the subject, so that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be stereographic capture of two images. Some combination of the depth data being captured, along with more than one camera might get somewhere in the ballpark.

Why would people with iPhones take 3D photos if they don’t have a headset and aren’t planning on buying one? I would imagine that there would be that shadowbox-like tray view of 3D, where as you move your iPhone the parallax in the image shifts as if there’s depth. It’s one of the Apple Design teams favorite iOS interface gags. Or perhaps just good ol’ fashioned wiggle-grams, where stereographic images just toggle back and forth. There would be plenty of ways to execute it. It just seems likely they’ll do at least one of them because people who own iPhones will be the likely people to buy the headset and giving them some material in their libraries that they can look at would be more compelling than starting them with nothing and setting them loose on childrens birthday parties.

Location Location Location

The immersive location stuff is interesting except it’s never depicted as immersive location with motion. It all seems very QuickTimeVR where you have a nodal view of place. It works well as a backdrop to other interface activities, but you don’t seem to do much with the location itself. That’s fine, I happen to love QuickTimeVR. I downloaded the crappy Babylon 5 qtvr files from AOL back in the day, and I had Star Trek “Captain’s Chair” where you could see all the Star Trek bridges. Technology that we use today for selling homes on Redfin.

I don’t object to it, but it’s interesting how it’s just a “desktop background” of sorts.

Eye Look Forward To More

I wholly reject this particular hardware, but I’m absolutely fascinated by the software and what it could mean when it’s applied in different contexts. I wonder what the developer story will ultimately wind up being because adding another dimension doesn’t reduce labor costs, and it doesn’t reduce the cut Apple wants to take from developers for expending all this effort for a niche platform. Those sorts of financial things are beyond the scope of my analysis, but are a very real issue. Meta, lead by Mark Zuckerberg, has been having big financial problems because this whole metaverse thing isn’t working out for him. While what Apple is doing is different from what Meta is doing, it’s not so different when it comes to development costs for 3D experiences.

The best part of the Apple Vision Pro might very well be Mark Zuckerberg freaking out and announcing his Meta Quest 3 early, and a Meta Quest 2 price cut, ahead of WWDC and no one cares. Kudos to Tim Cook for that.

http://joe-steel.com/2023-05-24-Happy-Hour-vs-Wine-Lists.html Happy Hour vs. Wine Lists 2023-05-24T16:53:00Z 2023-05-24T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ We are definitely in a period of instability for — well, everything. In the entertainment industry, the cable-cutting chickens have come home to roost, and the things people knew would happen eventually, are all happening very quickly instead of very slowly. Eight years ago I was writing my silly posts about what these behemoth companies ought to do, when Richard Plelpler was on stage to introduce HBO Now for the Apple TV 3rd generation, and I wrote about things like why we have bundles (a bunch of things is cheaper than à la carte) and why there needed to be ad-supported tiers when Apple introduced their Over the Top Service (remember when that never happened?) What I wrote that companies like Apple should do was laughable garbage, but the problems they needed to navigate around are still the problems they face today. This is what consumers thought for the past eight years:

  • Consumers hated paying for channels they didn’t watch. They believed they were paying only for what they were watching when they made the move to cut the cord and subscribe only to streaming services they used.
  • Consumers hated to see ads because they didn’t need that junky stuff in their life.

That was always wrong because when you pay for a bundle you’re getting a discount on the things you don’t usually watch — something that has perturbed people interested in watching live TV events in this streaming era is that they realized they did actually use some of those channels a couple of times a year. That’s how they have money to pay for those events that you can’t miss. That’s what the money is for!

I also regret to inform everyone that advertising, as a general concept, absolutely works. People think that they magically gain awareness of media and products through a reliable word-of-mouth network where a carefully cultivated list of friends guide what they watch and what products they use using only their friends’ discerning taste alone!

Everyone is swimming in ads, especially your friends. Your exposure to irritating ads might go down if you only use premium on-demand services, at their highest-paid, ad-free tiers, but that’s also a lie. The preroll ads before a show tell you about what the streamer would like you to watch. The officially branded podcast and websites where you can hatch dragon eggs and shit.

The app, and system interfaces are an ad, which is why companies will do everything they can to try and keep you in their interface, looking at their banners and promoted shows. Steering a person’s attention and behavior, and thus a person’s money, is the whole game.

Of course there are people that just don’t care about ads cut into video, and will gladly accept them for free, or discounted service. They’re not fools, because they’ll be able to watch a wider variety of things for less money at the people who can’t abide seeing them.

The reality is that there isn’t a single group of consumers. MIND BLOWN! KABOOM!

We, as consumers, like to think that all the other right-minded consumers agree with us. This has a lot to do with the echo chambers we find ourselves in on social media where we talk about watching the same shows as if we’re all on the same living room sofa.

Companies are way ahead of people here. Part of the reason cable has been so slow to address cord cutting in any meaningful way is because they knew they still had people who did not want to cut the cord, despite high prices, and ads. Invariably this comes down to how we use television to adjust the balance of chemicals in our brains.

Not everyone wants on demand content that they specifically select from a menu like they’re looking through the wine list at a restaurant. Some people just want whatever the happy hour specials are. That’s not an indictment of the consumers, or the restaurant/streamer, but simply a function of preference. Sometimes people go back and forth in their behavior based on their mood. Stop the presses: People have moods!

This is why Free Advertising Supported Television (FAST) services like Pluto, Tubi, and FreeVee (née IMdBTV) are all able to grow by offering something like a worse cable TV experience. Grids of “channels” that are really playlists of antique reruns, or bottom-shelf no-name fare, all populated with repetitive ads. These companies promise stuff in a very similar way to bloated cable TV packages.

However, even the snootiest of snooty à la carte subscribers should notice that their à la carte choices aren’t the incredibly specific fare that they thought they were getting. All these streamers have been trying to “bulk up” or merge to get enormous catalogs of stuff so that you must stay subscribed to them even when they don’t have a specific thing you want at this moment.

Disney - Disney+/Hulu/ESPN

Speaking of that stuff, here’s Bob Iger in February, via CNBC:

“We are intent on reducing our debt,” Iger said. “I’ve talked about general entertainment being undifferentiated. I’m not going to speculate if we’re a buyer or a seller of it. But I’m concerned about undifferentiated general entertainment. We’re going to look at it very objectively.”

Disney currently owns 66% of Hulu, with Comcast owning the rest. The two companies struck a deal in 2019 in which Comcast can force Disney to buy (or Disney can require Comcast to sell) the remaining 33% in January 2024 at a guaranteed minimum total equity value of $27.5 billion, or about $9.2 billion for the stake.

Just five months ago, then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he’d like to own all of Hulu “tomorrow” if he could. Chapek’s strategy revolved around eventually tying Hulu together with Disney+ to give consumers a “hard bundle” option in which viewers could watch programming from both the family friendly Disney+ and the adult-focused Hulu. Comcast’s stake in Hulu prevented Disney from moving forward with his plans.

It would be pretty easy to say that Chapek was a happy hour guy, and Iger is a wine list guy, but I don’t think it’s so clear cut with Iger. Iger knows, and is aware of, the desire people have for stuff but Iger also knows he can’t charge premium prices for stuff and he is worried about turning highly desirable, specific things into stuff by taking away anything that makes it special.

As absolutely absurd as it was to see those brand tiles revealed for the Disney+ launch they do mean something. They are a way to direct people to choose.

Does FX on Hulu mean anything? Does a Hulu Original mean anything? Hulu, despite being outside the Disney+ app at this time, is also a brand in North America. Whether Hulu branding stays, it seems pretty clear that Disney needs a brand tile for undifferentiated stuff.

What about ESPN? The wine list and happy hours apply to sports too. Sometimes people want to watch any game that’s on, and sometimes people only want to watch their team, or The Big Game. The current sports media landscape is very, very, very bad. I wouldn’t personally know, because my monocle pops out whenever I even think about watching a sportsball game, but Jason Snell and Julia Alexander do an excellent job of explaining the never-ending ways in which the sports media landscape is a mess in the Sports Corner segment of their Downstream podcast, including ESPN.

Warner Brothers Discovery - Max/Discover+

We’ve seen this dynamic play out slightly different with Warner Brothers Discovery, which is run by a greedy, unlovable caricature of an executive that no one likes, David Zaslav. This happy hour guy ran Discovery, and it wasn’t red or white wine and some beers, it was a chain of bars where you could get novelty plastic cups filled with a variety of watered-down, bottom-shelf, sugary, fruit-flavored, frozen daiquiris. Happy-hour-slushy guy bought Warner Media, and declared that the quality of Warner Brothers, and HBO, would be the same, he was merely going to cut out of control costs.

This is weirdly not how things were run before where there was a fine dining restaurant with wine list, and then a second slightly-not-as-good fast casual version was opened up. Anything worth saving from that fast casual place was folded back into the restaurant. Then the restaurant was razed and replaced with a Daiquiri Deck but one that had a discerning wine list available upon request for a little more than you were paying before.

The new slogan says it all: Max - The One to Watch.

Max - The One to Guzzle.

Paramount Global - Paramount+/Showtime/Nickelodeon/BET/Everything/Pluto

One of the big happy hour players, for a long time, has been the various entities that have been spawned from and reabsorbed by Paramount, CBS, and Viacom. Just a burbling primordial soup of happy hour specials (don’t order the primordial soup special). They are Darden Restaurants in this happy hour analogy.

Their whole deal, in all iterations, was to diversify out to different channels in the bundle and increase the amount of money that they got out of the cable subscription carriage fees. It didn’t matter to Viacom which channels people were watching, or what they watched on them, as long as they had a lot of channels. It also didn’t matter how many of their channels were showing new content, overlapping content, or never-ending marathons of old stuff.

That sounds like a perfect fit for streaming, but they were so dependent on those carriage fees that they couldn’t do anything meaningful to adapt to changing consumer demand, and their high-prices and low-quality were what people were exactly complaining about in their bloated cable bills.

They had some very bad apps, and very bad websites, that all wanted to leverage your cable login to see stuff a day later — it was a mess. This lead them to look outside for a possible solution and that was Pluto TV, which they acquired in 2019. Instead of making a bad clone of cable, they could buy it.

CBS, the old people channel (that had been spun off as it’s own company by Sumner Redstone in 2005 because it was losing money, but then became worth more than Viacom) made CBS All Access and Showtime’s separate app. Shari Redstone, daughter of Sumner Redstone, maybe kinda-sorta-possibly-maybe-allegedly had something to do with Les Moonves getting fired for sexual misconduct, replaced most of the board, and got the companies to merge again. Then CBS All Access became Paramount+ and could start absorbing bits and pieces of the former chain restaurant empire, including Showtime, which only ever has one good wine.

Pluto TV, as a FAST network, is still separate from Paramount+ with Showtime because they don’t conflict with each other in terms of how people want to watch shows. However I wouldn’t be surprised to see attempts to cross promote and try to get the people buying Star Trek licensed wine to buy into the happy hour lifestyle, and vice versa.

Shari wanted the companies together to make them worth more as a whole thing to sell to someone else though, not because she wanted things tidy. She knows that Paramount Global, even after merging with CBS, is too small, and too strapped for cash, to be a complete destination. Before their mediocre fare could take up as much space in the mall and adjacent buildings as possible, but now the mall is dying and they need you to want to choose to go out of your way for them.

Amazon Prime Video/FreeVee

Amazon’s main driver has never been their video products, it’s been their shipped-to-your-home retail empire. Despite this, Prime Video often has shockingly good movies and TV shows that rotate in and out of their library, but it’s mostly surprising because people don’t think to go Prime Video. Their original content was supposed to be a big driver, but it’s not apparent the money they spend on originals has directly lead to any kind of general improvement in their video brands.

This disorganized approach has led them to try all kinds of categories, genres, and business models. Like injecting the IMdB brand into the name of their FAST service, and then injecting that into Prime Video to somehow entrap people expecting ad-free video to watch ad-supported video. Then rebranding that as FreeVee, which is kind of a repellant and genius name all at the same time.

Lest I neglect to mention it, they also bought MGM, which they absolutely did not need to do. It seems to not have benefited them or led to any kind of substantive plan other than more reorgs.

It’s always seemed like they’re flailing and they don’t know what to do. One minute, they’re practically giving away high-priced Bordeaux, and the next minute they tricked you into drinking a Zima. But it all comes back to shopping, I guess?

Apple Apple TV+

Apple is in a more straight-forwardly weird spot. They were late to the game, and they’re not a restaurant, or wine bar. They’re a winery that has a few estate-bottled wines that have aged enough to sell, but they mostly fill up their cellar with grapes they’ve bought elsewhere. The only wine that’s been a clear success every vintage is a collaboration with another winery and that is going to end soon. They bought up a lot of billboards, and entered their wines into many contests, but they’re still a single winery that just doesn’t scale up to offer much variety, or historic depth in their library.

That’s fine, if that’s where their ambition ends, but I don’t believe it is. At some point they’re going to acquire or partner with another company that caters to a broader clientele. They already sort of tried to do something loosely along those lines with Apple TV Channels, but it didn’t really benefit their partners much.

Cash-strapped Paramount Global is a likely target. Or bundle-friendly Zaslav who won’t sell HBO, but would likely be willing to consider an Apple+ Max — the name is so bad it’s already perfect.


That leaves us with the one that got us all into this mess, The Cheesecake Factory. Netflix has the length, and complexity of a wine list, but one constructed from just about whatever they could produce as quickly as possible. A laminated, spiral-bound monstrosity where there’s no clear vision or purpose but to have something for anyone and everyone.

Just like The Cheesecake Factory, you can have a pretty good time if you have to spend time there, but you’re there to consume in a liminal space between a fancy meal and every stall in a mall food court. Much like The Cheesecake Factory adapted to changing economic conditions, I’m absolutely certain Netflix will be fine, financially, but the way they fit into people’s lives might change. Growth is no longer the game, and neither is quality, but there’s plenty of room to work on what costs what.


People have been sleeping on bundles. Every cord cutter with two brain cells tweeted, posted, or kvetched at some point in the past year about how much they’re spending on all these streaming services, and realized “it’s just like cable”. These companies are going to get their money for making the media that you consume. The illusion of it not costing much, and being able to pick and choose has been replaced by the same basic reality we had before.

Where these companies would bloat up to try to command as much of your cable subscription from the cable companies, they are the cable companies now. They all need to be necessary to you. If they can’t make enough movies and TV shows to be necessary, they’re going to offer more discounts for yearly, or longer, subscriptions. They’re going to offer discounts between companies to pay for one and get the other half off. They’re going to push people to subscribe directly through them so they can put people through a more onerous, and painful cancellation process.

Sure, we’re more or less back where we started, but we were always going to be there. Even the people that want to choose what they watch don’t want to choose the subscription enrollments every month. They just want stuff.

But don’t worry about it too much. Let’s go grab a drink.

http://joe-steel.com/2023-05-19-The-Worst-Underwater-Camera-I-Own.html The Worst Underwater Camera I Own 2023-05-19T20:38:00Z 2023-05-19T20:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ In my post about the cameras I had in 2021 (which has since changed quite a bit) I talked about the one I hated the most, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25. It has horrendous shutter lag, the lens is too slow to use in anything but brightly-lit purified water, the display on the back is unusable in most lighting conditions, the menu system is designed to be “easy” in one of those ways where it makes things difficult, the battery life is atrocious, the amount of time it takes to startup and shoot - I could keep going on.

It is, however, the only underwater camera I own, and that classic axiom of “the best underwater camera is the only underwater camera you have with you” definitely applies.

I decided to reassess the camera and try to see the positives in it. There’s a YouTuber/Instagram photographer that I follow, Ali, and her whole deal is working with old cameras to see what someone can really get out of them. To look back at technology of yesteryear and see what you can really do with it. Some of it is about vibes that is unscientific — but rightfully so! Photography is an art, not a lab test pattern.

One of her mantras, and I have no idea if she’s the originator of this, is “no bad cameras” and as anyone that’s read this blog for more than one post might guess, that’s not exactly my deal, but I’m trying.

You see, when my boyfriend and I were planning our trip to Grand Cayman in March we wanted to buy a replacement underwater camera, but the budget for buying a replacement camera was $0 and not the hundreds it would cost for something well reviewed. That meant we would pack the dreaded Lumix. I went through the menus ahead of time trying to optimize the various “scene” settings it had, and doing things like turning off the digital zoom that kicks in after the optical zoom range, and adjusting ISO settings. It’s a very fiddly, and annoying thing. Like I said, Panasonic tried to make it easy for beginners, but in that way where stuff has a short, weird name and an icon and you have to consult the manual in order to figure out what the hell the thing is actually for.

For example, there’s an Advanced Underwater mode, and there are retouching tools for that, but it’s a post-process that tries to recover red. I don’t use this setting at all because Lightroom is much better at recovering information with adjustable controls and tools like dehaze.

The camera still disappointed when my boyfriend took it to the reef, where the water wasn’t murky, but there was still that heavy haze and dark blue or green cast that made the photos look murkier than what he was seeing with his own eyes. Fortunately, when we got back to the rental apartment I was able to plug that SD card into my iPhone, fire up Lightroom, and adjust the photo to his recollection of the color. The settings could be easily copied and applied to the others.

Underwater photo of a reef heavily edited to try and bring back color next to the unedited version of the image from the camera.

However one thing I couldn’t fix was the slow shutter speed the camera picked. To get around the slow lens, and poor low-ISO performance of the sensor, the camera favors lower shutter speeds to let more light in over a longer interval. 1/80th of a second is, in my opinion, far too slow to use in dynamic underwater conditions where everything is moving, especially the camera. Here’s a shot from Jason where I was able to recover the color information, but I couldn’t do anything to fix the smeariness of the low shutter. And if you’re curious this is the noise you get at ISO 100

Underwater photograph of a fish in the center of frame, and a fish entering the screen right side of frame. Another version of the photo is next to it without corrections and it's basically all teal.

Take Me Down to Stingray City

Where the water is cerulean and the rays are pretty.

Underwater photo of a stingray in the foreground with its wings bent upward kicking up sand from the shallow water. Side-by-side of the unedited photo.

This is really where the camera shined, but it should have, because it was a shallow sandbar with clear water so there’s minimal loss of light. The shutter lag was still pretty bad, and the I have a lot of shots where the stingrays are breaking the edge of frame because I was trying to guess where the moving ray would be as I was taking a shot and pRaying for the best. You need to skate to where the puck is going.

Two stingrays moving away from camera in shallow water. Side by side with unedited photo.

Jason and friend petting stingrays to the screen left side of them in shallow water. Unedited photo next to it with the busted horizon line and some rando I painted out in the edited one.

Just like the trip to Hawai’i where I first used it, the best place to use the camera is still above water, and because we were in shallow water where none of us were submerged I could bring the camera up and take a shot, and then plunge the camera back under to get a shot of the rays. The color reproduction above water is markedly better than below. It’s punchy, but not unnatural, and it exposes well in strong sunlight conditions with plenty of midrange, but still preserving some sky detail, like sun rays.

A photo of a boat with a puffy cloud above it backlit by the sun. Sun rays stream above frame. Unedited photo with bad horizon line.

Then the camera died right before we headed back in.


I’ve had a few, but I don’t take back anything I said about the camera. It’s still not an ideal camera in even the best circumstances, but it’s better than nothing. I wouldn’t have taken an iPhone out to a reef, that’s for sure, and it kept me from spending several hundred dollars on something else.

I did, however, use it as kind of a “joke” when I wrote a post for Six Colors last month. In it, I advocated for going outside with old cameras and taking some photos. I put the Lumix into the mix to see how it would perform because it is the worst camera that uses SD cards and has working batteries that I have. It was unsurprisingly pretty bad! It was the smallest of the cameras, but thicker than the iPhone. The lens struggled with flaring, glare, and lack of contrast. It does give that lo-fi look that digicam shooters like, but there are inarguably better digicams to use on dry land.

There will always be a time and a place for using this camera, at least until I get a better one, but without any aquatic adventures, it’s a real fish out of water.

http://joe-steel.com/2023-04-11-What-We-Leave-Behind.html What We Leave Behind 2023-04-11T16:53:00Z 2023-04-11T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Photos are usually things we want to have a memory of. People, places, vibes. Artists in the field of photography will evoke emotions about subjects that might have very little to do with your own life. This is just a hobby for me though. I take photos to save something for later, or to show to friends and family, like almost everyone else does. However, on a trip I took in early February it was just as much about what I was photographing, as it was what I was photographing with - my stepfather’s cameras.

I mentioned it before, in my blog post about camera stuff, but my hobbyist interest in photography really has a lot to do with my stepfather, Ira. He passed away a little more than a year ago after many years of suffering from Alzheimers. A disease that robbed him of everything, including his love of photography. He used to go out every day with his Nikon D90 and shoot pictures at Ballast Point, or photos of a nesting osprey, until he couldn’t.

I went through his prolific, if disorganized, photo library. Copying them off of old laptops, looking through them for the ones to highlight his life, and his interests. There was just so much, and over such a long span of time.

There was also the task of sorting through his camera gear. He didn’t take great care of everything, but he held on to a lot of stuff. Through the photos, and the gear, I’d remember the conversations I’d have with him. He’d tell me about how Nikon was better than Canon, about how aperture priority was the only way to shoot, to never upload your photos to internet because anyone can steal them, and the patience to wait for a shot instead of just snapping and moving on, etc. He was very opinionated, and I’ve never uploaded his photos anywhere because he was so completely against that.

He was annoyed when the film lab in Tampa stopped processing and printing true black and white film in the early 2000s, and his prints all had a bluish or greenish tint to them. He loved black and white film photography, but he recognized it wasn’t practical in the mid 2000s. He didn’t get to experience film becoming trendy again and we couldn’t really have a conversation about it by then.

I still associate him with black and white film, even though he had far more color photos. Especially when he started shooting digitally and just could fire away without thinking about running out of a roll, or developing. No matter what he was shooting with, he was almost always shooting pictures of birds, squirrels, and any little critter he’d come across. Occasionally, when he travelled with my mom, he’d take photos of the places they were, but he was not really a portrait photographer. Much like I am not really a portrait photographer.

I have copies of all his photos on a drive, and so does my mom. When I was there in September she wanted to go through his equipment and we sorted and categorized what was there (and also put lens caps and cases on things that was loosely packed in a rattan basket).

The two film SLRs he had in his collection still were a Nikon N65, and a Nikon N80. In the retro-film-photography hobby neither of those are particularly desirable cameras compared to the other Nikons where people tend to prioritize the manual cameras of the late 70s and early 80s, or the very high-end F4, F5, F6. Even though I’ve been shooting with the Minolta X-700 that I added to my collection during the pandemic, I didn’t really have a need for two more film cameras, but they were Ira’s cameras.

They sat in some plastic bags for a few months at my home. They suffered from a common problem with that era of Nikon where the rubberized plastic starts to break down into glue so the whole thing needs to get wiped down with isopropyl alcohol and I just kept putting it off. They needed to be tested. I also wanted to have something kind of important to use them for. Then I had to find the right batteries and hope the electronics worked. I didn’t want to just take photos of my desk though, I wanted to go out and take some photos that were kind of an homage to him.

That meant seabirds.

Palm trees in silhouette with beach shoreline and sun behind.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.

Beach shoreline with two seagulls in silhouette. Sun glares off the wet sand.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.
Two long billed curlews walking on wet sand. One has it's beak in the sand looking for food.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.
Seagull on the beach with waves crashing behind.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.

I packed the Nikon N65 with two of Ira’s lenses: a Sigma 28-90mm F3.5-5.6 Macro and a Nikon 28-80mm F3.3-5.6. Loaded the N65 with Kodak T-Max 400, and the N80 with Tri-X 400. Then I packed my Sony a6400 with Sigma 18-55mm F2.8 DC DN (I bought that in November, so it wasn’t in my camera gear post) and Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS.

For some misguided reason, I only bought one roll of black and white film for each camera. I figured I wasn’t going to shoot through a lot on three cameras, right? Well, I had to stop shooting with the N65 immediately, because for some reason the Sigma lens wasn’t working. I didn’t realize this until I got home after the trip, but the Sigma lens has an aperture ring that needs to be on F22 to be used with the Nikons in aperture priority mode. So it just wouldn’t fire because I had bumped the aperture ring. I didn’t have a lot of time, or reception, to discover that during sunset, so I took photos with the N80 and Nikon lens. That was for the best, though, because when I did finish off that roll in the N65 I found out that there was something internally scratching all the film.

A photo of a flower, I think it's a tulip, fully bloomed with the stamen exposed. There is a white scratch line all along the top of the film.
Downtown Los Angeles. Nikon N65 showing scratched Kodak TMax 400 film.

Other than the (fortunate) lens snafu, the other regret was that I didn’t pack the Nikon 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G VR that Ira gave me for my Nikon D60 (and later D3200) because I thought the lens was too new, but it totally works in that weirdly forward-and-backward compatible way that only Nikon can accomplish. It was a lens he got for his D90 but didn’t like because it was too heavy (it is too heavy). Since my favorite bird shots were all with my longer 70-350mm Sony lens it would have been great to have. Next time.

Silhouette of palm trees with rays of the sun poking through the leaves. Sun light catches on the rocks and sand in the foreground.
Sony a6400 with 70-350mm lens.

Long billed curlew strutting on the sand.
Sony a6400 with 70-350mm lens.

On my most recent trip to Tampa, I went through and created a spreadsheet of where everything was, and what the specs were. It was surprisingly difficult to round up everything until my mom remembered that there was “a box of film” which had a ton of point and shoot cameras in it. I wasn’t able to sort through it all, because it’s decades of film and digital all sitting in a cardboard box. I also cataloged where the DSLRs were because in the span of seven months one of them had been misplaced.

I haven’t shot with any of those DSLRs yet, and there wasn’t room in the luggage for them this time, but at some point I will. I’m interested in the D70 he had, even though it’s 6.2 megapixels, and uses CF cards. He took some great shots in Italy with it. Even though my old Nikon D60 was more advanced in some respects, even though it was a beginner camera. The real missing link I want to try is the Nikon D80, which Ira never had. He went straight from the D70 to the D90.

It’s funny that there’s a retro interest in CCD sensor cameras now that film prices are going up. People claim CCDs look like slide film, and are more film-like than CMOS sensors. As if being like film was the goal of all photography. Ira wouldn’t have really thought that, while he was slow to adopt to new technology he never really took out any of his old stuff, or said that the old cameras shot better than his new ones. What he cared about were the photos he took, regardless of the gear.

There’s some magical thinking when it comes to taking photos. There’s a camera out there that’s the best, or a focal length that’s the best. Some sensor, celluloid, glass that will finally unlock an artist’s true potential. As much as I enjoy reading about it, and watching YouTube videos from people that think that way, I really know that the answer is I just want to shoot with all of it, even if none of the cameras are a perfect one-size-fits-all solution. They don’t have to be. Ira had a lifetime of photos and the early ones or the later ones aren’t any worse or better than the other. Even old digital, or consumer grade film cameras. Taking photos with my a6400 and the N80 side by side just gave me two different kinds of good photos. A weird compression of technological advancement during one sunset. The N80 isn’t magical but I do use it in a different way. Even though the a6400 has nothing to do with Ira, the N80 was like a totem to remind me of him.

When I go I’ll leave these photos and cameras behind too, and maybe my niece will do some retro photography with my a6400 because it captures whatever ineffable quality is missing in future A.R. goggle cams.

I would have loved to talk to Ira about what he thinks about all this.

http://joe-steel.com/2023-03-27-Take-a-Card-Any-Card.html Take a Card, Any Card 2023-03-27T22:23:00Z 2023-03-27T22:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ A photo of a Sony a6400 camera, and an Apple SD card reader, on top of one of those ugly rippled-glass patio tables.

On last week’s Accidental Tech Podcast Marco brought up why he tried the Ricoh GRIIIx and Fujifilm X100V on the most recent ATP. The problem that he was looking to solve was to have a nice, small camera, with good out-of-camera JPEGs, and to be able to share photos quickly. Marco’s camera picks are both solid. Most of the conversation was about how awful it is to share the photos from the Ricoh GRIIIx and Fujifilm X100V using apps, which John and Casey also had things to say about because the Olympus and Sony apps are garbage too.

Getting stuff off of cameras is a big pain, it’s true. None of the proposed solutions are really viable — shoving cell radios in there, or putting the onus on Apple to design some special wireless syncing system. I absolutely would not trust any of the manufacturers to design a competent app system anyway.

The pragmatic solution is the Lighting to SD Card Camera Reader. Which, hopefully, will be made obsolete by a more flexible SD to USB-C adapter. The thing is small, merely a little larger than an SD card, and with an itty bitty flexible cable. It can be shoved in any pocket you have, or any camera case. It’s indispensable for using with my cameras. You can simply import to the Camera Roll, and it has a very easy to use import interface, or you can import directly into Lightroom CC if you’re like me. You can bring in everything or just one photo. Whatever you want. No WiFi or Bluetooth issue. No troubleshooting the NFC garbage that is supposed to make connections easier. The physical thing goes in the physical thing and that’s all there is to it.

No one will ever design a software solution to do this easier or faster. In fact it’s so easy, that if I’m on a trip (I am on a trip right now), I’ll still use the SD to Lightning adapter to upload the photos with my iPhone, rather than my laptop, because it’s ultimately easier to manage there if I want to send the file elsewhere (rather than uploading it to my Mac, then exporting to my Camera Roll and waiting for my Camera Roll to sync the photo in iCloud Photo Library on hotel WiFi.)

It’s also great if you want to use old cameras. One thing that Marco, John, and Casey didn’t touch on is that there is a trend to take photos with old digital cameras (affectionately digicams) among old people digging these out of closets, or Gen Z kids digging them out of their (gasp) parent’s closets. Much in the same way that millennials have glommed on to film photography. The technology of the past comes back into style as retro. Imperfections and flaws are embraced as appealing. Many of those old cameras have SD cards for media storage and they still pop into that adapter just fine.

In the grand scheme of things, the adapter is easy, and it deals with a ubiquitous media format. Nothing will ever be as instantaneous as sharing a photo you took with your smartphone, but that’s fine, you can always take a photo with that too. There are no laws about camera process purity. Mix and match to your heart’s content.

http://joe-steel.com/2022-10-21-With-or-Without-WiFi-and-Ethernet.html With or Without Wi-Fi and Ethernet 2022-10-21T20:23:00Z 2022-10-21T20:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Apple announced two new Apple TV models today that are sourced from only the finest parts bins. Hewn from a list of things that can be removed from the previous models for a modest discount. Chiseled from a single block of text about there being no reason to buy the 128 GB version before. Only Apple could name one the Apple TV 4K (“Hey honey, don’t we have one of those? Wait, there are three of them?”) and the “Apple TV 4K with Wi-Fi and Ethernet” a product name befitting an Amazon retailer that uses only consonants.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number One

I, and many, many, many, many, many other people have written for years about how the Apple TV product line is too expensive. Long ago, the 3rd generation Apple TV, that didn’t run apps, and was super old, got marked down to $69. It stuck around way longer than it should have, but it let Apple say that Apple TV started at $69. A price they won’t get near again.

Competitors have been able to undercut Apple in standalone devices, and HDMI sticks/dongles for long time. All with comparable feature sets. TV manufacturers were eager to cut out the need for external equipment with apps.

Apple embraced those trends by making Apple TV apps for those other platforms rather than trying to engineer an approachable Apple hardware solution for price conscious consumers.

The justification seemed to be that Apple was offering a premium experience, with premium hardware, at a premium price. Unfortunately, the Apple TV is just a nice experience, not a premium one when it comes to using the device, so fancy materials, sensors, etc. don’t make a premium experience any more than silverware at your table instead of stainless steel flatware.

Fire TV and Roku junk up their interfaces with ads, but Apple also junks up their interface with ads for Apple TV+, Apple Music, and Apple Arcade. If you don’t subscribe to any of those Apple will periodically nudge you in a way that is not at all premium. Are the ads in an Amazon Fire Stick $75-$80 worse than the ads in the Apple TV? The TV app, the way Apple thinks it’s easiest for people to get to their shows, currently loads up on the TV+ tab (which I’m not subscribed to) and then when I go over to Watch Now I get a thin strip of “Up Next” items, three “What to Watch” titles that aren’t from Apple TV+, and then screen after screen of TV+. Tacky and it’s not like it’s knocking anything off the cost of the entry-level hardware.

The apps that serve your streaming content serve the same ads regardless of platform so there’s no luxury experience there either. You can cut that steak with silver or steel it’s not going to make it taste any different.

Much like the Apple TV 3rd generation, Apple discounted the Apple TV HD (4th generation) originally introduced in 2015 and fed it a steady diet of poorly designed but expensive remotes. The lowest it ever got was $149 before it was discontinued in 2022. Not a very enticing proposition! It never made it below $100. Even a refurbished Apple TV 4K 64 GB 2nd Generation is $109.

Our wish for a cheaper Apple TV 4K was granted by taking the previous one and de-contenting it (a term usually used in the car industry to describe removing stuff that was in a previous generation of a car) except for the processor. The way I had suggested going about that in previous posts was to pare down the remote and offer a model that had no hint of it being a potential gaming platform. Make a device truly focused on media steaming only. Instead it no longer has ethernet support, and it no longer has a Thread radio.

Well at least cutting those costs got the device below $100, right? Right?

padme meme

In my mind the removal of Thread works against what Apple should ultimately want to have happen in the home. If these devices are supposed to be components in our Matter-filled future, then why introduce an asterisk to the Apple TV 4K family by having one model that doesn’t work with Thread? Sure, it’ll work with Matter through WiFi and BlueTooth, but is that the experience that Apple wants people to have over the next two, three, four years? Wouldn’t it help Apple’s brand beyond TV boxes if they were the de facto backbone of the home? When I criticize a move like this it’s not because the market is flooded with Thread today, it’s because this product will last in homes for a long time. Even if it gets replaced by a new Apple TV in that particular living room in two years, it’ll be demoted to another TV in the home, one that is likely to be more on the periphery, and more likely to help with a robust mesh network.

Ethernet seems perfectly acceptable to remove from an entry level model. Many competing streaming devices don’t ship with ethernet ports, and offer ethernet adapters. High-end TV sets that ship with Ethernet will also ship with bad ethernet. John Siracusa recently got the highest end TV that Sony makes and it doesn’t have a gigabit ethernet port. As long as that is still on a high end model then I feel like it’s A-OK.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number Two

The second wish was for Apple to articulate some reason why there was a 128 GB version of the Apple TV 4K — beyond the flimsy rationale that the 128 GB version was for people that play “a lot” of games.

Instead of doing something serious with games that would take advantage of that local storage, they’re shifting to relying on home networking being a distinguishing feature of the device, and as mentioned above, it’s not the addition of home networking features, or better networking hardware than the previous generation, it’s because it’s now the only one with those home networking features.

This, by default, makes the 128 GB version a better buy than the 64 GB model. Something that could never be said about the higher-tier of storage in previous models! Seems pretty weird that $20 gets you a Thread radio, a gigabit ethernet port, and twice the storage!

If Apple was still manufacturing a 64 GB model with identical features then the decision would be simple: You would get that one. How much would that even be, $139? How much does a radio and a port cost, if you don’t get the storage? $10?

This also means we get the ungainly name “Apple TV 4K with Wi-Fi and Ethernet” because that’s the difference, ethernet, and we still need to tell people it has Wi-Fi so they don’t get confused, even though we don’t call the 64 GB one, “Apple TV 4K with Wi-Fi” because that would be silly.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number Three

When I used the Siri Remote for the Apple TV 4K second generation it was immediately apparent that it was better than the very, very bad glass remote, and that it was still not a good remote.

The directional pad was a huge improvement, as expected, but the jog-wheel scrubbing through the video still doesn’t work in most apps I use. Accidental swipes across the pad still happen, and play/pause gets pushed instead of mute, and vice versa, because we have to have perfect little circles for those. The button for Siri is still awkwardly positioned on the side. It’s still made of metal that is very easy to dent or scratch, something my boyfriend has done many times when he’s dropped it! So much room to iterate and refine.

Wish granted: They improved the remote!

The remote is exactly the same but with USB-C instead of a lightning port.

Take the next two or three years off. Good work.

It shouldn’t be surprising, because the last time they refreshed the remote, they just put a white circle around the edge of a button. Seems like the R&D budget of this enormous company can only afford to do design work on a remote once every five years.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number Four

A criticism that was leveled before was a lack of HDR10+ support, and that’s not really a major concern for most people. This was low on the list, but again, because of how Apple chose to price this device, it’s worth bringing up. If you’re marketing the most expensive media streaming box, then it should stream all the media the best it can. The quick summary of HDR10+ support is that it’s Samsung’s HDR standard so they don’t have to pay Dolby for DolbyVision. It’s HD-DVD vs. BluRay all over again, but there’s no “winner” here.

Samsung is really the only TV manufacturer that offers HDR10+ and no DolbyVision support. Most offer either just DolbyVision, or HDR10+ and DolbyVision. They all support HDR10, which is a more limited HDR format. HDR10+ and DolbyVision both work by sending dynamic metadata along to adjust the media file.

The thing is that Samsung sells a lot of TV sets all over the world. It’s not a niche player in this space.

People with a Samsung TV using an Apple TV 4K 2nd gen would still see HDR content in HDR10, and probably don’t know the difference because people are bad at judging that sort of thing. It’s not like it looks like SDR content.

HDR10+ support was allegedly confirmed, and supposed to pop-up in tvOS 16 this summer. It never happened. Mentions were scrubbed, some sites like 9to5 Mac still reported it shipped, etc. Then HDR10+ support shows up in the press release for the new generation of Apple TV 4K hardware.

This is extremely strange because it’s not like we need the horsepower of the A14 chip to handle metadata from HDR10+ in a way that’s unique compare to the A12 handling DolbyVision. This seems like a software difference masquerading as a hardware one, unless there’s some board component iFixIt discovers that does something very specific.

Apple’s storefront for TV and Movies still doesn’t tag any titles as being mastered with HDR10+ support, just DolbyVision. That makes me wonder when the device ships, with what is sure to be tvOS 16.1, that tvOS 16.1 might have HDR10+ support for older devices once the new Apple TV is on the market. It wouldn’t be the first time Apple withheld something from older models just to market something new.

Ultimately, without knowing how much content in Apple’s store is mastered for HDR10+, and without knowing which streaming services will adopt HDR10+, the value of the feature is debatable as anything other than finally checking that checkbox for device support.

All Out of Fingers

I wish the Apple TV was the product to recommend to anyone and everyone that wants a smart TV experience, or an easy-to-use smart home appliance. Hopefully that wish doesn’t make me Burgess Meredith.

While it might be the preferred TV hardware and software experience for some, and certainly something I use daily, it’s far from perfect, or even widely adopted. The changes that they’ve made are better than leaving things as-is, but now these are the changes that will be left as-is for a couple years.

Every time I write something critical like this five people show up in my mentions to tell me that they would rather use the Apple TV than anything else Amazon, Roku, Samsung, or LG makes, but those five people never seem to understand that their personal preference has never really been representative of the market. We may be lucky that Apple hasn’t decided to abandon Apple TV hardware and settle on making an Apple TV app to house their Apple TV+ wares on lesser platforms, but they’re still not setting the Apple TV up for success.

It’s not really of any consequence to Apple if it thrives or not so why put in the work? I’m sure that’s an argument that’s been made inside Apple’s offices more than once. I think it matters quite a bit, and I certainly don’t want it to die, so it needs more effort.

It isn’t inexpensive. It isn’t premium. It doesn’t have the best remote. These changes and prices will be this way for two more years.

I wish they could really put their best effort into it.

http://joe-steel.com/2021-08-11-The-Camera-Bag-Post.html The Camera Bag Post 2021-08-11T22:53:00Z 2021-08-11T22:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

At some point a blog will inevitably have a post about why some stuff was purchased, and what stuff was purchased to hold that other stuff.

Recently, the podcast Reconcilable Differences (Merlin Mann and John Siracusa) had a few episodes about camera equipment for John’s vacation. Jason Kummerfeldt posted a YouTube video outlining what he’s lugging around in his camera bag, and the kind of bag it is. Way back in February, the inventor of the Aeropress, Alan Adler, wrote up all his camera gear for PetaPixel too.

I’ve broken down the stuff I generally carry into sections, and I ordered items in these sections based on their overall usefulness, or utility in a wide range of circumstances, from most generally useful to least. If I’m going somewhere for a while, then I take as much of this stuff as possible. If I’m doing something specific, then I’m just going to take what’s most appropriate to the situation regardless of how it’s ordered here. However, assuming I can travel somewhere with a “home base” I will bring everything and then take a smaller subset out with me for the day.

The Cameras


In 2019 I was shopping for a replacement for my Nikon D3200. We were going to go on a big trip, and my D3200 wasn’t what I wanted to bring. To say that the direction Nikon was heading in at the time was uninspiring would be putting it mildly. Anything I was going to buy would mean starting over again on all my lenses because the Nikon DX lenses were a dead end.

I rented a Fujifilm X-T30 from Lens Rentals to take to Hawaii for a week. I was underwhelmed by how slow, and inaccurate it’s autofocus was, as well as how buggy their iOS app was. It’s supposedly been improved through firmware updates since then, but I haven’t tried it.

This led me to the Sony a6400, partially on John Siracusa’s recommendation. The a6400 was new at the time, and boasted better features than the a6500, except it lacked in-body image stabilization (the a6600 would have stabilization but it was still several months away from coming out). The choice to bundle the camera body with the 18-135mm lens meant I would have all my bases covered for my trip. They’re a great combination, and I would say it’s also a good deal. While the X-T30 had poor autofocus performance, and a bad iOS app, the a6400 had great autofocus performance, and a bad iOS app. You can’t have it all.

I wanted a small setup, which means APS-C mirrorless. Not just because the camera body is smaller, but because APS-C lenses are smaller since they don’t have to cover a larger sensor. I happen to like the rangefinder-style electronic viewfinder that Sony uses on their a6xxx line, but I know people like the bulkier pseudo-prism style viewfinders. I might have gone for the Sony a7C, if that had been around in 2019, but it has some compromises that I’m not entirely sure I would be happy with.

I’m not going to get into the details of APS-C vs. full frame here. The only thing you really need to know is that if you’re familiar with full frame lenses, then multiply the APS-C focal length by 1.5 to get an idea of what kind of focal length you would use on a full frame camera for a similar image.

It’s possible to have a bigger, better camera, but there are trade-offs for that. I’m a hobbyist photographer that takes hobbyist photos mainly when I’m traveling, so I’d rather optimize for portability, and expense over maximum resolution or bokeh.

Minolta X-700

I watched too many YouTube videos on film photography during the pandemic and mistakenly decided to see what the fuss was about. I settled on something relatively inexpensive for both the camera body, and lenses, and that was the Minolta X-700. I had also wanted to have something without autofocus to try to train myself, or be one with the camera, or some shit, but it’s unlikely you’ll see me take this camera out of my camera bag first. If there’s a landscape, or just some street stuff, I’ll take this out for some shots, but the a6400 is still my preferred tool.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25

This is a piece of shit. My boyfriend and I bought this waterproof camera to use when we were going to snorkel with the manta rays off the coast of Hawaii. Since we were not spending a lot of money, the bar was low. The camera still managed to come in under that bar. That is not to say that it is impossible to take a good photo with the camera, but you’re unlikely to do so in an underwater environment, which is the only reason we bought this. It can take short video clips underwater and you may have more success using a smeary still from that than anything where you were trying to artfully push the shutter button. This gets thrown in the backpack only if we’re expecting to go snorkeling somewhere, like we did recently. Otherwise this is an omit.


Sony E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6

This is a kit lens, but it’s my favorite all-purpose lens. It’s also a significantly different lens than the older 16-50mm bundled with the other Sony APS-C bodies for years. This lens is essential to pack in any configuration of camera gear, and I would never leave it behind for other primes, or my other zoom. You’ll never get beautiful bokeh and shallow depth of field with this, but because of the a6400’s incredible low-light sensitivity you can still use this lens in a dark setting without having to hold steady for long exposures.

There is significant barrel distortion at 18mm, which is the most disappointing part of the lens. When that distortion is corrected you lose some of the image. This makes me wish it was wider on the wide end, and maybe not as long. Another consequence of having a zoom that covers this range is that it’s not well-balanced with the a6400. If you let your camera hang from your neck on the strap, the lens will flop down like a flaccid… banana.

I very rarely use the lens at 135mm, with an almost exponential drop-off from 18mm to 135mm. The 135mm does come in handy though when something unexpected pops up while you’re shooting, like a bird, or other wildlife. It’s not as desirable as my longer zoom for wildlife, but life doesn’t usually wait around for you to change lenses.

135mm f/5.6 iso 4,000 1/250

29mm f/4.5 iso 1,000 1/2,000
23mm f/10 iso 200 1/60
18mm f/3.5 iso 6,400 1/25
41mm f/5 iso 640 1/30, 1/8 Black Pro-Mist filter
83mm f/5.6 iso 250 1/800
26mm f/5 iso 100 1/800
135mm f/5.6 iso 6,400 1/100

Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F2.0 ED AS IF NCS

I love this little lens for how wide it is, and how inexpensive it is. It’s also relatively easy to manually focus. The downsides are from the lack of electronic connections to the camera. There are no automatic lens corrections, to take care of vignetting or distortion, and there’s no recorded metadata for the aperture. It would be helpful when I’m reviewing photos later to have that information, but it’s not a dealbreaker. It costs nothing to shoot a lower aperture shot, and then quickly stop up and take the same shot again, just in case your focus was slightly off. There’s nothing wrong with having everything in focus in a landscape shot, and this is terrific for landscapes. Unlike the 18-135mm, this thing is itty-bitty.

12mm maybe f/8 iso 100 1/4,000

12mm maybe f/11 iso 320 1/160
12mm maybe f/11 iso 1,000 1/640

Sony E 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS

This is an outstanding lens for its size. Because it’s for APS-C it’s smaller than a zoom lens that covered a comparable focal range on a full frame camera. Having said that … it’s still enormous. It’s not a walking-around lens. You put this lens on when you’re taking photos of something specific, like some birds, or the moon, and then you swap back to something else.

Another benefit of a APS-C sensor on a long lens, is that it’s actually even longer than you think it is. 350mm is equivalent to what you would get with a 525mm lens on a full frame camera.

The best use of this camera during the day time is when you see birds around. Switch to this lens and you’ll get sharp, crisp shots of birds, thanks to the autofocus performance of the lens and camera combination. No one wants to see an out-of-focus bird eyeball. It’s so sad.

350mm f/6.3 iso 100 1/1,000
350mm f/6.3 iso 100 1/500
350mm f/11 iso 100 0.6

Minolta 28mm F2.8 MD

This was not the first lens I paired with the Minolta X-700, but after I tried the 50mm F1.7, I realized that I really prefer to shoot wider, even though this is slower than the 50mm. Adapted for my a6400, this is approximately a 42mm lens, which is tighter than what I would prefer to shoot in most scenarios, but good for certain kinds of closeups. The trade-off of swapping this, and the adapter, and all that means it just stays on my X-700. Another consequence of film photography is that I don’t have any developed photos from this lens yet.

Minolta 50mm F1.7 MD

This was the first lens with the X-700 and it’s fallen out of favor. If I’m paring down lenses for a trip I will leave this one home. There’s nothing really wrong with it — from the perspective of a 30+ year-old consumer-grade photography lens — but I just always wish that I was able to shoot just a little bit wider.

50mm maybe f/2.8 Kodak Gold 200

50mm maybe f/5.6 Kodak Ektachrome 100

Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS

When I got the a6400 with the 18-135mm, I also bought a Sony 35mm F1.8 prime to replace my Nikon 35mm F1.8 AF-S DX Nikkor. The Sony APS-C prime is one of Sony’s older lens designs, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for its optical performance. This is lightweight, but the lens coatings are awful. If you’re shooting at night you’ll get ghosting, and flaring all over the place. I’m shopping for a replacement for this and I haven’t found anything satisfactory yet.

I was hoping to replace the 35mm with a Rokinon 24mm F2.8 AF lens, especially since I liked the Rokinon 12mm so much. Sadly, that lens has terrible autofocus performance, and the sound of the autofocus motor working is very distracting.

35mm f/2.5 iso 100 1/30

The Bags

Unknown Lowepro Shoulder Bag

It is … It is blue? I don’t know. It doesn’t have a model number on it, and Lowepro no longer makes exactly this one, but they do make 4,000 other nearly-identical, ugly bags.

I started my photography hobby with a Nikon D60, then a Nikon D3200. I use none of the stuff from that time period except for this unremarkable shoulder bag with two movable compartments inside. If I leave the 18-135mm attached to my camera, and drop that in the middle, I can put the 70-350mm in one side, and either the 35mm or 12mm lenses in the opposite side, sort of next to the camera, and underneath it’s grip. I wouldn’t want to throw the bag, or drop it on to anything other than a feather pillow, but the padding helps make sure the lenses aren’t hitting each other or bumping into anything while I’m walking, and being able to carry 3 lenses in a shoulder bag the size of my old school lunch box means that this provides me with a lot of flexibility in a small volume.

There’s also a zippered compartment for lens wipes, filters, adapters, and chargers which is sufficient for any essential accessories to come along with you.

I believe that no matter what other camera bags a person has, they need to have something minimal like this in order to hold all their stuff. Even when I’m bringing my camera backpack, I’ll likely pack this empty shoulder bag in my checked luggage so I can reconfigure for any quick trips during a vacation.

Lowepro Truckee BP 250 Camera Backpack

When I bought the a6400 in 2019, I was also looking to replace the backpack I had with something that wasn’t as bulky, or as “technical” looking as my existing one. The old one had real nerdy-prepper vibes. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the backpacks that looked like hipster schoolbags, because those need a separate foam, cube inside to store the gear. That cube makes the backpack bulky, and the foam cube would always be burried underneath everything else making getting the camera, or swapping lenses, disruptive.

A lot of the camera-gear backpacks were also very focused exclusively on the camera gear, and not so much on the backpack part. The only one I could find online that seemed to have the appropriate amount of bulk, access, and non-camera space was a backpack Lowepro makes exclusively for Best Buy. That this was a Best Buy exclusive was a huge red flag, but it also meant I could go into a Best Buy and actually check the thing out. I’m glad I did because it suits my needs perfectly.

As for the styling: It’s mostly dark gray with some black bits, and a crappy, orange Lowepro logo embroidered on it. It does have a few more buckles and straps than I would like, but I consider it aesthetically acceptable.

Everyone’s needs vary, but this has a compartment where I can fit my a6400, all of my lenses, and a top part where I can fit cables, chargers, a scrunched-up hat, and a laptop or iPad. I can also put my film camera (which I am far less precious about) in the top compartment, or take fewer lenses with me and put it in the purpose-made camera compartment. There’s a sliver of a zipper pouch on top that is lined with a soft material. I assume that’s intended for filters but I would never do that because there’s no padding there, just fabric lining. That means I leave the filters in their plastic cases, and put them in the top/main compartment instead of that skinny zippered pouch. I use that to store my Mophie battery pack.

The sides of the bag have two mesh bottle holders, which are great for hikes, or being a tourist in Europe. The camera compartment zipper has a little plastic bar that fits through a loop on the other zipper to prevent any unintentional unzips.

Of course, because I didn’t want a bulky backpack, it isn’t heavily armored. This isn’t something I’ve ever wanted to drop, but when I fell about 8 feet on a hiking trail at Yosemite and skidded down the icy trail all of my stuff was very protected. I’m scarred forever, but the replaceable items in my bag are unblemished.

I heartily endorse the backpack, despite it’s Best Buy exclusivity, if anyone is in the market for a not-too-big, little-bit-of-everything backpack.


Sony BC-TRW W Series Battery Charger

Manufacturers just don’t ship chargers with their cameras any longer. I don’t want to leave my camera, with it’s way-too-small cable, lightly tethered to a poorly positioned wall outlet in a hotel. I don’t even want to do it in my own home. The wall charger is absolutely required.

Zeiss Lens Wipes

You can buy a big box of these on Amazon. Each wipe is individually wrapped like a wet wipe. I always keep a few packs in my shoulder bag and in my backpack. They’re useful for everything from your lenses and filters, to the display on your camera, or iPhone — and your sunglasses too. It’s not a camera cleaning kit (which I also have) but this is good for when you’re out and about.

Peak Design SL-BK-3 Slide Camera Strap

I use this camera strap on my Minolta since it came without one (and who would want a used camera strap? Yuck!) Peak Design has this whole system of little circle tabs that attach to cameras and allow you to quickly swap the camera attached to the strap. The plan was to put those tabs on the a6400 and be able to do that, but I’m honestly too lazy so I just have the ugly Sony Alpha camera strap that came with the camera on it still.

Tiffen 55BPM18 55mm Black Pro-Mist 1/8 Filter

I originally bought the 1/4 filter, but that’s a little too much Black Pro-Mist for my taste. The effect that the filter provides is a soft diffusion. At 1/8 it’s not too Barbara-Walters. It’s just going to break up some of the crispness. I like to use this in high contrast situations like night time street photography. Particularly if there are neon lights. It’ll just give everything a little atmosphere.

Hoya 55mm Circular Polarizer

This is great for controlling the sky, and reflections. It does cut down on the light, and can be a little too fiddly to use for every shot, so I don’t always have it on.

Tiffen 49-55mm Step Up Ring

The 35mm Sony lens has a 49mm filter thread, as does the Minolta 28mm MD lens. This lets me adapt all my lens filters for those smaller lenses.

Tiffen 55mm 4 Point Star Filter

This is a cheeseball filter, and I have never used it to photograph anything in the real world, but some day I’ll need this and I’ll have it with me. I don’t know when that day will be, but at least this is pretty lightweight.

Assorted Film

I don’t have a particular film stock I shoot with, so I just rotate through whatever I have with me. It could be Kodak Portra 400, Kodak ColorPlus 200, Kodak Gold 200, Kodak Ultramax 400, or Lomography Color Negative 400. I used up my only roll of Kodak Ektachrome 100 and it taught me a valuable lesson about how much of a pain in the ass slide film is.

Lightning SD Card Adapter

I don’t like this little thing, but I use it on every trip. It’s better than trying to use Sony’s Imaging Edge Mobile app to try and import photos. Unfortunately, the best use case is to also have my iPad with me, because then I can upload the files directly to Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom for iOS doesn’t let you do that, so you have to take up space on your Camera Roll with unedited RAW photos — which is not something I like, because when you export from Lightroom to your camera roll you have several nearly identical pictures.

Mophie Powerstation (10,000mAh)

This is an older model that’s no longer for sale, but it works fine. USB-C or USB-A. I carry the required USB-A to Lightning cable for my phone and a USB-A to Micro USB for the Sony a6400. Even though it was 2019 when I bought that brand-new camera, Sony didn’t believe in USB-C. This is a charger of last resort, but it does make me feel more prepared.

Neweer MD-NEX Adapter

This is a piece of metal that adapts the Minolta MD lenses to the Sony E-Mount. I haven’t found a lot of scenarios in the wild where I want to shoot with the adapted lenses, but it’s just a little piece of metal so it’s fine to leave in the backpack. This never goes with me in the shoulder bag.

Energizer 357BPZ Batteries

At some unknowable point in the future the battery on the film camera will die, so I have these.


JOBY GorillaPod SLR Zoom

I like this lil’ scamp. It can’t take the weight of my 70-350mm without eventually drooping, but it’s the best tripod for when you don’t want to take a tripod with you. I usually leave it with my luggage, or in the car, unless I know I’m going to be shooting something at night where I need the camera to be steady. I don’t shoot video so this isn’t needed for anything else.

Quantaray Titan II QT II-550

This was a hand-me-down from my stepfather. He’s responsible for getting me into photography. Whenever he found a lighter-weight piece of camera gear I would get the heavier one he had before. There’s nothing wrong with the Titan II, and it’s really not all that heavy, but I only take it with me if there’s going to be road trip and there might be some night photography. I really have to have a plan for when I will use this instead of having it for just-in-case. It’s really useful for when I’m taking photos of the moon with the 70-350mm.

What I Want

The Sony 35mm F1.8 has to go, and I need to replace it with something fast, wide-to-normal, small, and with quiet autofocus. That’s not because I need to sneak up on people, but because I personally don’t like listening to an autofocus motor making wheezing cricket sounds, and I want to be able to have a lens that’s more compact than my 18-135mm. The Sigma 16mm F1.4 was briefly considered, and rejected, because it’s not all that small or quiet. Rokinon (Samyang) makes a 24mm F1.8 AF lens that’s supposed to be their new, “good” version of autofocus, but I’m a little hesitant after the 24mm F2.8 AF lens.

I’ve also been musing about the new Tamron 11-20mm F2.8 Di III-A RXD as an additional lens, or to replace the Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F2 and Sony 35mm F1.8. It’s not as fast as either of the other lenses, but it would still have advantages over carrying the pair of those. The Sony E 16-55mm F2.8 G also interests me, but it’s prohibitively expensive, and not as wide as I would like it to be. Sure, either of these lenses would leave me with a set of zooms, but maybe what would really make me happy is a set of zooms?

Suggestions and recommendations are welcome if you have any first-hand experience with what you’re recommending to me, and it’s not just some theoretical preference based on your first-principles reckonings.

http://joe-steel.com/2021-05-24-Once-More-With-Feeling.html Once More, With Feeling 2021-05-24T20:23:00Z 2021-05-24T20:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Five and a half years have elapsed between setting up the fourth generation Apple TV (now referred to as the Apple TV HD) and the sixth generation Apple TV (referred to as the Apple TV 4K, even though that was the name of the fifth generation). A lot has happened to the tvOS platform to shore up software shortcomings, and the fifth generation Apple TV 4K addressed UHD and HDR output (with some necessary software tweaks afterward for SDR playback). The biggest issue that’s impaired the last two generations of hardware was the television remote control designed by people from another planet that never used a television remote control, or had the devices explained to them. That’s mostly been addressed.

The following critique may seem harsh, but it’s honest, and it’s framed in the context of the Apple TV’s history, and the price relative to competition. There are also things I simply can’t test, like HomePod integration, Thread, Fitness+, Apple Arcade, Dolby Atmos, or other features that require hardware, or services, I’m not in possession of or subscribed to. This is a review for people that want to watch TV on their Apple TV.

Buying an Apple TV

If you buy online, through the Apple Store app, the app will suggest buying a $29.99 Belkin HDMI cable. The Apple Store employee that helped me pick up my online order also asked if I needed to buy a HDMI cable. I told him it wasn’t necessary because I have this situation under control, but it was nice of him to think about it, just like it was nice of the app to recommend a cable. It was less nice that Apple continues to overlook the importance of bundling a compatible HDMI cable with their product.

It is very likely that someone would eschew buying a $30 cable because they have an HDMI cable, but that’s no guarantee that HDMI cable they have is one that they should use to connect their Apple TV 4K to their 4K UHD HDR TV. At $149 for the Apple TV HD that’s been sold since 2015, or $179 for the entry-level Apple TV 4K, it really is something they should consider including in the box. This is not omitted to reduce e-waste, because Apple still includes a lighting to USB-A cable in the Apple TV box. Quite frankly, that is the cable that should be omitted if anyone cared about unnecessary waste.

The Apple Store employee that was handling my online order pick-up also told me about how he had just bought a new Apple TV 4K and said that they’re great with his pair of HomePods. He asked me if I had any HomePods. “No,” I said. “Weren’t those just discontinued?” He said I should still buy a pair of them, the “full size” ones. Despite his endorsement I didn’t really want to spend over $600 on discontinued speakers.

Set Up

I was able to easily replace my existing Apple TV with the new one in the living room. Unfortunately, when it boots up for the first time, it doesn’t turn on the TV with HDMI CEC, the protocol for controlling connected devices over HDMI. You just get the white LED light. I turned on the TV, changed inputs, and I was greeted to the usual Apple TV welcome message in a variety of languages. Unfortunately it started the message in languages I was unfamilar with so I just intuited that it was probably safe to hit the center navigation button with a solid click. In English, it asked about the usual language and region options. It asked if I wanted to use 950 MB of local storage for pretty screensavers, and I said, “Yes, what else would I use this nearly empty device for?” The Apple TV didn’t reply.

It asked if I wanted to use an iPhone to set up my Apple TV, or set it up manually as a new device. I wasn’t born yesterday, so I used my iPhone to shortcut the setup process. Privacy settings were copied, with the chance to amend them, and there was an option to keep all my Apple TV home screens in sync - a welcome option now that I was going to have to two devices in my home.

During the setup process, I was asked if I wanted to download the default app for the service provider that I had in my Single Sign-On options from my previous Apple TV. Strangely, the Apple TV didn’t know that I already had that app installed, and that this was a redundant question. I’m curious how that made it out of quality assurance testing.

I was also asked if I wanted to use my password after each purchase, after every 15 minutes from a purchase, or never. There was no option to carry over my existing setting.

The Home screen appeared, but unfortunately it looked like the default Apple TV Home screen and my heart sank. A moment later it blinked out, and looked like Home screen of my existing Apple TV, but with any third party icons grayed-out. They started downloading and finished not long after.

This was a little deceptive. I had all these apps, and they were arranged as they were on my prior Apple TV, but these apps were all completely blank slates. It was as if I had downloaded each one of them for the very first time. The email addresses I had used for logins on my previous Apple TV weren’t copied over either, so every login prompt expected me to use the email address associated with my Apple ID, which is not helpful, because the same email wasn’t used across all of these services. Also, this means any future logins, logouts, or password changes aren’t synchronized and need to be performed separately, manually, on each device.

Not every company uses the same login mechanisms still, and not all of them are from in app purchase subscriptions so you can’t rely on “restore purchases”.

Just as a brief aside, it is archaic that customers are presented with a screen where they can “restore purchases”. Shouldn’t Apple’s software, in the year 2021, check to see if I have purchased a subscription to something without me having to push a button, and ask the software to check if I’m qualified for things I pay for? Don’t you know? Aren’t you God?

Isn’t the whole purpose of the exorbitant cut of money that Apple takes from companies, and from customers, to facilitate all these niceties without having to resort to a, “Hey, maybe this is actually paid for” button?

There’s also slightly less of a chance that your login information is stored with the Apple Store, because companies like Netflix left the Apple Store subscription system because of the cut Apple takes, and services like Amazon were never in it. Seems like there are some negative side effects of the Apple App Store, and that the Apple’s subscription cut can actually make it more of a pain in the ass for everyone than it needs to be.

Amazon does have a handy QR code that opens the Amazon Prime Video app on your iPhone and does a little handshake to authorize.

The YouTube mobile device authorization didn’t work, despite my devices being on the same wifi network. They don’t charge anything for that login so it’s a shame that I can’t “restore” a non-purchase.

One app is something my boyfriend pays for and he had to log into that service while I was washing some dishes. He used the new Siri Remote to do it and the verdict was, “This is terrible.” Even though we brought back the idea of four, clickable directions on the remote, the Apple TV on-screen keyboard is still an alphabetical string of characters in a single row. Just to ensure any text entry can be as needlessly painful as it can possibly be. They really should go back to the grid of letters to shorten traversing the entire alphabet.

(Update: There is an option to override the linear on-screen keyboard and force the Apple TV to present the grid keyboard that it shows for non-Siri-Remotes. That override is not in the “Remotes and Devices” settings, it’s under “General” -> “Keyboard”. That’s not where that setting should be, features of the remote should be with the remote settings, and the default of linear is incorrect for this particular remote, and arguably the original Siri Remote. Credit to Twitter user @ApplWatcher for pointing out where this setting was.)

The iPhone showing a keyboard prompt is worlds better than it was in 2015, but there are still situations where you weigh putting down the Siri Remote and picking up the iPhone and whether or not that remote juggling is worth it. Of course, this would be even less necessary if people weren’t ever typing in email addresses and alphanumeric passwords.

There is still this logical disconnect in this process where I have authorized the Apple TV to log into my Apple ID, and access my iCloud data, including data from my existing devices, and iCloud KeyChain, but it can’t set up an Apple TV with all my apps and services logged in. I know someone might insist that this is for security, but it absolutely isn’t because all this data exists, in iCloud, accessible to anyone who has my unlocked iPhone and Apple TV - which is what is required to just populate empty apps on the screen.

My login state for these other services should really be stored in iCloud across all Apple devices I own, or with a token authorization system that uses the iPhone in my hand. At the very least, aggregate all of the services I need to log into in one spot for me to do it with Face ID, or Touch ID, opening up the saved password data for each of the entries I need to make.

The most expensive streaming box you can buy, from a company that boasts about its connected ecosystem, and easy-to-use privacy features really does deserve this extra level of scrutiny. It’s not too harsh to ask why I have to do things on this $179 box that I have to do on a $30 or $40 stick.


During setup, your privacy settings, and WiFi settings are helpfully copied over, but curiously none of your other settings are. Arguably, one of the most important settings, what the Home button does, isn’t copied over and defaults to TV the app which is highly disorienting while you’re jumping in and out of apps trying to reset passwords. I had the navigation settings turned off, but guess what’s defaulted back to being on? The video settings were all default.

No video settings are copied over. None of the settings for what my display is capable of, the refresh rates, none of it. I went through the “Color Balance” process (it’s not calibration) two weeks ago and that all needed to be done over from scratch. Was it different? I don’t know! The beach looked like I remembered it looking last time, so that’s all we can really ask for.

It’s nice to copy some settings, but it’s frustrating to not copy all settings. Particularly when most people would weigh the functional settings higher than the intangible privacy settings. It really should be all of them, especially for $179 plus tax.

The Remote

There was some uncertainty about the remote from Apple’s presentation a few weeks ago because the no one could put it in their hands. In the abstract, it seemed like the edges were still too sharp (they are), the wheel and touch-click balance might be odd, and that it made very little sense to relocate the Siri button from the “remote” side of the remote to the “edge” of the remote. It was clear that even if these were questionable decisions that the device would at least have improved major flaws like the touch surface running up to the edge, a symmetrical design that made it seem like the touch surface could be either end of the “remote” side of the remote (thankfully it’s silver and black), and none of it is made out of glass any longer. The distinction of Apple selling the only glass-surfaced television remote for everyday use in a living room is really not something I’m going to miss.

I can confidently say that, even with very little time using the device, it’s a solid improvement over what came before. It’s missing a few things like “Mea Culpa” etched in the back, but It’s the remote that should have been released in 2015. How the other remote escaped from Apple’s campus, and ended up being manufactured for almost six years should really be the subject of a true crime podcast.

The navigation controls now consist of a circular, touch-sensitive button, circumscribed by a touch sensitive ring that is also a clickable button in four directions. There are no middle-clicks, like upper-left. It’s either a click up or a click left.

I’ll refer to the ring as a wheel since the heavily advertised feature is being able to use it like a jog wheel (or jog dial, or shuttle dial) to move around the timeline during playback. It doesn’t really turn though, so you can think of it as a four-directional pad in all other contexts.

I’ll discuss the wheel functionality later, but I want to talk about the most important part of using that wheel to click on the Home screen, it will move the selection by single, solid tiles of movement. There is no parallax icon animation of the tiles going all wibbly-wobbly as you glide across, and then inevitably past, whatever you wanted. If you slide your thumb across the center circle, you’ll see some tiny movement of the parallax tiles, but is no longer like a drunkenly playing a xylophone where the keys are made of tiny, pointless dioramas. It’s heartening to see this downplayed, because it was a situation where something made for an unique demo, but didn’t offer enough whimsy to offset its cost to usability.

The wheel is still a little half-baked. Since it’s not a wheel, and those top, left, bottom, and right regions lack anything transitional, you can get some odd effects in certain interfaces. If you’re on the Home screen, with all your apps as little tiles, and spin your thumb around the wheel you’ll see the selection spiral outwards from the center of where you started … but not in a circle. Depending on how quickly you’re moving across a particular region of that wheel it will go further, or not as far, in that spiral. It’s not something a person would purposefully do, but you will definitely accidentally do it.

What about using it as a jog wheel? Well … it doesn’t work in all circumstances you will expect it to work in. You need to be in an app that supports the feature. YouTube, Hulu, and Disney+ don’t support it, for example. In some apps, the wheel moves the position on the timeline forward … and then backward, even though you’ve completed “a rotation” around the wheel, because this isn’t really a wheel. It’s four directions mapped to a ring that doesn’t actually turn. It really breaks the rotation metaphor.

It’s probably worth mentioning that Apple’s Music app doesn’t support any of these timeline gestures yet. I hope Apple can get in touch with Apple and entice Apple to support Apple in offering this.

Annoyingly, you need to click in the center region of the interface, in a compatible app, to pause the playback, and then hold your thumb over the ring for a few seconds and then it will show an icon of the wheel that will turn as you “rotate” around the wheel.

The familiar swiping in the center-button region of the remote works as it did with the previous Siri Remotes. This is more comfortable here because the touch area is smaller, and most importantly, doesn’t extend to the edge of the device. Smaller movements are required, and the selection seems more certain. The ring also creates an area for firm, and decisive, clicking. People can say whatever they want to about clicking buttons of a directional pad being antiquated, but you sure won’t go past what you want to select.

The volume buttons, and home button, do what they need to do, and work like they did with the previous remote. They do seem more “clicky” than my old Siri Remote, but maybe that’s because it’s old. Relabeling the “Menu” button to “<“ is a good choice because that’s mostly what it does. It goes back. There are a few instances where apps do have menus, like TV the app which has a menu row across the top, and hitting “<“ won’t go “back” it will go “up” to that menu row. There’s nothing perfect to map this to so I’ll still call this an improvement.


The mute button is a welcome addition. It does what you expect. The reason it was added, according to Apple’s Tim Twerdahl in an interview with Patrick O’Rourke for Mobilesyrup:

For example, in Canada, Telus uses Apple TV as a set-top box. Now, here in the U.S., Charter Spectrum does, and as you get more live linear programming, it requires different things from the remote. I think the addition of mute, for example, is really interesting because when you are watching on-demand video, ‘pause’ and ‘mute’ are sort of the same thing, but once you’ve got ad-supported content — once you have sports and things that maybe you don’t want the sound on, but you want to keep playing — mute becomes so much more powerful.

What … the hell. The assumption that all content is on-demand content is bizarre, and telling. People were streaming live, or linear, content even with the third generation Apple TV. Using the device as a set top box for a telecommunications company was also part of the history of the fourth generation Apple TV.


The power button wasn’t really necessary, because you could hold down on the Home button on the previous Siri Remote, and this one, and it will ask you if you want to put the device to sleep, and turn off the connected TV. The power button, curiously, wants you to hold down on it too. The button requires a firm press to begin with so holding it down seems like overkill in terms of safeguarding against accidental power-offs.

An unfortunate exception exists if you have a television that doesn’t support HDMI-CEC, and thus cannot be turned on and off by by putting the device to sleep the old way. For those people, the power button is a welcome addition.

Siri Button

The Siri button still bothers me on a philosophical level, but in practice, it’s usable. When I use the Siri button now I tend to turn the remote so the Siri-button side is facing toward me, instead of the main “remote” side of the remote. As if it was a handheld voice recorder. The microphone is at the top of the “remote” side of the remote, but the slight rotation doesn’t interfere with it working. I assume that I’m more prone to turning the button toward me because I’m pressing “down” and not pressing “sideways” — if that makes any sense.

That gets back to the philosophical issue: A TV remote should have all TV controls on the front of the remote, and all controls should be identifiable by touch without inadvertently triggering a control. The touch controls of the remote can still be triggered as you run your thumb across them, but you are less likely to do anything seriously disruptive in the current configuration. The side of the device is simply the wrong place for any button.

Apple stated that the reason for it being on the side is to mirror the location of the Siri button on the iPhone. There are several problems with that reasoning. People don’t hold their phones like they hold their remote controls. Anecdotally, myself and others tend to use “Hey Siri” (if we use it at all) over actually pushing the physical button, because it’s awkward. There’s nothing always-on listening for “Hey Siri” so you can’t use that. Also, if we were to extend the “because of the iPhone’s button placement” logic then the volume buttons would be relocated to the left side of the remote, and the mute button would be a switch on the left side. So the reason is bologna.

Someone must have not wanted to put an asymmetrical cluster of the large, black buttons on the front, and not wanted to promote the power button to a large button to have an even number. Form, and design philosophy, get to suffer a little bit because of that. It certainly doesn’t make engineering and manufacturing the device any easier to put exactly one button on the milled, aluminum side.

I hesitate to suggest that Apple follow in the footsteps of Amazon with the Fire TV Cube, where there’s an always-on microphone array on the box itself, because Siri is very error prone when it comes to accidental triggers. It is nice to just shout out commands and have them happen, instead of grabbing for the remote, pushing, and waiting, but I’ll be able to manage just fine by holding it like I’m dictating a voice memo.

Find My

In the same launch event as the new Apple TV 4K with new Siri Remote, Apple launched the long-talked-about AirTags. However, in a bizarre twist of fate, this Siri Remote, which was probably in development within that same time frame, doesn’t include a U1 chip, or even a little speaker to chirp like AirTag.

A common complaint of the previous Siri Remote, and nearly all other TV remotes, is that they frequently get lost. Not like lost in an airport, or the back of a taxi cab, but lost somewhere in a living room, or potentially the other rooms of the home.

When asked about why the Siri Remote wasn’t designed for Find My, Twerdahl said, “With the changes we’ve made to the Siri Remote — including making it a bit thicker so it won’t fall in your couch cushions as much — that need to have all these other network devices find it seems a little bit lower.”

While the new Siri Remote is thicker, I can assure anyone that’s wondering that it’s still couch-cushionable.

High Frame Rate Video

HFR is not really something most people like, or appreciate. It feels alien, and unsettling, to people used to 24 and 30 frames per second. There really is a dearth of material you would want to watch in HFR. Only a handful of filmmakers, or even lowly YouTubers, put out material with high frame rates because it’s also more work, and more expensive for a thing people still think looks unsettling. HFR’s most common application is live sports. That may potentially push the technology into other places if it is used often enough in sports to be deemed beneficial, but no one should really buy this box in 2021 for it alone.


There are still two tiers of storage, as there has been since 2015. 32 GB or 64 GB. The tiers haven’t changed in capacity. The tiers are still mostly meaningless. The storage on the device is entirely managed by the software. There are no movies that you download onto the device. The only thing that it does download is 950 MB of screensavers every week. Apps take up barely anything because most of them are for streaming. The only apps with substantial assets are games, and those are sliced and diced into little bundles that download in the background.

It is a testament to Apple that they manage the device’s storage so well that the user doesn’t know, but it also makes it difficult to explain what possible benefit someone would get from a 64 GB model.

From Apple’s Store page for the Apple TV 4k, emphasis mine:

If you plan to use your Apple TV 4K primarily to stream movies, TV shows, and music or to play a few apps and games, you’ll probably be fine with 32GB of storage. If you download and use lots of apps and games, choose the 64GB configuration. When making your decision, keep in mind that some apps require additional storage when in use.

I don’t particularly appreciate Apple attempting to inject uncertainty with “you’ll probably be fine” and again, I feel like it throws their own software engineers under the bus for their efforts in managing the on-device storage. That’s a sales tactic to push people to spend more. Don’t you, the customer, want to download and use lots of apps and games? Oh gee, better spring for 64 GB. It’s only $20 more.

By my judgment, the only storage configuration that should currently be for sale is 32 GB. Apple may make some case to justify the 64 GB tiers at a later point in time, but it’s been five and a half years of 64 GB models that don’t do anything substantially different from the 32 GB models. It could buffer content for the household, including music titles, which would make it more valuable in areas with low bandwidth during the day. Maybe an offline mode if you’re going to take this Apple TV to a cabin and want to download some movies or shows? It could download and host your Apple system software updates on your local network instead of each device in your household needing to download the same thing from Apple. iCloud files could be cached there so each time you open the Files app on iOS it doesn’t act like you just woke it up for a melatonin-induced deep sleep. Just really do something with that unused space.


I would say that I’m baffled by Apple’s continued insistence that the Apple TV is a gaming platform, when everyone knows it is not one, but I know the cynical reason is that Apple can charge more if they say it can play games. Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon. They can push people to spend more on the 64 GB version for lots of games. They can market Apple TV as a platform with Apple Arcade, which is clearly a priority for them. I’m not a gamer, I don’t own any compatible third-party controller, and I don’t subscribe to Apple Arcade. Yet, the platform is sold with a price tag that’s supposed to be justified, in part, by the gaming component.

Is a game console without a game controller a game console at all? In the past, Apple said that the Siri Remote was a gaming controller, which was hilarious, and really not the case in any game I tried to use it in back in 2015. There was some back and forth at launch about whether or not the Apple TV’s App Store would sell games that required a game controller. A long, long while later, this policy was revised and gaming apps could have these requirements. The Siri Remote still shipped with an accelerometer and a gyroscope in it. The new Siri Remote doesn’t. No one will mourn the absence more than me.

A while ago, Apple added the ability to use PlayStation and Xbox controllers with the Apple TV, with the assumption that gamers have those other controllers lying around and it would lure in some unsuspecting gamer to try an Apple TV game and become hooked on that sweet, sweet Apple Arcade drug. I’m sure people have tried to use existing controllers with the Apple TV, because it exists as an option, but I would be truly surprised if this had any substantial effect on Apple Arcade adoption.

Apple also recently announced that their stores would carry Sony PlayStation DualSense Wireless Controllers for $69.95. People are rushing out to Apple Stores to buy DualSense controllers instead of using ones they have lying around, I guess? I can only conclude that Apple’s designers went on strike when they were asked to design a controller, because why would this seemingly important accessory be absent for over five years?

There really isn’t this middle space where there’s a controller-less gaming box with some iPhone titles that offers “console quality graphics” — As Apple employees are fond of calling out in their presentations. Who is having that conversation?

Arguably, Apple could charge even more for their product if they were willing to fully commit to offering a competitively featured gaming console, but maybe that return on investment isn’t worth it for them when they know they only want to collect transaction revenue by doing very little.

That’s why even though I don’t play games on it, I resent being told I could or should be, or that I would find that the Apple TV us really a huge savings over a PS5, when what I really want it to be is a less costly streaming device.


The other goofy thing Tim Twerdahl said to the press was when CNN asked him to explain why the device is so expensive relative to the competition.

Apple TV has always lived in the upper echelons of pricing. We named the previous Apple TV 4K “the upgrade pick” after testing a plethora of streaming devices, as it was $80 more than our overall pick (Roku Ultra). Apple hasn’t done much to bring that price down, as it still starts at $179 for the 32GB model. “We think there’s a tremendous amount of value in this $179. When we talk about the best way to watch TV, I sort of think about it at three levels,” Twerdahl says.

The three “levels” that Twerdahl mentions are:

  1. Quality, including viewing standards.
  2. Siri handling content requests.
  3. Apple’s ecosystem integration.

The quality is non-negotiable, but that quality is attainable for less than $179 from competitors. Siri is imperfect at handling content requests, and its capacity in all other areas is pretty limited compared to other voice assistants. There is a factual error in the CNN interview (in addition to a lot of other mistakes) that the Fire TV platform doesn’t show results across services and that isn’t true, there’s a “More Ways to Watch” button that spells out every way to watch something.

In fact, hold down the Alexa button and say “Star Trek” I get a list popular Star Trek movie titles and TV series, and under it I get live TV, which shows that BBC America is currently playing an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is an example of the level of detail that’s available, not a suggestion that anyone watch Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBC America with commercial breaks. That’s absent from Siri’s search.

Lastly, the integration with the Apple ecosystem is strong, but it still has those weaknesses where it isn’t all tied together. There have been many occasions where I’ve started watching a video I rented from Apple on my iPhone, or Apple TV, and switched to the other device only to have the playhead position get lost, or reset to an earlier time when I had paused. That’s not even fancy device syncing, that’s just video playback that any other platform or vendor can do.

Twerdahl also doesn’t address the ludicrous existence of the Apple TV HD model in Apple’s 2021 line up. The Apple TV HD remains at the same $149 price as it has been since 2015. The remote is seemingly less expensive to manufacture than ever, so I have no idea what profit they’re turning on it. What is the value for customers when considering that box?

A customer that is shopping for a streaming device for their HD-only TV shouldn’t buy a six year-old streaming box for over five times what it costs to buy a HD-only streaming stick from one of Apple’s competitors. Indeed, they aren’t buying it because Roku is still the reigning champ in the United States, with the Fire TV a close second. Then there’s an enormous gap between the top two spots, and everything else, with Chromecast and Apple TV dangling behind.

To continue to sell the $149 HD model from six years ago because it enables you to up-sell people on the $179 32 GB model is marketing fever dream. To then use the price gap between the $179 32 GB model and the $199 64 GB model to drive people to “just” spend $20 more to double the largely unused storage, is still just as bizarre as it ever was.

I do hold Apple to a higher standard because they charge so much for their Apple TV products, and they insist it’s because of the value they provide relative to the lower-priced competition. There’s very little room for poor sign-in experiences, and settings not copying over, because then it’s more like those competing platforms and less of a premium product.

The competition has also changed a lot from 2015, including the price-points where you can get voice search, and other features being dropped allowing Roku and Fire TV to dominate the market. Even the Smart TV software these days can ship with Roku or Fire TV. Getting the Apple TV+ app, AirPlay 2, and HomeKit on all these other devices and panels boosts the availability of Apple TV+ but does very little for promoting the Apple TV experience. Even Fitness+ can be used on TVs with AirPlay 2. It might as well be QuickTime for Windows and convincing them QuickTime on the Mac is better. How do you get people to spend money they don’t need to spend by telling them that the interface is “nicer” or more “fluid”? You can’t convince them with Siri. You can’t say it’s because they can play iPhone games on their TV with a PlayStation controller. You can’t currently tout anything about Apple’s connected HomeKit experience through the Apple TV over cheaper and easier solutions from Amazon and Google (maybe that will change, but this about what’s currently on offer).

Longevity As Value

The real case to make for value is that anyone with an existing 2015 Apple TV will undoubtedly find somewhere else to put it in their home, or someone to gift it to. It has received all the non-hardware-required feature updates that the other models have, so there’s no planned obsolescence. In fact, I moved mine up to my office and connected it to a different TV (it thought it was connected to the other TV and I had to reset the color balance, etc.) Apple may not provide value for purchasing new models, but this thing is going to live longer as a relevant component of my home than a few of the laptops I’ve owned.

The financial hurdle to buying an Apple TV for every TV in your household is still there, but being able to budget buying one every 3-6 years, and doing a hand-me-down with the previous one, will eventually make it more likely that you live in a multi-Apple TV household.

I can’t quite stomach spending the $59 to replace the bad Siri Remote yet, but that it’s an option is another example of the longevity of the product.

That longevity isn’t really there for anyone buying the Apple TV HD as a new product today so it doesn’t represent the same value as it does for people who bought it in 2015. The longevity is there for the Apple TV 4K, and it will likely keep working just fine for six years when it gets retired to a less-important TV.

I know that from an Apple marketing perspective they want to tell you that the value is already there, in the product you’re paying for, but it isn’t. It will be, if you buy the latest model and hold onto it as something you amortize over half a decade.

Better, But …

The new Apple TV 4K, with updated Siri Remote, and the current state of tvOS, is still such an improvement over where things were with the Apple TV of 2015. There isn’t a scenario where I would wish to be put in charge of Apple (for a variety of reasons), and then send this back to development rather than release it right now.

It is important to stress that this is still an imperfect product, with several issues around general usability plaguing it for over half a decade. Adoption of the product has also been hamstrung by the pricing, and will be for the foreseeable future. Apple could cut prices at any time they wanted to, but this product seems specifically engineered to hit these targets, which means it’ll be years before anyone at Apple reconsiders their stance, and even then, an executive might say they still offer tremendous value.

http://joe-steel.com/2019-09-09-TV-Plus-What.html TV Plus What? 2019-09-09T16:53:00Z 2019-09-09T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ By the time I have a moment to write things about Apple TV+ these days someone else has already written it up, or talked about it, and I’ve seen no real need to jump in on the blog. There is one area that I feel like I need to say something about, and that’s the question of how much Apple TV+ will cost. I’ve posted before about how Apple’s service lacks content, so they can’t charge what competitors charge, but at the same time Apple isn’t running a charity for TV production, so money will exchange hands somewhere. They’re also making TV content, which means people need to watch it. TV content is unlike other services Apple provides, like Apple Music, where the content still exists elsewhere through other venues. It’s also unlike Apple’s other services like storage, where the goal is to charge people for space they mostly don’t use.

People have speculated about TV+ being free with the sale of certain hardware — like with the purchase of an iPhone — but while the iPhone sales have been flagging that seems like a terrible way to boost those sales. Back before this year’s CES announcements of Apple content being available on third party TVs (which eventually turned into Apple TV the app being available on third party TVs) there was even speculation that Apple would boost Apple TV hardware sales by making streaming content exclusive to Apple. That seemed like a tremendous way to lose money by making TV content.

People have also imagined Apple TV+ will be included with a bundle of Apple services. That’s something that’s a lot more likely, since it’s more akin to what Amazon Prime does where most people sign up for Amazon Prime for reasons other than the video content, and the video content turns out to be a nice-to-have, but unessential component for most customers. That’s not exactly the situation Apple finds itself in though, because I still have relatives that don’t want to pay Apple for iCloud backups, so that limits possible viewership.

Prior to Disney’s price tag for Disney+ being announced, people even thought that Apple would charge $9.99/mo because Apple charges that for Music. That didn’t seem like it would be possible even then because HBO and Netflix — hell, even CBS All Access — are all far better deals. Apple lacks any established IP to hook anyone in. Even a free trial would be a risky proposal because people would run out of material to watch on the service before a one month trial was even up.

So how does Apple make a profit on this? They could just do any of those things I said above, or a combination of those things above, because they can set money on fire for years and hope their service, and shows catch on, but that seems wrong.

Let’s examine TV the app. It was recently refreshed with a strong emphasis on content you don’t own, and don’t subscribe to being featured prominently so that you will buy content, or subscribe to services. It’s really one of the things I like least about the refresh. The addition of Apple Channels is a good thing (don’t sue me, Martha) for consumers because it prevents them from having to use the bad apps that many content providers make to house their exclusive, branded experiences in. It’s also good for Apple because Apple takes a cut off of the subscription, while also being able to fill TV the app with material. The à la carte sale of shows and movies lets people have access to things they wouldn’t consider paying a monthly fee for.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Apple configured TV the app this way. The one kind of bundling that hasn’t been discussed by Apple tech journalists is content bundling. Either:

  • Sell Apple TV+ with a partner Channel, or a set selection of partner Channels. This pays for TV+ with the revenue of the bundled subscription fees. It’s also a way to redirect what consumers are already spending on subscription services. If they subscribe to HBO, CBS, etc. elsewhere, then they’ll unsubscribe and resubscribe through Apple which just reflows where the fees go in cases where Apple is not involved as a middle man.
  • Make Apple TV+ free for subscribers of [a set number] of Apple Channels. Same benefits as above, but a different way to frame it.
  • Sell Apple TV+ with a set number of movie rentals per month, or with selected rentals from specific partners — like how airlines and movie studios arrange for movies that get screened on an airplane flight. That’s not a long-term thing on the service, like when Netflix buys rights for months, instead it’s a short window to increase the viewership of titles that consumers could purchase. This is far more complicated than making a deal with Channels, but allows for nimble access to certain things and to more freely shape a month-to-month reason to entice people in.

Of the above, the first is the most likely, and the last is the least likely, but any combination is possible. I truly think Apple wants to retrain consumers to spend money subscribing to a variety of services. It’s a hard task, because Netflix has trained people to pay for Netflix and just watch what’s on Netflix.

Tomorrow, at the Apple event, I’m sure they’ll announce something about this, and I’ll be interested to see what path they choose. Hell, they might do something absolutely bananas and buy a studio, or make an exclusive deal for a studio’s catalog. Those scamps.

http://joe-steel.com/2019-03-27-Some-Pluses-Some-Minuses.html Some Pluses Some Minuses 2019-03-27T14:53:00Z 2019-03-27T14:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Last December I was very excited for Apple’s media event, which I guessed would be in the Spring. I even guessed the month right. However, I had figured that it would be an event solely about Apple’s TV efforts, and conducted in the LA area to show the focus, and importance, of “Hollywood” on what Apple is doing. (Apple’s video efforts are headquartered in Culver City, along with Sony Pictures on the former MGM lot, and Amazon’s rented space on the Culver Studios lot most famous for the Gone With the Wind mansion that’s used for office space.) Apple had even purchased an old theatre in downtown Los Angeles to revitalize as an Apple Store — which is a weird place to put one unless you wanted to capitalize on that historical connection to entertainment.

Instead I grew increasingly concerned as the focus of the event seemed to shift from video to a variety of other services. When I heard Apple News would be relaunching Texture as part of an expanded all-you-can-eat magazine service I knew that this was no longer an event about video, it was an event about having services. Sure enough, a rumor about a games service appeared, as did a rumor about a credit card. All of that turned out to be true. I will reserve judgement on those because they aren’t specifically interesting to me. In aggregate it’s interesting the way Apple emphasizes them, as financial growth that will also reshape the world to be a better place. That’s also how they’re framing their TV efforts.

Although, let’s talk about consistency:

  • Apple News+
  • Apple Card
  • Apple Arcade
  • Apple Channels
  • Apple TV+

I don’t know how many other names were in the hat that they picked these out of but some of them had to be better than this. Especially when you line them all up.

Apple’s homepage is even weirder:

tv+ News+ Arcade Card

So all of them are capitalized, except TV. In the top navigation menu bar on Apple.com it’s “TV” and the hardware products use all-caps too. The service is lowercase, unless you go to the page that describes it where it is presented as both “Apple TV+” and “tv+”.


Let’s look at everything with TV in the name:

  • Apple TV HD (HD-only hardware)
  • Apple TV 4K (UHD-capable hardware)
  • TV (an app)
  • Apple TV+ (a service in TV the app)

Apple Channels doesn’t have TV in the name, but it’s also in TV the app and while the channels are additive to TV the app the only thing with “+” is the service that carries on Apple-produced material.


The Future of TV is App

One of the various things I’ll never stop mocking Tim Cook for is his unsubstantiated assertion that “the future of TV is apps.” Never get tired of it. This wasn’t correct at the time, and I’m fairly certain Tim also knew it, but all Apple had to exert to shape the space was the power of the iOS App Store. Their plans to launch a skinny bundle had all collapsed and they had a piece of hardware that was collecting dust.

A curious thing this presentation highlighted as it’s first prominent feature was that your TV and Movie purchases would be in TV the app. They sort of are already. I’m assuming this is a much more streamlined experience where you’re not bounced out to the video library apps for the viewing experience any longer? We’ll see in practice, but this seems harmless if uninspired.

Hilariously, this decision has actually hurt them in a few ways because they’ve been trying to course-correct for a couple years and get third parties to integrate with a TV app to discover, browse, and launch content. To replace the app-centric experience that originally shipped. They can’t do that though because there are some big holdouts, and even the companies that did participate participated to varying degrees. Now that there’s a new program for mixed support, Apple Channels, the permutations increase again. Apple Channels are just like Amazon Channels, where content the end-user sees is piped through Apple’s service and appears as if it was something the user had through Apple. They’re not kicked out to CBS All Access’ dreadful app, or anything else. No, this doesn’t mean that Amazon Channels you’ve subscribed to will show up as if they were Apple Channels, you’ll still see those in Amazon’s Prime Video app. In fact, depending on how thorough Apple is, you might see sales pitches for Amazon Channels you subscribe to littered in your TV app as possible Apple Channels you should get a free trial for. Rates for this are unannounced but I would be surprised it if was priced differently from Amazon Channels. Amazon Channels is a huge source of revenue for Amazon too, so this makes sense if you’re hungry for sweet, sweet revenue growth.

The jury is out on the specifics because if the app presents it like it was an iTunes purchase, and you have to use the navigation and browsing features available to you from that, you might not see much of an improvement in your experience, general wellbeing, or temper.

The big omission continues to be the Netflix juggernaut. Netflix has no interest in being a pool of content for Apple, they want to be the place where people go so Netflix can control the experience and to shape what Netflix as a brand is worth to a consumer. They never joined TV the app and they pulled out of offering new subscriptions through Apple, assuming that they’re in demand enough that users will seek out Netflix’s web site to sign up. I imagine that one of the things that will sink in when TV the new app ships is that they’re still going out of it to get to Netflix content. If the primary venue for viewing material for someone is Netflix then they’re going to have very little interest in participating in this TV the app ecosystem of Apple Channels and subscriptions.

At some point soon Apple is change tvOS App Store rules, or restrict homescreen access in such a way that all video services will have to go through TV the app as the new homescreen. That was clear from it’s introduction. It’ll be interesting to see when Apple thinks it can jettison Netflix.

Hulu is also a provider for single sign-on OTT content, but they’ve elected to not be a channel even though they make Hulu originals and do already offer an advertising free tier. They’re much more friendly with Apple, but not completely interested in all of Apple’s campaigns.

Every demo of TV the app, even the new one, only underscores the fragmented, under-supported nature of it. Imagine an obstacle course. You see the Apple employee navigate it to “what they want” on stage and then they try to repeat this process in their own home, in their own region, with their own services and providers, and they fall through a trap door on the second or third step of the obstacle course. It’s more common to hit one of these pitfalls than to be someone who traipses through without impediment.

Solving the $150 Problem

Since the 4th-generation Apple TV was introduced in 2015, Apple has had an issue with how expensive their streamer was when compared to competitive products. Everyone might select different things as important, like they prefer Apple’s UI, or they prefer iTunes services, but there’s no denying that those are not important things to all people. That Apple’s emphasis on content providers providing their own apps has meant that those providers build apps for Roku, Fire TV, and whatever Google is doing at any given time. As several years have passed since the introduction of that Apple TV revision, the price hasn’t dropped one cent. Meanwhile, Roku and Fire TV vie for the top-dog spot on streamer sales charts, and TVs are bundled with software that obviates the need for those boxes and sticks.

The solution to Apple’s self-imposed problem is that they’re going to offer the Apple TV app on Samsung, Sony, Vizio, and LG TV sets, in addition to Roku and Fire TV. That covers an enormous swath of the market. Nothing about that experience was demonstrated, and these announcements are mostly a logical continuation of what Apple had worked out during CES. I’m sure it’s going to more than a little inferior to the Apple TV box experience, but we’ll have to wait and find out.

This means that Apple didn’t have to drop their prices at all, so they’re still selling the same box they introduced in 2015 for exactly the same amount of money, but they did swap the remote when the 4K was introduced and now they’ve changed the name to the Apple TV HD. I’m not sure what I’ll choose to refer to that model in the style guide, but I might just call it the Apple TV Rip-Off.

Story Tele-ers

I had a little concern, from when Apple did an Apple Music event, and it was a long, rambling thing with Drake, that Apple would do a similar thing for their televised efforts. That would be cynical, and would mean that Apple didn’t learn from prior mistakes about the way that they showcase their work.

Turns out they didn’t learn anything from their mistakes about how they showcase their work. It’s hard work too, I really do empathize with the people putting in long hours right now in an effort to make it, but that doesn’t absolve the presentation of that work from falling short. Apple saved this until last, they started with a pretentious black and white video about making films and television. Recognizable producers, directors, and actors explosively emoted directly into camera about the difficulties of the process of making motion picture media. None of it was anything specific to Apple, nor to history of the medium, but instead seemed to say, “these are professionals that are challenged by the work they do, and they’re doing that for us.” That’s not nothing, but any other studio could put that material together, and they do for up-fronts and Television Critics Association events. They might not have a piano piece though.

What followed was a parade of people we saw in those videos performing very rehearsed sales pitches. If you’ve seen these stars at award shows, their performance on stage here would be very familiar to you. The standout was Kumail Nanjiani, but his pitch grafted in an almost stand-up-routine approach to it to get those laughs from the audience at key moments and it worked. Unfortunately, a decision was made to transition these stars on and off the stage in the dark which resulted in enormous dead air while Big Bird and a podium were set up, and then removed. If this had been one of those self-congratulatory award show presentations there would have been video between, or music and location shifts to transition across stage. Lingering dead air doesn’t help when you’re already over an hour into this event, and the lack of material to show, even as a transitional element, is purposefully negligent of the events duty to entertain and inform. The sales pitches were all we had to go on. While they may be charismatic stars, they’re not enchanting enough for me to buy something based on their words alone.

Eventually, at the very end of the procession of celebrity sales pitches, was a sizzle reel, but it was all of the shows, cut together, in no order at all. This is akin to promotional materials HBO puts together where they show clips of Game of Thrones, Westworld, Sharp Objects, and True Detective, but that network reel only works because viewers can identify elements of what they are seeing depicted before them. The audience for this reel has nothing to anchor them other than seeing actors they just saw on stage, and seeing what could be a rocket, or a post-apocalypse. The majority of the shots were also either retimed to be in slow motion for this reel, or are coincidentally a lot of slow motion shots that were assembled for the reel, and several shots of characters staring into the middle distance. The material could have even been cut together based on show so that there was some sense of several shots composing something about the content or flavor of the production. It was the 52 pickup of network material.

If you go to about 1:35 into the keynote video, you’ll see the video as presented, but if you go to the Apple TV+ page, and watch the video that appears there, you’ll see that text has been added to some of the shots to say what the show is that’s being shown. I assume that someone thought the text was distracting for the presentation so it was omitted, rather than it being hastily added to the version show on the site. It’s better than nothing, even if it’s not aesthetically pleasing.

I do judge this harshly because first impressions do matter, to what extent first impressions matter for Apple is debatable, but why throw away an opportunity to show some of a show?

Oprah More Thing…

Oprah appeared with her magical shirttail cape and used a lot of flowery language about potential, desire, importance, and connection, but … um … she announced something with a working title, and something without. Then a book club. How the book club integrates into anything is anyone’s guess. Maybe a link to buy the book appears in the app and sends you to Books? Then the “conversation” about books will happen in … umm.. well Ping’s not there … and Connect is … nope. Maybe it’ll just be a big group iMessage?

The Long Wait Resumes

I debated the impact of this presentation with Jason Snell and Dan Moren a little on Twitter and Slack. They’re more of the mindset that this is important for Apple to put a stake in the ground and publicly communicate that they’re working on these things. That’s certainly important, but in terms of using this event time to do this thing in particular? There was nothing about this that could not have been ceded to news outlets, or put in a press release. Showing stars on stage gets nothing from me, but it’ll get a cycle out of Entertainment Tonight, or 3 hours on Deadline’s front page, or something. I feel like the presentation should have been reserved for a time when Apple was prepared for a more defined announcement. Let’s not forget there’s no pricing details, or any other specifics. There’s no clarity at all on how the A24 film projects, and other acquisitions, will be recognized and promoted either.

A curiosity is Spielberg’s prominence. Spielberg is primarily know as a film director, and film producer, but he’s done a lot of other work, like make TV shows that NBC canceled. Steven’s also been in the news recently for lobbying to increase the minimum time that a film must be screened in a theater to be considered for an Academy Award. He feels very strongly that material that is displayed on a television screen day-and-date with a film screen deserves TV awards, like Emmys. Apple bought Hala at Sundance two months ago. There’s at least one shot of it in the material Apple displayed later in the presentation. What awards will Apple be launching “for your consideration” campaigns for? Will Hala see a theater screen? Will the amount of time it screens for happen to be the number that Steven Spielberg is lobbying for? I don’t think Steven Spielberg would stoop to lobbying harsh rules on Apple’s behalf, and I don’t think Apple would want to alienate Spielberg by agreeing with Netflix on shorter theatrical windows, so it seems likely it would either be exactly what Steven wants, or they don’t do any theatrical window for Hala and only put it up for TV awards. Something Apple buys or produces will eventually be a movie they want Oscar consideration for, because otherwise what’s the point of making recognition-less films? These aren’t the kinds of questions that will be answered shortly, or in iOS release notes.

There are likely to be tvOS updates at WWDC shortly, but I don’t know if any of the big questions will be fleshed out. Maybe we’ll get some answer as to why they keep saying “games” and “Apple TV” in the same sentence without including some sort of negative, or prohibitive warning? I do still have high hopes for the shows that end up being available, but I have no more or less faith in them today than I did last week.

http://joe-steel.com/2019-02-02-Apple-Marches-to-April-Launch.html Apple Marches to April Launch 2019-02-02T22:38:00Z 2019-02-02T22:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The Information has sources that claim Apple will launch their video service in mid-April. There’s a good summary of recent rumored activity in Sarah Perez’s TechCrunch piece, where she goes over several recent news items, including Apple acquiring a film at Sundance.

Peter Kafka has a piece at Recode where he carefully parses what Tim Cook said during the Q&A on the investor call today.

But here’s a shorter version of the important stuff:

  • Apple is going to make it easy/possible to consume the video Apple makes and sells on other people’s hardware, like Samsung TV sets.
  • Apple already lets people buy subscriptions to TV services like Hulu via its iTunes store. It’s going to do more of that, and Apple believes it will end up selling a bundle of those that will compete with traditional pay TV bundles — a goal Apple has been trying to achieve for more than a decade.
  • Apple is buying a lot of TV shows, and now movies, and also deals for … stuff with people like Oprah Winfrey.
  • Again. Apple has either said this some of this before, out loud, or hasn’t protested when people have reported it.

But put it all in one place, speed it up, and what you get is: “We are going to sell a bundle of other people’s TV shows and movies, and add our own, and make sure you can watch it anywhere you want.”

A spring launch has been speculated about for a bit by a few people, including myself, but this is the first rumor about a launch window. I personally think an event in March is likely, even with the news of stuff launching in mid-April, because I feel like there’s a big story to get out there before the product is available. Also, this isn’t the kind of product that launches when it’s ready to ship. It’s an entertainment content trough. It needs constant replenishing. Apple is going to host an event, say every episode is available on day one, and then disappear for 12-18 months. Having said that, be prepared for some regional restrictions, particularly on things like channels.

Here’s the start of the roll-out:

  1. Apple books a theatre in Los Angeles.
  2. Apple sends out coy invitations to both tech press and entertainment trades. Some curtains, film reels, or the Hollywood hills, etc.
  3. Announce the service on stage, with the channels that tie in, “same great blah blah you know and love.”
  4. Then announce the original content by saying something like, “starting (day) these shows will be available here’s a preview.” Lights dim, sizzle reel goes on, lights up, then, “more great shows rolling out in summer and fall all year blah blah.”
  5. Apple buys ads on TV, and online, like Apple does for any hardware product or Apple Music. Most spots will be for specific shows that wraps with an “Available on Apple (Horrible Name)” but some spots will just be for the service, showing how it bundles everything together.
  6. Vulture recaps every episode every week, and there are at least 10 podcasts recapping each episode of each show, all promoted in Podcasts dot app.

Now flash forward a couple months for Apple bloggers to freak out about the number of shows that aren’t ready at launch time or some such bologna.

http://joe-steel.com/2018-12-07-Premiere-Possibilities.html Premiere Possibilities 2018-12-07T16:53:00Z 2018-12-07T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ One thing I’ve been musing about is the venue where Apple will announce their video subscription service to the world. Everyone needs a hobby, don’t judge.

It seems unlikely that Apple will premiere it at this year’s World Wide Developer Conference, or at their annual iPhone event. A Los Angeles event seems like a given, considering Apple wants to send a signal not just to the public that will subscribe, but to talent that may choose to work with them. I really think it’ll be a Spring event, but it could be as early as January, but March seems like a likely candidate, because it will be just after Southern California’s Awards Season, when the billboards change to “FYC”. Apple’s no stranger to a March event. An event concurrent with, or very near to, an awards ceremony might be kind of tacky and awkward if Apple is trying to demonstrate a connection to filmmaking.

That is really the reason to hold an event in LA, of course, just like Apple has held events at prestigious institutions. Apple isn’t playing off of nostalgia, like Disney does, but they do seek to establish a historical through line that connects an established past to a future product they are premiering. That’s why I’ve further narrowed it down from “Los Angeles” — which is 502 square miles (1,302 square kilometers) to historical locations that have a direct connection to the experience of watching media. Since Apple doesn’t have a historic studio lot, there’s no reason to shove a bunch of journalists into a space in Culver City near the Apple offices. Zero chance that popular beach city Santa Monica would be used either.

Hooray for Hollywood

Hollywood isn’t a real place. There’s this imaginary world that exists spread all over LA, and beyond, is a glamorous fiction with a mythic past. There is, however, the geographical Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. It’s mostly tourist traps and dirty walk of fame sidewalk stars. It’s not quite what anyone expects when they first arrive. The main drag, Hollywood Blvd., is still dotted with theatres used for movie premieres and special events.

The TCL Chinese Theatre was originally Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Mann’s Chinese Theatre for a period of time. It’s probably the most iconic on the list, and replicas have been built in various places. It certainly overshadows its less famous predecessor, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. “International themes” were very big, which is why a firm from the American Midwest made these sort of caricature buildings. One of Sid’s business partner’s on Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre was Charles E. Toberman, who went on to make El Capitan Theatre. Pantages, while being in the same era, and a similar ornateness level, was not directly related. It was owned for a period by Howard Hughes RKO Pictures. The Dolby Theatre doesn’t have a strong historical pedigree, but since it’s inception as the Kodak Theatre it’s hosted major events like the annual Academy Awards.

All of these would be perfectly justifiable venues except for a few obvious flaws. TCL owns the naming rights for the Chinese Theatre, so unless people can envision Tim Cook getting on stage and saying “TCL” — a company that exclusively uses Roku embedded software for its smart TVs — then I think we can write it off. Even if Apple announces a TV app for competing platforms like Roku, it seems unlikely they’d want to do it on TCL’s turf.

El Capitan Theatre hosts many events, and premieres, like TCL Chinese Theatre does, but it’s unfortunately owned by Disney. Apple doesn’t currently have a deal with Disney to sell UHD HDR content on iTunes, and Disney is going to be launching a streaming service next year. I don’t think Apple is so cozy with Disney that they would want to use their facilities to premiere a video product and talk about all the great content on Apple TV.

Apple is buddy-buddy with Dolby, so it’s possible they’d host an event in the Dolby Theatre, but I still think the lack of historical character might not be what Apple event planners would look for.

Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre is owned by the non-profit American Cinematheque, and Pantages is owned by the Nederlander Organization (they own a lot of theatres). Either would be neutral choices, and full of historical connection.

One thing is absolutely certain, if Apple hosts an event on Hollywood Blvd. the street will probably close down like a red carpet movie premiere so morning traffic is going to suuuuuuuuuck if you need to drive through.

There are certainly other locations that are capable of hosting events in the immediate area, but these are the candidates I think make the most sense, with Egyptian and Pantages weighted the strongest.


Downtown is also unpleasant, but it wasn’t always that way. Before most people fled for the suburbs, enabled by the LA freeway system, it was a bustling city like its contemporaries in the 1920s and 1930s. Efforts are being made to revitalize (gentrify) areas, like historically important Broadway. It never ceased to be a place for performances, and film exhibition, but many theatres fell into disrepair, and some closed. Newer theatre spaces opened a couple miles away at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but the former is blah, and the latter is Disney’s, obviously.

Apple made waves when they announced that they had leased the Tower Theatre on Broadway with plans to renovate and restore it as a new Apple Store. It’s a very peculiar location for an Apple Store, if you ask me, but when it’s done it’s going to be one of the most thoughtfully considered Apple Stores in LA (the rest of them are sad boxes, even the recent ones).

Part of Apple’s renovation plan will make Tower an event space in addition to a store. I don’t know if renovation has even started inside the property, but the renderings lead me to believe that it wouldn’t be an ideal space to host a large media event once reno is complete. I also can’t picture Tim Cook saying, “Yeah, we’re gonna gut this place after this event.” and then proceeding to conduct the construction.

Why go to all of the trouble of building a store in a remote, downtown, historical, theatre location if it’s not going to be a part of Apple’s video service narrative? That would be like purchasing a historic watch store and only selling iPads in it.

Apple could turn to another theatre on Broadway to host a large event, and have some part of the press-handling conducted at Tower.

If you look at the area on a map you’ll see a lot more theatres that what I have listed, but many of them are in severe disrepair, or have been converted to other uses like retail, or religious worship.

Palace and Los Angeles are both owned by the same company that Apple leases Tower from. It’s conceivable that Apple would make arrangements with them for the use of one of those nearby locations.

The Orpheum is mostly known as a live performance venue, with music, stand-up comedy, but could host nearly anything in the structure.

The Orpheum also has a pipe organ. How sweet would it be if the music prior to he Apple event was all old film scores played on a pipe organ? Sure, it would drive the journalists into a frenzy, but I would be very entertained.

Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. Cook

There’s no doubt the service is going to launch soon in 2019, and I’m very certain that Apple wants to connect to the traditions of Hollywood, to insert itself as a powerful force that feels like it has an association with the language, and trappings, of that industry. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see stars in attendance, observing as the journalists and Apple employees do at these events, in addition to more on stage pitching the Apple shows they’re starring, producing, or directing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Apple is considering in terms of films, like their recent deal with A24. There’s just so much to present to consumers, and to future industry peers.

It would be pretty bizarre if Apple rented out any old auditorium, or convention space, and presented their video service like Eddy Cue presented the Music service at WWDC 2015. I believe some lessons have been learned.

http://joe-steel.com/2018-12-03-On-Every-TV-in-Dongle-Town.html On Every TV in Dongle Town 2018-12-03T16:53:00Z 2018-12-03T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ According to The Information, Apple has considered launching a low-cost Apple TV dongle, similar to what Amazon offers with the Fire TV Stick models, Google’s Chromecast, or what Roku offers with some of their lower-end streaming devices. Those dongles offer inexpensive hardware, sold either at a loss or with low margins, in order to expand a services ecosystem where recurring subscriptions are the name of the game. Apple has looked toward service revenue for growth, with a new TV service around the corner, it makes sense that Apple should reconsider what they charge for their TV streamers.

  • $149.99 - An HD-only streaming box first introduced in 2015.
  • $179.99 - A 4K streaming box introduced in 2017.
  • $199.99 - A fantastic way to rip people off.

I was critical of this pricing when the fourth generation Apple TV was introduced because $150 was not only more expensive than all of their competitors, but it was more than twice as expensive as the third generation Apple TV that it was replacing. That antique device lingered another year on Apple’s site, with a helpful link to take people to the more expensive fourth generation model. When the fifth generation, the Apple TV 4K, was announced I had assumed that Apple would cut the price of the previous model, and place the new one at the old model’s pricepoint. To my chagrin, Apple cranked up the price and put it $30 above the old model resulting in the pricing we still have to this day.

Jason Snell wrote a great column for Macworld about the importance of Apple growing this streaming service, using The Information’s stick rumor as a jumping off point.

Before we even get to fun, wish-casting, imaginary hardware let’s just get the simplest solution out of the way:

Sell these devices for less money.

Revolutionary idea, I know. It could be accomplished by slashing the margins on the hardware with the expectation that the video service would offset the profit lost, and then some. It’s not even brand new hardware we’re talking about discounting here. It wouldn’t even be the first time Apple TV hardware has been discounted. When the third generation Apple TV was exceptionally long in the tooth, Apple cut its price to $70. I would argue the fourth generation’s tooth has past that point.

Another financial-only option is to subsidize the cost of the device if a customer signs up for X number of months of service. Many over-the-top streaming television providers offer these kinds of deals. A “free” Apple TV. You can also reverse this and offer X months of free service with the purchase of an Apple TV - but since customers don’t know what they’re getting with Apple’s service, this doesn’t seem like it would help grow the service as much as “free” devices would.

Stick With Me

So what would a trimmed down “stick” device include? My ILM bro, Todd Vaziri, thinks that an AirPlay-only stick makes sense, because it’s a way to rely on the phone, a device Apple does make money on, to drive the video being displayed. This seems like a stretch because AirPlay for long form video is not very good. AirPlay is great in a pinch, when you have a short video, presentation, or some photos, but no one really wants to commit their iPhone — the most important thing in their life — to being tied up for streaming video for extended periods. You run into issues like wanting to use social media while you watch something, or even looking at Photos will interrupt your video stream to mirror the Photos app on the screen. The controls for it are also pretty terrible — like that weird rainbow arch thing over the media player widget in control center. Also it’ll chew up your battery, so you need to charge your iPhone which makes it inaccessible. I don’t know how Apple gracefully remedies any of that.

A more likely possibility for a stick was suggested by Jason Snell:

Then there are the more radical possibilities: What about a TV stick that only runs the TV app? You could still subscribe to third-party streaming services, but only by using Apple as a reseller. (This feels too restrictive to me.)

A big strike against it, as Jason points out, is that Apple has not won over everyone making TV streaming apps for the Apple TV to also integrate support for TV the app that Apple uses as a unified interface. Notably, Netflix is still absent. I can’t imagine Apple marketing a streaming media device in 2019 that doesn’t support Netflix. Maybe they work something out with Netflix and get them into TV the app or do something super weird and make a launcher just to open Netflix but … c’mon. No.

A possibility I’ve considered is something like CarPlay, where an iPhone drives what’s displayed on the screen, and can accept inputs from sources other than the iPhone itself. That wouldn’t have the same issues as AirPlay, which leaves control of the media up to the iPhone, but it does have the same issues when it comes to powering the iPhone to do this, and what happens when the person that’s been connected to the TV needs to go to the store. There’s no way to gracefully handoff things to people staying in the living room, or resume playback on a device under a different Apple ID and subscription service profile for that matter.

For me, the most expensive part of the Apple TV hardware has always been the remote, and I think any economized Apple TV offering is unlikely to include it. Apple charges $70 for the thing by itself. I don’t think they have high margins on replacement remotes, which leads me to believe the thing costs a great deal to produce. Imagine taking $50-ish off the price of the Apple TV by forgoing that particular remote.

It is possible that since it’s been over a year since the last remote revision, and minor price reduction, that there might be further savings to be had just from sourcing different parts or switching suppliers, thus keeping the same spiteful glass shard going but being able to sell it bundled with the Apple TV at a lower cost.

I am of the opinion that a hardware remote is still an essential component of the TV viewing experience, so I wouldn’t forgo it completely, even though voice assistants mitigate many laborious things in regards to searching for something specific you have in mind, they do not replace browsing, or “channel surfing”. The Remote app Apple makes is too fiddly to quickly get in and out of for TV controls, and you have to look at the iPhone the entire time you’re using the Remote app. I think there’s a path forward with a pragmatic hardware remote that replaces the touchpad with a directional pad and loses the accelerometers.

Sadly, that means loosing out on parallax icons. Here is an appropriate violin to express my sorrow:


But What About Games?

What about them? Apple has had no serious commitment to gaming on the Apple TV since the platform was launched. There were two course corrections designed to accommodate developers:

  1. Games could require a third party controller instead of the remote.
  2. Games could fill up more space on the device so that assets would not have to be downloaded and purged as often.

These changes have resulted in … basically nothing. Apple still doesn’t make a first party controller. The asset cap seemed to be a way to finally justify the 64 GB storage tier, but no developers have really capitalized on it in a way that would make a 32 GB device owner jelly. The games are typically marginal ports of existing games for iOS, which aren’t usually that large anyway, and the controls don’t seem to ever translate well to a TV screen experience. There are a few exceptions, but they’re typically party games. There is no need to have graphical horsepower and storage tiers.

Unless Apple has an entirely new high-end Apple TV revision waiting in the wings that takes gaming seriously then who cares if storage on a stick, or small box, would be restricted, let alone the horsepower? Even then, there’s nothing attractive about Apple’s business model for the developers of console games.

If we all agree that gaming isn’t a thing, and won’t be a thing, then we have no reason to support it on a lower-priced device.

However, a less expensive stick, or box, would still face an uphill battle in global markets where these cost saving measures are negated by import tariffs, and other issues. It’s not going to be just the elimination of gaming, or just a simpler remote, Apple would really need to get more creative.

This is US

The Apple TV has always had a heavy US-centric set of features, but Apple has been trying to be more thoughtful about regional providers and consumption habits. Apple has been struggling to expand into India, with three executives departing in July, so let’s take a look at the Apple TV page for India and it’s prices. Hilariously, Apple reuses their MLB viewing photo with the San Francisco Giants, but they do mention regional services that they support and work with. The prices are worse than they are for a US consumer, with the 2015 fourth generation Apple TV for sale at 14,100 rupees, which is about $202. According to The Economic Times, smart TV sales have just passed sales of regular TVs for the first time in September. With the Apple TV being a third, or a quarter of the price of a TV set for the 2015 HD-only model, it’s hard to see how Apple could produce a video service with regional appeal that would be worth a barrier to entry that’s even higher than it is in the US.

The Smart Solution

Most TV’s have streaming media software embedded in them for major services, like YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video. If a customer wants more than that they might shop for a media streamer, or use what’s in a video game console which they also play video games on (no, not the Apple TV). Customers might be willing to spend more for the Apple brand when it comes to phones, but according to data from Parks Associates in this article from Variety Apple’s share of the media player market in the US is stagnant, while Amazon and Roku growth has incremented up. Part of that growth can be attributed not just to low prices on streaming sticks and boxes, but on Roku and Amazon’s aggressive dealmaking with the people peddling these panels to get their software embedded.

If a TV comes with Amazon, Roku, or some Android flavor, then what drives the customer to purchase a box, or a stick to plug in at all? The embedded Samsung interface and apps in my 2012 plasma TV makes me physically ill, but I could get by with an Amazon interface. I suspect many shoppers can too.

One route around this is to make the Apple TV service available as an app on these competing platforms, as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video do. That might sound insane, but Apple already makes an Apple Music app for Android phones, and on December 17th Apple Music will be on Amazon Echo devices. Services revenue obviously won out in the conversation over hardware revenue when it comes to Apple Music, so why would video streaming be different? Apple could still make the case that their hardware showcases the services the best, while also allowing them access to global markets where they can’t come close to competing on price.

In Jason Snell’s piece for Macworld, he mentions his TCL TV set which comes with Roku on it, and suggests that Apple could do the same. I think that’s less likely than Apple creating an app for Roku, or Fire OS, because Apple would need to either tailor their software to the hardware that the manufacturers use, or sell their A series chips to TV manufacturers. They would also need to include software controls for parts of the TV experience that Apple has had no interest in colonizing, like over the air TV. What remote would these licensed sets ship with? An Apple TV remote? None of these are permanent road blocks, but it would require a series of extensive changes to their approach. It kind of reminds me of Apple with the clones in the 1990s. Apple owns the Power Computing brand, maybe they could license that back out to a low-end TV set manufacturer for some thick, boring, plastic cases with a lot of flex.

Of course cutting out the TV manufacturers and making their own TV sets is a possibility. Gene Munster, an analyst, was infamous for his theory that Apple needed to make it, but he gave up when he realized the margins just aren’t there for it to make sense. I agree. The deeply discounted sales, variety of TV sizes, and razor-thin margins seem like a headache for what Apple would get out of it.

TV on iOS

It might be pretty easy to discount the living room, and television sets, as relics of a bygone era, but the reality is that a lot of people want to watch long form video content on a large display that takes up a large portion of a wall. Small, personal TV sets that kids might have had in their bedrooms can be supplanted by phones and tablets, but when those kids grow up, they want a TV set in a living room.

On top of that, the people making content for Apple want their work to be seen by people in the living room, and eligible for awards alongside all the other stuff displayed in a living room.

I don’t doubt that filmmakers that work with A24 on content for Apple’s service will also want their films screened in theaters, and eligible for those awards. That’s a fight that Netflix has been losing for years. Even if Apple follows Netflix’s path and makes the films available day and date on their video service, those filmmakers aren’t going to be thrilled that the majority of people will be watching their work on iPhones because they won’t buy a $180 box for a movie, and a couple shows.

It would be very difficult to retain talent if Apple doesn’t take showcasing their hard work seriously.


Apple’s desire to grow services revenue stands in direct opposition to whatever passes for a TV hardware strategy in Cupertino. To grow subscribers they need to lower the cost of the devices required to view video service content, subsidize their sale, or make the service available on the platforms they compete with. If they don’t, then this is over a billion that they wouldn’t be able to make back as a niche, premium content provider.

http://joe-steel.com/2018-08-20-First-Time-Tooter-Long-Time-Tweeter.html First Time Tooter, Long Time Tweeter 2018-08-20T16:18:00Z 2018-08-20T16:18:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ In conversations I’ve had over the past week, it’s become clear that there’s nothing very self-explanatory about Mastodon as a social network, and that in many ways Twitter users are both prepared and unprepared for the experience. There are a lot of things that are similar in concept, but there’s more to it when it comes to how it’s a “service” that can really throw people for a loop.

Too Long; Didn’t Mastodon

The short version is that Mastodon clones features of Twitter with open source software that can be run on any server. Those servers talk to each other and form a larger world than any one server could. The default place most people land is mastodon.social but they have halted admissions because of the large influx of people leaving Twitter at the same time. You can join mastodon.cloud or any other server. Since your server can talk to the others, and you can move your account to another one, there’s no immediate pressure. There’s a timeline which is functionally like Twitter - or at least how it was back when it was chronological. You can mute, block, follow, etc.

The longer version …

A Hive of Mastodon

Mastodon is distributed across many “instances” that talk to each other. The instances are servers, or virtual private servers. There are unique domain names attached to them. If you use Google, or Duck Duck Go, you’ll wind up at mastodon.social. This is the de facto instance, headed up by the guy who came up with Mastodon. Thus, it becomes the most likely instance people will join. They have been overwhelmed recently by people leaving Twitter, so it’s all the more reason to investigate the other instances. Mastodon.cloud is another very prominent instance. Then there are a bunch of instances that range from general topics, to very specific topics. For new users it is overwhelming, and we naturally want to go to instances that have the most people. It’s counterintuitive though, because of how Mastodon works. You want to be with a group that shares similar interests to you, but has enough variety that certain features are useful. If you join an instance that has a lot of people interested in everything, then their interests will affect your experience with certain features.

Honestly, joining one of these massive instances is fine if you don’t know what to do. You can feel it out for a week or so and move. I will discuss that process later on.

From the Mastodon blog:

I might be biased, but I find that following admins of other servers is usually a good choice. Usually, they share a lot of content from their users, so you get some insight into their entire community. You might feel compelled to do the same when you get your own users, too.


There’s the Home timeline, the Local timeline, and the Federated timeline. As a user, on any instance, you see those three options. However, what you see under Local and under Federated is shaped by the other people on your own instance.

Some general terms for what’s in a timeline:

  • Toot - A post, or status update. This is just another word for Tweet. Confusingly, in some parts of the interface, you will see it referred to as a “status” and not a “toot”.
  • Boost - The Mastodon term for a retweet.
  • CW (Content Warning) - This is a mechanism to hide your text and images behind a “show more” button. This is intended for spoilers, or sensitive material. There’s a field to enter descriptive text about what you’re hiding behind the content warning. Images can also be hidden.
  • The Birdsite - This is a derogatory term used by longtime Mastodon users to passive-aggressively sneer at Twitter. I think you should just call it Twitter, it’s not Voldemort. If anything it’s off-putting to people from Twitter seeking to transition to Mastodon.
  • 500 Characters - Toots are much longer than they are on Twitter. Not oppressively so, you’re not going to read Moby Dick in a toot.
  • No Quote Toots - I’m refreshed by this. As much as I found quote tweets preferable to “Here’s what I think RT @schmoop whoa RT @doop” text retweets they invented a new problem. In many cases it was easy for people to quote, and not add much, if anything, and it would just make that quoted tweet surface more often in your timeline. This wasn’t a lot of fun when a public figure would say something that might provoke disagreement. Twitter recently tried to algorithmically fold some of these into a single structure around the quoted tweet, but it didn’t do much to cut down on noise. You do need to clink on links to things on Mastodon, you’re not going to get that quick burst of the original post to roll with.
  • Delete & Redraft - This is Mastodon’s answer to editable tweets. I, personally, am not satisfied as I would like a system that maintains history, in-place. This is better than absolutely nothing though. Especially when you quickly realize you made an error. The original is deleted, but copied to a new composition view, along with any media you had uploaded. You can make what changes you need to and post again. (I want history.)
  • Friend Finding - Mastodon will connect your Mastodon account to your Twitter account and find any Twitter accounts that Mastodon knows have associated Mastodon accounts. This won’t find accounts that eschewed this step, but you can get a healthy swath of people.
  • Eugen Rochko @Gargron@mastodon.social - The founder of Mastodon and primary developer overseeing its open software evolution. “Don’t want to be compared to Jack Dorsey, don’t want want prominence, specifically don’t want to be idolized. Just doing my thing” [sic] I provide that for context, not as some sort of ironic idolatry performance.


This is the timeline that’s the most like Twitter. Specifically, Twitter’s old, chronological timeline. You can follow people, and unfollow people, and that’s what you will see here in Home. You’ll see “boosts” the Mastodon term for “retweets” here from users you follow.

Unfortunately, you also see Direct Messages here. Threading them in is very disconcerting for longtime Twitter users who are used to seeing a separate tab for DMs. Don’t worry, it’s still correspondence intended for you, and the person(s) you’re speaking with. You can tell by the envelope icon under the post.


This timeline view is of what all people on your instance are publicly communicating. It can be interesting if you know the people on the instance, or you’re just generally bored and want to see if there’s someone else with similar interests there. It’s not, in any way, a necessary thing for you to look at.


Mastodon is a “federation” of instances that talk to one another, sometimes referred to as a “federverse”. In this view you’re seeing everyone that interacts with your instances, via the people on your instance. If I follow person A, and you follow person B, then when we go to the Federated timeline we see persons A and B. This, of course, is along with anything that they boost (retweet). On a small instance, this is great because it’s friends-of-friends, or based around a topic. On the large instances, like mastodon.social, this creates a firehose of posts that are very unlikely to appeal to you. Since mastodon.social has so many people, connected to so many instances, it’s almost like you’re looking at the entire universe of all of the posts that are happening.

This can be incredibly overwhelming, particularly when you’re just started. Do not feel any pressure to even look at the Local or Federated views until you’re set up and comfortable with your Home view. The Home View is Twitter Classic. The rest is more ways of looking at things.


Many users leaving Twitter right now might be doing it because of the near-death of the Twitter clients that they use. Many people are accustomed to a very polished Twitter client experience with Tweetbot, or Twitterrific. Unfortunately, there aren’t polished apps like that for Mastodon. The majority of apps are wrappers around a webview - fancy browsers. They have certain features, or present user-facing data in a way that is more appealing that the web site. Unfortunately, none of them are much better than the website. I would really suggest getting started on the website just because options for things will be in places you can google or ask any other user about. Pro tip: if you hit Command + on your keyboard it will “zoom” in by scaling the text and columns of the website. I find the default settings assume I have a much smaller screen than I do and I would rather read the posts than have an extra bar of dark gray on the side.

Common iPhone apps:

Common iPad apps:

  • No don’t, just use the browser.

Common Mac apps:

I’d really say that the web experience, with notifications enabled, is not the worst but it’s not what the users of third party Twitter clients are accustomed to. There are even command line python clients if you want to do some real shenanigans.

You might remember that the last time a lot of people left Twitter in a huff they went to App Dot Net (that name) ADN provided funding to developers to incentivize third party clients. There was even a twin to Tweetbot called Netbot. This time around, those developers aren’t going to jump right in. I don’t blame them for that. Twitter put them through a bunch of mind games, and the other promised platforms never worked out. The developers are on Mastodon though. Paul Haddad, who develops Tweetbot, has solicited feedback on creating a paid Mastodon client in his free time via a Patreon. Sean Heber, of Twitterific, has teased a screenshot of a very barebones client.

I don’t think that anyone should make long term Mastodon plans on this information. You might be using these very webby clients for a while. If that’s intolerable to you (it’s tolerable to me) then there’s not going to be much satisfaction for you in sticking around.

Whether you preferred Tweetbot, or you preferred Twitterific, I don’t think there’s any debate that they had an experience that felt like it was on the platform and not of a web platform.

Custom Instances

Since this is a federated experience, anyone can start their own instance. A prominent company to go to for instances is Masto.host. I started a Mastodon account on mastodon.social, but was encouraged to move to an instance started by friends using Masto.host. The advantages of your own instance are that you get to manage everything about it. It’s your own private Twitter. It associates with other Twitters, but it can also block them.

This is similar to email, where anyone can start an email server, send and receive email from other servers, or block a server from reaching it. There’s more to it than that because of the nature of microblogging and nearly real time communication, but on a functional level you own something that talks to other things on the same playing field.

People find this attractive for community building reasons, because of the timelines, data ownership, or because you can pick a really sweet domain name. Seriously, there are so many domain names now to choose from that you’re very likely to find something that is either functional or incredibly entertaining to you and your friends. Also, when I say “community building” I also mean that bad people and entire instances can be kept completely separate from your instance to not only protect you, and your users, but reduce the influence and reach of bad actors in the Federverse by omitting that connection. That level of control might be too much for some people, but other people were just born to be bulletin board moderators so let them do it.

Yes, that does mean that there are bad actors that have mastodon instances, and their goal is to interface with others and provide that same corrupting influence.

You can also make an instance for just one person. You’re not going to see any utility in the Local or Federated timelines, but you’ll be on your own little plot of land and can correspond with everyone you choose to.


Twitter has a truly awful verification system in place. It provides little public benefit because it promotes bad actors as well as good actors while also distorting the things people see based on verification. None of that exists on Mastodon. Anyone could be anyone on any instance. Naturally, that means that you should not trust that an account you see on Mastodon is the account of a person you might know from elsewhere. Just like before the verification system on Twitter existed, you’ll have to look at that person’s website, and other things to see if that mastodon account is associated with the person.

Frankly, I think this is a good thing. The verification system on twitter was easily gamed. By the decentralized nature of mastodon, instances would have to verify people, which seems silly because why would anyone else accept their word? They would be an instance of one. The solution is to just not have any verification and to have to confirm that the account belongs to someone through other reasonable sources.

Privacy & Security

One thing I’ve noticed on Mastodon is that there are quite a few Twitter users that joined around the time I did freaking out about privacy. That DM’s aren’t end-to-end-encrypted, and that instance administrators, or server administrators, could snoop on all their stuff. That is, of course, unlikely, but no social network should be used to share sensitive data. Facebook Messenger isn’t encrypted, Twitter isn’t encrypted, etc. If you need to tell someone something private do that for real. There is a level of trust that we have with large corporations, something that America is very good at instilling in its citizens from when they are kids, but you shouldn’t be passing sensitive data on Twitter or Mastodon. The privacy you have on Mastodon is even more in your control than it was on Twitter. Follow and following lists can be hidden. People were totally fine using Tweetbot to send DMs before, which requires a circle of trust. Suddenly suspecting that everyone is compromised or snooping seems misplaced. If anything, it feels like an excuse you’d use if you really wanted to stay on Twitter. Also, no one is scraping your messages for things to sell ads against. The incentive is for you to stay on an instance and be a valuable member of the community.

There are also settings for the security of your account. Two-factor authorization is an option, and you do have a list of all the authorized apps, their IP addresses, and the last time they accessed your account. That authorization can also be revoked.

Moving Accounts

One thing that seems very onerous is moving accounts. We’ve been trained by businesses that are disincentivized to let us leave, that we’re fucked if we ever want to go. This isn’t the case with Mastodon.

Whatever instance you signed up for is one that you can move away from and leave a redirect behind. There’s no system that just picks up all of your stuff and moves it, but it is comparatively stress free next to Twitter.

Go to the instance you want to join and create an account. Once you’ve made the account go back to the instance you want to move from (preferably in a separate browser tab, or separate browser.)

Go to Settings, then to Data Export. You’ll see a little spreadsheet of “You follow”, “You block”, and “You mute” each with numbers, and a CSV download button. Those lists can be uploaded to the instance you’re moving to and you’ll follow the same people, block the same people, and mute the same people. There’s also an option to request an archive. This takes a bit to process, and you’ll get an email at the email address you used to sign up for the account with all the data to download. (In some cases you can refresh the page and there’s also a download link.)

The archive is functionally useless for your Mastodon move, but it’s just nice to save things, ya know?

Once you’ve exported all that, go to the “Edit profile” section and scroll to the bottom. There’s a link to move to a different account and leave a redirect. You can leave a toot that you’re moving to your new account, and provide a link, or mention the instance.

On your new account, go to Settings, and Import. There are radio buttons for each of the lists and a choose file button. (Personally I would have made this look like the same spreadsheet you use for the export process and not like radio buttons that need to be toggled for what to do with the uploaded file.)

Once you go through each toggle, and upload each list, you’ll have all that in there. Go back to Edit Profile and set your avatar, head image, and bio manually. Unfortunately the migration process does not carry those over.

That’s it. You’ve moved instances. Your old account stays up with a redirect at the old instance, and if you needed to you could move back there just as easily.


A lot of people can’t leave their Twitter presence behind completely. They may not want to be there, immersed in the misery-outrage-panic machine but they have a business reason to maintain a tether. There are ways to do that. Any mastodon profile is an RSS feed, just add “.rss” to the profile URL, and then you can use that do all kinds of automated stuff. There are also crossposting apps to help you out like the open source project moa.party. You can use it through moa.party, or you can download the code and do it yourself. It can take Mastodon posts and put them on Twitter, or Twitter posts and put them on Mastodon, or even throw Instagram into the mix.


This is all the information I’ve gleaned that I feel is important to disaffected Twitter users using iOS/macOS that would read this blog. There’s way more information out there

http://joe-steel.com/2018-08-19-Social-TechnicalDebt.html Social Technical-Debt 2018-08-19T15:53:00Z 2018-08-19T15:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Twitter recently deactivated the services that third-party Twitter clients rely on for streaming timeline updates, mention notifications, direct message notifications (which never worked for group DMs), likes, and retweets. Twitter’s Senior Director of Data Enterprise Solutions Rob Johnson sent out an internal company email, which he uploaded screenshots of and attached to some tweets.

It is now time to make the hard decision to end support for these legacy APIs — acknowledging that some aspects of these apps would be degraded as a result. Today, we are facing technical and business constraints we can’t ignore. The User Streams and Site Streams APIs that serve core functions of many of these clients have been in a “beta” state for more than 9 years, and are built on a technology stack we no longer support. We’re not changing our rules, or setting out to “kill” 3rd party clients; but we are killing, out of operational necessity, some of the legacy APIs that power some features of those clients. And it has not been a realistic option for us today to invest in building a totally new service to replace these APIs, which are used by less than 1% of Twitter developers.

Rob also posted on Twitter’s blog a very disingenuous, and condescending version of this where he outlined all the features that Twitter offers, while not mentioning that Twitter fully controls the experience in third party apps, including what features they have elected to withhold from third parties over the years.

Basically, he’s saying that this is technical debt — something that was quickly implemented, not revisited, and now it has them in a position where it would require significant investment.

This is, of course, going on concurrently with all of the other issues that Twitter is having. They were in the headlines a couple weeks ago because of their stance on allowing their platform to be used by a conspiracy theorist. Twitter CEO, and co-founder, Jack Dorsey is hiding behind his own rules as reasons why he can’t do anything. The same rules that have a clause for “noteworthiness” which is used as an excuse to leave other bad actors on the platform.

Those bad actors all have accounts emblazoned with the puffy, blue checkmark which serves as an exclusive verification. Intended as identity confirmation, but selectively handed out in a way that makes it look like Twitter imparts some degree of worthiness to the person. From Tony Romm’s Washington Post piece with Jack:

Twitter’s new policies are being tested at the highest level — including by President Trump, whose tweets are a direct challenge. On Tuesday, Trump called former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who recently published a tell-all about her time at the White House, a “dog.” He also attacked Harley-Davidson on Sunday for moving jobs overseas — a move that precipitated a 2 percent drop in the company’s stock price.

Dorsey stuck to his long-held view that an exception generally would be granted to Trump because his comments are newsworthy and give users crucial insights as to how “global leaders think and treat the people around them.”

Functionally, it also makes accounts behave differently, with verified users having tweets surfaced in places they otherwise would not be. The overhaul of that verification system has been put on hold to focus on election integrity.

Last November, Twitter paused its account verifications as it tried to figure out a way to address confusion around what it means to be verified. That decision came shortly after people criticized Twitter for having verified the account of Jason Keller, the person who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

This is also a problem for Twitter’s other products, like Periscope, where it categorizes Alex Jones as “News”. One of his videos on Periscope was where he incited his fans to get their “battle riffles” and his personal account, and Info Wars’ account were put in read only mode. Twitter doesn’t answer why it would have ever classified Info Wars as “News” at all.

Every interview with Jack, every tweetstorm of business-speak, just makes it seem like he’s trapped inside of his own creation and he doesn’t know what to do.

The extremely camp ending of Disney’s ‘The Black Hole’ where the damaged robot has entombed his creator and become a new being ruling over a hellscape populated by the lobotomized former crew of the Cygnus.

Twitter has so much on it’s plate that it continually says it will address, and that once it does it will improve discourse on its site, and safety of people in the world. The longer they take to move on these problems the worse these problems become. When Twitter allows a user to be a bad actor, to gather a following, to get verified, and then be too important to ban, then they create a kind of social technical-debt.

Conversely, when I continue to use Twitter, surrounded by misery and panic over these bad actors, because I’ve invested too much time there, that’s also a kind of debt. Realizing that my retweets of troubling articles mean nothing, and that the caustic, high-speed flow of minor news-fluctuations pumped into my veins doesn’t improve the world.

Other platforms exist, but they aren’t as popular, “they don’t have critical mass”, but whatever. I’m transitioning from Twitter to Mastodon for all my microblogging needs. If I get bored I’ll chat on Slack, or pen a letter.

The benefit of Mastodon is that it’s not a company, but a series of instances all run by different people. Think of it more like email. Anyone can host an email server (but why), and they can send emails to other people not on their email server. Just in this case it’s an “instance”. I can block instances I don’t like, and I can still communicate with others that I do. There’s an admin for each instance to moderate and shape the kind of conduct that’s allowed on the instance. I’m on a private instance with a few friends, after having an account on the large “mastodon.social” instance which is the default place most people start. You can redirect followers if you move to another instance. All your data can be exported, including follow, block, and mute lists. I can take my stuff anywhere I would like to go. A “federated” timeline view exists, which shows all the stuff people on your instance are interacting with and saying. I found it unusable on mastodon.social, but on a smaller, more focused instance it’s worth looking at. App support is rough, but since third party app support is a real thing, maybe that will improve over time.

Fleeing to Mastodon is not a solution I would recommend to everyone, but the thought of being on Twitter is unpalatable to me at present. Perhaps, if Twitter ever gets around to all that they intend to get around to, they will have a more pleasant experience, but I don’t need to take that journey with them. They have had enough of my time.

My Mastodon Account

http://joe-steel.com/2018-06-03-WWDC-2018-Wish-List-tvOS.html WWDC 2018 Wish List: tvOS 2018-06-04T07:52:00Z 2018-06-04T07:52:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Here, let me just reuse my opening paragraph from last year’s post.

Here, let me just reuse my opening paragraph from last year’s post:

As we get closer to WWDC, I notice that there’s a dearth of excitement, interest, or rumors in anything involving the Apple TV. It’s hard to blame anyone for the disinterest since the platform hasn’t really wowed anyone since its premiere and no major rumors have circulated in advance of Monday’s event. I’ll run through a list of things I would like to see, though I myself am skeptical any of them will materialize in a few days.

That was easy.

That was easy.

The only thing from my original list that was knocked off last year was “backup and restore” which was addressed by storing your home screen and settings in iCloud to use on other Apple TV devices. That approach negates the need to use backups like an iOS device does. Another oddity is AirPlay 2 which magically appeared last week after a year of delays so the jury is still out on how “shipped” that is.

Apple also shipped a UHD HDR capable box last fall, which was a big deal. They even came around on whether they should convert all media to 60 FPS HDR (very bad) or switch modes (not bad). They have had to make refinements to this at several stages but it does seem to be improving. When they announced UHD they also announced that all movies would get UHD for free when available from most studios. The big exception was Disney. Any Disney news coming, I hope?

I still would like to see Apple tackle:

  • Picture in Picture - This is just a silly omission of a television technology when they have it for other platforms.
  • Interactive Programming Guide - With an increasing emphasis on live TV provided by multiple sources there needs to be a mechanism to expose what’s available to the user from the disparate silos. (Especially because the programming guide some of these bundlers provide in their own apps is shit.)
  • A New Multitasking View - The rolodex card thing has got to go.
  • Streamlined Apple ID and Apple ID Switching - A lot of people live with other people. Who knew?
  • Siri - Google demonstrated Google Home and a Chromecast working together over a year ago now.

Last year I called out tvOS for having huge shortcomings (regionally, and in terms of applicable services even if it was working in your region). Apple has made incremental moves to address these things but there are still huge potholes for a user if they happen to fall into a service, or use a provider, that doesn’t provide support. There is also a huge service missing from tvOS still, Netflix. A service that is far and away the number one service people subscribe to if they subscribe to online services.

There’s even a technical grossness to the way that TV the app redirects you to why you watch. This is true of Siri’s search as well. you get bounced around redirects that change what you see on the screen at each step. Why doesn’t tvOS resolve these links to a final destination and perform one change of the visible interface?

Expensive Box

The price situation is worse this year than it was the year prior. The 2015 4th Generation Apple TV costs $150. The same as it did when it was introduced. That is isnane. The 5th Generation Apple TV 4K added last year is even more expensive at $180 for 32 GB, and $200 for 64 GB.

There is no reason to buy a 64 GB Apple TV.


Apple has had three years to justify 64 GB and they haven’t. Even after the storage caps were increased. Right now the pricing structure seems to exist only to drive people to spend “a little” more money to get the next level.

Third Party Players

Many of the services have made their own playback controls, which is bad, because then different apps behave differently. The Siri playback controls don’t work in certain apps, and the same goes for hand gestures. The other week I had to watch Westworld in the DirecTV Now app because HBO Go doesn’t recognize my free HBO subscription from AT&T via DirecTV Now. DirecTV Now doesn’t behave like a normal playback system on the platform.

Games, lol

Gaming is a hilarious joke on the Apple TV. When it was first teased, people thought that they would have “console level” games on Apple hardware on a big screen in their living room. Apple undermined everything about that starting with input methods. It’s still bizarre that Apple demos the Apple TV in stores with a third party game controller.

If Apple demos an upgrade to Metal and shows how many polygons they can push now I will make a very impolite gesture with with my hand because those polygons will not matter.

I would argue that they should strip out any gaming aspirations and make a more economical streaming device.

More to Come

There’s still so much more to do with this platform. Especially with the Apple streaming service on the horizon. Let’s see how much progress Apple thinks they need to make…

http://joe-steel.com/2018-04-01-tvOS-113.html tvOS 11.3 2018-04-01T19:53:00Z 2018-04-01T19:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The last post on this site, from November of 2017, was about my disappointment with the 4th generation Apple TV. For some reason I was so devastated that I kept all my opinions to myself for months, but after the release of tvOS 11.3 this week I can dump all this garbage on you once more. We finally have frame rate matching on all the models of the Apple TV that Apple currently sells, instead of just the Apple TV 4K model.

I had been using the frame-rate matching feature in the 11.3 beta releases prior to this, and had been quite happy with it’s function. This is one of the features that enthusiasts had been asking for, on a variety of platforms, for a very long time. Amazon’s Fire TV added development settings to change the frame rate a couple years ago, but that never translated to anything that consumers saw. Perhaps it was part of an effort by Timothy Twerdahl, the former head of Amazon’s Fire TV unit that Apple hired to lead the Apple TV team over a year ago, and he’s the reason Apple has added it? Whatever the source of the change is, I’m happy that it has changed.

11.3 also brings improvements to the mode switching to match HDR or SDR content, as well as support for some Sony HDR TV’s that had some issues with the Apple TV prior to this. Josh Centers, at TidBits, detailed some of the issues he had with his Sony TV and Apple TV 4K prior to 11.3’s release. I had initially planned on buying a fancy LG OLED HDR TV and Apple TV 4K, but I’m not really on that kind of upgrade cycle at the moment. Particularly, in light of the inconsistent availability of titles, as noted by Jason Snell here. I’m happy that they’re improving that support for when I do eventually move to it, and for customers who have been buying those TV sets.

I’m less thrilled with the 11.3 onboarding screens that pepper the interface experience now. There isn’t a series of screens you can go through and dismiss, instead they wait to spring on you when you open certain things, or activate certain functions. It’s pretty disruptive to what you’re trying to do since the organic reveal of the completely useless information isn’t in line with what you thought would happen when you were navigating. This also seems to produce some glitches that survived the 11.3 beta and have made their way into the final release. Ask Siri to play something and you might see a flash of an onboarding screen for TV the app, which has an onboarding screen you may not have dismissed yet, and it bounces to black and on to what you had asked to play. You haven’t interacted with that screen, it’s just in the chain of events that got you to the video you’re watching. It’s a little peculiar. One graphical glitch I’ve experienced in the final release is that when I asked Siri for the TV show “Atlanta”, and I selected buying it from the iTunes Store, I was dumped to a black screen. The TV Shows interface was a completely black screen that needed to be force quit. I couldn’t ascertain if the black screen was a failure of some onboarding screen to trigger, or if the glitch was unrelated, since like many tvOS glitches I haven’t been able to reproduce it. Delightful.

Another annoying thing is that 11.3 is still missing AirPlay 2 audio. AirPlay (1) is not always reliable, and lacked modern audio playback features. AirPlay 2 was announced June 5th at WWDC last year to fix that. There’s a WWDC video on AirPlay 2. It is unlikely that there will be an Apple event between April 1st and Apple’s 2018 WWDC event, so it seems like AirPlay 2 will have been announced without a shipping version a full year in advance of when it should have been. Since I don’t desire more glitches in my devices, I’m not going to complain that something that isn’t ready should have shipped, but I will complain that something that isn’t ready shouldn’t have such prominent placement and be touted as part of upcoming products.

There are some audio interface changes though, like dragging down to reveal access to a menu to let you select a HomePod for audio output for your movie or TV show, that you’re watching on your Apple TV. There are three drawbacks for that though.

  1. Swiping down on the remote doesn’t work so well because that’s where the hole for the microphone is, so my thumb doesn’t smoothly glide over the area and the menu doesn’t always appear. Instead it usually triggers a tap to pause the video.
  2. The HomePod is a lousy TV speaker. I had theorized that it would be, and fortunately my friend Marko brought one over to my place to confirm my suspicions. This could be different with multiple HomePods using AirPlay 2 for stereo output, but I find that expensive idea based on vaporware unappealing.
  3. BlueTooth audio devices, and even “special sauce” W1 devices like my Beats X earbuds, don’t appear in that little menu, even if the devices are powered on, unless I go all the way to Settings, and select them there, even though they are visible as an option in Settings. It would be great if I didn’t have to go to Settings to use my earbuds, which I had assumed was the whole point of this quick menu.

Also every time iOS upgrades I have to reset the behavior of the home button, to go to Home instead of TV the app which is mostly useless with the array of services I do/don’t have. Totes adorbs.

While I know people might want to point out that I should just be grateful for the new features that Apple is adding to a product from 2015 when it isn’t the flagship device, and I am grateful for frame-rate matching, it’s not like Apple’s doing that just for me. It’s because they still sell this product from 2015 on store shelves for $150 alongside the flagship.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-11-03-Mode-Switching-for-Apple-TV-4K-Nothing-for-Apple-TV.html Mode Switching for Apple TV 4K, Nothing for Apple TV 2017-11-03T16:38:00Z 2017-11-03T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ When the Apple TV 4K debuted it brought not just a higher resolution, but also high dynamic range video, HDR. However, there still wasn’t mode switching so the Apple TV 4K would stick to it’s defaults: 2160p, 60fps, and DolbyVision. That meant it was converting non-HDR content to HDR which results in some pretty weird stuff. Apple told TechCrunch’s Matt Panzarino that they didn’t want to switch modes, and said the same to The Verge’s Nilay Patel:

All of this adds up to a real devil’s bargain that wouldn’t exist if the Apple TV would simply switch modes on your TV. I asked about it, and Apple told me it thinks mode switching is “inelegant,” because TVs often flicker and display built-in interface elements when they do it. (There’s some classic Apple-ness here.)

So from the jump, the Apple TV forces you to run your nice new 4K HDR TV at a suboptimal setting at some point during the course of using it. The specifics of this problem might only be of interest to A/V nerds, but the way it looks in the end will affect every single Apple TV 4K owner. I suspect Apple will eventually add an advanced setting to allow for mode switching, but out of the box right now, this is what you get.

Which I thought was bull. You wind up with a default mode that’s tailored to making the interface look smooth (60fps) and HDR when most video that will be played in 2017-2018 won’t be HDR.

Apple added automatic frame rate and dynamic range matching to the beta for tvOS 11.2 this week. It basically requires developers to inform tvOS what kind of content will be played and tvOS will adjust it’s output for the TV, otherwise media plays the way it does in tvOS 11.1 and earlier. Apple has released a video on it here. As Nilay predicted, there are two toggles (one for frame rate and one for dynamic range) that can be enabled, or disabled. The system default in the beta is disabled … which is a curious choice. This really seems like a gesture to placate AV nerds, and tech reviewers.

One thing that does not placate me is that Apple has only added frame rate matching to the Apple TV 4K, not the 4th generation Apple TV. They still sell the 2+ year-old Apple TV for $150 so it’s not a discontinued product. There appears to be no technological reason that I can find for omitting this feature for the non-4K customers who have been asking for 24fps playback. There isn’t even a manual setting for 24fps playback for that Apple TV model, but there is for the Apple TV 4K. Isn’t everyone worthy of fewer frames per second?

http://joe-steel.com/2017-10-31-iPhone-X-Impressions-and-Reviews.html iPhone X Impressions and Reviews 2017-10-31T16:38:00Z 2017-10-31T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ So yesterday some iPhone X stuff went up, and today some more went up. Impressions and reviews — a blast of IR. The amount of time each person has had seems to vary from a week, to a day, to a briefing room in a temporary space in New York for about an hour. One controversial aspect of this — and I can’t believe I’m going to fucking talk about this — is that some YouTubers were given early access in the briefing area and published their material first. Matt Alexander has a good post pragmatically outlining the reasons why this was a good choice. There’s been some sour grapes about that with some other people. Which of course means the whole thing has been distilled to “old people don’t understand young people.” Where all The Olds are just grumpy YouTubers made videos instead of blog-words in their RSS feeds, when really it’s that the YouTubers did not make very good videos. Arguably because of the parameters Apple set.

The videos appear to be true to who the people are, and they all seem like very nice people, but the craftsmanship of these videos is just not very good. They’re mostly undifferentiated YouTuber-style videos with fast, consecutive jump-cuts that are unmotivated by any narrative reason, and a pretty generic, electronic music bed. They’re trying to make a mostly static scene where they talk about some pretty dry features seem dynamic in the only way they can given the constraints of the briefing room, and time. What they’ve made is a bubbling cauldron of clips of mostly a person standing in front of a brick wall, and wood table, and holding a black slab. Emphasis is placed on the face and hands of the person speaking. This is your human connection to this thing. Each video mostly boils down to, “Do you like this person and think they’re fun?” In a very strange way it’s not about the phone at all when you watch several of these in a row.

By all means, seed these people with review units again in the future. Just don’t do this briefing room. Give them the phones to take out in to the world and explore and create. Record material with the camera in the thing.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-10-22-Black-Eye-for-CBS-All-Access.html Black Eye for CBS All Access 2017-10-23T07:23:00Z 2017-10-23T07:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

I was dreading the new Star Trek Discovery show for the past year. Ever since the lackluster ship unveiling it seemed like things were a mess. Then the show premiered 6 weeks ago and I quickly realized that I not only liked the show, but I looked forward to new episodes every single week. There are flaws, of course, and things that nerds will bicker about, but one thing everyone seems to agree on is that CBS All Access is a trash fire.

This past week, with the release of episode six, “Lethe”, every single person I know who tried to watch the show on an Apple TV experienced glitches that caused audio and video to loop, decoding errors that caused the screen to be mostly blocks of green, or just intermittent black screens. This is a black eye for CBS in the fifth week of streaming this show every Sunday night. Particularly when they put “All Access” in the name of the thing.

Curiously, I switched over to watch CBS All Access on my Fire TV and there wasn’t a single problem, while my friends with their Apple TVs continued to experience errors. Another friend with a Fire TV was also fine. I don’t know if CBS has different servers managing these things, but if they do the ones they have for the Apple TV need to be checked out.

I would argue that the only reason to subscribe to CBS All Access over any other means of accessing CBS content is that it’s the only legal way to watch Star Trek Discovery in the United States. There are simply no alternatives. It’s $5.99 a month with commercial breaks, or $9.99 a month without advertisements. In comparison, commercial-free Netflix is $10.99 a month. I’m one of the people paying extra to watching one TV show a week without ads, and to completely avoid the service the rest of the week. There is no valid reason that CBS should fail to stream that one show, when it’s available to stream, every week, when you compare that price against services that offer you a large catalog of content.

In prior weeks, I’ve experienced buffering errors, where I needed to pause the stream and go do something else while video cached, lest I run into low quality glitches, or pauses in playback. That’s every four weeks of playback prior to today. That’s abysmal that they can’t get their house in order to stream this one show. The best viewing experience I’ve had so far was when the show premiered on CBS broadcast TV.

That’s probably because Star Trek Disovery streams in a maximum of 720p, with a low bitrate, and low bitrate audio according to analysis from Audioholics. I certainly believe it, based on my experience. The average episode costs $8 million dollars. That’s like taking a bottle of Dom and pouring it in a used Dixie cup to sell.

There are even extremely bizarre things that cropped up the first week when I tried to reactivate my CBS All Access account after having stopped the trial. I reenabled the iTunes subscription through the interface provided for subscriptions on iOS. That didn’t work, and caused errors when I would try to “restore iTunes purchase” from within CBS’ Apple TV app. I had to create a CBS All Access account - a step I didn’t have to do when activating the trial - just to enable access. I watched that second episode of Discovery with commercial breaks because it didn’t seem to identify that I had selected the no-ad rate from within the iOS subscription interface. It was only after I selected it in CBS All Access that it started working. There’s no good reason why the service should not be in sync with what I am paying.

My friend Dan Moren ran into a similar problem when he realized he didn’t know how to log in to CBS All Access on his Fire TV because he had also signed up from the Apple TV side and never created a CBS All Access account.

If the nerds are supposed to be the leverage to launch this service then it should occur to someone managing CBS All Access that the nerds might be a tiny bit critical about being able to watch our nerd show every week. Perhaps the calculus is that Trekkers and Trekkies will put up with anything to watch a new Star Trek show? I’m not sure I agree with that logic.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-10-15-Literally-Movies-Anywhere.html Literally Movies Anywhere 2017-10-16T03:43:00Z 2017-10-16T03:43:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Disney launched Disney Movies Anywhere a few years ago. I didn’t think much of it initially until I had some problems trying to watch some Star Wars movies I had bought through iTunes. I signed up, connected it to my iTunes account (an easy authorization), connected it to my Amazon account, and fired up the Fire TV. I didn’t need to download the Disney Movies Anywhere app for my devices, because the movies weren’t siloed inside of an app, they were appearing as if they were natively purchased on whatever platform I was on. The only drawback is that this only worked for Disney movies (even though that turns out to be a lot of stuff).

This changed when Movies Anywhere was announced as a multi-studio program with participation from Sony Pictures (Columbia, TriStar, etc.), 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Paramount, Lionsgate, and smaller studios aren’t participating at this time. This system works on all the platforms Disney Movies Anywhere had worked on: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play (YouTube), and Vudu. However, like all new entertainment-technology thingies, this is in the U.S. first, with no plans announced for a global rollout.

There was some pesky annoyance with setting up a new account (they didn’t just lop “Disney” off the name of the old system, I don’t know if they needed a separate legal entity, or whatever.) Once it was set up everything was working as advertised. I had movies and they were anywhere.

Something I was curious about was support for 4K/UHD, and HDR. The Movies Anywhere app, which is optional to use, doesn’t support playback beyond HD right now, but “eligible” titles are available across all the participating systems. Apple had recently announced that whenever a studio updated a movie for 4K and/or HDR that anyone who bought the movie already would receive that update for free (Except for Disney). Apple also showed off substantially reduced prices over what competing stores had been charging for purchasing 4K HDR movies. Amazon followed by slashing the prices of their 4K HDR movies, but they didn’t upgrade titles. How would these decisions interact with Movies Anywhere? Turns out you basically get the benefits of Apple’s content dealing for those titles on any platform that also has those movies in 4K HDR.

My friend Matt Alexander, an Internet Entrepreneur (Internetrepreneur), has invested heavily in his personal media library, with purchases on a variety of platforms so he was finding out all of these benefits yesterday. He had bought physical titles that had UltraViolet codes, and entered them in to Vudu (basically the only place worth doing that) and since Vudu is a participating platform in Movies Anywhere, those titles were available to him. So this is a service that even has benefits for people suffering from UltraViolet.

You even get benefits that might be particular to a platform, like iTunes Extras, or Amazon’s X-Ray information, depending on where you access the movie from. Don’t expect your playback info to synchronize though. If you pause a movie in iTunes, that won’t sync with Amazon, or vice versa. It only synchronizes what counts as ownership.

Someone might wonder what the catch is. There are three catches:

  1. You agree that the service can monitor the movies you have purchased, it needs this to know what copies you’ve bought so that other platforms will show them as purchased.
  2. You will need to buy movies.
  3. You can’t lend the digital copies to anyone, but you can lend a disc if you bought a disc and redeem the digital code.

Those aren’t really dramatic catches, but think about the second one. How often have you hesitated on buying a movie in the last 10-15 years because the way you “own” these titles is such a mess? There’s a reason so many streaming services with ephemeral libraries exist. Sure you might buy the occasional title that isn’t available for streaming, but that’s probably a big blockbuster you really liked. You’re not doing the kind of shopping that was happening in the home video space in the early 2000’s. As the kids say, the studios “made bank” back then.

When I was in college, we’d go to the Sarasota or Bradenton Walmart and buy DVDs that were on sale. Things we might not have even seen before, because they’d be in the $10 or less range. That was a peak time for home video because so many titles were re-released on DVD, and with so many editions, that there was always something coming out to buy. With the relatively pricey rental options, it was always a good idea to be on the lookout for titles that could be added to your personal library.

Then HD TV sets started to hit their stride and the studios wanted to sell discs that would play HD. They botched this really hard with two, competing, onerous disc formats that were priced higher than DVDs, to protect the existing DVD prices. Consumers were also getting used to consuming media on-the-go thanks to smartphones. Coincidentally, the global economy fell off a cliff during the same period. Oops. It’s no surprise that this devastated the home video sales market. Efforts to fix this have been systems like UltraViolet, where almost nothing played UltraViolet movies. Even Warner Bros. is participating in Movies Anywhere, and Kevin Tsujihara (WB CEO) was perhaps the biggest champion of UltraViolet.

Movies Anywhere is a return to focusing on selling content by reducing friction, but updated for the contemporary time instead of DVD sale bins. It signals to the customer that the movie they bought has value. Not just value on a particular, restrictive platform. It makes it seem like it’s not as ephemeral as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu library content. It’s also not as fiddly as buying and ripping Blu-Rays for Plex. It’s a reason to shop for things to watch because the friction is so low.

I do wonder what the long term effects of this will be beyond movie sales. It’s possible that we’ll see fewer movies appearing on streaming services now that it’s more reasonable to buy a title, and a bigger shift to episodic programming. It’s also possible it could have a huge impact on the streaming hardware people buy to view titles. If you have a huge iTunes library, but don’t want to spend $180-$200 on an Apple TV to stream those titles, you can buy a 4K HDR Roku, or 4K HDR Fire TV for less than half that device cost. Several TV manufacturers have been integrating more robust connected services in their panels than what they previously offered - like Roku, or Fire OS. As Roku’s CEO, Anthony Wood, pointed out to Variety, one in five smart TVs sold in the U.S. this year ran Roku’s software. Roku offers support for Vudu, Amazon, and Google Play. Any of those will have Movies Anywhere content. Roku’s platform is certainly not my preferred way to watch media, but it’s proven to be more than palatable with 37% of all streaming devices owned by U.S. broadband households.

There are, of course, reasons to buy an Apple TV beyond iTunes movies (and there will probably continue to be once Apple releases their self-financed episodic programming next fall or the year after), but in multi-TV households, maybe people will save $180 per room if they don’t need to watch Amazing Stories and play exactly one game that’s a timed exclusive in that particular room. That’s money that could be spent on about 10-18 movies to watch anywhere. Money the studios would love to receive.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-08-25-Apple-TV-Roundup.html Apple TV Roundup 2017-08-25T16:23:00Z 2017-08-25T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ It’s pretty much certain that Apple is going to have a new Apple TV product for the fall with UHD (“4K”) and HDR. The first hint was larger storage limits for apps, even though that could mean a variety of things. Then the second hint was Amazon Video coming to the Apple TV (Amazon’s original video programs are all UHD) so that provides content. The firmware for the HomePod confirmed it, and “4K” has shown up on some recent iTunes receipts. While WWDC proved disappointing for Apple TV news, it’s evolved over the last couple months to be an inevitable product for this fall.

Mark Gurman reported yesterday that there would be an Apple Event in the month of September, which is not surprising, and that the new Apple TV would debut there. He also says that there will be a live TV element inside of TV the app unveiled at the event. There’s no detail provided on what that would entail. Many apps on the Apple TV provide live TV options, so it could simply be exposing those inside of TV the app with what’s currently playing, or it could be much more complex than that (like a programming guide so you can see what’s coming up, I hope?) This is so vague I have a hard time getting excited by it right now.

Chance Miller at 9to5Mac posted an opinion piece about how Apple could still disrupt Hollywood and summarizes the executive hires that have been reported on in the past. This isn’t disruptive to Hollywood in terms of the content being made — as evidenced by the Hollywood hires — but it is disruptive in terms of content distribution. It’s not just the Apple TV that this video content will play on (because that has declined to just 15% of the streaming-box-stick market), but every Apple device with a screen (calm down David Lynch). Wielding that leverage can be pretty powerful — just look at all the tacky-ass Apple Music banners in iOS.

Until the release of Apple’s first two original shows (Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke) there was nothing on an Apple platform that could not be watched, or purchased elsewhere. While iTunes video purchases offer platform lock-in once you buy them, iTunes library of titles is not exclusive to Apple in any way.

Amazon and Netflix have seen success in offering their own content, rather than solely licensing TV and movies from Hollywood studios. Hollywood studios are very protective of their existing revenue streams, and have been very, very, very slow to adapt to changing consumer demands. Most apps on the Apple TV that offer streaming content either require a cable/satellite subscription or they work better with one. If there was more material that didn’t rely on that relationship, then there’s more that can be done on the platform without relying on the whims of providers, and TV networks.

To complicate movie matters, there are the theater chains which also want to protect theaters, and will refuse to carry a film. (Most of US film distribution is tied up with AMC and Regal Cinemas. If they don’t carry a film then it effectively will have no box office revenue.) So while Apple might not disrupt the kinds of material you see, they could theoretically disrupt distribution models. Netflix’s push for day-and-date releases has resulted in several films that die a quiet death in the Netflix catalog. Amazon has a different strategy and they preserve the release window, with movies appearing a Prime Video after they’ve had theatrical runs. If one of the things Apple finances winds up being a movie, what course would they take with it? Right now, it seems as though they’re focused on TV shows, but the reporting is vague.

What will be interesting is that it is far more difficult for Apple to hide movie and TV production information than details of technical components. As the development executives make deals with directors, writers, producers, and actors over the next year we’ll get a sense of exactly what kind of material we’ll see. Several outlets have talked about Game of Thrones style shows, but one does not simply order-up 10 Game of Thrones shows. What will the diversity in the content wind up being like? Not just in terms of subject matter, but the people in front of and behind the camera. Those details should start appearing The Hollywood Reporter and Variety over the next year in ways that Apple tech coverage usually doesn’t.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the conversations that will come out of the material Apple choses to make going forward. Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke can be written off as experiments before they hired people who knew what they were doing, and they didn’t involve an element of narrative storytelling. Some Apple-fan-bros squabbling over the value in a rom-com, and what it means for future iPhone sales will just be too funny.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-08-09-On-Disney-and-Stream-Saturation.html On Disney and Stream Saturation 2017-08-09T16:38:00Z 2017-08-09T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Disney announced yesterday that they would be ending their distribution deal with Netflix and starting their own service for Disney and Pixar fair. Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, isn’t sure about where the Marvel and Star Wars properties will wind up. Peter Kafka at Recode has the relevant portion of Bob Iger’s statement in his piece on the announcement.

My guess is that he would like to see if it would be possible to sell Star Wars and Marvel streaming access separately, but aren’t yet sure if it would be wise to charge extra for that. ESPN, also owned by Disney, has been exploring an ESPN streaming service that’s designed not to compete with their cable offerings, but to offer something extra for an extra fee. How Disney’s streaming package will compete with their various cable offerings (like The Disney Channel, and Disney XD) remains to be seen.

Even when it comes to movies, Disney has a service called Disney Anywhere that mirrors purchased movies on all major platforms, as well as providing an app to stream them directly if you so choose. What impact would a streaming service have on digital movie sales? Will they want to keep Disney Anywhere, and have their new streaming service offer only a portion of titles that rotate in and out like Netflix? (My guess is “duh” but we’ll see.)

Thanks to extensions in copyright law, and a series of very large acquisitions, Disney owns your childhood, and your children’s childhood, and their children’s childhood. That isn’t simply because of their ownership, but because of what a good job they do at keeping those properties vital and active in popular culture. So what can they get away with parceling and selling in various ways?

Of course that’s what everyone is usually worried about when it comes to streaming. How can these companies turn access to their media library into as much recurring revenue as possible while maintaining as much existing revenue as possible? At what point do they sacrifice some revenue in one area and trust that they will make it up in another?

Indeed, the stocks for Walt Disney and Netflix both took a tumble over concerns about that revenue protection. But the whole market was down because everyone was worried about something else too.

U.S. and global stocks opened lower Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea about facing “fire and fury” if it doesn’t stop threatening the U.S. The broad-based S&P 500 stock index opened about 0.3 percent lower.

Maybe the Disney Vault can be repurposed as a fallout shelter?

Anyway, I digress, let’s discuss protecting that revenue and what it means for consumers who live in a Fantasy Land of less-expensive cord-cutting. How are the streaming apps on your phone or TV paid for?

  • There are services that are specific to a cable/satellite/OTT package (FX, HGTV, Food Network).
  • There are services that are duplicates of a cable/satellite/OTT package (HBO, Showtime).
  • There are services that exist with partial overlap (CBS All Access, Hulu).
  • There are services that exist with no equivalent (Netflix, Amazon).

These are also monetized differently.

  • Part of a cable/satellite/OTT subscription on a monthly, or yearly plan with early cancellation fees.
  • Paid for directly with a recurring, monthly subscription.
  • Ad-supported, or partially ad-supported with a recurring subscription.

As people pick through the various things available to them they will do the math on what they think is worth it in each of those categories. Do some ad-supported streaming services offset the expense? Do they abhor ads and will only consider monthly subscriptions? Do they need cable TV and budget very little for additional streaming services?

After a certain number of monthly subscriptions, you do run into issues with expense — but hey, it takes money to make TV and movies happen, people.

The silver lining is that monthly, recurring subscriptions are very easy to cancel on various platforms, like Apple TV, Roku, or the Fire TV. People can drift in and out of paying each month. Though most people do just stay subscribed year-round. Effectively your a la carte services can be different month-to-month without penalty you. That is very unlike the traditional cable or satellite TV experience, with high-pressure telephone negotiations, equipment installations, and on-site visits.

So it’s not all bad news! Look how flexible that is! And in Darwinian fashion we will see what the market will sustain.

The one, major downside I see is that some executives will realize that it’s bad when people cancel, and they want people to not do that by shifting the threshold from monthly to yearly subscriptions, which people would be less likely to cancel. They are also less likely for people to start, so I don’t think you’ll see it until providers see saturation, because why steer people away? There will, of course, be an emphasis on a yearly “discount”. Sign up for one year and get a percentage off.

Amazon has done the reverse of this, where they used to offer Prime memberships exclusively as yearly memberships, but started offering month-to-month Prime memberships, priced higher per-month, to try and get more people in the door. There’s even a tier for Prime-Video-only at a month-to-month rate of $8.99.

I bet the pricing and programming research going on inside Disney is bananas right now.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-06-06-Apple-TV-Wish-List-Dirge.html Apple TV Wish List Dirge 2017-06-06T07:53:00Z 2017-06-06T07:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I did not get a lot of stuff off of my wish list this year. Like last year. I had said that I wasn’t expecting hardware - unless there was a real developer story there for the hardware - but that certainly wasn’t what I wished for. After all, the 4th generation Apple TV was previewed at WWDC 2015 because there was a developer story. Tim Cook made a big deal about how he felt “the future of TV is apps” and that never materialized for developers.

I would really like to highlight, again, how the future of TV is not apps, but services, as it was, and always has been. Nothing drives that home more than Amazon Prime Video being the only thing unveiled in the tvOS section of the keynote presentation. That is a service.

Also, while I had figured on Amazon Prime news, I certainly didn’t anticipate it would be the only thing. I was gobsmacked, to say the least. There’s so much about the Apple TV, and tvOS, that should be addressed, but it won’t be addressed this summer. Tim Cook mentioned that more would be coming in the fall, but no specifics were offered. I only mention that to draw a distinction with several other things that were displayed but won’t be available until fall or December.

I am assuming that there will be new hardware, and possibly some headline software features, that will arrive at that time. Since they seem long overdue.

Same Price and Models from 2015

Just a reminder that Apple is selling the 4th generation Apple TV box in two configurations: 32 GB for $150 and 64 GB for $200, and they still haven’t articulated any difference between them other than a change to the storage caps for apps (which has had no material effect), nor has the price come down since it was introduced.

I had expected that there might be a price drop on the existing model, just to make the price seem less ludicrous, but they seem determined to hold on to these price points until whatever might come next arrives. I’m not sure if that means the next model will be in the $150-$200 range, or it will be even more costly and they don’t want people to blanche at at something drastically higher than $200 if the old model is still there to make it seem reasonable. They didn’t have a problem discounting Apple TVs in the past.

When the 3rd generation model lingered on for years, Apple cut the price of the ancient 3rd generation model from $99 to $69 at a March 2015 event because they still didn’t have the 4th generation ready for even a preview.

To put the considerable premium Apple is charging in perspective I’ll reproduce a list I made last fall with the prices of various competing products. The Roku products have even dropped by $10-$15 because they’re not spring chickens either.

  • $30: Roku Express
  • $35: Chromecast
  • $40: Amazon Fire TV Stick 2nd Gen. (Alexa, universal search)
  • $40: Roku Express+
  • $40: Roku Streaming Stick
  • $70: Chromecast Ultra (UHD)
  • $70: Roku Premiere (UHD)
  • $90: Amazon Fire TV 2nd Gen. (Alexa, universal search, UHD)
  • $90: Roku Premiere+ (UHD, HDR)
  • $115: Roku Ultra (UHD, HDR, Voice Search)
  • $150: Apple TV 32 GB (Siri, universal search)
  • $200: Apple TV 64 GB (Siri, universal search)

Apple is still selling a non-premium device at a premium price this summer, going into at least this fall, which will mean 2 years of this product at this price with relatively minor software changes. Even for things like voice search, which Apple prides itself on, it only outperforms the Roku devices, not the Alexa-enabled Fire TV models.

The Apple TV used to miss out on Amazon Prime Video so at least they’ll remedy that, but it won’t make it any more distinct against the other devices. All of those above have Amazon Video except for the Chromecasts. They all offer a very similar array of apps that access video services. None of them are appealing game platforms.

AirPlay 2

There was a mention later on in the presentation about AirPlay 2. An Apple TV could be used to play audio as if it was an AirPlay 2 speaker. The Apple TV can also control playback throughout the home. Curiously, this was part of the iOS feature presentation. No indication about whether or not it improves the reliability of AirPlay (1), or offers any other enhancements other than multi-room audio control. I had put a new version of AirPlay on my wishlist for WWDC 2016, but I took it off this year because it seemed like Apple had shown no interest in addressing any of the bugs or issues with AirPlay in the last two years. Should have left it on.

Better Video … for Everything Else

Curiously, the Mac, and iOS devices, are getting h.265 video support in software, and hardware, as well as HDR support. These are features that are definitely required for the Apple TV, but would need new hardware. Hopefully, this is just a sign that Apple is doing the work. (But they still haven’t brought picture in picture to tvOS so maybe they’re just doing this to frustrate me (just me, specifically)).

Unpublicized Features

Mark Gurman tweeted:

While not discussed on stage, there is a minor tvOS update coming. Dark mode will go on and off automatically + home screen sync.

I know many people will appreciate automatic switching between eye-searing-wrongness and correctness, but it really should just be correct all the time. Hopefully it will allow me to retain that setting. [UPDATE: You can select Dark Mode only.]

Home screen sync is interesting because I’ve been asking for it since I got my Apple TV 4th generation and realized it wasn’t backed up anywhere, and there was no way to restore it to the state I had it in if something were to happen to it, or if I were to upgrade to a new device. Mark’s tweet has absolutely no detail so I’ll have to wait and see what the scope of this winds up being. Maybe they’ve secretly removed one last thing from my wish list? [UPDATE: Home screen syncing is there, and it does obviate my complaints about the lack of a backup/restore mechanism. This also lends credence to a new hardware model coming because this will let you pass your home screen and apps to whatever new device you set up. While this is not an iOS-style backup/restore, this is in many ways a better solution to the problem. Kudos to the tvOS team.]

There’s likely to be more info that will come out in the weeks ahead, and I look forward to seeing, and hearing, more about what wasn’t mentioned directly on stage, but that’s all for TV.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-06-01-Wacki-Siri-Theori.html Wacki Siri Theori 2017-06-01T21:22:00Z 2017-06-01T21:22:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Since the Siri-in-a-can rumors started, I had always assumed it would be fancy microphones, and a fancy speaker. I did not really think it would include a display. Phil Schiller has claimed that Apple feels a display is essential (which is wrong) but I always took that as criticism of existing screenless solutions. I believe Jason Snell has also mentioned that as a possibility on Upgrade several times, but I can’t turn up a link to anything specific at the moment.

You walk in a room, you say, “Hey Siri, give me directions to the Pavilions on Beverly Drive and Olympic Boulevard” Then, magically, all your Apple devices would light up with a list of many Pavilions grocery stores, and the fancy speaker would intone, “Tap on the one you want.” Certainly solves Phil’s skepticism about screenless devices.

The rumor about the Siri-in-a-can that started circulating about it having a screen never really seemed like a good fit, but it’s coming from, Ming-Chi Kuo, someone well regarded for having sources in Apple’s supply chain.

This morning Mark Gurman definitively said it won’t have a screen, again. So … these two things are at odds.

I wonder if there are two models being manufacturered instead of a single model? One is more like Amazon’s Echo, or Google Home, and the other is more like Amazon’s Echo Show. That would make some sense, because one of the things I have been skeptical of is the pricing for a device that has an embedded screen. It would be very difficult to saturate a house with these devices if they’re in the $250-$300 range. A less expensive model, without a screen, would certain help. Particularly if people are skeptical of the utility of Siri-in-a-can. Not that anyone would ever have any skepticism about the utility of Siri.

I have no data to back up this idea. Apple is no stranger to releasing products that don’t scale well to every room of your house – like the Apple TV. It does, however, seem like a good explanation for the dueling rumors.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-05-26-WWDC-2017-Wish-List-tvOS.html WWDC 2017 Wish List: tvOS 2017-05-26T16:53:00Z 2017-05-26T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Here, let me just reuse my opening paragraph from last year’s post:

As we get closer to WWDC, I notice that there’s a dearth of excitement, interest, or rumors in anything involving the Apple TV. It’s hard to blame anyone for the disinterest since the platform hasn’t really wowed anyone since its premiere and no major rumors have circulated in advance of Monday’s event. I’ll run through a list of things I would like to see, though I myself am skeptical any of them will materialize in a few days.

That was easy.

The only thing on that list from last year that came to pass was “Darker Interface” in the form of tvOS 11’s Dark Mode. Later in the year, Apple added TV the app but it’s not exactly the overhaul of the TV Shows app and the Movies app I wrote about, nor does it completely satisfy the quick aliases for content that I would have liked. Similarly, Single Sign-On was not the unified iCloud Keychain experience I had hoped for since it relies on a service provider which doesn’t help cord-cutters, and cord-nevers. Purchases of TV apps on other Apple platforms was also made easier in the Fall, but that wasn’t part of WWDC. In January of this year Apple also increased the storage caps on tvOS, which did theoretically differentiate the 32 GB and 64 GB models, but I still haven’t seen any real ramifications of that change.

I still would like to see Apple tackle:

  • Picture in Picture - This is just a silly omission of a television technology when they have it for other platforms.
  • Interactive Programming Guide - With an increasing emphasis on live TV provided by multiple sources there needs to be a mechanism to expose what’s available to the user from the disparate silos.
  • A New Multitasking View - The rolodex card thing has got to go.
  • Streamlined Apple ID and Apple ID Switching - A lot of people live with other people. Who knew?
  • Backup and Restore - If there’s ever a 5th generation Apple TV, I would really like to not set it up from scratch.
  • Siri - Google demonstrated Google Home and a Chromecast working together over a year ago now.

I’m not convinced that Apple will continue to make improvements to AirPlay, or refine the Home Screen with better organizational tools. Since the introduction of tvOS’ TV the app it’s been pretty clear that they want to eventually replace the Home Screen with TV the app, but they aren’t able to do it yet. I suspect the Home Screen will not see any changes in the next revision of tvOS.

Let’s move on to new things, including hardware, which I think isn’t likely to happen at WWDC, but it is a wish list.


I expect a huge narrative around how amazing TV the app is (it isn’t amazing, but that’s never stopped Apple executives before). There’s probably going to be some ridiculous slide of all the apps that work with TV the app where you’re like “OMG, there’s so many I can’t even count all these corporate logos!” And then they’re going to showcase some big name that’s joining TV the app. I don’t know who it will be, but the rumors around Amazon and Apple coming to terms over Amazon Video make it seem like they would be an ideal candidate. There also hasn’t been a peep about Netflix joining TV the app. So either Netflix is keeping that a super-secret surprise, or it’s not happening and Apple is just hoping to put pressure on Netflix with another big name joining.

Then there will be a thing about how great Single Sign-On is (even though it’s not great because it’s supported by relatively few providers).

Then they’ll say that TV the app is going to be available in X number of countries more. I can’t imagine they have enough partners, globally, to make it even as “relevant” as it is in the U.S. so I don’t think a global roll-out is likely.

With the storage cap increase it’s also likely a brief game demonstration will occur, to highlight a game by a larger developer that they can finally port to the platform, and there will be some under-the-hood changes in the next tvOS that also make it easier (like the way content needs to be broken up for dynamic loading).

Whatever Siri improvements are available for the rumored Nuevo Siri will have some ramifications for tvOS, but Apple is never consistent about how Siri works on each of their platforms so I have to imagine it’s some weird subset of things.

“Hey Siri, play Planet of the Apps.” Then the TV will turn on and the video will start will playing without having to navigate. That’s not something new, but it would be new for Apple.


The Siri Remote

To the last, I will grapple with thee… from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!

This remote was an abomination that should have never made it out of the design lab it was drafted in. It was conjured up by designers from another world who only had TV remote controls described to them using words in their native tongue. I want something that can be held comfortably, doesn’t shatter, and has asymmetry that you can feel to know what you are holding, and what you are pushing, without looking at the tiny monolith. I wanted it in 2015, and I still want it.

Whatever touch surface they include should be fine-tuned to work with a human thumb instead of whatever capuchin monkey the remote’s original designers were imagining.

Game Controller

After last year’s WWDC, Apple quietly let developers require a game controller. This was something that they had waffled on in 2015 before deciding that they didn’t want to offer anything in the tvOS App Store that couldn’t be used with the Siri Remote. The problem is they never introduced a first-party game controller.

If you walk into any Apple Store, or Best Buy, you’ll see the Apple TV with a Nimbus SteelSeries game controller. To have so thoroughly invested in a third-party solution for one of the key selling-points of an Apple platform just underscores Apple’s lack of care in this area.

If you look at the tvOS App Store, and hop down several rows, and move across, you’ll see a category of games that Apple’s Store team collected to showcase game controller apps. It’s stuffed with $2-$5 mystery apps with in-app-purchases, and Minecraft.

Apple likes to brag about the graphics horsepower that the 4th generation Apple TV possesses, but they’re really sending mixed signals to developers and customers alike.

A game controller is also something that could be announced independently of any other hardware, so it’s entirely possible we could see it announced at WWDC even if the rest of the hardware won’t be updated until a Fall event.

The Box

When Apple showcased the 4th generation Apple TV, there was some expectation that the product would start to see more regular, perhaps yearly, updates. Apple didn’t promise any, and certainly the pace they updated the Apple TV before the 4th generation model was no indication of rapid advancement, so it was definitely wishful thinking on my part. Silly me. Fall came and went last year and we still had the same models for sale, at the same price points, except the 3rd generation Apple TV was quietly killed. This is only frustrating when you look at the rest of the streaming box/stick market in context and see that Apple offers the most expensive model with no real standout features.

UHD, colloquially referred to as “4K”, was not widely available in TV sets when the 4th generation model premiered, but it was the direction the market was going. It was easy to defend a $150-$200 streaming box that didn’t have UHD in 2015, but not in 2016. According to Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg, there is a “4K” model being internally tested for release sometime this year. I would have expected the older box to drop in price and a newer UHD-capable box to take the old price point in fall of 2016 rather than this summer or fall.

Apple would need to offer UHD iTunes rentals and purchases, or it would seem silly, but they need to start that transition with their content providers eventually - like other storefronts, and subscription services are.

Amazon, for example, offers UHD streaming on their $80 Fire TV 2. With Amazon Video purportedly coming to tvOS it would make sense that UHD is coming with it. Amazon also offers HDR content - but none of their standalone players can display it, instead you need to rely on the TV set manufacturer bundling an Amazon Video app. I’m sure that these facts played a significant role in the negotiation that’s bringing Amazon Video to the platform. Negotiating over adding only HD video would be extremely odd.

I fully anticipate WWDC coming and going without TV hardware, but I do want to see inklings that they are moving in the direction of new hardware, or at the very least an understanding that the price isn’t competitive.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-03-19-The-Incomparable-Membership-Drive.html The Incomparable Membership Drive 2017-03-20T06:38:00Z 2017-03-20T06:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I spent too long making this jazzy logo.

From the incomparable Jason Snell:

This month is our annual membership drive. We’re encouraging listeners to become members and support The Incomparable and the shows you listen to. Support goes to the hosts of the shows you select, offsets editing costs, and a lot more. Plus, you get goodies such as bonus episodes, bootleg recordings, and (at the higher support tiers) physical goodies in the mail!

This month we’re also dropping special bonus episodes in our members-only feed, as a thank-you to all our members.

The podcast I do with Dan Sturm, Defocused started out life in summer of 2014. We joined The Incomparable a little over a year later. Then Jason Snell, rolled out memberships last year and they are the bees knees. You pick a membership level, and then you check boxes for which podcasts on the network you would like your membership money to go toward. If you just pick Defocused, then some money goes to the network for operational expenses, but then rest is split evenly between Dan and myself. Dan and I still have day jobs, but the money does help us offset expenses associated with the podcast. Dan and I do our own editing as well. Obviously, you can pick as many shows as you would like, and reevaluate your selections later.

The various shows are all doing unique things for the members-only episodes released this month. Scott McNulty, who does the Random Trek podcast, decided to do an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series which he’d never seen any episodes of, but pick a guest at random — which happened to be me. Then, in retaliation, Dan and I invited Scott onto our members-only episode to discuss Lost in Space the horrible, horrible movie.

If anyone is unfamiliar with Defocused, the show evolved over the course of the first few episodes, and started to get into more of a rhythm. Cold-open with hellos and nonsense, then talking about a movie, then good-byes with more nonsense. Sometimes we pick good movies, but mostly they’re kind a pretty strange mix of things you could have found in a DVD-sale bin 10 years ago. Occasionally we’ll do a little bit of a themed run of episodes — like Christmas movies in December, or monster movies in October.

Typically, Dan and I pick a day and time the week of the show, but it’s usually 9 PM PST. We started offering a livestream for people to listen while we recorded the show. Not a lot of people find late-night recording times convenient though so when the Bootleg feed started we got a request to put our recording of our broadcast in there. The episodes in that feed are not edited. They’re just the conversation Dan and I had “on the air”. We don’t do really heavy editing to our episodes, but we do occasionally embellish with audio clips, or fix some minor issues. We’re not reconstructing events from scratch. So some people really enjoy just listening as soon as possible.

Last month, Jason Snell also added an Incomparable member Slack — which is just a fancy chatroom. There’s a channel specifically for Defocused, which Dan and I participate in, but it’s just an additional perk, so don’t feel like you’re missing out if chatrooms aren’t your thing. There’s always Twitter. Who doesn’t love Twitter?

Dan and I really appreciate all the members who have joined over this last year, and those that will join this year. Even if you aren’t a member, thank you for listening!


http://joe-steel.com/2017-02-16-Apple-Vowed-to-Revolutionize-Television-An-Inside-Look-at-Why-It-Hasnt.html Apple Vowed to Revolutionize Television. An Inside Look at Why It Hasn't 2017-02-16T16:38:00Z 2017-02-16T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Mark Gurman has some more rumor stuff over at Bloomberg.

Twerdhal’s arrival comes as the company tests a new, fifth-generation Apple TV that it may release as soon as this year. Internally codenamed “J105,” the new box will be capable of streaming ultra-high-definition 4K and more vivid colors, according to people familiar with the plans.

After the storage caps were changed in January, there was some speculation that new models would be on the way. I was unsure if Twerdhal’s arrival would push back whatever was in their hardware pipeline, but I guess this means it might be unaffected.

Of course, that all depends on something launching, and rumors about the internal mechanics of the TV project don’t always translate to things we wind up seeing as consumers. Gurman had a run of rumors about the Apple TV before what became the 4th generation device was announced.

UHD and HDR signal that Apple is at least willing to have their premium-priced box offer features that are competitive hardware features with other streaming devices, and with TV panels that have their own internal streaming apps. After all, the price of UHD HDR is coming down, and there is stuff made to take advantage of it (a lot of UHD stuff contains stuff that is partially, or entirely scaled to that resolution from lesser resolutions).

Apple has essentially settled for turning the television set into a giant iPhone: a cluster of apps with a store. “That’s not what I signed up for,” says one of the people, who requested anonymity to talk freely about internal company matters. “I signed up for revolutionary. We got evolutionary.”

Whoever talked to Gurman also has an axe to grind, and it’s not clear if this axe is being ground about the plans from before, or after Twerdhal joined, and Gurman’s writing makes no attempt to clarify the timeline for that quote. Still, the criticism is valid at present, and even with hardware changes, it would still be valid without accompanying software changes, or improvements to the services offered.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-02-15-Planet-of-the-Low-Aspirations.html Planet of the Low Aspirations 2017-02-15T16:23:00Z 2017-02-15T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The trailer for Apple’s ‘Planet of the Apps’ was released the other day, along with an awkward interview with Apple’s Eddy Cue, and PotA producer Ben Silverman. I talked about it on Unhelpful Suggestions with Mikah Sargent, but I’ll go into some more detail here.

The trailer for PotA is exactly what you would expect from the reporting leading up to it. It follows many of the formulas and tropes that are expected, and offers no real surprises for the genre of unscripted competition shows. The novelty it introduces is an escalator which stands-in-place for the elevator in “elevator pitch”. PotA a really uninspired, mediocre, pedestrian affair. That would be fine, if this was for NBC.

Of course the show represents apps, and app development, as faithfully as any other show of this genre — like crap — but that’s what this sort of thing is. That does not, however, defend the decision to make this sort of thing. If Apple felt strongly about the subject there are many other routes to take that would be more reverent, and accurate. Nothing will ever come close to representing real app development, even if you follow someone around with a camera it won’t speak for every developer’s experiences, and it be affected by it’s own filming.

Take chefs, for example. There’s a PBS show called ‘A Chef’s Life’ that follows a chef in rural North Carolina, and over the years, the publicity of the show has affected her restaurant, as well as the show itself. Sure there’s honesty to it, but it’s not a purely objective view of her work and life that could be applied to the experience of all chef’s. Similarly, ‘Chef’s Table’ on Netflix rotates through a series of avant-garde chef’s, but no single episode can completely capture the chef it covers (maybe they could if they used less slow-mo shots.)

However, both of those small examples are well-respected shows that I would argue show artistry and thoughtfulness without anyone having to cook against a clock, or stand before a dramatically-lit panel of judges for needling.

Even in my own line of work, the show ‘Movie Magic’ on The Discovery Channel, in the 90’s, was an inspiration. An episode would cover puppetry, CGI, or matte paintings, and other things. You can catch the show on YouTube, because it’s unfortunately not something The Discovery Channel values.

So yes, there are other ways to approach this if the subject matter was something Apple felt like elevating — or escalating. Instead, Apple has selected a very specific format known for getting people in seats to watch disposable, unchallenging filler, and that’s disconcerting.

The argument of that being popular, or getting butts in seats, falls flat for me because that doesn’t speak to Apple’s aspirations. Apple doesn’t sell a low-end, plastic-backed iPad to drive up iPad sales, why should Apple back plasticky TV?

The excuse of “it’s not for you” is similarly asinine, because that doesn’t answer why Apple felt like taking this approach and is merely a way to dodge any critical thought about the subject matter, the format, and the distribution.

To further complicate matters is the method of distribution for this show, which is … Apple Music. While ‘Carpool Karaoke’ makes sense for Apple Music, PotA, does not. How this show drives anyone to consider an Apple Music subscription is beyond me. “Well I was thinking of Spotify or Amazon, but Apple has ‘Planet of the Apps’ so …”

The Music app is also a terrible video player. Apple has made several videos available in the Connect tab of the app, but that’s just … a mess. Even in terms of playback, screen orientation can occasionally bug out. It’s excusable because that’s not the primary purpose of a music app, but now it is. Will they integrate with TV the app to jump you straight to the episodes housed inside Music the app? Even if it does, TV the app is still U.S. only. What about the separate, companion app that will act as a “rubber band” according to Ben Silverman for people who want to “go deep” when they’re watching?

Most importantly, to me, as someone who doesn’t subscribe to Apple Music, will Apple use this opportunity to abuse notification policies, and take advantage of promoting this in as many places as possible? (The answer is almost certainly “yes” but I figured I should pretend it’s hypothetical.) Critics of Amazon frequently point to Amazon’s self-promotion of Prime video shows as something abrasive that Apple doesn’t do. (For the Quick Fire challenge, you have to cook and eat crow.)

In the interview at Code Conference with Peter Kafka, there was additional discussion about the possibility of other shows, and Cue said that they would consider a lot of things, as long as Apple felt it aligned with what they do. This show is not going to make-or-break Apple’s video efforts, and it can’t be used as a prediction for all future video efforts. Netflix’s first show was ‘Lillyhammer’, but that wasn’t their first success, and even now they produce a lot of schlock to fill their catalog, but those aren’t the shows people talk about. What will wind up being the show everyone needs to watch? It certainly won’t be PotA.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-02-09-Apple-Hires-Amazons-Fire-TV-Head-to-Run-Apple-TV-Business.html Apple Hires Amazon’s Fire TV Head to Run Apple TV Business 2017-02-09T15:23:00Z 2017-02-09T15:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Mark Gurman at Bloomberg reported that Apple has hired Timothy Twerdahl, head of Amazon’s Fire TV unit as a vice president in charge of Apple TV product marketing, and he replaces Pete Distad, who remains at Apple, but will be focused on cutting deals with Eddy Cue. This reorganization seems a little weird, because “marketing” seems like an odd moniker to attach to the former head of Amazon’s Fire TV unit. I’m assuming, like many others have, that this has to do with the way the marketing department, under Phil Schiller, is deeply involved in overseeing products. Twerdahl reports to Greg Joswiak, who handles the iPhone.

I’m quite happy with this, for a number of reasons.

  1. My complaints about the Apple TV seem to all trace back to questionable management decisions, like shelving development while wheels were spinning over content deals that never came.
  2. A patchwork of software features that all relied on an alignment of deals between various parties, instead of software features that worked for the vast majority of users.
  3. A massive shrug, otherwise known as, “The future of TV is apps.”
  4. No incremental progress on hardware. There was a gap of over three years between the 3rd generation and 4th generation Apple TV, and then no revision of the 4th generation for over a year and counting.
  5. A premium price tag that wasn’t justified when comparing the device to other set top boxes. (I have often pointed to Amazon’s Fire TV products as more competitive than Apple’s if you’re not invested in iTunes purchases.)

I’m assuming the reason this is happening now, and not some time last year, is because someone wanted to wait and see how well the Apple TV would sell during the holiday quarter.

The last hardware update for the set-top device was released in 2015, but sales decreased year-over-year from the 2015 holiday quarter to the 2016 holiday quarter, Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said last week in an interview. Amazon doesn’t disclose Fire TV sales, but last May called it the top-selling streaming media device in the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, a device that didn’t wow people in 2015, and received incremental updates to restore feature parity with the 3rd generation Apple TV, was not compelling in 2016. Look at the “report card” that Jason Snell conducted at Six Colors. The only major feature that materialized for all users around the globe was Dark Mode. TV the app is still exclusive to the U.S., Single Sign-On is unavailable for almost everyone, and Siri search services still only work for a fraction of countries.

It’s somewhat frustrating.

When the data caps were lifted last month, I wondered if that signaled a new model was on the horizon that refreshed internal hardware and offered specs competitive with the price of the device, but now I’m uncertain about it. Surely, Twerdahl would want to weigh in on anything that will wind up shipping under his watch.

I know that many Apple fans are skeptical of the Fire TV, and all Amazon products, but it really is a good media platform for your TV. So good, in fact, that Amazon is partnering with a TV manufacturer to integrate their software stack into the panel. It’s not perfect stuff, but it’s too often overlooked by Apple-faithful, or derided with, “Oh, I used an old Fire TV Stick one time”. I’m glad Apple recognized this and hired someone away from Amazon.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-01-13-Apple-Increases-Resource-Caps-for-tvOS-Apps.html Apple Increases Resource Caps for tvOS Apps 2017-01-13T16:53:00Z 2017-01-13T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ One of the strangest things about the 4th generation Apple TV was the decision to add two storage tiers to the lineup. I feel like I’ve been harping on this for over a year now, but the caps that Apple placed on the size of apps, and the amount of local storage they could use, meant that there was effectively no difference between 32 GB and 64 GB. This was an overly cautious approach, because most people only have a handful of apps, and would never get close to filling the 32 GB model, even with on-demand resources.

PCalc developer James Thomson:

Apple says tvOS apps can now be 4GB downloads (up from 200MB) and include 20GB of on-demand resources. Bigger Apple TVs coming soon?

That’s a very large jump. The total size of the app download is now twice what the old on-demand resources limit was. They didn’t just loosen it a little bit.

On-demand storage is mostly relevant to video games that have to be structured in ways that can download things like game levels. If you resume the game in the same spot next week, it doesn’t have to re-download the level if that on-demand storage hasn’t been flushed. 2 GB doesn’t store a significant number of things — as I’m sure many people are aware.

This change will have almost no effect on most media streaming apps because people are typically streaming new video every time they open the app. I don’t even think most video streaming apps are structured to store huge buffers of video anyway, but that could change. (An HD movie is larger than 2 GB, but would fit in 20 GB.)

As James Thomson and Neil Cremins discussed this on Twitter, they theorized that the change in size could presage a new model that handles “4K” UHD assets. UHD is four times the number of pixels as HD, so you need more storage, even if you had a graphically simple game.

Also, when I talked about video buffering before, that was with the understanding that US broadband is typically robust enough to handle HD video streams, but UHD titles won’t be as speedy to stream on-demand. You wouldn’t want to start watching a movie in UHD, and then want to skip back a few minutes only to wait for that to have been purged already. (Although UHD is four times the resolution of HD, it’s not a straight 4x conversion for many reasons, including different codecs Apple would switch to.)

Rampant Speculation

I certainly agree with the deduction that some new device is on the horizon, since these sorts of changes aren’t very beneficial to customers with a 32 GB Apple TV. If I were to guess, I’d say that Apple might do away with the 32 GB 4th generation model, but they might retain it and move it down in price to offer something “under” $100. Which changes the lineup to:

  • Apple TV 32 GB (4th generation, HD) $99
  • Apple TV 64 GB (4th generation, HD) $149
  • The New Apple TV 64 GB (5th generation, UHD) $199
  • The New Apple TV 128 GB (5th generation, UHD) $249

Some people might scoff at keeping the 32 GB around with the new data caps, but Apple’s no stranger to introductory models that don’t have enough storage.

Now, unfortunately, these data caps don’t provide any insight on whether or not they will replace the fucking remote, but I’m going to gamble on them at least introducing a first party game controller.

  1. Raised data caps mean more for games than media streaming.
  2. Adding the controller requirement to tvOS 10 means more games will come out with the requirement as time moves on.
  3. Every single demo station of the Apple TV has at least one Steel Series Nimbus III controller next to it to try and get people to think of the Apple TV as something that can play a game, so why not make your own????
  4. It’s an accessory you can sell customers on top of the cost of the device, which is basically Tim Cook’s dream, so no one should expect them to bundle a controller.

Another thing that data caps don’t tell us, but I’ll BS about anyway, is whether or not a 5th generation Apple TV would have HDR. It would be awfully silly to go through all this trouble to add UHD now but not HDR support. Given Apple’s focus on Macs, iPads, and iPhones with great displays, and great cameras, it makes sense that they would capitalize on that further by supporting HDR. What spec would they support? I would assume that they have base support for HDR-10, since it’s the most prevalent, but they could throw a wacky curveball and bake their own and require studios to deliver them content mastered in iTunes for that — but that seems unlikely as no TVs would be on the market with support for it. HDR is weird in that it’s metadata that comes along with the video, so you can support multiple kinds of HDR for input and output. I’m relatively certain that Apple would want to specify exactly one supported HDR format though, since otherwise they’d have to specify which things had DolbyVision, and which were HDR-10. I’m not sure they would love to do that. Dolby has the least support, and fewest titles, even though it’s technically superior to HDR-10.

This is a lot of stuff to try and tease out of a data cap change, but I’m hopeful that Apple has revised their approach to this product, because I feel like this is an important space for Apple to be in. (I also hope Apple introduces device backups, and restores, so people can easily upgrade and not set up a 5th generation Apple TV from scratch.)

http://joe-steel.com/2017-01-12-Apple-Music-Dramas-International-Netflix-and-Amazons-Anime-Channel.html Apple Music Dramas, International Netflix, and Amazon's Anime Channel 2017-01-12T16:53:00Z 2017-01-12T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Somehow Apple, Netflix, and Amazon conspired to have streaming news this morning. I’m not sure how. The Wall Street Journal published something from “people familiar with the matter” alleging Apple is in very early talks to add a few original shows like HBO’s “Westworld” or Netflix’s “Stranger Things”. I put that in quotes because those shows are quite different from one another, but WSJ said those were the examples. The weird part is bolting that onto Apple Music, where Apple is putting other music-centric video programming. WSJ alleges this is a way for Apple to differentiate itself from Spotify, rather than compete with Netflix, but I’m not sure anyone was really asking them to bolt a non-music drama series onto a music service. Also, I hope someone at Apple eventually tries to play video content inside that Connect tab, because it is a mess, and it needs to be fixed before you shoehorn TV shows in there.

Assuming there’s a massive marketing blitz around the TV show, it could be a way to get people who don’t pay for Apple Music to sign up for the TV show and try Apple Music, before they cancel their subscription when the show is concluded. Apple Music will just mangle your iTunes Library so you can watch a TV show. No big.

Seriously though, there are probably people who have burned through their Apple Music trials, before deciding not to continue, and now that the service has improved over time, the video programming could be an incentive to pay to try it again.

I’m mostly looking forward to all the drama about the drama series — assuming, of course, that these very preliminary discussions evolve into actual video.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Businessweek published a story about Netflix’s international efforts, specifically in Brazil, where they are targeting their video content, and their infrastructure to the needs of markets where they previously didn’t exist. They don’t simply flip a switch to activate Netflix in Brazil.

Lastly, Variety released the news that Amazon is launching their first add-on subscription channel of content they bundle themselves. Amazon has offered add-on subscriptions for a while now, and they basically let you add a “channel” of on-demand video from a specific provider to your streaming package for a nominal, monthly fee. It’s integrated into Prime Video, and you don’t get shunted to a separate app experience. These little a la carte bundles offer more specific, targeted content, similar to adding a channel, or a tier, to a traditional cable or satellite package. Amazon’s anime channel is mostly notable because it could presage other channels Amazon creates for other sorts of programming, or genres.

http://joe-steel.com/2017-01-10-Defocused-Shirts.html Defocused Shirts 2017-01-10T16:28:00Z 2017-01-10T16:28:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Defocused shirts!

Dan and I are pleased to announce that we’re selling shirts, and a hooded sweatshirt, on Cotton Bureau to support our podcast, Defocused on The Incomparable Network. The shirts are on sale until January 24th, so if you’re considering buying one, I would recommend acting on that impulse sooner rather than later so you don’t miss the window.

There’s a brief discussion of the shirt launch that we added to the first few minutes of episode 130.

We enjoy a little retro flavor for the shirts, so we kicked around some ideas. Palm trees, that sunset circle with the lines through it — all the great 80’s things. Eventually this lead us to defunct production company logos. We were certainly influenced by the logo for The Cannon Group. They were a pretty bonkers production company. Dan mocked up different ways of interconnecting letters, and aspects of the lines in black and white. To add a little color, there’s a sort of fake chromatic aberration effect but with magenta and cyan. Because of the way Cotton Bureau prints, solid colors are preferred.

Having said that, I did a weird gradient test to mimic some aspects of Cannon’s logo, and Dan polished it. We liked that a lot and it became the new podcast logo this year. Naturally, that meant we had to do this:

The Defocused logo for the start of a terrible, terrible movie.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-12-13-First-Impressions-of-TV-the-App.html First Impressions of TV the App 2016-12-13T16:23:00Z 2016-12-13T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Ever since TV the app was announced on stage in October, I’ve been very skeptical of what Apple would deliver — especially what Apple would deliver by the end of the year. Every project overseen by Eddy Cue seems to be a management disaster, with a few good ideas executed poorly, adorned with asterisks, and infested with bugs. Which is why I was so skeptical about what Apple wasn’t saying in the lead-up to TV the app shipping.

TV the app for iOS was unresponsive when it first launched, I guess it was caching artwork from my library. After force-quitting it seemed to perk up. Not a great start. The app has four icons at the bottom for Library, Watch Now, Store, and Search. The version of TV the app for tvOS has the same four options in an upper menu, but flips the order of Library and Watch Now for … reasons.


The iOS version’s Library view has iPod-like menu widgets for TV Shows, Movies, and my iTunes Library from my Mac, which happened to have iTunes open. If I closed iTunes on my Mac, the widget for that library stayed up, but tapping on it recursively takes you to the Library screen you were just on, but without the iTunes Library listed. However, because I had navigated to that, there’s a navigation Back button in the top left of the screen that takes me to the exact same screen with the iTunes Library still listed there. Yup. I had to force-quit the app and relaunch it to get rid of the iTunes Library that was no longer accessible. If I open iTunes again, it’s not added back to the Library screen in the app, requiring another force-quit and relaunch. I don’t rely on this feature very often, but I know there are people that make extensive use of Home Sharing, so they’re probably not thrilled — Also, it’s the first third of the screen the app opens to so it should probably work or something.

Below the iPod-like widgets is “Recently Purchased Shows” with a horizontal-scrolling list of TV show artwork, chronologically organized by purchase date. Ditto for “Recently Purchased Movies” under that. Unfortunately, I rarely purchase TV shows on iTunes, and most of the category has a few free episodes of shows that had promotions at one time or another. So that’s why the only two things displayed are the first season of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City pilot. “Recently Purchased Movies” is less sad, but because of where it’s placed on the screen, only the very top of Al Pacino’s head is visible.

It’s possible to hide purchases from showing up through an iTunes web interface available to you on a desktop computer, but that wouldn’t really let me alter that layout.

The version of the Library view for tvOS is uninspired, with a pair of buttons on the screen-right side for “TV Shows” and “Movies”, both are displayed alphabetically, not chronologically, and there’s no Home Sharing here. Home Sharing is located on the Home screen for tvOS still, which gets into the weird Home-but-not-Home feeling of TV the app on tvOS. It reproduces some things you find elsewhere in tvOS, but not this.

Watch Now

I appreciate what Apple was aiming for with Watch Now — a unified interface to access media buried in siloed-off apps, and keeping track of where you left off with what you were last watching. Unfortunately, they haven’t hit what they were aiming for yet. The only compatible app I had on iOS was HBO Now. It asked to “connect” and share data with Apple. I accepted and had to sign in to iTunes. Then it populated a screen with HBO shows and movies that HBO had streaming rights for. This concludes the list of applications I use that are supported.

I paid for HBO Now to watch Westworld, and HBO Now keeps track of what episodes I’ve seen inside of it’s app. Apple, however, doesn’t have access to that data because I didn’t watch Westworld from TV the app so as far as Apple’s concerned I’ve never watched anything, including Westworld. This is a problem if you use apps outside of Apple’s ecosystem. Some episodes of Westworld I watched on my Fire TV Stick, some on tvOS, one on iOS, and all versions of the HBO Now app know what I’ve seen regardless of platform, but not Apple’s new, preferred method for me to track what I’m watching. That thing has no clue.

Westworld is recommended to me under:

  • What to Watch
  • TV’s Biggest Shows
  • Lights, Camera, Action: Thrill-a-minute rides, coming right up.
  • Top TV Shows

But I guess it’s hard to fill out all the categories if there’s only HBO to draw from? Still, there are a lot of repeated entries for things I’ve seen — and things I have no interest in seeing. There’s no way to mark that I’ve watched something already, or that I have no interest in seeing Divorce even after I’ve been pitched on “Witty Sarah Jessica moves on to conscious uncoupling in the suburbs.”

Also, in case anyone is wondering if maybe Apple only has access to tracking data going forward from the point I agree to “connect” HBO Now, I started up an episode of a HBO show on my Fire TV Stick and it’s not appearing under “Up Next”. However, if I open the iOS HBO Now app, and resume playback from where I started, then it appears under “Up Next” on both iOS and tvOS. So however Apple is connecting to HBO Now, it appears to be on the Apple device itself, and then the data from that on-device connection is shared with my other Apple devices, rather than connecting to HBO directly. At least that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the behavior. It didn’t mark Westworld as watched either, so it’s not like it just flushed some cache or something.

Another peculiarity is that I had the CBS All Access app on my Apple TV because I had used a trail period of the service and never deleted the app. When TV the app started up for tvOS it asked me to connect CBS, and I approved to see what would happen. It wasn’t great, because Apple shuffled in CBS recommendations with the HBO ones, but I had no active subscription so any attempt to play a CBS entry would kick you to a screen where you could pick subscription payment options. This was unpleasant, so I removed the CBS app from the device thinking it would remove CBS from the Watch Now recommendations, but it didn’t. Turns out that’s hidden under the settings for the TV app.

Home > Settings > Apps > App Settings > TV > Connect to TV > CBS > “Remove CBS” or “Remove CBS and Clear Play History”

That was fun to find that. At least I didn’t have to use a desktop computer’s web browser. Small victories.


The storefront interface is pretty annoying because there’s no personalization at all. Top row features Westworld (HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS SHOW?) available from HBO Now (HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS APP?), followed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens which is available on Starz, but I already own the movie through iTunes so why should an advertisement to pay for a subscription service to watch a movie I already own be displayed to me? The rest of the row is populated with a prominent piece of media available on other apps that are also featured in a row directly below.

Star Watching Now:

  • HBO Now (Already installed and connected)
  • Hulu
  • Starz
  • Showtime
  • CBS (Intentionally disconnected)
  • CW
  • Tribeca Shortlist
  • MUBI
  • CW Seed
  • Crunchyroll
  • CuriosityStream

Watch with your TV provider has a variety of other media that’s inaccessible to me at this time. Then, buried at the bottom are “New Releases on iTunes” and several categories to buy and rent on iTunes.

I absolutely loathe entering text on the Apple TV. That persnickety little row of letters is there, but you can use the Remote app, or voice dictation. Yes, the Search here does produce different results than using Siri to search. Why? I don’t know! My current favorite example: “The Thing” with voice dictation in this field will display the 2011 prequel/remake/whatever, and then the 1982 classic. That’s not bad. Siri will produce a string of Fantastic Four properties, Addam’s Family movies, a Cat in the Hat cartoon and Alfie.

You can trick Siri if you say “The movie The Thing” but the assistant seems to have no common sense to produce the same search results as this Search field.

By default, trending movies and shows are displayed under search.

Home Button Remap

The button that looked like a 16:9, flat-panel TV, but was named Home, is now used for TV the app for many functions. If TV the app has been force-quit from the multitasking view, it won’t launch the app, it’ll behave as it did before, but if TV the app was running on the system, then pushing the button mostly takes you to the Watch Now screen. Even if you’re inside of TV the app in another area, it will bring you back to Watch Now. Push it again to go to the actual Home screen. If you push it on the Home screen it takes you back to TV the app. Unfortunately, this muddies the idea behind what this button does. It’s a TV-Home-Multitask-Sleep button — Which is kind of overloaded.

This adds to the weird feeling that TV the app should be the Home interface, but it isn’t. They’re still separate, with some features reproduced, and reorganized. To say nothing of the fact that it’s only available in the U.S., and has limited utility depending on what apps you use, and what TV provider you have.

This … kind of feels like cable box software, but with more fluid movement, and hardly anything to watch. Two of the most popular sources for non-cable, non-satellite, streaming media are Netflix and Amazon and they’re nowhere to be found TV the app. The people who derive the most benefit will be people who can access all of this on another box connected to their TV, which they pay for. I still don’t know what the marketing pitch for the Apple TV is. Own this $150 box because you can keep your cable subscription? Own this $150 box because you can get another interface for HBO Now?

http://joe-steel.com/2016-11-27-Why-I-Recommend-the-Fire-Stick-2.html Why I Recommend the Fire Stick 2 2016-11-28T01:03:00Z 2016-11-28T01:03:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Amazon currently has the 2nd generation Fire TV Stick on sale for $29.99, that’s $10 off the normal price, and an unbeatable bargain. That’s wacky-arm-flailing-inflatable-tube-man pricing. I’ll risk recommending something that some people might hate, because at $30, it’s basically the cost of a bad dinner, and a drink, at a restaurant.

However, I did recommend someone buy a particular brand of saltine crackers once, and they’re still giving me crap about it, so I suppose anything’s possible when it comes to recommendations.

I bought the 2nd generation stick when it was first available for preorder in October, and have been very pleased with it’s performance over the 1st generation device. Since the previous model I had also came with a voice remote, there’s no difference in features, but if you had purchased the model without a voice remote it’s absolutely a different experience. (You could also use the Fire TV app on your iOS, Android, or Fire OS device and it would grant you a microphone, but it’s less convenient, and they did a weird thing with the swiping for navigation that irks me ever so much.) The new device is much snappier than the previous model and I consider it a worthy upgrade for that alone. Also, if you haven’t used a 1st generation model in a while, you might be surprised by some of the software features that have appeared, or have been improved.

I generally find that most people have a Fire TV Stick in a drawer somewhere because they didn’t find it useful at one point or another. However, Amazon slowly rolls out features over time, without any fanfare, and thus those drawer-stick owners aren’t up to date on software fiddly stuff. Amazon doesn’t do a particularly good job of synthesizing a complete sales-pitch for the device, or even a product page that makes a lot of sense.

The Home screen isn’t just Amazon Prime recommendations, it’s a mixture of recommendations based on which apps you have installed. They have to participate in the system, of course, but there are notable ones like HBO, Showtime, Netflix, and others. This rolled out in September before the new model came out.

There are also improvements to Alexa’s voice search, and more services provide data for Alexa. This includes Netflix, which was absent from this search feature before. The search also includes buttons to launch the app and play it. (In my time with this feature on both models, I have noticed that sometimes it takes you to the Netflix user profile screen instead of playing the video, it seems like the app doesn’t like to play nicely if it wasn’t recently active.) In cases where the media is available on multiple services, you’ll see the options presented to you, like watching old Star Trek episodes on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Unfortunately, there are some wrinkles, since not all services participate, you can’t use Alexa to look up a PBS show in the PBS app. Similar drawbacks exist for Siri on the 4th generation Apple TV. I do find that Alexa’s results are more often in tune with my expectations than Siri’s results. If you search for “The Thing”, which is admittedly generic, you will get several Fantastic Four movies, and other properties with various names, but not 1982’s “The Thing” by John Carpenter. Alexa shows that as the first result, and no Fantastic Four movies in sight.

Alexa does get confused when there are conflicting names for things, one of those conflicts my friend Dan Sturm uncovered when he instructed Alexa to “Play The Grand Tour” which provides an error message that the Alexa Skill for “The Grand Tour” is not installed. This is an unfortunate marketing clash because their effort to get the word out about the show (the Alexa app is a weekly teaser with clues and B.S.) actually makes it more difficult to watch the show they are trying to promote on the Fire TV. I did have a funny moment where the Fire TV read off the instructions for how to install the Alexa Skill and the Echo Dot accepted that as a command and installed the Alexa Skill. I’m not sure that was intentional on Amazon’s part, but it was funny. Long story short: If you say “The Grand Tour” you get the search results you want, but “Play The Grand Tour” will clash with the Alexa Skill for “The Grand Tour”.

All this Alexa stuff also works for music through Amazon’s music options, which I’ll explain, but I should mention that the Music section of the app is different from telling Alexa to play something. They draw from the same Amazon sources, but an Alexa query shows you a dialog with the song title and album art, and there’s no way to navigate on screen while it’s playing, or to pull up the lyrics (which are available to with some songs inside the Music app). So if you had been annoyed by that in the past, it’s still there. I also worry about burn-in on my plasma TV so I don’t love leaving that search result screen up, and instead prefer to play music on my Echo Dot. (Curiously, Amazon has introduced a feature that displays what’s currently playing on any Fire tablet you own, but it’s similarly useless. The Alexa app itself offers actual media controls.)

Music’s available through the Prime library, any music you’ve purchased through Amazon’s MP3 store, if you pay a fee you can upload your own music, or you can subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for a large streaming library comparable to Apple Music. Spotify makes a TV app, but they also have the ability to use Spotify with Alexa as the default music source. Other skills are also available for other music services. This is different from Siri, which offers no audio integrations at all.

The new device features significantly improved performance over the previous model, but I still do not recommend anyone play a game on it. The first model stuttered with Crossy Road, and the new model plays it perfectly well, but it still stutters in Alto’s Adventure.

The new voice remote is, like I said, almost identical to the old one. That being said, It still has the same negatives as the previous iteration: Requires batteries, and there’s no IR or HDMI-CEC control for audio which means you need to keep at least two remotes near you. Because the stick has no IR, and has a microphone, you can’t replace it with a run-of-the-mill universal remote. This is pretty disappointing because audio can vary widely. Also hitting Home powers on the stick, the TV, and sets the input to the port the stick is in — but if you put the Fire TV to sleep the TV stays on, it doesn’t go into standby mode like when you put a 4th generation Apple TV to sleep. (Or at least this is my experience with my TV.) This is the same experience as the 1st generation Fire TV Stick with voice remote.

There’s also a new UI that’s on the way, but I don’t ever suggest that anyone get something because of unreleased software. I’ll leave reviewing unreleased hardware and software to real technology writers. I do expect it to be beneficial when it appears, but the current device is worth the $30 on sale, or even the $40 when it’s not on sale.

A lot of people get hung up on how aesthetically unappealing the current interface is, but I’ll take unappealing over pretty, but frustrating.

How the Stick Stacks Up


The Chromecast has always seemed incomplete, because it’s design moves all the control to other, disparate places. I’m also 5,000 years old, because I like to have a remote. I do understand the appeal if you spend most of your time on your phone or tablet and only want


Roku makes a streaming stick in this price point, and I picked it up last week for comparison’s sake. I would also say that it’s snappy, but I found it incredibly frustrating to use. People often complain about Amazon pushing Amazon content, but Roku pushes different apps and services for seemingly no particular reason, so I can only assume there’s money changing hands. In the setup process they want you to install a few apps to get started, and they pre-select a few services, to be helpful. Even after disabling them, and not signing up for any trials, or other offers, I got an email today again, encouraging me to sign up for trial periods of Hulu, CBS All Access, and Showtime. I find this creepy and weird since I literally unchecked these boxes and showed no interest in their offering at all. I also don’t enjoy the remote (which only paired with the stick after I restarted the stick by unplugging it). There’s no voice search offered for this model, and typing in a search produces a list of places where I can watch something, but there’s no indication of whether or not the app or service in the result requires a new subscription, a cable subscription, or a direct payment. This is unlike what Apple and Amazon do with their Universal search which indicate when something’s free to watch right away. I’m considering holding on to it for future testing, but I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would recommend this product. Also, I loathe their version of the Netflix client, which is a big strike against it.

The Roku does offer Amazon Video though, but I find it to be pretty lackluster. I would compare it to the experience you get out of many integrated Amazon Video apps on various TVs. (Which is kind of funny because Roku is providing their Roku interface for TCL.)

This Space Intentionally Left Blank

Apple doesn’t offer anything remotely in this price range. The 3rd generation Apple TV was discounted to $70, and then discontinued this September without any replacement, leaving the $150 4th generation Apple TV as the least expensive streaming device Apple makes. It’s also not as portable as an HDMI stick device. They’ve never made anything in that form factor. Apple doesn’t compete on price though, they rely on a premium experience to sell products. Since they don’t offer a premium experience I can only talk about the price.

What Do You Value?

I’m fortunate (?) in that I can easily justify purchasing multiple streaming units to have around, and can switch between them as needed, but most people probably want to stick to one thing, and they probably want that one thing to do everything they find important. No one has made that product, so pick and choose based on what seems the most important to you. I certainly think that if you’ve been frustrated by trying to AirPlay Amazon Video that you should purchase this, because I don’t think hell is going to freeze over any time soon.

If someone isn’t an Amazon Prime member, or they want to exclusively use iTunes media, then this isn’t a good option. If you want HBO, Netflix, and Prime video with voice search at a relatively inexpensive price-point, then this is the best option, and I would encourage you to consider it before the sale ends.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-11-04-Last-Time-On-Apple-TV.html Last Time On Apple TV… 2016-11-04T16:53:00Z 2016-11-04T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The previous post on the Apple TV announcements at the October Apple event circulated a little more widely than I had originally anticipated. I’ve received some feedback on what was written, and more details have surfaced in the past week, so it’s worth revisiting.

There’s a section that compared certain features and prices in a very rough way to illustrate that Apple is positioned at a premium price point that isn’t justified. Apple, of course, does not compete on price, but there are typically ways of justifying the price difference against competing products. The streaming hardware is behind the competition, and the software that is run on the Apple TV is mostly just a way to get at media streams, so similar experiences are available on competing devices. Even compelling features like Siri search, which reduces the friction of using a remote to find something, have competition in Amazon’s Alexa or Roku’s Voice Search. Even TV the app will mostly resemble the interface of the Fire TV Home screen. That’s why the premium price lacks justification in either hardware or software. There’s the more abstract notion of a “premium experience” which could be used to justify the price, except I’d argue that I’ve experienced too much frustration with the using the Apple TV to say that it’s superior to anything but older generation hardware and software from competing companies.

Single Sign-On will be a big differentiating factor when it ships, if you are on one of the supported providers. It’s still late, and the list of providers is still very small. In the previous post, I had pointed to a line in Apple’s press release on Single Sign-On after the event to highlight the only two providers that were mentioned were both satellite TV providers.

In addition to the new TV app, customers in the U.S. will have a simplified way of enjoying their pay-TV video apps by using single sign-on. Starting in December, subscribers to DIRECTV, DISH Network and more will just sign in once on Apple TV, iPhone and iPad to enjoy immediate access to apps that are part of their pay-TV subscription.

Last night, Apple turned on Single Sign-On for developers on the tvOS beta, and the list was slightly different. As first reported by MacRumors the networks that are available are:

  • Dish
  • GVTC Communications
  • Hotwire
  • Sling TV

Absent from the current list is DirecTV, but since Apple named them in the press release I fully expect that to be available when Single Sign-On is in it’s final, shipping state. As for the other three providers: two are small, regional operators, and the third, Sling TV, is owned by Dish. It’s good to know that Sling TV is available because that wasn’t guaranteed from the way the press release was originally phrased. Sling TV is entirely provided over the internet, or over-the-top as the kids say, and it’s the most widely available way to access channels that are only available through traditional cable or satellite packages. Another notable one is Sony’s PlayStation Vue service.

There’s been criticism of Sling TV’s apps on all of the platforms that Sling TV is available on (including Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku) so this is pretty good if you don’t want to use the Sling TV app to access on demand content that is available directly from a studio’s own app with authentication. Also, as I learned from listening to Susie Ochs on the Macworld podcast, the content of the official Sling TV app is opaque to Siri, so that’s another reason to authenticate directly with a provider — assuming they participate in Universal Search or Siri Live Tune-In. Apple offers a full list of participating Universal Search apps by region on their site, and a full list of Siri Live Tune-In. Someone with more free time should probably make a spreadsheet of which apps work with which Siri features, and we can all print it out like an old-timey channel guide for our living rooms. Well, in the U.S. anyway.

Serenity Caldwell at iMore has taken the beta version of Single Sign-On for a spin, but there’s not much to report at the moment. I am curious about why they chose to make the provider-selection a list of buttons, as that doesn’t seem like it will scale tremendously well if they continue to add providers. Also it handles Single Sign-On per-device, and needs to be authorized per-app, which is … (pinches bridge of nose) … it’s not great for people with multiple tvOS and iOS devices. It’s better than going to a website to enter a code presented on your TV, of course, but I still don’t understand why these subscription credentials, and authorizations, can’t be stored in iCloud Keychain, or a different iCloud service. Apple stores my credit card information and address in iCloud so let’s not pretend like this is for privacy reasons. It’s in beta, but it seems unlikely that would change before it launches in about a month, month and a half. That just goes back to my criticism of the Apple TV feeling like it was designed for use in a lab, where there aren’t multiple units, or family members.

Just to reinforce the idea of multiple devices, I had mentioned in the previous post skepticism of how well TV the app on the Apple TV will work with TV the app on iOS assuming a single-user experience of me, in my living room. I perhaps should have leaned more heavily on what happens in multi-user households where the Apple TV sits signed in to one account. There are FOUR fields where a person’s Apple ID should be entered on an Apple TV:

  • iCloud
  • iTunes and App Store
  • Game Center
  • Home Sharing

That’s the data stored in the cloud, your purchase history, and the ability to make purchases, the ability to log gameplay, and the ability to stream from your local iTunes library. There’s no single sign-on for all of these things together, which means there’s no easy way to switch who’s using the Apple TV, and what the Apple TV has access to, and tracks.

That means that in a household with two people using an Apple TV, and both of those people have iPhones, that TV the app is going to have recomendations based off of the viewing experience of one person in the house, or worse, one person gets their viewing experience contaminated by the other. This gets even worse if you scale up for children, and the programming children watch, vs. the programming that the parents watch. HBO, which will participate in TV the app has Sesame Street and Westworld, so good luck explaining why the Guests are so mean to the Hosts to little Jimmy.

Also in the news yesterday, is a rumor that Amazon is considering multi-user profiles, possibly for the Fire OS refresh anticipated before the end of the year. Very similar to Netflix’s profile switching, but for the whole TV experience.

Speaking of Netflix, there was some pushback that Apple could add Netflix before it launches, or that everyone loses their minds and Apple buys Netflix (which I would argue against). My criticism stems from what was presented, which is that Netflix is absent, and it is present for competing platforms that surface Netflix’s content. I’m not going to wishcast that Netflix will be there. If it materializes, then that is a great thing, but I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote about the way TV the app was presented.

There’s no singular acquisition, service launch, app, price slashing, hardware feature, or deal that will tidy up what’s happening with Apple’s entertainment strategy for devices and services. It’s not a matter of a single piece out of place. That’s why I rhetorically asked who the device is for, because it’s not obvious to me, and that’s coming from someone who wants to see them succeed in this area.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-10-28-Apples-October-TV-Surprise.html Apple's October TV Surprise 2016-10-28T14:53:05Z 2016-10-28T14:53:05Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The accessibility video at the start of Apple’s October 27th event was the best thing in the event. That demonstrates Apple at its very best, improving lives in ways that other technology companies are not always conscious of.

My feelings about the remainder of the presentation are less rosy, and I will highlight my feelings about the Apple TV, because I simply do not have the time to discuss the MacBook Pro right now.

Great Expectations

I had suspected that the Apple TV would receive some kind of update at this event since Apple had done nothing for it so far this fall. However, it’s worth framing it with the expectations that I had.


  1. I don’t like UHD “4K” because it is generally more of a marketing buzzword than a strictly defined set of rules. Sure, there are specs on resolution, but a lot of movies that feature effects (which accounts for hundreds, if not thousands, of shots in most films) are created in a realm that’s around 2048 pixels wide with whatever crop is applied for a particular aspect ratio. More modern films have started mastering effects in higher resolutions, but there’s a lot of “legacy” effects shots that are not the size you might expect.
  2. HDR - High Dynamic Range - a virtually meaningless term to most consumers. This means brighter brights, darker darks, and better color. There isn’t a single standard for HDR. The two main ones are HDR10, and DolbyVision. HDR10 is based on Samsung’s early HDR efforts and adopted by the UHD Alliance (no, I did not make that up). DolbyVision was around first, but only recently started making it out to consumers. Both of these competing standards exist as metadata passed along with the image data. That metadata tells the device how to display the image data that is provided. HDR versions of movies are relatively easy for movie studios to generate because that data is available in the range of the original, cinema releases. It’s stuff they already had, that they were leaving behind for home video.
  3. Many new TV shows are being shot in UHD, and with HDR mastering in mind. This is especially true for internet-based providers like Netflix and Amazon Studios which want to fill out a library with that content so they can market that feature. Some shows, like Netflix’s House of Cards, are even mastered in “6K” in the event that they might need it in the future.
  4. TVs have been on the market with UHD support for several years, and HDR support has been rolling out through TV lines over the past year as Blu-Ray players that can play HDR content have become available.
  5. The market for plain HD TVs has shriveled up as the cost of UHD TVs has fallen, so more people are likely to buy a UHD TV just because they aren’t choosing between HD and UHD at some price points.
  6. Chromecast Ultra ships in November with a library of UHD HDR content available through the Google Play store, as well as YouTube.

This means that if my plasma HD TV were to die today, I would replace it with a UHD HDR TV of some description if it was the right price. In spite of all of my cynicism surrounding the marketing of UHD, I know that HDR would be worthwhile, and that there are some TVs that support both HDR standards. I know that as TVs die, and get replaced, all over the globe that the trend will be toward UHD HDR. This isn’t like the adoption of 3D TVs where even if you didn’t want a 3D TV, you would wind up with one and just never turn on the 3D. There are no special glasses, it’s just on when it’s available.

Last year I argued that Apple was in no rush, and it wasn’t logical to lambast them for not including the feature. This year, however, as devices push more toward UHD, and HDR, the lack of any model in their lineup that supports it is slightly less excusable at the price point they’re in.

  • $30: Roku Express
  • $35: Chromecast
  • $40: Amazon Fire TV Stick 2nd Gen. (Alexa, universal search)
  • $40: Roku Express+
  • $50: Roku Streaming Stick
  • $70: Chromecast Ultra (UHD)
  • $80: Roku Premiere (UHD)
  • $90: Amazon Fire TV 2nd Gen. (Alexa, universal search, UHD)
  • $100: Roku Premiere+ (UHD, HDR)
  • $130: Roku Ultra (UHD, HDR, Voice Search)
  • $150: Apple TV 32 GB (Siri, universal search)
  • $200: Apple TV 64 GB (Siri, universal search)

That lists the major players in the market, and demonstrates where Apple sits in the price list. The only company selling an HD-only streaming media device above $50 is Apple. The only company selling a steaming media device without HDR above $90 is Apple.

There is no way to justify spending $150 to enter Apple’s TV ecosystem in the fall of 2016 on hardware alone. When Google is making a streaming UHD HDR player that costs LESS than a replacement Siri Remote, there is a problem with the hardware Apple is selling.

Taking all of this into account, I had assumed that Apple would unveil a higher-priced UHD HDR box to occupy the current price point, and discount the previous model to compete against the far less expensive HD solutions available. Last year, Jason Snell had conjectured that Apple might even introduce a less expensive model to replace the $69 3rd-generation, that he jokingly referred to as an AirPlay Express. Instead, Apple quietly killed the 3rd generation Apple TV in September, and only sells the $150 and $200 4th generation Apple TV models from last year.

The storage situation is still incomprehensible to me because Apple never made a solid case for gaming on the device, having waffled on input methods, and having introduced strict requirements about the size of assets on the device. It would be newsworthy if anyone had ever filled up their 32 GB Apple TV under normal usage conditions.


Apple announced tvOS 10 this summer, at WWDC and Eddy Cue made a big deal out of Single Sign On. Single Sign On would do away with one of the biggest pain points for cable-subscribers using Apple TVs by providing a one-time authorization. It was billed as part of tvOS 10, and tvOS 10 was billed as coming in September. It never shipped, but it remained at the top of Apple’s product page for the Apple TV until yesterday with a “Coming soon” button under it. No timeline whatsoever.

Oh, do you know what bumped Single Sign On down to the number two position on the product page? TV. The app, called TV, not the device called TV. You can plug your TV into your TV and watch TV. If you can’t tell, I think the naming is ludicrous and I feel like I’m in some kind of sketch where the whole joke is that the words are the same.

So what is TV the app? It’s a row of what you were watching, called Up Next, and then a series of recommendations based on the apps you have installed on your device. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because you might have used an Amazon Fire TV in the last few months when Amazon rolled out the ability to see content from Netflix and HBO listed in recommendations. So Apple made the Fire TV home screen, as an app, except they couldn’t get Netflix onboard, while Amazon could. I’ve seen a lot of handwringing about the absence of Netflix and guesses as to why that might be, but you need to ask yourself how Amazon was able to broker a deal to display Netflix recommendations and while Apple wasn’t.

Apple knows that the largest video subscription service in the US is Netflix, and they shrugged them off.

Going back to the mechanics of this app: It also reproduces the TV Show and Movie storefronts inside of TV the app. It doesn’t move them in here, it just makes another place to access the store. If that wasn’t confusing enough, I’m not sure if it will show you the same recommendations in both places or not because no one mentioned how they work, or work differently.

Apps that require subscriptions, like Starz, can also be added based on recommendations — again, why is this duplicating functionality of the App Store on the TV’s home screen.

The function of the Home button, which confusingly had the icon of a 16:9 flatscreen TV, has been remapped to take you back to the TV app, since hitting the Menu button will take you into the app you’re currently streaming from, and not TV the app that sent you there. There was no mention of what would happen if you pushed the Home button if you had not launched something to stream from TV the app.

Why is TV the app an app and not the Home screen on the device? It’s obviously modeled after the same ideas that go into other streaming devices that expose content rather than app icons, so why is this a siloed launcher I have to navigate into and out of? Why is this bolted on to the bizarre springboard-like interface of tvOS when it reproduces so much of it?

You could argue that people want to have access to apps that are not for movies or TV shows, but I would suggest that that probably occurs less often and would be satisfied by a button in the TV app that showed you the inane grid of application tiles if you wanted to get at something else.

TV the app is also available on iOS. Given the way Apple’s other cloud services sync, or don’t sync in the case of Apple Music, I would be interested to see how well this experience works if you’re going between devices, and WiFi networks. Also the underlying apps TV the app kicks you to on tvOS and iOS are different, so there’s also another complicated area that will be interesting to watch for. Some services only work on your “home” WiFi network to combat password-sharing. Would you still see those recommendations in TV the app on your iPhone if you step off your property, or would the app know to hide those recommendations it had previously surfaced? What if you deleted an app on your iPhone, but had it on your iPad and your Apple TV? How will these things stay in sync?

We’re not going to know until “before the end of the year” and only in the US. Just in time for the holiday shopping seas— oh wait.

Single Sign On was also mentioned in this presentation on TV the app, even though it hasn’t materialized. Tunneling through the press releases after the event reveals it will be available, coinciding with the release of TV the app, presumably, but the only providers that signed on were DirecTV and Dish Networks, the two satellite providers in the US. They also say, “and more” in the press release, but if they had more they would have written them out. It’s not like the list was so long they had to omit them!

So that means that the top two reasons on Apple’s product page for tvOS are features that are listed as “Coming soon”, and when they do materialize they will only be for the United States, and one of them will only be for people that have TV programming packages from DirecTV or Dish.

There was no mention of gaming, or improvements for people who would be interested in gaming. That’s probably for the best since they still don’t make a first-party remote, and even though they rolled out the ability for games to require a third-party remote, no game that I’m aware of requires it. The only things they feature for games are things that launched for the Apple TV a year ago, or iOS-type games which are all much better to play on iOS.

Live TV

Apple was in dire need of some ability to surface live broadcasts, because it was completely opaque. You could open the Twitter app to watch football, if you knew that was something you could do, but you’d have no idea when something was on, and there’s no time shifting for live TV. I hate the Twitter app, I don’t want to see any of the commentary on my television that Twitter thinks I want to see, so prolonged demos of this do not stir up good feelings in me, but I understand that Watching The Game matters to a lot of people. Even putting that aside…

There’s still no timeshifting for live TV, but I don’t expect it at this point. At least including the ability to pause and fast forward cached material when an app is in the foreground would be a welcome thing.

There’s no “channel surfing” still. Not something I expect on streaming either because the streams have to cache. There are ways to mitigate that if Picture-in-Picture were a TV concept that Apple could include on their TV platform. I do however expect a guide to compensate for the lack of speed when switching between live broadcasts.

Instead Siri can be queried about sports events, or asked to turn on the news. I’m somewhat underwhelmed by this because it doesn’t satisfy channel surfers who want to browse a guide and see if something being broadcast appeals to them. I had put this on my wishlist for tvOS 10 before WWDC and that wishlist item remains. Not all television can be consumed on demand, and not everyone wants to figure out what words to say to Siri to conjure television browsing.

Give the TV Back to the Shareholders

Apple’s incoherent strategy on the Apple TV, and tvOS as a platform, needs a dire revamp. Even the revamping they are trying to graft on to the products in the form of TV the app is so poorly integrated, and partnered, that it raises questions about why people would even open the software feature that they bill as a primary reason to get an Apple TV in their very own marketing materials.

There’s a total lack of understanding about TV in homes, which has plagued the product since it shipped last year, and seems guaranteed to persist another year. Filling homes with $150-$200 black boxes that can’t integrate with the most popular on-demand streaming service in the market TV the app is available in? That can’t integrate with cable providers, only satellite (not for any technical, terrestrial reason)? Still making $80 glass sticks? No model that can meet the picture specs of devices that cost a third, or half the price?

Who is this product for?

http://joe-steel.com/2016-10-03-iPhone-7-Plus-Depth-Effect-is-Legit.html iPhone 7 Plus Depth Effect is Legit 2016-10-03T15:10:17Z 2016-10-03T15:10:17Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Stu Maschwitz is a filmmaker (and VFX guy) who did his own testing with the iPhone 7 Plus and really loves it. It’s worth reading just for his technical breakdown of the defocus effect, something I mentioned in my previous post, but which is not as fully fleshed out as his examples. I am still not in love with many of the Portrait Mode photos I’ve seen, but Stu explains why he doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing.

I didn’t think the results would be this good. Apple, uncharacteristically, undersold them. And this created room for a delightful surprise when Portrait Mode turned out to be something I will most certainly use.

I don’t entirely agree as I feel like there’s still some low-hanging fruit for improvement in the area of the defocus effect itself, and noise-matching. It is still better than not having it, since this effect is not baked in to the only image that is produced when you take a photo.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-09-27-Full-On-Monet.html Full On Monet 2016-09-27T16:53:00Z 2016-09-27T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

The one thing I’ve repeated over and over again since Phil Schiller previewed the “Portrait Mode” feature at the iPhone 7 event is that I have no philosophical issue with it. I don’t care that it is the phoniest of phony bolognas. That is absolutely fine with me because I work in visual effects and I do phony bologna things all day long. I don’t even care that it’s computer-driven, and not artist-driven. I feel I need to repeatedly stress this because there are people that do take issue with it because they need to protect Photography from those that would inflict harm upon it.

Having said all that, there are still some drawbacks about the current implementation of “Portrait Mode” (or fauxkeh) that should be discussed. It isn’t magic, but it is the intersection of art and science which produces fascinating work. Here’s a device that’s in the household budget for many (but not all) people that can fit in a pocket, and use software to generate a depth map, and use sophisticated image recognition, to do a realtime effect that simulates an element of photography that most people enjoy seeing but have difficulty producing themselves. It also works much better than I had expected in some areas, and about what I had expected in others. Last week, my cohost Dan Sturm and I discussed the iPhone 7 on our film and VFX podcast because he deals with shooting things on set with a camera, and I deal with measuring depth, and phony bologna stuff, in VFX.

“Portrait Mode” seems to work best when you are using it to shoot portraits — shocking, I know. Specifically, shots of people that frame the shoulders and head have behaved the most like they ought to. This is good news for the department in charge of naming things at Apple. Nailed it.

It starts to unravel a bit when shots are framed for most of the body (and the subject is farther away from the camera). Then it seems slightly more prone to error. This is just conjecture, but I assume this is because there’s better stereo separation when the iPhone is closer to the subject, and there’s less the further away you get from the subject. The iPhone 7 Plus does not have a tremendously large interaxial distance (distance between camera lenses), and the lenses themselves are different so even if the software is taking the differences between the two lenses into account (perspective and lens warp, it’s not just a crop), it’s not like it’s identical. I’m also assuming that luminance plays a large role just because I’ve also used luminance for fake-depth effects before. How that gets taken in to account, I couldn’t say, but it does seem that some of the artifacts in images that I have seen seem to be related to brighter pixels being sent to the far BG, but that could also be an issue with the detail of the generated depth map. It would seem natural to me to filter the depth map to remove small, sharp spikes in depth as they would likely be errors, so that could be why some white dog whiskers are on the background in some dog photos.

Dog photos! Cat photos! Dog photos and cat photos living together. Mass hysteria. No matter which pet species you follow on Instagram, you’re going to see a large number of shots with shallow depth of field. Thanks in no small part to Apple. The shots of animals are more error-prone than shots of humans though. DJ Jenkins, who follows me on Twitter, sent me this shot of his dog:

A close up view on the dog’s head shows a lot of smearing, and pinching around the edge of the pooch. Apple’s system prioritized the detail of the dog over the BG holding up. I’m guessing the system is trying to fill in for pixels that would be behind the dog, so you don’t see a blurry dog edge with a sharp dog inside of it. The highlight on the dog’s nose seems to have fallen between the BG and the FG too.

If anyone’s grumbling that animal portraiture is not what the feature was intended for, I have some bad news about the fact that people are going to shoot a lot of non-human, non-portrait shots with “Portrait Mode”.

Sharp Foregrounds

Some images have a touch of defocus effect applied to the foreground, but usually I only see that when there is an error. The images almost universally seem to favor a sharp foreground. This breaks the illusion right away. An image with a sharp foreground, subject, and totally out of focus background can still look pleasant, but I would prefer it if that was a conscious choice, rather than a shortcoming of the process.

Reflections and Refractions

Right after I saw, and read, Matthew Panzarino’s piece on TechCrunch about “Portrait Mode” in the beta, I wanted to see all the cases where it did not work. I had speculated that reflections on surfaces, and light refracted through water, or glass, would really mess it up, since those are things that are issues in stereoscopic VFX work. Sure enough, Matt sent me this image of a wine glass on Twitter:

Borked. Interesting, but borked.

Then Myke Hurley from Relay FM started posting shots he was taking in less than ideal lighting conditions, and of non-portrait subject matter. He was very happy with how the photos turned out and they were pleasing to his eye. They are quite helpful in illustrating issues with the Portrait Mode beta.

I scribbled around some of the obvious problems with the reflection of the light through the door on the coasters and table. The edge of the coasters is going in and out of focus based on how much of the bright reflection is on the coaster. That’s why there’s a very sharp increase in the defocus of the coaster edge. Not because the coaster is far away, but because it’s being defocused as if it was at the depth of the door reflection, which is the depth of the door. Here’s the difference between what Myke uploaded to Twitter as the original, and the “Portrait Mode” one (Twitter compression could cause slight variances on top of whatever was originally in the shots, but that’s not the point).

This illustrates the regions being altered by Apple between the composite image they produce, and the image that is exclusively from their “56mm” lens. The width of the altered regions on the coasters is the same as that of the width of the door. The system is also trying to blur out some of the coaster details that are immediately in front of BB8 but part of the reflection.

Jason Snell tweeted an image of his cat that has blurred out reflections on the floor as well. These stick out because they’re totally feature-less holes in an otherwise textured floor. (Also the floor in the foreground would be out of focus anyway, but my issue is with the holes.)

Make Some Noise

There’s also another thing that Myke’s photos were very helpful with and that was in illustrating how Apple was going to handle sensor noise.

In addition to some edge smearing and pinching in this hand shot Myke took, you can see a very visible difference in the sensor noise in the image between the “in focus” and “out of focus” regions. There is some noise in the “out of focus” area, but it seems as if it was designed for use only in more desirable lighting conditions. It doesn’t emulate the sensor noise present here at all. You could argue that no one should be taking photos under those lighting conditions, but so what? People are going to do it anyway.

Some folks might be confused about why you would want to add noise to something, but it is essential for making it look like it’s a cohesive image. The alternative — more aggressive noise reduction than Apple already does (and it is quite aggressive) would be undesirable because then you’re going to further mush what should be the sharp, foreground object.

I hope that as Apple progresses with their beta, they can fine tune the noise they’re adding to the blurred regions to produce a more integrated image under all lighting conditions.


When Matthew Panzarino’s TechCrunch article went up, he had been told by Apple that the blur was a “gaussian blur”. That ruffled a lot of feathers because gaussian blur has nothing to do with simulating how light focuses, but it’s faster than any defocus method. Indeed, there’s a pervasive mushiness where everything softly blends together with very few exceptions. There isn’t the texture I would expect to see. Panzarino received clarification from Apple that the images in the Camera Roll are not using gaussian blur, but rather a “custom disc blur”. Using a disc means they’re convolving the pixels – the simplest way to describe it is that each pixel expands out into a circle. Really hot pixels produce very clearly defined circular patterns with sharp edges. If you’ve ever seen out-of-focus christmas lights at night, the sharp circles over a dark background are very pronounced. You can still perceive these details in situations with less contrast though. I don’t see anything approaching that in the images I’ve seen Portrait Mode produce. The closest are some highlights that seem to be convolving to cotton-ball shapes.

The iPhone’s camera, without assistance from Portrait Mode, even has some more texture in highlights so it doesn’t seem they are modeling their treatment of the image off of any specific characteristics, but rather attempting to create an inoffensive, soft effect.

It could also be that they’re applying their focus effects to clamped pixel values. For example: If you use a defocus treatment on a JPEG, vs. a RAW file, you’ll see that the JPEG doesn’t have high-high pixel values in the highlights because that data was cut off at a certain point after it hit “white”. However, that’s pretty unlikely because I’m sure Apple’s engineers are also aware of that, and that the softness in the highlights is an intentional choice they’re making.

Another Tool

I’m still where I was at the start of this post. I have no problem with the feature existing, or people loving the images they are producing with the feature right now in the beta. You do you. I do hope that Apple can improve some aspects of Portrait Mode to make it even better for people who are happy with the current results, and to make me less twitchy when I scroll through Twitter and see gapping holes and pinched edges.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-06-09-WWDC-Wish-List-tvOS.html WWDC Wish List: tvOS 2016-06-09T15:38:10Z 2016-06-09T15:38:10Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ As we get closer to WWDC, I notice that there’s a dearth of excitement, interest, or rumors in anything involving the Apple TV. It’s hard to blame anyone for the disinterest since the platform hasn’t really wowed anyone since its premiere and no major rumors have circulated in advance of Monday’s event. I’ll run through a list of things I would like to see, though I myself am skeptical any of them will materialize in a few days.

Darker Interface

The team that designed tvOS valued light, open, bright designs. Unfortunately, in a dark living room, this is rather harsh on your eyes. This is something that the previous generations of the Apple TV had right, and I’d like to steer back toward it.

Picture in Picture

PiP is a fairly old concept, and not necessarily an exciting one. A video plays in a little box and other videos, or graphics, are available elsewhere in screen space. I don’t really wish for arbitrary video boxes to float around the interface, but there are many cases where the user experience could be improved by allowing a video to float while you navigate some menu hierarchy for another video to watch. The Apple TV is not really a snappy-multitasker, so offering that foothold into what you were watching while you look for something else would be very handy. As Jason Snell points out in a piece for Macworld, some apps even implement their own PiP to display multiple things, like the Major League Baseball app displaying multiple baseball games.

After all, PiP is a feature that came to iOS before tvOS, and tvOS is built on iOS … and iOS borrowed the idea from TVs … so it’s not the worst idea. It also happens to be a building block for more complex interactions like…

Interactive Programming Guide

I know you think I’m abusing an addictive substance, but let me assure it’s just pinot noir. Interactive programing guides are a familiar sight to anyone that’s used a TV in the last 20 years. An interface is presented to the user that’s like a spreadsheet, with a table of times, and channels, and what is currently playing on them. Most of these programming guides also embed the video that is currently being viewed so that people can browse the list of channels while still watching their show (either with the intent to switch channels, or to merely check information).

I’ve been trying to pitch this to people since last fall and no one is biting, but here me out, and bite away. The Apple TV actually does have “live” TV programming in some apps, but it’s totally invisible to the system, and to the user, unless that feed for that particular app is open and playing. This is ridiculous in 2016 because it makes channel surfing into some kind of investigative reporting simulation. You have to pop open each app that offers a live stream, then navigate to it, then open it and wait for it to load whatever might be playing. It’s hardly like hitting channel up, and channel down. This is a problem that TV solved decades ago, and it wasn’t even this slow for a TV to change channels.

Before the wave of skepticism pulls me out to sea let me assure readers that human beings do watch live, and “live”, video on TV by the millions. Live video is so important that YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all trying to get in on it. Just because “live TV” conjures images of CBS crime procedurals for you doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone.

Apple could offer a mechanism for an installed app to register that it offers live video, and to detail what the programming for that live video is. Only the applications that are installed would be present, and their programming viewable while watching another video stream. Potentially you could even ask Siri “What’s on?” to pull up the guide. Or ask “When are the Oscars on?” and get that familiar, linear bar of what’s available.

Let’s not forget that “live TV” isn’t typically live, it’s just an linear stream of shows and ads set to play at given times. That linear stream is a useful way (but not the only way) for people to find new shows thanks to the serendipity of turning on a TV during a certain time slot. Techies might scoff at such notions, but … like it’s a thing.


There’s an incredibly irritating and very persistent bug (series of bugs?) with AirPlay where playback is interrupted and the stream is kicked back to the device it was streaming from. This occurs with a great deal of regularity, but AirPlay is still the best way to get audio and video to play in my living room in spite of it.

I hope that Apple has a more robust solution for AirPlay going forward that doesn’t flake on an all-Apple-device network.

A New Multitasking View

The original multitasking view for tvOS was a flat series of cards with excessive gaps between them. It presented a thumbnail view of what the app had last displayed. In the updates since launch, Apple revised the multitasking view to appear more like the iOS view. This is unfortunate because I have an enormous screen dedicated to showing me one card and the edges of two other cards, with a very blurry card in the background.

If the apps I’m switching between are TVML apps, then they look almost visually identical so you’re really looking at the name, and icon, which are in the top of the screen and take up the least amount of space. The multitasker only displays a single app title at a time as well, so all the blue and purple gradients really stick out. If the system has been restarted (either by the owner, or by the system just doing its thing) then the thumbnails for the apps are also medium-gray rectangles.

This is not suitable for me and I almost always switch apps by going back to the homescreen because it seems faster to mentally sort it.

I hope that there’s a new multitasking view that takes advantage of the screen real estate, and PiP, to allow me to move fluidly between applications and not between individually displayed, static rectangles.

Turn Folders Into Page Breaks

When I heard the rumor that folders would be added I laughed pretty hard. When I saw folders were added I let out a big sigh. Whatever is going on with the management, and development, of tvOS post-launch seems to be heavily skewed towards metaphors that work on iOS. Folders are implemented almost the same way where you hold down the touchpad until the parallax-icon wiggles, then you drag it over another icon and let go. It opens up a vast, white void where those two icons now live. This is… un-TV-like, and an inefficient use of screen space, and my tapping.

What I wish for is the ability to add a dividing line in the homescreen. Category dividers that section off the way apps are organized but leave the icons at the same size and don’t require “opening” and “closing”.

Amazon uses a category system in their Fire TV interface, which is not flexible for the user, but doesn’t burry things. The Amazon way of doing thing relies on the system to populate the app across multiple categories too, even in “recommendation” sections. This seems very, un-Apple-like, so I’d settle for a series of dividing lines and apps inside of them.

Take advantage of that ridiculous remote and let me exert extra swiping-force to move from line to line. News to Movies, etc.

Aliases for Content

The system doesn’t provide a way for people to directly access a favorite show in Netflix right from the home screen. There’s no way to bookmark something you’re interested in, and pin it right to the homescreen as if it were an app. Amazon treats content like apps on the Fire platform so they can mix movies, apps, music, games, and TV shows all in the same interface. Apple only presents the top-level of every app and nothing else.

Overhaul the TV Shows App and the Movies App

These apps are strongly geared toward someone buying/renting a video that is advertised to them as soon as possible. They are pretty unfriendly toward people that want to watch something that isn’t new. In the Purchased tab of the TV app, there’s a grid of shows, displaying a tile of artwork for the current season of that show. There aren’t any visual indications of what you’ve watched already, or what you were last watching when you used the app. Each show also arranges episodes as a series of narrow, horizontal tiles that needed to be scrolled through to get to what you want. I wish they overhaul this navigation.

The Movies app offers some sorting options by genre, but not by when you watched something. Also the genres are from the iTunes store and each movie gets a single genre designation. This is a problem if the designation isn’t right. The first six Star Wars movies are listed under “Action & Adventure” but “The Force Awakens” is listed under “Sci-Fi & Fantasy”.

These apps exist under the Videos app on iOS, and the iTunes App’s TV and Film sections on the Mac and PC. None of it is consistent.

Non-tvOS App Store Purchases

I want a unified storefront where I can buy an app on any of Apple’s platforms, even if it isn’t for the one I’m currently on, and push the app to any, or all, of my devices. Google and Amazon have solved this problem years ago. Apple currently bounces you around between several redirects before you land on some rather unhelpful pages. Then you can take that result, remember it until you get home, and ask Siri to find it in the App Store for the TV. It’s like sharing apps with semaphore.

Initial App Setup

When you fire up the device there is a very minimal homescreen. Opening the App Store initially shows a bunch of suggested apps. There’s also the “Purchased” tab which displays apps that the iTunes store backend knows that you’ve purchased, or “got”, on other devices and can sort the information by “Recent Purchases”, “Recently Updated”, “Not on This Apple TV” and by the App Store category the app is listed under.

This is very helpful, except there’s no “Download All” feature, and each app icon must be individually clicked on to bring up the info for the app and then download it. Then back to the menu. It would be nice to very quickly populate an Apple TV.

Unified Credentials with iCloud Keychain

I don’t want to sign in, or verify, every app that I download. Especially not if the TV version of the app has a companion app on my iPhone, or a website I logged into with Safari. Frustratingly, Apple already has a tool for this with iCloud Keychain, but it’s not used to unify this. Instead you’re entering codes from your TV into URLs on your computer — like an animal.

I’ve also seen a lot of Apple fans say that Apple doesn’t do this BECAUSE SECURITY but if that were the case than iCloud Keychain wouldn’t store my credit card info across devices on Apple’s severs, let alone what kind of video subscription services I have access to.

What to Watch

In the tvOS App Store, the “What to Watch” section features video steaming apps. Those apps are almost exclusively apps that require a cable, or satellite TV subscription only. I wish this section was devoted to apps for people that did not have cable and satellite subscriptions. That might make the area look pretty sad, but it would reduce the amount of investigative work I have to do.


The remote is still a frustrating instrument that should be outlawed, but it’s not going to go anywhere at WWDC.

Drag and Hold to Continue Movement

One of the more annoying aspects about using the remote with the interface is that the remote’s touch area is very narrow, but the swipe required to move between interface elements requires dragging from the center of the pad out toward the edge of the pad, then lifting your thumb back to the center of the pad and starting over.

Back when Marko Savic and I used to regularly podcast about the Apple TV this issue was discussed, and Marko (I think?) suggested a persistent drag, just like when you’re moving the playhead in the timeline in a video view on the Siri Remote. Siri would keep going in the direction your thumb moved, while you held your thumb on the edge of the touchpad you had hit. To stop, lift the thumb, or move the thumb back to center like an analog stick on a game controller.

I speculated that Apple probably didn’t want to do this because then no one would appreciate the Parallax Icons — I would gladly burn the Parallax Icons to the ground in exchange for non-repetitive thumb movement.

iOS Remote App

Apple was rightfully lambasted for completely skipping support for anything other than the Siri Remote. iPhones, especially ones released around the time of the 4th generation Apple TV, are far more sophisticated than the $80 glass and metal remote. Only the old, crappy app is supported right now, but Eddy Cue has announced a revised Remote App will be available this summer.


Release a controller. Apple knows that they should. Every Apple Store I’ve been in has Nimbus controllers (plural) next to the Apple TV demo unit. The Siri Remote is better suited to stirring fondue than it is playing games. Perhaps the new iOS Remote App will be a decent controller, but there’s no real excuse for Apple to support the Steel Series Nimbus so heavily and abdicate any first-party responsibility for making a game controller, or insisting that games be playable on the Siri Remote.

The crappiness of the gameplay is a large reason I abandoned even trying to play games. If Apple would like to acknowledge that games are a traditional revenue source for them, then it would benefit them to make games something that people want to play.

A Message for the 64 GB Model

Right now, Apple’s stance is that you should buy the 64 GB model if you’re going to play a lot of games. That’s … not enticing. On tvOS, the app storage is capped so the storage seems like bizarre overkill. There really should be a narrative for why this model exists. If they’re going to allow record of live broadcasts, or preemptively buffering movies you’re watching, or buying, on other devices, than this starts to make a little more sense.

Streamlined Apple ID and Apple ID Switching

There’s an “Accounts” subsection of the “Settings” app in tvOS which details the 4 places where the same, exact account is signed in. Why? iCloud, uTunes and App Store, Game Center, and Home Sharing all have separate Apple ID logins. Clicking on iCloud gets you three different photo-oriented toggles: iCloud Photo Library, iCloud Photo Sharing, and My Photo Stream.

There’s also an option to “Manage Subscriptions” which will bring up the reviled horizontal keyboard and ask you to sign in to see what you’re subscribed to (something that might be given away by what apps are installed???). If you decline, that brings up an endless spinner (hit the menu button if you do this), because that’s not an expected behavior. Every time a login screen pops up, you should enter passwords and login info.

This is a TV let’s get a grip. There should be a single sign in, sign out, and switch user system. If holding a iPhone near a TV can let me set up my TV, why can’t I authorize it to jump to my account, or a guest authorize it to jump to their account? I wish this was a single profile that followed me, and not a series of separate wires that needed to be defused in the correct order.

Backup and Restore

I’ve been bothered by the lack of a backup and restore system since the launch of the platform. Not because I do that regularly, but because I know that I will eventually need it. Why can’t I setup a second Apple TV (other than I’m sane) that restores the same state as my first Apple TV? What happens if I need to replace this device because of a defect, or theft? What happens when I go to upgrade this Apple TV to the next model in X years? I have to setup everything from scratch again. I wish it weren’t the case.


There are several rumors about a major update to Siri, and a Siri API. I would hope that Apple plans on rolling out a consistent experience across all their devices, including the TV, and that Siri commands given to one device can affect your other devices you’re logged into. Like if I tell my phone I want to watch something on my TV, it should be able to show it on my TV. Google showed a concept video where their Assistant understood the context of questions and the devices it had available to it.

Due to the importance of Siri on the device, and Siri on all Apple’s devices, I feel pretty confident we’ll at least see improvements there, and it only makes sense for those improvements to be across the various Apple platforms.

I’m looking forward to WWDC because I imagine it will be a jam-packed update-stravaganza. I do hope that there’s something exciting in there to make my $150 Netflix box fell like a delightful component in my living room.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-06-02-Defocused-and-The-Incomparable-Memberships.html Defocused and The Incomparable Memberships 2016-06-02T21:18:00Z 2016-06-02T21:18:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The Incomparable is a podcast, which spun off a variety of other podcasts into a network of shows. Other podcasts have also joined, like Defocused. Jason Snell, who owns, operates, edits, and social-media-manages The Incomparable Network put a membership system in place last night. The membership is optional (we’re still making the shows regardless of membership sales), but it does offer some perks to listeners and generates some revenue for shows. There’s a blog post from Jason Snell which explains the details.

Dan and I haven’t run ads on our show – well, except for fake ones – not because ads are evil, we just didn’t want to for a variety of boring reasons. It’s a passion project (-$) which we love to do, and we’re both very grateful to our listeners that enjoy the show. If you don’t enjoy the show, then I don’t know why you’re reading the second paragraph of a blog post about the show, but you do you.

There’s no obligation to commit to the show financially, even positive iTunes reviews, and passing around links mean a lot to us. Whether or not you sign up, I’d also appreciate it if you would send me some links on Twitter to episodes of Defocused which you think new listeners might enjoy. (Please keep the, “start at episode one” tweets to a minimum.) I honestly struggle with how to pitch a 99 episode show to new people. In episode 100 (recorded before Dan’s wedding) we ran through our memories of all 99 of the shows and it took 2 hours.

If you do choose to sign up as a member of The Incomparable Network there are different tiers, but for all tiers you can select the shows on the network you wish to support and the money is divided up equally between those. It’s a network membership, not a membership Dan and I manage. (Good grief, could you even imagine?)

There are 16 shows on the network right now covering various topics, and sometimes the same topics with different hosts or panelists. There’s something for everyone. It’s like the Cheesecake Factory menu.

Thank you, listeners (and people who don’t listen to the podcast but kept reading this anyway for mysterious reasons).

http://joe-steel.com/2016-06-01-That-Time-Straight-Men-Got-Upset-About-an-Elsa-Hashtag.html That Time Straight Men Got Upset About an Elsa Hashtag 2016-06-01T16:53:00Z 2016-06-01T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ There was a scattered piece from Devin Faraci that circulated rather widely the other day. It started with the premise that fandom is broken because fans demand things from the people creating the comics, movies, and games they love. He emphasized demand, but he conflates it with online petitions and requests (that seem absolutely benign), with harassment and death threats. A comparison (which he picks up from Jesse Hassenger at the AV Club) is drawn between fans on Twitter wanting Elsa to have a girlfriend in Frozen 2 with the negative reactions to Ghostbusters and GamerGate. He muddles through a bunch of stuff about how the internet makes it easier to demand things, and behave poorly, but he paints with a broad brush. After all, he wouldn’t have a job if he was a nice guy on the internet.

I’ve been fuming about this since I read it the other night. There is no place for death threats, at all. No one objects to that. Rolling that in with every other form of criticism, feedback, fan fiction, and conversation is entirely objectionable. A Disney princess hashtag that a teenage girl started! Don’t bully creators, go bully teens into silence? What?!

While I don’t personally want to see Elsa presented this way, or for Steve Rogers’ to be gay, people are allowed to say these things. People have been saying these things about fictional characters for a very, very, very long time. And honestly, retroactively making a character gay is a thing that happens in fictionalized entertainment, even if I think it’s generally handled poorly. Coming down hard on fans like this reinforces a negative view that people seeking representation in media are the same as those seeking to push change out of comics, and out of their lives. I don’t think these particular things are the best ways to address representation, but so what? Who does it hurt? Entertainment Tonight asked Idina Menzel about the campaign and she gave a supportive response, but clearly stated that she has no authority over that, and fans should pursue things with Disney. So far, the only “important” people freaking out about the fans are Jesse and Devin. The fragility of straight white guys never ceases to amaze me.

Later, after his post was circulated widely, Devin wrote a separate, thoroughly-confused piece about how people read his writing wrong, and they should definitely be demanding a “queer princess” from “decision makers” but they shouldn’t petition “creators” of Frozen 2. You see that he separates creation from decision. Work-for-hire writing, and directing, from intellectual property. Then he says that the filmmakers have power and it’s not just Disney, also he says he was really tired when he wrote it and didn’t think it would be a big deal, so… There we go with people not understanding his writing.

Why bother asking for people of color, and women, to rally around him if he’s just going to make insulting comparisons to GamerGate that demonstrate he doesn’t understand any of these issues? Why write a follow-up piece about how the pressure needs to be applied to get the representation he’s fighting for? He also thinks everyone should be nice to creators – but still critique things like he does and presumably get in internet-fights with screenwriters? Perhaps the real issue is that he wants to be a gatekeeper controlling what constitutes an appropriate reaction to media.

Unfortunately, the cord for the mic Devin tried to drop got all knotted up around him.

As I wrote earlier, I was fuming all day about this because it basically gives a bunch of assholes free reign to be jerks. Go look at the winning comments on Devin’s posts, and the responses to his tweets.

105 votes in agreement with ‘Samcvb’ over his comment that he can’t wait for “the death of Nerd Culture” because people feel too entitled. He then goes on to lay out the reasons why “The Force Awakens” wasn’t really that good because it appealed to entitled fans, and wasn’t like “Old School George Lucas”. Cognitive dissonance is aaaaaaaamazing! Devin, and the people that support him, betray that they really object to people who don’t agree with them, and those are the entitled ones.

Here the Elsa fans are, lumped in with that. And the Star Trek fan fic writers, and even me.

I wrote about how disappointed I was to see Midnighter get cancelled because he was the only gay man leading a comic book from DC or Marvel, and it lasted 12 issues. He is not included in the slate for the DC Rebirth event, but all the safe, comfortable choices are. “Please come back, straight white men, we love you.” My negative reaction to this can be easily categorized as entitlement. I demand to see my interests reflected in the work of these artists. Only that’s not the whole truth. I want to see a diverse world that we are all part of represented in these works. Part of that is ego – wanting to see someone you sympathize with represented – part of that isn’t – wanting to see other characters as fully developed people so I can empathize with experiences that are not my own. What gay men are straight readers, and movie-goers, empathizing with in Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Star Trek? (Good luck with this question!) Also if a reader doesn’t think that they can empathize with a gay character because they’re not gay, then they should double-check the meaning of the word empathy.

The free market is also brought up often when rallying against inclusion. According to some, stories are written a certain way because it will sell. Then it sells, and it reinforces that the story sells. No one ever got fired for writing about a straight white male lead. You’ll see lots of these writers talking about the importance of diversity, and how they shouldn’t be criticized because they support the idea of diversity. You know, if someone else can make it work. Blowing up planets and multiverses is hard enough without having two dudes express, “I love you, bro” to each other. No one should have the temerity to campaign for diversity because that’s up to the creators who are making sacred art.

What about creator-owned works? Indie film? People that don’t see themselves in the world, and aren’t employed by these massive companies can certainly take matters into their own hands. Those works can provide an outlet but not a lot of satisfying watercooler talk. They also usually lack the polish of corporate works so it’s a trade-off.

We collectively want to share experiences, which is one of many reasons why corporate-owned characters are so appealing (another big one is capital to pay for high-quality product, and the almost mythic longevity of the product). Is it so surprising that desires are unmet? That people connect on the internet to talk about their wishes with others? It shouldn’t be so shocking that the yearning is bounced back at the product, and the creators. “Wouldn’t it be perfect if this was the way I imagine it?” (Not always! Really! But that’s fine!)

It’s ridiculous to meet every request and expectation – of course it is. Artists have been managing feedback since art was paid for so I guess it’s a thing artists can live with.

“Hey, can you do this thing? I want this thing.”

“No, that’s not what I’m doing.” Or “I didn’t have that in mind, but there’s something else I’m working on.”

That’s a little idealized, of course, but is that so terrible? Would it be so terrible? Are things really so broken that the unwashed masses should be shouted down because we’re all the same as those who go to reprehensible extremes? I certainly don’t feel any kinship with those that would speak about harming others, and I deplore Devin misusing his position to lash out at a Disney princess campaign.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-05-26-Intelligent-Assistants-and-Restaurant-Web-Pages.html Intelligent Assistants and Restaurant Web Pages 2016-05-26T16:00:00Z 2016-05-26T16:00:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about software that can converse with people and then present information or accomplish tasks in a natural way. Even in an advanced demo, when Google Assistant was demonstrated on stage at Google I/O 2016, it’s not like talking to a person. It is pretty similar to talking to the Enterprise Computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and subsequent shows. That’s also what Amazon’s Lab 126 strives for with Alexa. One of the programmed responses to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is” I want to be the computer from Star Trek!”

Google Assistant has the added advantage of working in demos, and not as a real-world product yet. I don’t doubt their technical prowess but it’s pretty easy to put an intelligent assistant in front of someone and find all the flaws.

How well these assistants will work for each individual will also depend on the context they are being used in, and the contexts that are covered by devices around them. Google demonstrated an understanding of this by talking about the different contexts that Google Assistant will operate in, including the home, car, and on the phone. Amazon hasn’t integrated their Alexa products in the way Google has outlined. It’s pretty strange that owners of an Amazon Echo (or any other Alexa enabled device, including the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick) can buy the Amazon Echo Dot as another Alexa device in the home, but the devices have no understanding that there is any relationship between them. When Dan Moren got his Dot, I asked him on Twitter how it dealt with being in the same room as his Echo. The answer is that they both take queries and respond. That’s not very intelligent.

A key part of Google Assistant’s demo was that it could order things for you through services Google has partnered with, like GrubHub or Instacart. Since this is a platform that permits third party developers, competitors like Postmates or Amazon Prime Now could theoretically integrate the same way and users could select the integration they want from the available options. (Amazon Prime Now seems like a stretch!)

Recently, on an episode of the Accidental Tech Podcast, host John Siracusa criticized Amazon for sticking you (and Casey) with Dominos, and said it all had to do with paid partnerships. That’s not the case. Alexa can’t order pizza. If you ask her to, she will look through your Amazon order history for pizza, and if she doesn’t find anything, she will inform you that she’s added “pizza” to your shopping list.

Alexa added pizza to my shopping list.

There’s no integration with Domino’s or suggestion of Domino’s. You get that when you add the Alexa Skill for Domino’s. A third party skill (like an app) that is added and configured through the Alexa app. When you add the skill you are prompted to login with a Domino’s “EasyOrder” account. Alexa is a thin layer between you and Domino’s, like grease, or dignity. The commands are “Domino’s” and not “Pizza” because no one owns the word pizza on the platform, Domino’s simply makes the only Skill for ordering pizza. Any Domino’s competitor can make an equivalent skill and they wouldn’t be impaired by Amazon any more or less than Domino’s. Domino’s just does weird tech stuff.

If these assistants take off, then having a Skill — or whatever the Google Assistant equivalent is — could be as valuable as a restaurant having a web site. And not just any web site, a modern, up-to-date website that loads. Perhaps we’ll see SquareSpace add these Skills to their plans? Or there might be some horrible Wix variant that offers the same? Viv, a Silicon Valley startup from the people that brought us Siri, seems determined to use a paid development platform which is, at best, nebulous.

Amazon makes a big deal out of making an Alexa Skill in 15 minutes with Node.js so maybe there will be a small market for web developers to add this to the list of services they provide when making websites? Certainly seems less cumbersome than an iOS or Android app.

However, users need to add these integrations ahead of time, not in a moment of pepperoni-pineapple-pizza pique. That can be as discouraging as saying you need to download an iOS, or Andorid, app for every restaurant. (A problem Google wants to solve with Instant Apps.) Viv seems to solve this by not really giving you any options.

Not all restaurants bother with online ordering infrastructure and instead rely on an intermediary company, like GrubHub or Postmates, filling that role. That can be beneficial for consumers because they can rely on a handful of Skills instead of one-off Skills. It will leave consumers wondering which Skill they use to order their pizza. Is that restaurant on GrubHub or Postmates? Are they on Uber Eats? Amazon has no universal search across their Skills to allow for comparison shopping for delivery. Google Assistant doesn’t appear to either. I say “appear” because Sundar told the “car” to order “curry” and that’s so abstract that it simply seems unlikely that it operates in that way.

What about Siri? It has no third party integrations aside from companies Apple selectively partners with. Yelp is a partner and handles almost all food-related queries. If you tell Siri, “Order Pizza” she provides a list of nearby restaurants with pizza on the menu and their Yelp star ratings. That’s it. Tap them to go through a maze of ordering things. Even if you have a favorite restaurant, and a usual order that you want to trigger, she’ll never understand any of it. Food is just a list of Yelp results. I would argue that Apple’s approach here is the worst. I hope that WWDC in June will bring some news about Siri integrations being offered so we can at least elevate Siri to the same level as the other assistants, as imperfect as they are.

And at that imperfect level we can start to wonder where it was we last ordered pizza from, and what it even was that we liked so very much. If we even have to consider the context, the hardware for the order, then this brave new world has so far to go.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-05-02-Sony-Settles-in-Suit.html Sony Settles in Suit 2016-05-02T16:43:00Z 2016-05-02T16:43:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Yesterday, news broke on Deadline Hollywood’s site that Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks have settled for $13 million. This is not an admission of guilt on Sony’s part.

In September of 2014, a class action lawsuit was filed by Robert Nitsch against DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, Lucasfilm Ltd., The Walt Disney Company, Digital Domain 3.0, ImageMovers, ImageMovers Digital, Sony Pictures Animation, and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The lawsuit was based on things turned up during the DOJ anti-poaching case that affected other Silicon Valley companies like Adobe and Apple.

Here’s the 27 page filing from September of 2014 about the alleged general level of involvement of each company.

On March 31st of this year, BlueSky was the first to break ranks and settle for $5,950,000. This is also not an admission of guilt.

Deadline’s Dominic Patten guesses that DreamWorks Animation will likely be the next to settle, if only to move along it’s acquisition by NBC/Universal. I agree, but it’s also likely they’ll settle next because I don’t see Disney settling soon. Disney managed to acquire most of the conspiring companies (Pixar, Lucasfilm), or found them (the defunct ImageMovers). While Digital Domain 3.0 is sued, it might be protected by the various legal shell-games that transpired to found it. If they do settle, they’d also likely settle before Disney.

I’ve previously discussed my feelings on Ed Catmull, and on Tim Cook defending Steve Jobs – They were not warm feelings.

Ed Catmull and George Lucas have statements on record that this was essentially for the greater good. That with the low margins of the industry, this was the way things needed to be done to keep costs from getting it of control. Ironically, almost all of the studios in the suit have suffered, not blossomed, with the exception of these ringleaders’ own enterprises. Perhaps the real cheat was getting all the other studios to stop competing by enticing them to hamstring themselves? Where would Sony Pictures be if they hadn’t joined with Ed?

http://joe-steel.com/2016-04-28-Can-the-Fire-TV-Stick-Hold-a-Torch-to-the-Apple-TV.html Can the Fire TV Stick Hold a Torch to the Apple TV? 2016-04-28T16:18:00Z 2016-04-28T16:18:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I just wanted to have a clever title, but the short answer is that it depends on the amount of money you’d like to spend, and what you will have the device do. I didn’t say what you expect the device to do. I expect unicorns, and rainbows to shoot out of either device, but they don’t do that. You also need to be an Amazon Prime subscriber in the United States for the device to be worth anything at all.

Why even? I know, I know. The device has been around for a while, but I didn’t have one because I had read all the reviews about how inferior it was to the Apple TV. It’s a great time to look around, especially since there are so many software, and services changes (like the monthly Prime options, and add-ons) since those initial Fire Stick reviews were published. In fact, as I write this, the Fire TV Stick went on sale for $5 off, so maybe you should try it to?

If you buy your Fire TV through Amazon it arrives partially configured for you, like a Kindle or Fire tablet purchased through Amazon. The device comes with a power cable that’s only slightly longer than the one Amazon includes with their Fire tablet — which is to say that it’s too short.

Voice Remote vs. Siri Remote

The Voice Remote Amazon sells with the Stick is slightly different than the one that Amazon sells with the full Fire TV box, but the difference is material quality. The remote is a triangular prism with rounded edges. Even though the bottom of it is “point” of the prism, it’s blunted and sits flat on surfaces. The whole back panel slides open to reveal the battery compartment. This is not a fancy, rechargeable remote, but the compartment opens and closes solidly, and because it’s the whole back of the remote, you’re not left with a wobbly panel like many other plastic remotes.

The top face of the remote has a microphone button, a circular D-Pad with an inset selection/click button in the middle. There are two rows under the D-Pad with a back button, a home button, a button with three lines, a fast backward button, a play/pause button, and a fast forward button. There’s nothing mind blowing about this, and with the exception of the three lines, it’s all completely obvious what each button does. (The three lines usually pull up settings, or a list, but it’s dependent on where you are in the interface.)

A small notch in the top of the remote is where the microphone is contained, but you don’t need to hold it up to your mouth in order for it work.

What really struck me about the remote was that there was no way to adjust the volume. After using the 4th generation Apple TV since October, I had become accustomed to having volume buttons. Let me tell you that not having them is really, really, really, annoying. A tiny little IR blaster in the top of this could have fixed that issue. Alas, it’s not meant to be.

Funnily enough, I can change the volume with my Apple TV remote, which will kick me to the Apple TV HDMI input, and then I can hit the Home button on the Amazon remote and it’ll kick me back to the Fire TV. The joys of modern technology.

Long-pressing the home button pops up a small menu with options like “Sleep”, similar to the Apple TV. Otherwise, you just wait for the horrible screensaver to come on (they have animated transforms on the still images they use but the filtering produces a visible grid effect.)

Bluetooth Keyboards are supported, as well as virtual keyboards inside the Fire Remote apps Amazon makes for iOS, Android, and Fire OS. Failing that, the onscreen keyboard is a breeze with the D-Pad. I am of the opinion that Apple missed the mark with their onscreen keyboard row, and narrow touch surface with the 4th generation Apple TV, but some people enjoy the sensation of wiggling their thumb to skip over letters more than I enjoy it.

The “back” and “home” buttons are unambiguous with the Fire TV interface, because back always goes back, and home always goes home. Compare this to the Apple TV’s “menu” and “TV screen rectangle” buttons.

One point to Amazon for ergonomics, one point to Amazon for not making it out of glass, one point to Amazon for unambiguous device orientation, one point to Apple for Volume, one point to Amazon for mostly unambiguous buttons, and one point for Apple for a rechargeable battery.

But what about the complicated motion sensors and the touchpad? The motion sensors are superfluous because they only come into play in games which are horrible to play via the motion sensors. The touchpad is great for precisely placing the “playhead” for video, but also punish you with the virtual keyboard row, and no clear sense of direction when compared to a D-Pad. I don’t find the touchpad on the Siri Remote to be preferable to the Amazon D-Pad, but everyone’s just going to yell at me for that, so whatever you like is the best thing ever.

Home on Fire

The initial boot process is funky (there’s a warning not to touch anything, which isn’t friendly). There’s also a video with an animated guy introducing you to the features of the device. I don’t typically enjoy tutorials, but it’s short and very directly communicates functions, as well as where to find certain things in the interface. Sadly, it’s possible that something like this might help with the unintuitive process of setting up an Apple TV. (Here’s a screen with almost nothing on it. Have a nice day.) The video is also present in the system if someone feels like they need to rewatch it.

As for the interface: The left side of the screen has a vertical menu to switch between different views on the right side of the screen. It defaults to “Home” which contains:

  • A thin banner ad that doesn’t stick at the top, and you can only select by purposefully navigating up to it.
  • Featured Apps & Games
  • Prime Originals & Exclusive TV
  • Featured Subscriptions
  • Prime Recently Added Movies
  • Prime Recently Added TV
  • Prime Recommended Movies
  • Top Free Games
  • Recommended Apps & Games

Fire TV Home Screen

So when you turn on the device the easiest thing for you to get to is whatever you were last doing, or something Amazon is promoting. It’s a mixed bag, depending on your tastes, and it rotates. You might see the 1989 Batman movie, Veep, Bosch — or anything else. About half of what it presents to you is already included with your Prime membership, and the other half is an upsell. Unlike the Kindle, and Fire tablets, the overt advert at the top is not a “Special Offer” you can pay Amazon to remove. It’s there for everyone.

Tapping on down from “Home” to “Your Videos” shows you layers of your video library interspersed with the same Prime Originals, and Recently Added fare. There’s also “TV Shows” and “Movies” which offer other mixes of Prime “Recently Added” and “Recommended” entries.

Next up is “Games” and first time Fire TV users will see Crossy Road highlighted as a free download for them to enjoy. Only you won’t enjoy it on the Fire Stick because it’s not powerful enough to run the game smoothly. I’m baffled why games are even offered since they are mostly unresponsive.

In the “Apps” section you’ll find apps that Amazon has added to your cloud library, but didn’t download on to the device. Think of it as a starter pack. Netflix, Sling, Showtime, Hulu, Vevo, Bloomberg TV, Crackle, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, and whatever “WatchESPN for Fire TV” might be. Unlike most bundled applications you can remove these from the device, and from the cloud. They can be added back to your cloud, and device, at any time through the store if you change your mind in the future.

If you have a Fire tablet, and get an app that’s also available on the Fire TV, you’ll see it in your cloud library too. For example: Disney Movies Anywhere has a Fire tablet and Fire TV app and is present on either.

There’s a YouTube app, but … it’s blue. This threw me off since it didn’t share the same branding as the iOS YouTube app and I initially wrote it off as some third-party client I wouldn’t bother with. Turns out, it’s actually the YouTube app.

If you hit the D-Pad and pass over an app buttons to download or look at details appear, and the detail screens offer up info for the developer, a warning if guidance is suggested, a review rating, and which input devices the application works with — like the Fire TV Remote and Game Controller. You can also see something you can’t find in Apple’s tvOS App Store and that’s what permissions the app will need. “Access coarse location” for example, or “Record audio” in the case of CBS All Access (WHY?).

Unfortunately, games are also displayed in the “Apps” view so you’ll see repeats here. I do wish they had actually separated them completely since they’re separate categories of the interface.

Lastly, in the main column, are Music, Photos, and Settings. All of these are populated with what you have purchased, or uploaded to Amazon. Because the photos, and music are not stored on the device, you may notice lag while the contents of the view populate, but the device is still responsive. It doesn’t lock up every time you pass over a category it needs to pull down album art for. I do wish it was more aggressively cached.

The Future of TV is Content

You’ll notice that I kept referring to seeing many things over and over in the interface. That’s a benefit, or a weakness, depending on how your brain is wired. It can be nice to see the same information displayed under different categories, much in the same way Netflix might display a movie under both comedies, and their recommendations for you. This isn’t like the Apple TV home screen interface where every application sits in a spot, all the time. That’s the only place it exists, and it can be organized into a folder. Amazon’s approach is very much about putting content first, and getting you going with it.

Unfortunately, Amazon’s only content-first about content that is available through Amazon. Anything from inside of a third party app is not available to you as anything other than that app’s icon. For example: You’re watching an episode of Transparent, and you decide you want to take a break and an episode of Friends on Netflix. You open the Netflix app, watch your show, and close the Netflix app. In “Recent” you’ll see the Netflix icon, not Friends, next to Transparent.

This is a different approach from Apple where TV and films that Apple wants to promote are displayed at the top of the interface where you’re hovering over those icons, but the interface isn’t inserting those recommendations to live with the application icons.

In terms of applications though, I’d say that both Amazon and Apple offer a comparable selection of media applications. You’ll see similar brands present on both platforms, and offering similar experiences. Apple offers media companies the chance to make TVML applications, where they only need to specify a few options and a standard interface is populated with it. Amazon doesn’t offer that, and every application has to provide for itself. Think of it like an apartment complex that offers furnished apartments, and an apartment complex that doesn’t. One apartment complex will have very nondescript furniture identically placed throughout, and the other apartment complex will have everything from apartments with only an inflatable mattress, to pads bedecked with designer decor. That’s a little what it’s like poking around in the apps.

Both Apple and Amazon have the annoying issues surrounding authenticating applications. It’s a familiar process of going to a URL, and entering an alphanumeric string to grant the TV access to services.

Amazon does have a neat trick that Apple does not, and that’s the presence of additional services that can be tacked on to your Amazon Prime bill for a fee. This is similar to paying for Showtime’s monthly subscription through Apple, except you don’t need the Showtime app to see the content, it’s in your Amazon library, interspersed with all the other stuff, and accessible in all the same ways. The app is optional. Amazon’s made a big deal out of adding on more, and more of these services over time. This makes interface inconsistencies, or authenticating things, unnecessary as long as you’re logged in with your Amazon account.

Second Screen Mirroring Fling Cast

I just don’t know what to say when it comes to Amazon’s efforts to ape Apple’s AirPlay, and use Google’s Cast (née Chromecast). There’s no unified Brand that assures you, “Hey all this stuff works together!” You can’t even reliably count on Amazon to support services across all of Amazon’s devices. For instance: I can mirror the Fire TV to a Fire tablet, but not the entry-level Fire tablet. I can, however, use Second Screen from that same tablet to play Amazon’s videos on my Fire TV while the Fire tablet shows IMDB info, scenes (chapter markers), playback controls, and a draggable playhead. That’s only the Fire tablet though, the Amazon Video app for iOS doesn’t offer Second Screen. Confusing? Yes.

The other trick is finding applications that support any of this. Some of those applications use Amazon’s Fling branding from their Fling SDK. This is not exactly taking the world by storm.

However, the things that use Google’s Cast seem to work with Amazon’s Fire Stick as long as you have an app on both the sending and receiving device. Netflix’s iOS app does work with the Amazon Fire TV, and YouTube’s iOS app works as well. Hilariously, Amazon Video for iOS can’t stream video to the Fire Stick, only to the Apple TV. Though none of this is really obvious since you have to install these apps that don’t use any Amazon branded terminology. It’s not the almost-any-app ability of AirPlay.

The Lady in the TV

The entry-level Stick does have voice services, but you either need to buy a voice remote separately, or use the iOS, Android, or Fire OS remote app for that voice functionality. I opted for the model that includes the voice remote, a $10 premium over the entry-level device, but well worth it so you don’t have to fish out the phone, or tablet, app every time you’d like to use Alexa. (Just spend the $10.) This gives you quick and easy access to Amazon’s Alexa — it can do almost everything that the Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap can do, except set timers and pair Bluetooth. You can even use Alexa here to order the much sought-after Echo Dot.

While Alexa is very speedy at processing my requests once I’ve said them, there’s an occasionally a lag of a few seconds for the Fire Stick to get in a state where you may give the voice command to Alexa. You might hold down on the button for 1-3 seconds before the screen changes over to the dark overlay with the blue line indicating you’re allowed to speak. If you start speaking right when you push the button, the first 1-3 seconds of your command won’t be recorded.

Alexa has search functionality, and can search things outside of the Amazon library, but only certain things … The notable exception is that Netflix is not present in voice search results. This is a huge oversight and Amazon should swallow their pride to entice Netflix to participate. Almost everyone buying one of these is certain to have a Netflix subscription, so it would be in Amazon’s best interests to see that the Fire TV is the preferred device for accessing Netflix.

Using the Alexa interface to play music has a peculiar shortcoming in that it pops up a modal dialog over the screen you’re on with the album art, title, etc. for what you asked it to play — and then it just stays there. There’s no button to jump to that song playing in the music interface, and if you navigate away from it, it’s gone. I do wish that playback occurred in the music section instead of here. A feature Amazon offers, X-Ray Lyrics, shows a karaoke-style list of lyrics that scrolls in sync to the music — but only in the music interface, and not in Alexa’s music playback dialog box.

Sorta Kinda

If I don’t sound extremely enthusiastic, it’s because I’m not.

At the end of the day, the device you use might come down to where your content lives, or the quirks of how you like to browse. It might also come down to your pocketbook, because at $160-200 the Apple TV is a very expensive box to stream non-Apple shows and services on. At $40-50 you have the same “channels” at the same rates as Apple, in addition to a bunch of other stuff. Also? If you need access to iTunes and AirPlay, it’s less expensive to buy the 3rd generation Apple TV (which Apple still sells!), and a Fire TV Stick. I don’t really recommend you do so, that’s a hypothetical.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-04-27-Canonical-Pizza-Toppings.html Canonical Pizza Toppings 2016-04-27T15:38:00Z 2016-04-27T15:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ These are the canonical pizza toppings:

  • Any item you want to eat on top of a pizza.
  • Repeat as necessary.


  • 🍍
http://joe-steel.com/2016-04-18-Amazons-Standalone-Prime-Video-Plan.html Amazon's Standalone Prime Video Plan 2016-04-18T15:47:27Z 2016-04-18T15:47:27Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Todd Spangler, writing for Variety:

The e-commerce giant is now offering its video-streaming service in the U.S. independent of the Prime free-shipping program. Purchased separately, Prime Video will cost $8.99 per month — one dollar less than Netflix’s most popular plan.


In addition, Amazon is offering a new payment option for full Prime membership of $10.99 monthly, with no annual commitment. That’s 33% more than than the $99 annual Prime membership, but Amazon said many customers have been asking for month-to-month flexibility with the program.

I was pretty confused by this move, at first, because it’s a greater expense for the customer. A year of Prime Video is significantly more expensive than a year of a full Prime membership with all the benefits that entails. Indeed, if you go to your Amazon account settings, it provides you with a helpful spreadsheet about how you probably don’t want to downgrade to a Prime Video membership.

Comparison Chart

“Hey, bro, are you sure you want to do that? C’mon, bro.”

There is a different story to tell, of course, and that’s the story about people who are on the fence about making a yearly commitment for $100. That’s a big risk for customers to take, where is $8.99 a month is a smaller risk. Because a full Prime membership is such a deal over the Prime Video membership, it’s also easy for Amazon to encourage those people trying Prime Video to upgrade for a savings. Lower barrier to entry, and an up-sell that’s actually a discount. No one Amazons like Amazon.

This is not a Netflix replacement. Even though Todd Spangler’s piece references the cost of Netflix and Hulu several times, the services are different enough that they don’t overlap as much as one might think. I’m not sure anyone will buy Prime Video because it’s a dollar cheaper than Netflix. They’ll buy Prime Video in addition to Netflix.

Amazon also has those add-on subscriptions that can dramatically increase the cost of this Prime Video rate. Consider the Showtime add-on, which is $8.99 a month as well (compare that to the $10.99 a month rate for Showtime’s standalone app). If you get Prime Video with Showtime, than you’ve doubled your rate. Starz is also $8.99, Sundance Doc Club is $6.99 … Anyway, these add-ons add on. However, like the Prime Video monthly plan, you can cancel any, or all, of the add-ons and they won’t renew for the next billing period, and many offer seven-day trials.

The biggest problem with this Prime Video push is that Amazon still doesn’t offer anything for the Google Cast (née Chromecast) or for the Apple TV. Their mobile, tablet, and web apps all work, but it does seem that their efforts to get into your TV could be improved. The Fire TV Stick is fine for video, but it has severe non-Amazon-Video shortcomings.

I even wonder if part of the reason for the %33 markup on the Prime Video service might be to cover the cut Apple would take of any in-app subscriptions on the Apple TV? That’s not so far fetched, but the markup might just be coincidence. If that was really the plan wouldn’t they have rolled out a tvOS app with the announcement? Though it might be something they have room to pursue later.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-02-20-Sunsetting-Midnighter.html Sunsetting Midnighter 2016-02-21T00:53:00Z 2016-02-21T00:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I go through comic buying cycles where I buy them, or I don’t buy them. Peaks and valleys of poor and plenty. Comics that are available to purchase electronically, and don’t create unsightly stacks on shelves in my living room, make it very easy to buy when the mood strikes me. When Amazon acquired ComiXology, they immediately removed the ability to purchase comics from within the app and the whole thing was just a little more annoying. Instead of getting to the end of an issue for a series I was catching up on, I’d go to a browser, find it, and buy the next one. Time heals all wounds so when I got my Fire tablet, I could very easily purchase comics again and I set about doing just that. One of the series I bought was Steve Orlando’s run on Midnighter which started last June. The trade paperback for the first volume is available in stores now, and it collects issues 1-6. For some reason it’s not available via Amazon until the end of the month, and it’s $2 more expensive to get it digitally than to have a book printed and shipped to me. The economics of comics publishing are totally lost on me. I just bought each issue individually, including the rest of the run not included in the first volume.

The Rave

One of the reasons I picked up Midnighter is because he’s gay. It’s still pretty unusual to see gay men in comics as anything other than side characters, or 1/16th of an ensemble cast. Being about a gay character doesn’t give the comic a pass on being good. In fact, I’m quite critical when it comes to the way gay characters are written, because it can turn into limp stereotypes, or be such a “non issue” that it feels divorced from the rest of the character. Steve Orlando’s writing did not disappoint.

The art comes from a variety of artists for the first few issues, but ACO is definitely the main artist, and his layouts work really well at depicting Midnigher’s process as the fight is progressing. Anticipating and planning each move.


The character of Midnighter had almost always been paired with his husband, Apollo. They were on a superhero team roughly analogous to The Justice League, where they stood in for Batman and Superman. Although the creators have said Midnighter is more like “The Shadow meets John Woo”. This run of Midnighter put him all by himself, his relationship with Apollo seemingly over — or on hiatus. The character now had a whole book to himself, and lots of room for character development, and some humor.


In a comics podcast I listened to about Midnighter, he was compared to Wolverine from the X-Men (and every other Marvel book ever) in terms of his disposition. I think that’s more apt than just calling him “gay Batman”. When Midnighter is doling out justice, there is a slightly higher body count.

Midnighter is also not coy about his identity and uses it on his online dating profile. This does lead to some issues that Bruce Wayne doesn’t have, where Midnighter has to tag everyone he interacts with with a subdermal communicator just in case someone tries to get back at Midnighter through them. You know, well-adjusted dating stuff.

Dating Profile

While the book references events that have happened to Midnighter outside of the series run (like working with Dick Grayson, who is a super-spy now, or something) I never felt lost. It’s easy to just accept the info and move forward.


The one thing I wish they hit a little less hard was the fight-computer in his brain. He talks about it a lot. It’s like, we get it dude, you can predict everyone’s moves. I wonder if that was leaned on so heavily because new readers might be picking up the book during the run.

The Rant

Unfortunately, the same week Volume 1 came out was also the same week DC Comics announced “Rebirth” their “don’t call it a reboot” reboot of the DC Comics titles. This is, like, the 5th or 6th time DC has retconbooted their entire line. Part of that reboot includes dropping titles, like Midnighter. It seems there will be a couple issues to round out his run, but it’s not coming back. By pure happenstance, all the comics with LGBT title characters are also gone. No more Batwoman either.

Midnighter is the only DC Comic I’ve read in years. I followed everything having to do with Green Lantern: Rebirth, and the subsequent books and Green Lantern events, until Brightest Day when everything started to unravel and I realized I was just buying a book where all the drama came from the Wacky Prophecy of the Year. So it’s a good thing there’s going to be 4 Green Lantern books a month now.

According to some of the comics nerds that are way more knowledgable about these things than I am, Midnighter didn’t sell well to store owners, who were not stocking it. However, it sold comparably to some other titles in the direct market.

Midnighter #8 sold 10,400 copies to the direct market and it BOGGLES me. How many retailers just didn’t order it at all??

Deathstroke, a character I have no particular connection to, is going to get his 3rd comic in 5 years, even though the sales for that have been hovering around Midnighter’s. I guess it’s easier to pitch conservative, longtime readers on trying something they know they feel tepid about rather than a title with a gay guy?

Aggressive Sausage

Marvel doesn’t have prominent gay men leading comic titles either. DC won’t have one much longer. Here’s a list of all LGBT characters in comics in DC and Marvel books. If you’re surprised by some of those names, it’s because the characters have been retroactively changed. This is frustrating when you realize that these comic pages are what the studios mine for movies and TV shows these days. I’ll admit that I was fantasy-casting a Midnighter TV series. Why not? Greg Berlanti, the guy behind DC’s TV series, is an out, gay man. Fortunately, DC Comics’ announcements this week nipped that fantasy-casting right in the bud.

It’s certainly possible that Midnighter, or Apollo, or another gay guy, will show up as a background character in one of the Rebirth titles, but that’s not very appealing to me. I’d be very put off if he was canceled and one of the titles they’re keeping recasts a straight character as a gay character. “Hey, we found this character from the 50s on the floor that no one liked so we made him gay, here you go. Nominate us for some GLADD awards.”

When Midnighter concludes, DC and I can go back to ignoring each other.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-02-12-The-Talk-Show-With-John-Gruber-146-They-Might-Be-Giants-With-a-Spanish-Accent-With-Special-Guests-Eddy-Cue-and-Craig-Federighi.html The Talk Show With John Gruber 146 ‘“They Might Be Giants” With a Spanish Accent’ With Special Guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi 2016-02-12T22:38:00Z 2016-02-12T22:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ That is a long title. Anyway, this is a surprise second appearance from Craig Federighi and a first for Eddy Cue. I recommend listening, since this sort of thing is still pretty rare, but I wouldn’t go into it expecting much in the way of answers, just some additional information. This seems like Apple responding to Walt Mossberg’s post on The Verge. Which … Well, it’s not like they lost Walt Mossberg’s number (if anything Contacts would have left them with several duplicates of Walt’s number).

Gruber can’t really press them to answer things or he would lose access to these VIPs. Eddy and Craig take this opportunity to explain away software quality concerns as mostly just the rumblings of a loud minority. Numbers of subscribers, transactions, and users are cited by Eddy to refute quality issues.

Quoting an install base, and number of users, isn’t really a good way to examine whether or not a product is good. Services, and software, are a subset of the total package that Apple provides. The total package might be the best, but not all of the component products. Especially in the case of the iPhone where Apple’s 1st party solutions can’t always be worked around, or are too much of a hassle to work around. Internet Explorer 6 had an enormous install base and tons of active users, but that did not mean Internet Explorer 6 was a good piece of software. It was part of that package.

Craig says that the metrics don’t show these problems. As the guys on Accidental Tech Podcast pointed out, metrics are no guarantee everything is working. The wrong things might be measured, or omitted, and then it looks like things are fine when they are not.

A minor example that doesn’t even seem worth sharing: The audio stopped working on my 4th generation Apple TV. No clue why. No audio on the videos or in the interface. I restarted the box and it worked. That was not a crash, and the system showed no awareness that it had lost it’s audio abilities. So is that logged as a metric, or does that not even register? It isn’t reproducible, and I have no reporting capability for it. That’s an example where it is possible to have a problem fly under the Radar.

Frankly, I’m a little confused they chose to do this. It draws more attention to the issues that people have been complaining about, particularly amongst tech journalists and Apple enthusiasts, and denies the problems exist. It might have been better if they stayed silent and worked to address concerns without having to deny them.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-02-12-Firebug.html Firebug 2016-02-12T16:53:00Z 2016-02-12T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ 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.


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.


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.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-02-08-Unhelpful-Suggestions-13-MarkoGyvering-the-Situation.html Unhelpful Suggestions #13: MarkoGyvering the Situation 2016-02-09T07:28:00Z 2016-02-09T07:28:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Marko and Joe talk about frustrations with Apple’s iOS Music app, and Apple Music. Then some experiences with Amazon’s Music products, the Fire tablet, Soylent, and cupcakes.

http://joe-steel.com/2016-02-04-Sour-Note.html Sour Note 2016-02-04T16:23:00Z 2016-02-04T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I mostly listen to podcasts in Overcast these days. I banished Apple’s Music app from the iPhone’s dock row to the folder for seldom used Apple apps. If I want to listen to something, I pop open the “Oubliette” folder and jump through menus, or use Spotlight. Siri’s natural language abilities yield mixed results in finding things, though I occasionally give it a shot too. Every now and then — seemingly at random — I get a full screen advertisement imploring me to sign up for Apple Music. I’ve even disabled Apple Music in the Music preferences. For the love of all that is good, leave me alone. I know Apple knows I tried the Apple Music service and canceled it before the free trial was over due to bugs.

Get thee back, demon!

iCloud Music Library, which was a requirement of Apple Music, caused data loss where it would randomly delete my playlists that predated Apple Music. That was also disabled. I even filed a bug report with Apple, which was closed as a duplicate, so I have no idea if it’s even fixed.

That was all supposed to be old news, but then I wanted to listen to a playlist yesterday. All of my playlists were gone, except for one playlist of Star Trek film scores, and the automated “Purchased” playlist. How could this happen? I haven’t had iCloud Music Library enabled, or Apple Music.

Fortunately, my Mac’s iTunes Library never had Apple Music or iCloud Music Library enabled, so I can get the playlists back. But … That’s the fifth time I’ve done that (several times for testing back when I did the bug report) so … what keeps my data safe?

My Queen Platinum Collection set is showing the album art for “A Night at the Opera” on my iPhone, but the correct gray and black art in iTunes where it originated. Why?

Naturally, I assumed that I must be back in iCloud Music Library, so I went to disable that. To my chagrin, there is neither the option to enable, nor disable, it my preferences on my iPhone or in iTunes. Schrödinger’s Music Library Setting.

I started spelunking around Apple’s support pages and the “Apple Support Communities”. These forums are full of people struggling with iCloud Music Library and Apple Music issues. Missing custom radio stations. Even playlists. There’s also some advice I’m skeptical of, like deleting your web history in Safari to restore your playlists.

A cursory glance through the forums seems to indicate that either the 9.2 or 9.2.1 update is when most of the people in the forums think they lost their playlists. Some had Apple Music enabled, some did not (like me).

Extricating myself from the human suffering and bad advice, I decided to just try to sync with my local iTunes Library again and cross my fingers. The sync didn’t copy over any music, album art, or playlists, in spite of the boxes all being checked in iTunes. I’m going to need an old priest and a young priest.

A Glossy Magazine for Your Ears

Going down this rabbit hole of fuckery just made me realize how much I absolutely loathe the Music app. What was once a major strength of Apple — a simple-to-use music player and digital storefront — turned into the kind of garbage software that runs on cable company set-top-boxes. The experience has been turned into something more akin to a website for a print publication. You’re constantly jumping in and out of various things, which slide in from different directions, the stuff you want is buried several taps deep in hierarchical menus, and it’s centered around getting you to sign up for Apple Music. Full page ads are for morally-bankrupt growth-hackers. UI chrome that functions if you pay for something is a gnawing reminder of this. Even with the option to show “Apple Music” disabled, you still have have to deal with a hierarchy of icons that devotes half the persistent navbar to “Radio” and “Connect”. Radio is useless without a subscription now, and Connect is useless even if you had an Apple Music subscription.

Infuriatingly, Apple Music even contaminates simple things like sharing. Nearly every aspect of the interface as a share button buried somewhere in it. That’s wholly dedicated to generating links to music in Apple Music. If you try to share something purchased on iTunes, but not in Apple Music, it doesn’t generate an iTunes link, it generates nothing. It succeeds at generating nothing, which is the really wild part, since obviously, I wanted to send a completely empty tweet. That’s been like that since the beta. Brilliant work. Kudos.

A Better Way

I don’t typically say anything nice about Amazon. They don’t exactly inspire passion. They are the cardboard they ship things in. When I wanted to listen to my copy of the Tron Legacy track, I realized that it wasn’t in iTunes, because the smart playlist that’s supposed to sync it over was missing, and I purchased it on Amazon. If I wanted to listen to it when I was at work, I was going to have to download the Amazon Music app for iOS. I’m quite glad that I did because it has really changed my opinion of Amazon, and Apple.

You sign in, and you have everything you’ve ever purchased through Amazon, or if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you have access to their streaming Prime Music service. I mooch off of my boyfriend’s Prime membership, so my Amazon account does not qualify for Prime Music. Still, I made many Amazon Music purchases in my rebellious years, and I have access to all of them.

The application is dead simple. Black, with elements of transparency like smoked glass. There’s a simple, sliding interface where you move your thumb left to right to shift from album, to artist, genre, etc. Then vertical scrolling. A bar with controls is a persistent element at the bottom of the screen, with better tap targets than iOS. Everything loads fast, and smooth. I experienced no hiccups on cellular or WiFi. There’s offline playback as well, but the default is to stream everything.

Playlists created on my iPhone are also instantly available on the web client. There’s seemingly no lag at all. Maybe they self destruct like Apple’s playlists, but there’s only one way to find out.

A fascinating addition is the X-Ray Lyrics feature available for some tracks. Not every song on an album is guaranteed to have it, but those that do have a small badge to the right of the track name. While playing the song, you can see a banner on the bottom that displays the lyric that’s being said while it’s being said in the song. If you expand the lyric view, you can see all the lines before and after the current line with the current one highlighted. It’s like a tiny karaoke-machine in my pocket. Apple thinks I want to look at magazine-spreads of band members, and Amazon thinks I want to know about the music. I’ll let you guess who nailed it.

There’s no option to share music, or generate links to buy music on Amazon’s store, but Apple executes that so poorly that it’s not something I miss. Another major downside is that it doesn’t integrate with things like Siri, and there are no Amazon apps for the Apple TV. The app does include an AirPlay button (if there’s an AirPlayable device near) in addition to the one in iOS’ Control Center. If you want to purchase music, you have to do it through a web browser, not through any Amazon app. That could be a huge setback for some people, but with the way the iTunes Store App is it’s like six of one and half dozen of the other.

If you do certain things in the interface you run into paywalls for Prime Music, where it nudges you that a certain feature — like uploading music not purchased on Amazon — is only available to Prime customers. I didn’t find it egregious compared to Apple’s nonsense. Even comparing the cost makes it seem more than equitable.

Amazon Prime is $99 per year, with that you can upload 250 songs from anywhere, and you have access to all music in the Amazon Prime Library. 250,000 may be uploaded for an additional $24.99 per year. That’s $100 or $125 and Apple is $9.99 a month, so it’s $120. Amazon and Apple have different libraries, but Amazon’s membership covers a wider array of services that Apple’s does not. Many people are already Prime subscribers that don’t use those features (if you are, give the Amazon Music app a shot, and let me know if you’re more or less satisfied with it over Apple.)

Amazon is routinely criticized for their grotesque, and difficult-to-use software, but comparing Apple’s and Amazon’s music apps is like night and day. How did Amazon manage to out-Apple Apple on Apple’s own platform? The application is not only slick, but it’s considerate.

Amazon Music is like, “Hey bro, you probably just want to listen to music. The lyrics are pretty sweet, so I’ll leave them here if you want those too, bro.” and I’m all like, “Oh wow, I didn’t know it could be like this.” and Amazon Music is all, “Totes.”

http://joe-steel.com/2016-01-04-Defocused-2015-Year-in-Review.html Defocused: 2015 Year in Review 2016-01-04T16:03:00Z 2016-01-04T16:03:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Last year, Dan and I decided to do a short sketch of a fake awards show with some clips. We modeled it after The Incomparable’s radio theater efforts, and their clip show, though it is unique to our … sensibilities. This year, we repeated the process. We didn’t receive many responses for end of the year clips, so the show is a relatively short 19 minutes.

There is some vulgarity (clutches pearls) so the version in the show feed is censored:

Defocused 78: 2015 Year in Review

That’s sort of distracting though so we have a version that is not bleeped:

Bonus Track d78: 2015 Year in Review (explicit version)

There are also some outtakes from the recording session for the sketch:

Bonus Track d78b: Who is Anne Pancakes?!

The sloppy outline for the show is available in PDF and Fountain if you’re super bored.

Thanks to the guests that were on in 2015 for providing some very entertaining moments. I hope we will see some return guests in 2016, as well as some new ones.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-12-30-Sad-State-of-What-to-Watch-on-Apple-TV.html Sad State of What to Watch on Apple TV 2015-12-30T15:53:00Z 2015-12-30T15:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The Apple TV has been out for two months so let’s look at the bold changes the device has made to the media landscape. On the 30th of December, in the U.S., the What to Watch section of the Apple TV’s App Store features 30 apps. 19 explicitly mention unlocking content through a participating TV provider. 21 have no privacy policy. Only 5 explicitly mention closed captioning, but many more offer it.

These are featured. These are What to Watch. I did not randomly select these applications.

A company that is very concerned about privacy does not make it mandatory to mention what data is being collected by their featured apps. What is there, is something you have to research by manually entering the URL on another device. They do not make it mandatory to include closed captioning, or even offer any kind of visual token that it is available in the app in the store interface.

Only four apps offer an in-app-purchase for a subscription, and two of them have counterpart applications in the same list which work with authentication from a TV provider. If I include the two PBS apps which require an account be created on a computer — That’s one-third of the apps that use a participating subscription, or membership, which you can’t get from the Apple TV to actually get full functionality in the apps.

If you don’t have a participating, traditional, subscription then you download apps that have frustrating, poorly defined barriers. Some episodes open, others prompt you to sign in. The exact behavior of each application is a crapshoot.

This is the featured, what to watch viewing experience for a $150-200 box from Apple.

  1. HBO NOW - Free Month. I.A.P. subscription $14.99 per month, or participating broadband provider. No privacy policy.
  2. Netflix - Free month. No pricing details. No privacy policy.
  3. Hulu - I.A.P. Subscription. Privacy policy URL.
  4. Showtime - Free Month. I.A.P. subscription of $10.99 per month. No Privacy policy.
  5. YouTube - No disclosure about ads, or privacy policy. No mention of YouTube Red or how to subscribe.
  6. CBS - 1 week free. I.A.P. subscription of $5.99 per month. Privacy policy URL
  7. PBS Video - Activation is not detailed. No privacy policy.
  8. PBS KIDS Video - Activation is not detailed. No privacy policy.
  9. NBC - Watch Now and Stream Full Episodes - “If you don’t have a provider, you can still watch — most new episodes are unlocked 8 days after airing on TV.” The app’s selection is challenging if you do not authenticate. No Privacy policy. Mentions Closed Captioning.
  10. ABC - “The ABC live stream and the most recently aired full episodes [sic] require you to authenticate with a participating TV provider account. Show and episode availability are subject to change. Live streaming available in Chicago, Fresno, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco.” Privacy policy URL.
  11. FOX NOW - Authenticate with “applicable” provider. Restrictions on availability too fine to print here. No privacy policy.
  12. Comedy Central - Authentication requirements are not disclosed. “For more information about this app and online behavorial advertising, check out http://srp.viacom.com/sitefaq.html.”
  13. MTV - Authenticate with your TV provider. “For more information about this app and online behavioral advertising, check out http://srp.viacom.com/sitefaq.html.”
  14. Nick - Authenticate with your TV provider. “The Nick app collects personal user data as well as non-personal user data (including aggregated data). As needed, Nickelodeon and/or a third party may generate an identifier that is unique to the application as downloaded to a specific device, known as the Core Foundation Universally Unique Identifier (CFUUID). User data collection is in accordance with applicable law, such as COPPA. User data may be used, for example, to respond to user requests; enable users to take advantage of certain features and services; personalize content and advertising; and manage and improve Nickelodeon’s services.” Additional privacy policy URL included.
  15. HGTV Watch - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning.
  16. Watch Food Network - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning.
  17. Made to Measure - Free. No privacy policy.
  18. Watch Travel Channel - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning.
  19. FXNOW - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  20. USA NOW - Authenticate with TV provider, but some, select episodes are available without sign-in. No Privacy policy.
  21. HBO GO - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  22. Showtime Anytime - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning and parental controls available.
  23. WATCH Disney Channel - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  24. CNBC TV - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  25. WATCH Disney XD - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  26. WATCH Disney Junior - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  27. A&E - “The A&E app is free to use. If your TV provider is supported you can sign in and get access to even more content. More TV providers coming very soon.” This is nebulous, but in testing most content appears to be freely available with ads. No privacy policy.
  28. Lifetime - Similar restrictions to A&E app. No privacy policy.
  29. HISTORY - Similar restrictions to A&E app. No privacy policy.
  30. WATCH ABC Family - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  31. The Nat Geo TV - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  32. Bloomberg TV - Free. No privacy policy.

Below I’ve included excerpts from Hulu’s privacy policy to demonstrate what a company will willingly mention they collect and monitor.

This app features third party software which enables third parties to calculate measurement statistics. To learn more about digital measurement product and your choices in regard to them, including opting out, please visit our privacy policy.

We may work with mobile advertising companies and other similar entities that help deliver advertisements tailored to your interests both on and outside of the Hulu services. For more information about such advertising practices, please visit our privacy policy at www.hulu.com/privacy

There’s something unsettling about the privacy policy.

Social Networking Data. If you choose to log-in, access or otherwise connect to the Hulu Services, or contact Hulu, through a social networking service (such as Facebook), we may collect your user ID and user name associated with that social networking service, as well as any information you make public using that social networking service. We may also collect information you have authorized the social networking service to share with us (such as your user ID, public profile information, email address, birthday, friends list, and pages you have “liked”).

Also check out third parties, including the disclaimer:

The Hulu Services may be provided through third-party websites, applications and other means of access operated by other companies (collectively, “Third-Party Access Points”). For example, you can access the Hulu Services through websites of our distributors. In addition, you may launch a Third-Party Access Point using various devices such as gaming systems, smart TVs, mobile devices, and set top boxes. The Hulu Services also may contain links to third-party websites or applications. None of these Third-Party Access Points, devices, websites or applications are operated by us, even if they contain our name or logo, and we are not responsible for the privacy practices of their operators. Accordingly, we recommend that you review their privacy policies.

Just for funsies, maybe go to their page for opting out of their data collection practices. Be aware that anyone not logged-in, is opted-in.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-12-21-End-of-the-Year-Defocused-Updates.html End of the Year Defocused Updates 2015-12-21T15:53:00Z 2015-12-21T15:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Time is just flying. Dan and I just finished 7 episodes about Star Wars films. Last year, around this time, we were doing Christmas movies, but we’ll won’t manage to squeeze one in this year because we ran out of space. (Get it? Because Star Wars is in space? Get it?)

We covered Star Wars in the order it was released, and we also evaluated the very latest changes that George Lucas had made to the original three.

We also finally pulled the trigger on a t-shirt campaign that we’d been kicking around since before we joined The Incomparable Network (TIN — Jason Snell’s just going to have to run with that). The funds from the campaign are currently going towards paying the person editing the podcast (almost always Dan). For anyone curious: It takes 1.5-2.5 hours to watch a movie, 1-2 hours to talk about, and about 4 hours to edit it. The show is a fun hobby, and I really enjoy it, but it would be nice to modestly support this hobby. Our most sincere thanks to anyone that buys a shirt. They’re available until January 4th through Teespring. Dan and I also haven’t run a shirt campaign, so feedback is appreciated. We also know that people probably have too many podcast shirts, so don’t feel obligated to purchase one if you don’t want it, we’ll try and devise other things besides a shirt at some point in the future.

Don’t worry, it’s also in charcoal.

The last piece of business is the End of the Year show. Dan and I did a little, fake awards sketch last year with clips of the show. The initial idea was that it would save time to record just a few snippets of dialog and then fill with clips. Hilariously, it consumed the most time of any episode. LOL. HAHA. TOTES HILAR. We think we have the kinks worked out for this year.

We do need to hear from listeners about what their favorite moments of the show have been in 2015. We have a few so far, so keep ‘em coming. Episode numbers and timestamps are appreciated. If we can’t track down an exact clip we might have to forgo using the recommendation.


http://joe-steel.com/2015-12-09-Point-One-Better.html Point One Better 2015-12-09T16:23:00Z 2015-12-09T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Yesterday, Apple dropped a slew of physical products, and software updates. One of the updates was for tvOS 9.1. Like the update from 9.0 to 9.0.1, this update offered no release notes. Unlike that update, this one did include features that many felt were missing from the initial Apple TV release. The Apple TV now supports the Remote app for iOS, and Siri support is available for Music.

Remote App

For me, the Apple TV was recognized by the Remote app on my iPhone 6 and I was able to use direction, menu, play/pause, and —most important of all— the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. This does not cover the full range of features that the Siri Remote can handle, and there are interface bits that the 4th generation Apple TV does not support (the options element does nothing).

There was no update at all to the Remote app. Not even for branding. As Robb Lewis pointed out on Twitter, this is rather absurd and unhelpful. Instructions for pairing are different for the fourth generation, and the icon for iTunes is even 3 years-old.

Curiously, I didn’t have to pair mine, it just worked. When I went to check the remote settings (“Settings” -> “Remotes and Devices” -> “Other Devices” -> “Remote App”) it displayed the text “Pairable Devices” and a little spinner next to it. No listing for a paired device. To test if this was some weird fluke, I hit “Edit” in the app and removed all the entries, except one Apple TV entry that was greyed out. That undeletable Apple TV still worked as a remote, and I saw my iPhone listed under pairable devices on the TV. When I pair it, it adds another Apple TV icon. That means I have one “Paired Device” listing, and two icons that launch functional remotes. If I hit “Edit” again, there’s still an Apple TV I can’t delete. If I go to “Paired Devices” and delete the iPhone listed there, it removes one of the Apple TV icons, but the remaining one launches to a blank, white screen. If I pair them, I get two icons back. This is pretty perplexing, particularly if you are a first time user that thought you needed to pair it.

Also, since it’s not an updated Remote app, there are several things it can’t do that your Siri Remote can do:

  • Use Siri to do searches or control the TV.
  • Scrub timelines.
  • Flick through lists.
  • Scrub.
  • Control the volume through HDMI-CEC
  • Use the iPhone in a game that does not implement it’s own convoluted game pairing setup (Crossy Road, for example).

There’s a degree of overlap between the Siri Remote and an iPhone that made it very strange for Apple not to have supported the iPhone — their most popular, profitable product — as an input device when designing and launching the Apple TV.

This is when Eddy Cue dropped a bombshell on John Paczkowski at BuzzFeed News:

“We’re working on a new Apple TV remote app that will give you the full functionality of the Siri Remote on your iPhone,” Cue said. “We’re hoping to ship that in the first half of next year.”

That is a horse of a different color. Was this never part of the plan for the full product? If it was part of the plan, why was it never mentioned before now? Why mention it half a year from the release of the app instead of at the unveiling?

Siri Search for Music

This works even if you are not an Apple Music subscriber, but it can do weird, and unexpected things. Particularly when you compare it to what the text based search does, or when you compare it to what Siri does on iOS. Jason Snell made these observations as well. Since so much of Siri is really on datacenter servers, I was confused why the same hooks for iOS were absent from tvOS when the TV shipped. How Siri and Music worked together was mostly a known quantity for months prior to the TV shipping too.

Query Comparison:

  • “Video killed the radio star”
    • iOS Siri: “Here’s what I found on the web for ‘Video killed the radio star’:” (“Top Hit” is a link to the iTunes store for “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.)
    • tvOS Siri: “Hmm, I’m not finding anything for ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’”
  • “Play video killed the radio star”
    • iOS Siri: “Sorry, I can’t play videos.”
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’
  • “Play total recall soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: “Here’s ‘Skyfall’ by Adele”
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Total Recall (The Deluxe Edition) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]’
  • “Play total”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Total Recall (The Deluxe Edition) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]’
    • tvOS Siri: “Playing album ‘Total Recall (The Deluxe Edition) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]’
  • “Play star trek soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
  • “Play star trek the motion picture soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek The Motion Picture (20th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition)’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Star Trek The Motion Picture (20th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition)’
  • “Play star trek six the undiscovered country”
    • iOS Siri: “I found this on the web for you…”
    • tvOS Siri: Search results page for versions of the film to buy or rent.
  • “Play star trek six the undiscovered country soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
  • “Play Alan Menken”
    • iOS Siri: “I don’t see Alan Menken in your collection, shall I play Alan Menken radio?”
    • tvOS: “Sorry I couldn’t find ‘Alan Menken’ in your music.”
  • “Play Jerry Goldsmith”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek: Insurrection (Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — Children’s Story’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Alien — Acid Test’

It’s kind of weird to think about how Siri handles the same question differently depending on the device you’re asking on. iOS doesn’t have a unified video search page, and tvOS doesn’t have a web browser fallback. They both have radio, but only one prompts to see if you want the radio. (Also, both were wrong about Alan Menken, I was literally looking right at ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ when I asked.)

Titles with keywords like ‘video’ also throw it off in really surprising ways on both platforms. If I was on the Apple TV team, the very first thing I would do is make sure that Buggles song worked. That’s the team anthem.

Still No Backup and Restore

I’m getting a little concerned about the lack of these two very important features. Not because I want to restore my device from a backup, but because that sort of thing happens. As I was downloading the update I wondered if I’d have to start over if there was a failure in the installation. It’s not that I have a lot of irreplaceable material on my device, but I do have it set up in a specific way, with apps logins, and settings, and I would like to not redo all that in the event of an emergency. This device’s state needs to be preserved somewhere, preferably before the next Apple TV hardware ships and people set it all up from scratch.

All the other issues regarding integration with Apple services, logins, etc. all still stand. Shipping with these things does improve the experience, but this still isn’t a fully formed device with a clear vision.

Dropped For Time

Jon Gruber interprets Apple’s opaque 9.1 release as intentional tardiness.

I think it’s a safe bet these were things that were planned for the new Apple TV all along, but simply were dropped for the 9.0 release because they ran out of time.

I don’t see anything to indicate they ever intended to ship support for the Remote app. An Apple representative flatly told Jason Snell that the Remote app would not work with the new Apple TV, no elaboration provided. No “coming soon” featured. However, Eddy Cue gave that interview to John Paczkowski and teased a new, better Remote app. That had never been mentioned before, and no official announcement exists other than what Eddy Cue just said.

Something doesn’t sit right with me about the time-crunch narrative either. Sure, they obviously seem to have rushed this out the door, but that doesn’t mean it needed to be rushed out the door. This was not on a yearly update cycle. No service was announced to launch with it. Eddy Cue seems intent on pushing people to make their own apps, rather than offering up any over-the-top service indications. No other product requires an Apple TV, let alone this specific model.

What started the crunch time that they couldn’t meet? What were the goals they didn’t meet, and are still trying to meet — other than a completely new Remote app? The parts that have been released in 9.1 have bugs, and seem unfinished, are they going to be “good enough” so other things can be added, or will they be improved at the expense of adding more? I could go on.

I’m left with more questions than answers every time there’s an update.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-25-Captain-Avenger-Avengers-War.html Captain Avenger: Avengers War 2015-11-25T16:03:30Z 2015-11-25T16:03:30Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I’m pretty disappointed with the first trailer for the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Franciseverse. Civil War was a controversial story arc in Marvel comics which pitted superheroes against one another in a fight over personal freedom, and security. Taking away rights to insure safety for all. As written, it would not translate to the big screen, but that’s for the best. Instead, what they have adapted appears to be “Cap and Tony fight” and it appears to be over Bucky Barnes — the Winter Soldier.

That seems substantially less ambitious, in either the political climate of 2006-2007, or in our political climate today.

There’s every possibility that it’s just the way the first trailer was cut, but “it’s a trailer” isn’t an excuse because it is the pitch to communicate why I should see a movie. Maybe it’s a bad pitch, but it’s the one Marvel Studios is making.

I did like Captain America: The Winter Soldier a good deal, and I think the Russos did a very good job directing it. Hopefully this particular project didn’t spiral out of control.

Lastly, I would like to draw your attention toward this hilarious tweet from Freddie Wong:

lol captain america trailer aka a movie in 2016 where a guy suddenly and dramatically disappears from behind a vehicle wiping frame

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-24-The-Expanse-Surprise-Premiere.html The Expanse Surprise Premiere 2015-11-24T17:16:30Z 2015-11-24T17:16:30Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Followers of the blog might know that I’m a big fan of The Expanse series of books written by the team of writers under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey. The books have their ups, and their downs, and they’re certainly not highfaluting tomes. I was quite reticent when I heard that the SyFy channel would be adapting it to a television series. Despite the involvement of the original writers, I was pretty sure that the money SyFy would spend would not create what I had in my mind while I read. The production stills that were released certainly gave the impression of Babylon 5 (lights shining through colored gels and grates onto gray-painted MDF).

Then, over the weekend, there were some rumblings on Twitter that the first episode might come out very soon. Turns out, it was Sunday night. You can go watch it online, for free, on YouTube right now. I only mention this because I hadn’t seen any marketing about this happening at all. It appears that it’s still going to premiere on TV, but that’s not until December 14th. So … Weird, right? Surprise, it’s online, you can watch the first episode for free, and it’s not broadcast for almost a month. That’s certainly the most unusual television show premiere I’ve ever heard of. Typically science fiction shows have a very difficult time getting nerds to watch broadcasts when shows air because nerds use time shifting services (or other services) to watch things on their own terms. Fans of series like Stargate Universe might recall the cast on Twitter basically begging people to tune in when new episodes came out so that they could stay on the air (they did not).

I can only assume that a month worth of watching the first episode for free will only harm their premiere numbers. There will be a new episode out the following night, December 15th, but I have no idea how that will shake out either.

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.

Now I’m going to start blathering on about the episode, so if you haven’t watched it yet, then don’t read this. After that, I’ll have spoilers for people that read the books, and have seen the episode. Seems pretty fair, no?

Spoilers for the First Episode of The Expanse

The episode starts with a pretty nice title sequence, and we get the general impression that people might have ships that have explored places and stuff. Then there’s a lot of exposition that fades in. Turns out there’s some political tension with belts and stuff. But you know how belts are.

Then we have a montage of a woman with CG hair floating around. She’s locked up in a thingy, and would like to be let out of said thingy. I found the hair really distracting. I get that they wanted to convincingly portray that she was in zero gravity, but it’s moving more than it should. Go watch videos of astronauts with long hair in space. It’s more like she’s underwater in a pool. Don’t worry, they save money by having her tie her hair back. Then they also save money by having magnetic boots.

She has a jump scare and then finds a room full of totally harmless-looking blue stuff that might be absorbing someone. This will all be fine, I’m sure. She screams and we cut away to some ships being maneuvered around in some sort of time-lapse sped-up way.

Ceres station, as the narrator informs us, is kind of a bummer of a place to be. Earth and Mars took all their ice and stuff. Which seems like a pretty lame thing for them to do. The camera fly0through is really, really, really, distracting. I know they wanted to make it feel big — expansive, one might say — but there’s only so much CG space station you should really fly through. Particularly air shafts which are too shiny.

We land on the guy giving the big speech about what jerks planets are, and we see the crowd the man is addressing. Thomas Jane is enjoying a shot of booze, and he’s addressed as a “badge” so we can tell he’s an edgy cop. We can also tell he’s one of the belter people, and his buddy is not.

We start to get the idea that Thomas Jane, as Detective Miller, is maybe a corrupt cop. Maybe. Also his handheld device has a crack, which is a nice touch. He’s going to go find Julie Mao, who looks suspiciously like the woman from the beginning of the episode. Almost like these stories all tie together or something.

We meet the Canterbury ice hauler. A guy gets his arm casually chopped off, and then we cut to a zero gravity sex scene. Hello, James Holden’s ass. Then we get a guy who’s very casual about that missing arm. Really, really casual.

I’m not sure how they got Adam Lisagor to agree to be the captain, but he does a pretty good job. The X.O. is … unwell, and Holden is trying to get out of getting promoted to his job.

Then we go to earth and have a nice family moment.

This is about the time when you realize that no matter where we are in the solar system, you’re going to be looking at blown-out highlights and crushing color correction.

Granny is not super-nice.

The crew has to go respond to a distress call, and there’s a very dramatic high-G maneuver they execute. It bugs me a little because the blacks of the ship are blue against space. They should be the same value as space. Holden and Naomi have a little chat about the distress call they’re responding to.

Back on Ceres, Miller is being Millery and he’s talking to someone about the missing person he was tasked to find.

When they approach the Scopuli, the ship is having some moire issues. It might just be something YouTube’s doing to the image, but it’s crawling when I checked it on my computer and on my Apple TV.

They board it and find … nothing. A suspicious amount of nothing. It’s not like it was at the beginning of the episode, and there’s a hole in the hull. They also find the source of the distress signal. They do some helmet cam stuff, but it’s a little strange because it’s not supposed to be helmet cams that are actual cameras in their world, just cameras for us as the audience. There’s also an error just above the bridge of Holden’s nose where we lose data. So… that’s kind of unfortunate. If you watch the “well it wasn’t pirates” you’ll see the flickering rectangle.

They realize this is a trap and there’s another ship that was using some sort of stealth tech.

Back on Ceres, Miller comes across a father and daughter. The daughter is playing with a bird. The bird is animated and rendered. They probably wanted to make it move like it was a bird in a low-G environment. It wouldn’t need to flap as much, and would basically be a little floaty. Unfortunately, the result is something really unconvincing as a bird. The unconvincing bird, and the coughing kid, inspire Miller to go beat up and suffocate the guy he took the bribe from earlier.

We go back to the Cant, shuttle, and mystery ship. The mystery ship fires torpedoes! They’re way too blue and saturated! Blue without a white core isn’t really how things flare. Then there are a couple torpedo shots where it has a white core and it’s a little more purplish. Not sure if these were divided up between different artists, but they’re not quite the same. This is particularly weird when the Cant blows up we get a strange mix of things including super-saturated anamorphic flare lines.

The effects are better than I thought they would be but while I can excuse the bird as potentially being an issue with time and money, the stuff with the black levels of the ship, and the weird hyper-saturated flares have very little to do with time or budget.

Hopefully we’ll find out what happens to people with the things and the stuff.

If you haven’t read the books, but have watched the episode, get in touch with me on Twitter and let me know how you feel about the episode. Was it clear what was happening, or was it disjointed?

Spoilers for the Book

Some of the casting decisions are not what I had pictured. Naomi in particular is very polished from what I had envisioned from her description in the book. Amos also doesn’t seem quite as rough, and thug-like as I had pictured. It’s not really throwing me out of enjoying it, but it is strange.

Also Chrisjen isn’t in Leviathan Wakes, so I’m not quite sure what her character will be doing for this series. I don’t outright object to it, but I’m curious to see how they’ll integrate her. I haven’t read any spoiler sites, so if you know, don’t tell me.

Are there any changes people felt were egregious? I don’t see any.

I still think I prefer the big-budget epic in my head more than what I see on the screen.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-20-Starting-at-Sixty-Nine.html Starting at Sixty Nine 2015-11-20T16:38:00Z 2015-11-20T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Let’s leave out the Bill & Ted jokes and instead talk about the third generation Apple TV. It’s still in many stores, like Target which displays a 4”x5” price tag for $69 and a tiny, little shelf-edge-sized tag for the $149 one. Apple’s site has “TV” in the bar across the top, and devotes almost all of the page to the new model, but at the bottom there’s a link to buy the previous generation, and a link to a comparison chart. The chart is entertaining because Apple couldn’t make it any clearer that they do not want you to buy the third generation model.

That is the Bezos graph of comparison charts.

Why Keep This Thing Around?

A few possible reasons, in no particular order:

  • They don’t want to say “Starting at $149”.
  • They want to continue offering a sub-$100 AirPlay video experience.
  • They want to use the large install base of the previous generation as a bargaining chip in negotiating content deals, potentially for their OTT service as well.

Remember that they made a big deal out of this price reduction in March at the same event when they made a big deal out of HBO Now. It’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that while the device will never see a significant update, it might still receive “channels” of content.

It’s still possible to argue that those arrangements could be done without selling the current device at all, but maybe those content partners are skittish about deals for a $149-199 box?

Let’s not forget that Apple has the second-most expensive streaming media box. Only the Sony FMP-X10 4K Ultra HD Media Player is more expensive at $699.99, but no one’s really buying that one so we’ll set it aside.

The Next-Year Discount

Many have made the case that next year, the fourth generation Apple TV will receive a discount to $99, when a fifth generation premieres. Everyone pulled $99 out of their butts, but it sounds like a good number. We don’t actually know if the device is even on a yearly refresh cycle at this point though since there’s no pattern. It is still conceivable that it may be the case, but that’s still a 40% price increase to the entry point.

Regardless, that still means they’re selling the third generation TV for a full calendar year until that happens. Does that seem absurd to anyone else?

AirPlay Express

On a recent episode of the podcast Clockwise, Anže Tomic posed the question about why Apple doesn’t have something more like the Chromecast, or like the streaming sticks of Amazon or Roku. If there really is a customer that just wants to stream stuff to their TV, then they’re currently best served by the third generation box — as sorry as that sounds. Jason Snell coined the term “AirPlay Express” as a half-joke to describe such a thing, and I agree that it would certainly help make the lower end make a bit more sense than the current situation.

My cohost on Unhelpful Suggestions, Marko Savic, has argued against such a thing because he doesn’t think Apple needs to compete in the low-end space. Apple doesn’t make $200 netbooks, so why sweat it? Why not just drive those people toward spending a little extra? The merit of spending any time or effort on an entry-level streamer is debatable, I just happen to fall in favor of Apple doing it. A large volume of streaming-only service devices that aren’t 4-5 years old seems like a decent thing to do to appeal to many people.

Let’s not forget people live in homes with more than one TV set, and while people like Bradley Chambers and Zac Cichy buy up fistfuls of fourth generation devices for every TV, there’s a market of people that will only buy one $149 device for the household. Why not fill every room a fresh Apple scent?

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-13-Thank-You-Alex.html Thank You, Alex 2015-11-13T16:13:00Z 2015-11-13T16:13:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ As I detailed in the Release section of my Apple TV post, I had some problems with the way the initial launch went. The package that I didn’t want, but needed to return once it arrived, never got into my hands. Where that package is, I don’t know. I repeatedly tried to get in touch with OnTrac, only to be referred to Apple’s customer service line. If I was out the money for the TV, then I was out the money for the TV, I just wanted to make sure OnTrac put it on the landing in front of the door to my apartment, and not anywhere else in the universe. If some unscrupulous thief made off with the package then that’s not OnTrac’s fault.

After briefly bouncing around some automated phone tree branches I was on the line with Alex. He was sorry to hear about my issues, and said they had been having some problems with OnTrac. He had the same tracking info I had, and said that they would open a service ticket with OnTrac and talk to them about the delivery. He did mention that if they found there was an issue they’d send me a new one. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because why would they ship me a new one? If I had, maybe I should have explained I was going to return it anyway.

Well, they shipped me a new one with FedEx. It arrived at the bottom of the stairwell, not the landing, but at least it was the right stairwell, and at least I had it.

I’m not sure what the specifics of Apple’s policies are here, or what happened to the first Apple TV, but it sure goes above and beyond at making me feel better about Apple as a company. Thanks.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-12-Pushing-for-Controllers.html Pushing for Controllers 2015-11-12T16:23:00Z 2015-11-12T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ When the Apple TV was announced several games were demoed on stage. Disney Infinity, and Guitar Hero were two of those games that require novel input. The developer docs even said that games could specify that they required a controller — a policy that was very quickly changed to mandatory Siri Remote support for all games.

Disney Infinity the app, not the hardware, was available as a free to download game with a level for the “Battle of Yavin”. Siri Remote support is there, but when I tested that for manipulating the flying ship, I just kept crashing into everything. It really did not feel like the Siri Remote and game were intended to work together at all. The other day, Disney announced the actual physical component of Disney Infinity for the Apple TV, a platform that allows special figurines placed on it to unlock content on the device. The platform is similar to the other ones that Disney makes for other consoles, except it’s black. More importantly, it comes bundled with a game controller. The SteelSeries Nimbus game controller that Apple recommends, but does not include. This is the only console Disney does this for.

Con: You must pay extra for the package with the controller regardless of whether or not you need a controller if you want the portal/platform.

Con: It is the most expensive edition of Disney Infinity at $100, and the other consoles at $65. If you had another console, there seems to be very little reason to pay extra for this version.

Pro: Discounted controller for the Apple TV.

Pro: You can unlock the characters with codes instead of buying a portal/platform for any of the Disney Infinity console or PC versions.

I’m inclined to believe that Disney knows the game is terrible to play without a controller and is trying to fill the gap Apple left here.

On MacStories, Federico Viticci hopes that more game studios will offer these sorts of discount bundles on controllers for the Apple TV. I don’t agree with this because the Apple TV only supports up to two controllers, so if you bought two games, that’s it, you’re good on controllers for forever. In the case of Infinity, there’s the whole code redemption instead of hardware platform, but I’m fairly certain people actually buy these things or they wouldn’t make them.

Skylanders, which has the same physical figurine component (predating Infinity) will allow people to use their existing “portal” from the iOS version of the game. In fact, it’s one of the featured apps in the “Games” category of the TV App Store. Right along with Disney Infinity and Guitar Hero.

The really interesting game is Guitar Hero. They’re the only game on the TV App Store that can require hardware other than the Siri Remote. Just them. Now, the primary reaction is to say “Oh well, duh, you totes need a guitar.” There is a version of Guitar Hero for iOS that doesn’t require a guitar controller. I don’t disagree that you need that sweet axe, it’s just strange that they are the singular carveout for this requirement. I have no idea why that is, other than they might have been wooed to the platform before the Siri Remote mandate and worked out a deal to avoid it.

Activision Publishing, Inc. Games [9+] ★★★★☆ [Editor’s Choice] PLEASE NOTE: Guitar Hero Live REQUIRES the Bluetooth GUITAR CONTROLLER to play (available at your local or online retailer).

Offers In-App-Purchases [Bluetooth] Accessory Required

Just them. Weird, huh? Not like world-ending-panic weird, just weird.

Keep in mind that you can’t even use a Bluetooth keyboard with the Apple TV, even though it’s based on iOS. Last night, Steve Troughton Smith (an iOS developer) uncovered keyboard support for the TV’s focus-switching in the iOS 9.1 beta, so it’s either in there, and off, or it’s coming. It’s unlikely that we’ll see apps that require a keyboard, but hey, if You’re Activision, you can require a guitar.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-09-Crossy-Remote.html Crossy Remote 2015-11-09T22:53:00Z 2015-11-09T22:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ One of the things that confuses me about the lack of a Remote app for iOS that’s compatible with the 4th generation Apple TV is that 3rd parties can make their own iOS remote controls that work inside their own tvOS apps. Take Crossy Road, for example. You start the game on the TV, and after a series of non-obvious steps you get the iOS app to see the tvOS app game and function like a second controller. You don’t see a mirrored screen, or anything, but gestures and taps work as if you had another Siri Remote to play the game.

So if these frameworks exist, and existed before the September event when Crossy Road developers demoed it on stage, then why no Remote app? Why leave it to third parties to build their own remote functionality into their tvOS and iOS games?

I have no answer, but there doesn’t appear to be a technical limitation holding it back. I also find the common excuse that Apple hasn’t had enough time to implement such a feature implausible since it’s easy for third parties to implement per app.

Tim Cook even mentioned he used his Apple Watch to control his Apple TV (3rd generation) during the watch unveiling in 2014. Seems like it hurts the Watch to remove functionality from that device.

Is it an intentional omission because they don’t want people using a Remote app instead of the Siri Remote? That’s strange since it won’t hurt device sales. You can only use one Siri Remote per TV, and each TV comes bundled with one remote. It wouldn’t hurt accessory sales under those conditions unless we’re supposed to be buying game controllers, but then why let games build in their own controls?

Maybe it’s coming, maybe it isn’t, in this great, unfinished rush that is the Apple TV product launch. For now, it goes in my stack of questions.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-08-Negative-Criticism.html Negative Criticism 2015-11-09T05:38:00Z 2015-11-09T05:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I received a lot of feedback from people that they enjoyed hearing me on Upgrade last Monday, and appreciate my subsequent blog post about my experiences, and thoughts, surrounding the Apple TV. I’m grateful for that feedback. Apple’s film/TV efforts are of paramount interest to me. I really do want them to do well in this space, and I’m personally invested in their ecosystem.

However, there’s been another vein of feedback, mostly regarding Tweets where I share quick thoughts, that I’m too negative. I dismissed that feedback, and then had doubts about what I had said, and typed. I’ve reconsidered everything, –also taking in other podcasts and reviews, and I’ve gone back to my initial conclusion. My criticisms are valid.

As I’ve repeatedly said: I like the new Apple TV, and it is better than the old Apple TV, but that is not what I’m measuring it against. I’m measuring it against the time since the last Apple TV iteration. I’m measuring the completeness of the platform. I’m comparing it against other devices and services on the market. Add to that that many of the comments and criticisms are all very similar and I’m being perfectly reasonable.

There is one area though where I could have been clearer in communicating though; D-pad vs. touchpad remotes. I’ll try to break that down again:

  • The entire interface is made to work with either a D-pad or a touchpad. All of it.
  • Any other TV remote, Universal remote, or compatible game controller with a D-pad can be used.
  • D-pads allow exact precision for certain things like entering text, or making a selection on a grid.
  • The touchpad is better at scrubbing, and allows for certain interface effects like pivoting tiles, and parallax in the tiles.
  • A replacement Siri Remote is $80.
  • At $160, or $200, a large percentage of the cost appears to be tied up in this remote. (We don’t know the material costs, or margins, but the retail value of these two things is known.)
  • Other than scrubbing, and parallax effects, is it worth the added cost to the device?

To some that’s negative. That’s been repeated back to me as if I want the old aluminum stick. I don’t, it’s a pragmatic thought excercise. They didn’t go far enough distinguishing its function so a D-pad could not be used, but they felt it was better than the touchpad and worth the expense.

As for the symmetry? Everyone agrees. Even people that are “positive” feel like it was a mistake.

The buttons? The most “positive” podcast episode about the new Apple TV, The Talk Show (with Adam Lisagor) was even named after how they wish there was a way to distinguish the buttons by touch.

As a game controller? No one likes, or recommends, playing games on the remote versus third-party controllers. There are a few people on Twitter that say it’s good, but then say they use a game controller anyway. In that case, it’s perfectly valid to question why Apple thought it was suitable to do so with the remote, and why there is no first-party game controller. It’s not negativity. (Also saying you’re not really planning on playing any games with it in your review doesn’t excuse any of this, it just doesn’t personally impact you.)

Apple decided to release the device, as it is, on a schedule they selected, with the R&D they chose. They said the future of TV is apps. It is far too generous to merely compare it to the old Apple TV and say it’s better than that one. (A device they are still happy to sell!) Ask yourself why they did what they did for every feature you see, or don’t see. Some things seemingly have no logical answer, like Bluetooth keyboard support, where it could be anything from a lack of development time (unacceptable answer), or an intentional omission to prevent word processor apps. I even saw someone suggest it was a security issue, which is the kind of excuse that doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

I also feel as if I need to disclaim where my criticism is directed. It’s directed at the abstract entity of Apple, and the key executives that approve the product. I am not writing about device shortcomings to make the engineers and designers feel bad. I’ve worked on many film and TV shows and I know that criticism of the film is not criticism of my work on the film. Nor do projects I’ve worked on deserve glowing reviews based on how much effort I put in. If that were the case, I would have only worked on films, and TV shows, that bowed to rave reviews. So no, it is not ever a personal critique of the people putting blood sweat and tears in.

I know that the project will continue to improve. That no matter what you may think of the Apple TV, or the remote, or the App Store, or game controllers – we can all agree improvements will at least start to happen. Let’s just all be honest that it needs improvement, and not all of it is a software tweak.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-11-04-Apple-TV.html Apple TV 2015-11-04T16:23:00Z 2015-11-04T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Anyone that reads this blog knows that I have some passionate feelings about Apple’s media ecosystem. Seems pretty natural, since I work in media, and I quite like Apple. This does lead me to be critical when I see some shortcomings. If you just want to feel happy, and smile, then read my overall summary here, and no further: I like it. I do not love it. I wouldn’t draw a little heart next to it. We are not sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. The device would benefit greatly from some more work. I also would only recommend the device to people that own a previous generation Apple TV, or earlier. I am not going to buy one for everyone I know, or tell them to do so.

(Rolls up sleeves)

OK then.


This was not the most elegant release of an Apple product ever. They announced that it would be available in October in September. Then, at the end of October, it was available for order on that last Monday in the U.S. Free shipping would get you the device as early as Monday, November 2nd. Paying extra could get it to you on the 30th of October. In store availability was listed as “Coming Soon”. Fearing that meant the supply was constrained, I picked the free shipping option. I typically prefer to pick up in store because I work long hours and don’t like the thought of a box sitting around for many hours on a weekday.

Of course, Wednesday there were rumors that stores would have the devices on Friday, the 30th. This is sooner than my estimated shipping time. I could not cancel my order because it was in a stage referred to as “preparing for shipment”. I contacted customer support, and there was nothing they could do. It would be shipped, and delivered, and then I could return it if I wanted. Knowing this, I went to Century City Mall’s Apple Store and bought an Apple TV Saturday, October 31st. Happy Halloween. The sales process in the store was smooth and pleasant. I was not offered an HDMI cable, but didn’t need one. I planned to return the shipping device.

This is pretty far from a graceful product launch. It just shows up Monday. No availability for stores is listed, and then by that Friday, it’s available in stores before it’s shipped for people that might have bought on Monday. Crummy.

Even more annoying is that as I write this, that delivery TV unit was marked as “delivered” by the company Apple contracted with, OnTrac, and is nowhere to be found. That’s my fault for putting any faith in getting something delivered when I’m not home (first time in 10 years anything’s gone missing). I really should have waited and not ordered at all on that Monday. I was too excited to have one, and now I’m out $163 — unless it turns out it’s been misplaced. (OnTrac wouldn’t return my calls or email, and I had to send a public-shaming tweet on Twitter before a representative got in touch. They let me know that I can’t deal with them, I have to call a special number for Apple and talk to them.)

UPDATE: This shipping situation was resolved.

Initial Setup

When connected to your TV, and to power, the Apple TV prompts you to get started with the install process. You’re offered the opportunity to load data from your nearby phone to assist with the setup process. As Jason Snell, Myke Hurley, and I all detailed on Upgrade 61, this process is a bit of a mixed bag. The Bluetooth setup didn’t work at all for Myke. The setup worked for Jason Snell and I. Also, when I moved my new Apple TV from my boyfriend’s apartment to my apartment it wasn’t automatically on my WiFi network. I’m guessing it only copies WiFi credentials from your iPhone, but I listened to Dan Benjamin say that it worked for him when he took his from his office to his home. I’m not sure why that worked for him and not for me, but I would need more data, and I’m fresh out of WiFi locations and TVs.

There’s no mechanism to trigger the pairing again, from what I could tell, other than a device reset, I assume. The only reason this is even worth mentioning is because it is an absolutely terrible experience to type passwords on the Apple TV. The whole alphabet on a row, and a narrow touchpad, lead to a lot of frustration as you try not to overshoot or undershoot letters. Unlike previous Apple TV devices, this is the only way to enter text.

What’s in the Baaaahhhhhhhcccksss?

As Myke opined on the episode of Upgrade I was on, the new TV doesn’t include an Haytch-DMI cable. Jason Snell relayed a story that he was asked if he had a cable by the Apple Employee he picked up his device from. The employee I collected my device from made no such offering/warning. It didn’t take me by surprise of course, because… well I wouldn’t be writing these blog posts if it took me by surprise. Myke was concerned that many people would assume the cable would be included. If you do need one, get Amazon Basics, or Monoprice, or whatever. No rose-gold-plated HDMI cables for me.

Apple does include a Lightning cable, which they charge a pretty penny for when you buy one by itself, so it’s not like they’re worried about the expense of a cable. Also, I have a lot of Lightning cables at this point, and I’m willing to bet all Apple TV customers do. The remote even comes with a charge, which is the only reason to use the cable. Since there are minor variations in HDMI cables, it seems like it would be better to include that and exclude the lightning cable for a comparable cost.

Remote Possibilities

The one thing I had wondered about for many months was whether or not the Apple TV would support an updated version of the Remote iOS app. Then all the press reviews started to come in, and the app is not supported, much to my chagrin. When I talked to Jason Snell on Upgrade, I was surprised to learn that he had asked about this back at the first product announcement and had been told by an Apple representative that it would not be supported at all. Not a “maybe” or a “later” but a “no”.

The new Apple TV also dropped support for Bluetooth keyboards.

I feel like this is an enormous mistake. The process of text entry is like sliding your thumb back and forth over the width of a ruler. This makes no sense to me given the number of times that you can enter text during the setup process. Even after a successful Bluetooth pairing, you’re still entering iCloud and iTunes account passwords (almost always the same) and at some point you’ll be prompted to either enter your CCV number from the credit card associated with your iTunes account, or to use iTunes on a computer to update your payment info. Jason Snell experienced the later and detailed it a bit on Upgrade, and in a post for his site.

It was far easier to enter passwords using the old Remote app for iOS. I didn’t even like the Remote app but I’m even less in-like with not having one at all.

Not only that, but the capabilities of the Siri Remote match those of most iPhones — in fact most iPhones surpass them. One particular area that most modern iPhones excel is in securing your identity and verifying your purchases. The TV doesn’t care one lick about that. Even when they know that entering the password over and over is annoying, the solution is “ask every time”, “ask once every 15 minutes”, and “do not ask again”. Which is not a secure solution when you think about what people are going to select after having to deal with entering passwords through the setup process.

Also consider the number of people that will be using the device in a household.


The new remote comes with many of the sensors the iPhone has. It even has a touch sensor that uses glass. Although the touch sensor is more like a very tiny trackpad than a screen. Very tiny.

I feel like they aren’t of much use. You see, tvOS doesn’t use them for anything other than the parallax effects. That’s it. The rest is all for games apps, which are terrible to play with Apple’s remote. I’ve been told that the games are better with third party game controllers, but that’s not what the TV ships with, and Apple doesn’t offer their own.

Sensitive Issues

The touchpad calibration seems slightly off for me. I’ve tried the options for adjusting the touchpad sensitivity in Settings, but even at it’s highest sensitivity, I frequently skip one past, and go one short. It’s not as precise as a directional pad — a D-Pad.

Confusingly, the whole Apple TV interface works with the previous generation remote, or with a universal remote of your choosing. That makes it feel like there’s even less of a reason for all the fanciness of the remote. A part of me wonders if it would have been better to target a lower price point by using a directional remote with a microphone. A substantial portion of the device’s expense seems to be tied up there. Offload the gaming experience to a real controller, since I think the remote is an absolutely terrible game controller in every game I’ve played.

Disney Infinity 3.0 - Battle for Yavin, is available for the device, and it was something Phil Schiller was very excited about at the product launch. However, this is the worst game I tested. The remote needs to be held sideways, and it’s far too small for that. It’s like I’m trying to hold a doll-sized teacup and saucer to play a game. The buttons also don’t have the right responsiveness for a game controller in this configuration, and the touchpad is, again, too small.

Siri Pros and Khans

Siri has functioned much better on the TV than I had assumed it would. Most queries, and commands, work as expected. I don’t like to use it to command the TV, but that might be because I’m not used to talking to the remote. The few cases that seem to trip it up have to do with words that sound the same. Unfortunately, when I asked for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Siri transcribed it as “Star Trek two the wrath of con”. No results, of course, because no movie is named that. Unfortunately, it’s not smart enough to use context to resolve a situation like that. Jason Snell had some similar experiences when he was looking for something with a very generic name, Spy.

It’s worked for every actor, and character, I could think to test so far. It’s also nice that you can phrase your command to only return Netflix results. I knew that Netflix would be in Universal Search but I am elated that it can be used as a filter for searching.

This works as advertised. Netflix is returned first for any titles where it’s present, over iTunes, which isn’t free. A really positive experience. One strange thing is that when your Universal Search result loads a movie up, you get a screen that is very similar to the iTunes store screen, only with the icons for other services in a bar below the description. I wish that the search results were distinguished a little differently from the store pages, or that the store pages just were the same as the search result pages.

App Store

One of the nice things about setting up the fourth generation Apple TV over the previous one, is that you’re left in complete control over what you want to have on the home screen. No more cricket channel! You do need to open the App Store and start populating the screen with all the usual suspects though. Netflix, YouTube, Hulu (if you’re into that sort of thing) etc. Broadcasters also have apps, and the App Store team has highlighted all the major things you would want. You do need to do a bit of initial downloading, but most of the media apps are relatively small compared to the games.

For people just starting out, I recommend going to the Purchased Apps section of the App Store. Many of the iOS apps for media companies will have tvOS support. Same for games. This is a quick way to get all the things you’ve already bought elsewhere. It won’t remember passwords, or authorizations, or anything, so you have to go back through and do that for every app that requires one, on every device you own.

Most of that activation consists of going to a URL on your computer, or iOS device, and entering a short code that the TV gives you. There’s some wrangling with service providers for some apps. Cord Cutters and Cord Nevers will find this really frustrating because there isn’t any warning in the app store that you’ll need a cable, or satellite, subscription for many of these. Even the broadcasters that you can pick up using an antenna put their content behind walls, and they do it differently, and for different kinds of content. NBC has a section in their app where they make it clear you can watch some programs below without needing to be signed in to anything. Some. The CBS app is useless without a CBS All Access subscription.

When you start to add up all the content subscriptions, it gets quite expensive. You know what would be great? A single sign-on through Apple that gave the apps the appropriate authorization and let you just watch TV. That would be swell. I am assuming that when Apple launches their OTT, it will basically just be that. However, with the way the TV is right now, it might be a service you log into in every app individually still and then authorize your account on another device…

Sharing is Caring

Apple has launched a new platform, in 2015, and it has no social component. Sure, you’re signed in to Game Center through your Apple ID, and you’ll see a little message notification in the upper-right corner welcoming you when launch a game, but that’s it. There’s no Game Center interface or app. It just makes a note of your game progress which you can see on other platforms.

While it’s fun to joke that a Twitter client would be terrible, the ability to share a link to what you’re doing in an app, or a link to an app, or piece of media, would be a huge improvement. There’s no concept of sharing services at all. Remember, this is 2015.


I’ve had some peculiar things happen with AirPlay. The parentheses problem is still on the device, which is super annoying, and sometimes when your AirPlay connection drops, you’re greeted to multiple Apple TV instances to pick from. The other issue is that while I was listening to audio in Overcast, AirPlayed to my TV from my iPhone, and I opened the Photos app on my iPhone, Overcast stopped playing and my Photos app was mirrored to the TV. I have AirPlay mirroring off. I left photos, hit play in Overcast, set one of the two Apple TV instances as my source and waited for it to start playing again. Same thing. Mirroring was off when I was outside the Photos app, but once it was launched, it overrode my setting and mirrored my photos. I also tested with the Music app on the phone. With that I got long pauses in playback, but they would pick back up again.

Anyway, this is not so good.


Just go read the thing I wrote about this before. Same. I think it’s awkward that the iPhone records in UHD, and they’re making a big deal about the iMac Retina displays (not 4k UHD). Also it’s a marketing tool for Amazon and Roku to use against Apple. Other than that? Inconsequential.

No Backup

One of the really strange omissions for a device built on top of iOS is that there is no way to back up the device at all. Not to iTunes, nor to iCloud. This didn’t even dawn on me until most of the way through the week. You can’t restore your device from a saved state at all. Your purchases are all intact, but that’s not the same thing. Hopefully they roll something out, and certainly before next year (maybe?), when people upgrade devices.

The Future

The device feels very unfinished. Surprising, given the amount of time between the last model and this one. Rumors are that the team working on it stopped and it sat there while Apple tried to work with outside parties. Then they gave up and had to resume. Apple picked when to ship this device though, just like every other thing they make.

There’s also the issue of “Starting at $69” — that’s not true. Selling the other Apple TV is bizarre. It functions as a cheap media streamer but it has no direct relationship with the current TV. On a recent episode of the Clockwise podcast, Anže Tomic asked the panelists why there wasn’t a cheapo streaming dongle like the Chromecast, or Fire TV Stick. There was an ensuing discussion and Jason Snell coined “AirPlay Express” which I will use to refer to whatever they replace the $69 unit with. I do not think it’s a good experience to continue to sell the old one, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to retire it and leave a $159 price umbrella for the competition. Maybe an entry level device couldn’t play games, or came preloaded with streaming apps?

I do have some hopes for the future, like a unified content strategy, single sign-on experience, picture-in-picture, and some sort of guide view that displays all the live streaming media from installed apps. Oh, and Touch ID…

Last November, Dan Moren wrote on SixColors that his wishlist item for the next Apple TV was Siri integration. I saw Dan’s post and argued that it would be better to have Touch ID integration. Well everything’s coming up Morenhouse! The Siri integration is there, and Touch ID is not. Good thing no one hates entering passwords, because the new Apple TV certainly doesn’t make you enter passwords. OH WAIT IT TOTALLY DOES. Maybe next time, you will all clap louder at my ideas.

It’s pretty typical of Apple Product launches to already talk about what we want to see in the next one, so I didn’t want to bring this up on Upgrade and derail us.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-10-16-Defocused-on-the-Incomparable-Network.html Defocused on the Incomparable Network 2015-10-16T07:53:00Z 2015-10-16T07:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

The podcast Dan Sturm and I do has joined The Incomparable’s network of shows this week. A while back Jason Snell had suggested that our show would be a good fit with what they do, and I took that as a huge compliment because I have always admired the shows that he produces over there. From the main “The Incomparable” which started it all, to the spin-offs, and sub-spin-offs that populate the site. There’s a little something for everyone. That includes us now too.

For anyone unfamiliar with our show, but somehow reading this blog (How? Why?) I’ll briefly explain the podcast. Dan has a background in directing commercial projects, and VFX compositing. He has strong opinions, and he hates space.

I have a degree in computer animation (chillax, it’s a BFA and I’m not even a good animator) and I’ve worked for 10 years doing lighting and compositing (told you I wasn’t a good animator). I have different opinions, and I love space.

Together we spend as little time talking about the industry we work in as possible, and most of the time talking nonsense about movies we watch.

What kind of movies? I would describe the assortment as “eclectic”. Everything from modern action movies, to 80s comedy, to 80s action, to 90s comedy, to… Hmm. Maybe it’s not that eclectic.

New listeners might enjoy the episodes with guests they’re familiar with:

And since it’s October again, there’s all the Halloween (ish) themed stuff from last year:

Ghostbusters II was just recorded, so expect more spoooooooky stuff this month.

Also, my love of The Incomparable Radio Theater specials (the series wasn’t out yet) inspired me to write the fake award show episode. That’s a terrible place to start as a first time listener, but Dan spent like 40,000 hours editing it, so I want to demonstrate that our audio podcast isn’t just about our pretty looks.

Long Time Listeners

We (Dan) updated the show art for the new network bug, and Greg Knauss imported all of our episodes and setup the redirects. Since Dan ran the original site, and owns the domain, he got to do all the real work. (Like usual, I am a parasite. (But I did composite together that Zeppelin gif! (That’s the kind of thing a parasite would point out.)))

Oh, and if anyone needs to transform some podcast files1 from “ep#-YYYY-MM-DD-v###.mp3” to “defocused#.mp3”:

import glob
import os

src = glob.glob("*.mp3")

for s in src:
    os.rename(src, (src.split("-")[0].replace("ep", "defocused") + ".mp3")

Dan and I work pretty hard on this hobby of ours, and we have worked on it for over a year. The show is still going to be run the same, and still just as bad/good as ever.

The announcement went live when I had a work deadline so I basically just faved things as they came in. I do really appreciate all the feedback from listeners, and I know Dan does too. I also appreciate all the work Dan, Greg, and Jason Snell put in to get Defocused rolling.

  1. This section is for Dr. Drang.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-10-13-40666K-Retina-iMac.html 4.0666K Retina iMac 2015-10-13T17:23:00Z 2015-10-13T17:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The 4K iMac came out. When this resolution was originally mentioned in the rumors, I was a little confused. 4096 x 2304 is not what all the TV people call 4K, or even what the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus shoot. That 4K is the UHD resolution of 3840×2160. Apple doesn’t ship any display, on any device, that is 3840x2160.

We all watch scaled video, all the time, and that’s no sin. But it would be nice if Apple would ship something that was 1:1. If you watch “4K” video on your “4K” iMac, every pixel is being resampled to scale up by 1.0666.

I am excited about the updates to the range of colors that can be displayed. From Jason Snell’s review for Macworld:

Apple says that the display in this 4K iMac, as well as the revision to the 5K iMac that was announced the same day, offers an expanded color space. Thanks to new red-green phosphor LEDs, the displays can display a wider range of red and green light than before, allowing them to display 25 percent more colors.

In a demo at Apple, I was able to detect subtle differences. The new displays can offer more color detail and more vibrancy than the display on the older 5K iMac models. I’m a little red-green color blind, and even I could detect the differences. If you work in graphics or video, you’ll probably be happy to have access to a display that’s capable of displaying 99 percent of the P3 color space.

P3 is DCI-P3, which… Well, go read this, and then this.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-10-05-I-Once-Was-in-Maps-but-Now-Im-Found.html I Once Was in Maps, but Now I'm Found 2015-10-05T08:38:00Z 2015-10-05T08:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I was very excited about Apple Maps when the rumors surrounding its launch circulated in 2012. The Google contract for map data was going to expire but the company that deeply respects its customers would have something amazing. I cautiously updated my iPad (3) to iOS 6 to test it out, and didn’t update my iPhone 4 to iOS 6 until the following January, when the Google Maps app was available. There’s no denying how bad it was, because Tim Cook even wrote a statement apologizing for it.

I keep testing out Apple Maps every few months to see what’s happening with it – Usually when major updates are announced, or when some tech-pod-blog-ocaster mentions a positive experience. I would like to be pleasantly surprised, and then remove Google Maps. They are a company that specializes in personalized ad tracking, and here I am, shoving my location in their face.

Instead, here we are, three years later. Still working around Siri, and working around apps that integrate Apple Maps (like Yelp), and copying and pasting addresses in to Google Maps.

Works for Me

When I have discussed my issues with Apple Maps in the past I’ve received feedback that was not entirely helpful. Informing me about how well Apple Maps works in places I am not has done very little to improve how Apple Maps works here.

Telling me that I can report issues from inside the Maps app is something I already know, and have talked about in the past. It is safe to assume I have reported the complaints detailed below. Expressing my disappointment is not mutually exclusive to reporting issues. They’ve spent three years working on Maps, and made a big song and dance number about it at WWDC in June. I am not being overly critical of some just-launched beta from a startup.

However, I must apologize for ignoring the earnest advice to move somewhere else. I’m sure if I moved somewhere my job wasn’t then the quality of a maps and directions app would be unimpeachable.

Location, Location, Location?

There have been several improvements to location data both in the map view itself, and from the various iOS features which hook in to apps. Certainly this is much better than when the service launched with multiple, conflicting addresses for locations, and conflicting Yelp reviews. Even last year, when I bought my iPhone 6 with iOS 8, the location data was still pretty wonky. One particular test I conducted was asking for directions to “City Hall”.

The Maps app now correctly lists the city hall for the city I’m in right now (Los Angeles) as the first suggestion when I type the query, and follows it up with the other halls that are closer to me, but not the city hall of the city I’m in. For some inexplicable reason, “City Hall” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is still listed as a suggestion. At least it is no longer the primary result.

However, if I hit “search” without selecting one of the suggestions, I receive “City Hall, London”. Not to spoil any surprises, but if you click the little car icon for driving directions the app will regretfully inform you that it could not determine a route.

Confusingly, when I ask Siri for directions to city hall, I am presented with a list of locations that’s completely different from those suggestions the Maps app generates, and one of them is a gospel hall.

I don’t understand why these results are all different. Even if it’s struggling with the generic term, it should have the same struggle everywhere.

What about “Downtown LA”?

No, Apple Maps. I can’t even.

On a more positive note: Someone at Apple accepted one of the many reports I’ve been sending about my apartment address. I check every six to eight months, so I’m not exactly sure when they fixed my address. I no longer need to get route guidance to my neighbors’ buildings, and I can use Siri commands like, “Give me directions home”. This is a very exciting development for me.

The other location improvements have less significance to me, but I do still miss Google’s Street View. If you tap on an address that has no Yelp data you get a spartan, white page with a slowly rotating satellite view of the street, which is useless.

Categories for nearby locations are very nice, and I haven’t come across anything miscategorized, but I have a nit to pick about it all being radial to your location, and you can’t build a route. This is tricky, I know, but gas stations along my commute are more helpful than a radial cluster of pins from wherever I am along that commute. Waze has these sorts of features, but I had poor performance from their app and removed it in frustration. It would be nice if Siri could leverage the categories, and the route I’m on, as if it was some kind of virtual assistant.

LA Transit

(Update: I took Apple’s announcement at WWDC that iOS 9 would have transit support in LA to mean it would be included when iOS 9 launched. According to a page buried on Apple’s site, they have not rolled out Los Angeles support yet.)

Transit directions are of academic interest to me, but I have no real ability to test them other than trying a few random queries. While Apple has made arrangements for public transit data in LA, it seems to be very incomplete. No bus routes are available when I conducted some searches on the Westside. I also conducted a search from Culver City to the Los Angeles Convention Center, which should have shown me the Expo Line light rail route, but instead I got the same error as the buses. “Transit directions are not available between these locations. View routing apps.” I can select the installed Google Maps app and I’m presented with the Expo Line. It doesn’t even flinch. Maybe there are some routes that function in LA, since Apple listed LA as a city they would have this data for, but I can’t think of any.

Perceived Slowness

Since the Apple Maps app was introduced, the slow, whimsical animations have bugged the crap out of me. You don’t always see them, sometimes it just snaps directly to the relevant view. Other times it involves a lot of slow pans and zooms. I don’t need to see all of North America while the app slowly zooms in to where I am. I am pretty aware of where North America is in relation to me.

3D also seems to add some processing weight to the situation, which I don’t really need. Building height is one of those metrics they got from their aerial mapping that’s neat in demos, but doesn’t serve any purpose in the real world.

The flyover stuff… I mean, I guess it’s cool? But I don’t use it. It’s always in Apple’s marketing, but why? It doesn’t help you do anything. And it still has weird spots that … I just don’t know why this is a marketable feature.


It’s important to keep your eyes on the road. Glancing at certain elements of your console for vital info is a necessity. Using thin weights for the display of information in a navigation app is just dumb. At a glance, you can see the number of miles to your next turn, or decimal value thereof, and an icon representing the kind of turn you will need to execute. White bars float over streets, but you can’t read them, and the street you’re turning on to is so tiny and waif-like that it might as well not be there. A thicker weight is used for the time, but again, a small size makes it hard to read clearly in a split second. Things also wouldn’t need to be so small if they weren’t all crammed in the top bar.

Even the icon for the turn you need to execute can be comically wrong.

Google Maps does a much better job at communicating at information at a glance. The top shows you an icon for the turn you need to make, as well as icons for lane guidance, and the name of the street you are approaching, instead of putting the emphasis on the number of miles you’re traveling to the turn. An estimate for the remaining time to travel is also available in large, thick numbers across the bottom of the display.

Google also changes aspects of the display based on traffic information, but more on that in the next section.


One of the things I’ve found puzzling about the design of the Apple Maps interface is that you can see traffic, and travel estimates supposedly influenced by traffic, in the route overview, but no traffic information is provided when turn-by-turn is on. All the roads are tranquil, neutral tones, and a serene blue path flows before you. It’s as if you’re in a kayak, on a river, being gently pulled along by the flow of water.

That’s not true, of course, because why would there be that much water in Los Angeles?

At heavy intersections, like Highland Ave. and Franklin Ave., you see no information about the flow of traffic in any direction. Instead of blue, you should see the streets run red with the blood of the Traffic God. Woe betide thee that commute on his most sacred of poorly designed intersections!

Tonight, Apple Maps routed me down Cahuenga to Highland. That sent me past the large, somewhat famous, amphitheater known as The Hollywood Bowl. Not a big deal, unless there’s an event at The Bowl. Guess what? There was an event! Van Halen! There were orange, safety cones and traffic cops directing at intersections. Apple Maps just herp-derped me through that. The only difference in the display was the estimated arrival time slowly ticking upward as I crawled.

On exactly one occasion I had Apple Maps present me with a yellow bar across the top, and Siri’s voice notified me that there was a delay due to an accident. (No alternate routing was provided on this occasion.) Waze has a leg up on Apple and Google when it comes to accident notifications. You even get notified about which lane the accident is in. Google sources some Waze data, but isn’t as specific. On the 101 N last night there was a very sudden slowdown, without warning, at a time of night when there shouldn’t be traffic at all. I waited patiently for Apple Maps to let me know what it was, and Apple Maps was oblivious to it. There was apparently a car accident that closed two lanes, and the car was being loaded on to a flatbed truck, so it wasn’t recent. Why Apple Maps kept silent about it, I don’t know.

Google Maps, in contrast, indicates traffic in several places. When cars are moving slowly, the road is red, as well as the estimated travel time. It serves as an appropriate cue that Google knows the street I’m on is slow, and thus I trust that Google is correctly monitoring the flow of cars. When Apple Maps has an unchanging interface, and an estimated arrival time that keeps ticking up, I have no sense that they understand the clusterfuck I’m stuck in. It’s not that Google Maps clears traffic, but it reassures you that it knows of it.

Google also provides alternate route suggestions as traffic conditions change. Sometimes there’s a prompt for a different route that will save X number of minutes. If I don’t accept the change, then I putter along on the current route. Far more often, I see the little gray paths with estimates of how many minutes faster, or slower, the route is.

I must ding Google for those little gray routes though. Often times the minute-by-minute fluctuations of traffic change on those paths so they are not always improvements. Also, Google’s app will occasionally lay several of the route suggestions on top of each other. For instance, you might be on Melrose, and the original path is to make a left at Highland, you see a suggestion to stay on Melrose and it will be 3 minutes faster. You tap it, and get a slower route. Zoom out and you’ll see that there were two routes it was suggesting that coincided at Melrose, so you got a route, but not the fast one you thought you were seeing. Why this behavior has persisted is beyond me, but it’s been there since they put these branching suggestions in.


Lane guidance is a feature present in Google Maps, but not found in Apple Maps. I find it invaluable when I am traveling in a congested area and unfamiliar with where turn lanes, or exits, will split and join. Some exit lanes might quickly expand in to three lanes with turns in different directions, and Google Maps will tell you which ones you can be in, or even that you will be fine in the lane you’re already in. It’s a comfort, but not a requirement. If you miss a turn, or can’t get to an exit lane, then any map app will reroute you. It’s just nice to reduce the rerouting.

It’s not flawless though, and Apple could learn from Google’s mistakes if they ever implement this feature. Google notifies you of the lane arrangement as it will be when you need to change lanes, not in terms of the lane arrangement you’re currently in.

An irritating example of this is traveling through Downtown LA. The Google Maps issue is that the number of lanes on the 110, heading toward Santa Monica, changes rapidly. You’ll be notified to get in the exit lane to merge from the 110 to the 10 around the 7th avenue exit. If you immediately maneuver to the lane, in the freeway as you currently see it, then you’re in the wrong spot. Two more lanes will merge on to the right of you before you get off, and Google Maps was including those lanes in the guidance it gave when they weren’t there. Ugh.

It took me a bit to wrap my head around the way this guidance gets delivered, but I still prefer it to Apple Maps, which cheerfully asks you to exit right, sometimes with little warning.

Apple Maps also seems blithely unaware of where special turn lanes start and stop, unlike Google. On a major roadway, it is not unusual to have a left turn lane start a significant distance from an intersection, and feature a solid, white line to deter people from making last minute lane changes. When making a turn from Santa Monica Blvd. to Beverly Glen Blvd., Apple Maps verbally alerted me to make a left after it was no longer legal to do so.

I have it on good authority that the vans Apple is driving around have lidar, and that lidar can be used for figuring out lanes. The more light will bounce off the reflective paint than off of anything else, even reflective cars. They might just be throwing away all that data and using the lidar to make really neat, really useless flyovers, but I hope they are using it to determine lanes.

Until We Cross Paths Again

I’m not even remotely on the fence about this decision. I am very disappointed because it would be the most convenient, OS-integrated, privacy-focused application for me to use. I simply value efficiency too much to rely on it in high-traffic LA. I hope it continues to improve, and that they continue to build in features that help it better estimate, and communicate, road conditions, and provide me with an interface that demonstrates that.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-09-30-Your-Apple-Music-Trial-Membership-is-Almost-Up.html Your Apple Music Trial Membership is Almost Up 2015-09-30T16:08:00Z 2015-09-30T16:08:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

That was the headline of an email that Apple sent to me yesterday. I checked around with a few people and Apple doesn’t send a similar reminder to people to remind them that they have auto-renew on. Not that it’s the worst thing in the world, but I got a little chuckle out of it.

I turned off auto-renew back when I discovered the ways in which iCloud Music Library was broken for me. I figured I would see how things went with updates and the Radar ticket that was open.

It’s September 30th and while several updates to iOS have been released (and god knows how they version whatever’s on the server backend) I still don’t have a functional iCloud Music Library. My Queen albums are still jacked, and my playlists created before joining Apple Music still spontaneously — and simultaneously — combust. They did close my Radar ticket as a duplicate, so I suppose that counts for something.

Someone might think that it’s sort of silly to obsess over a few broken things. I have access to all the Queen catalog in Apple Music, even if it isn’t ordered and rated the way I had it. I could rebuild all my playlists, manually, as totally new ones. It isn’t impossible to do these things, I’d probably loose many hours, but it would probably work. Probably being a key word there.

There are all the other problems I was having with the interface, Connect, For You, Beats One, and discoverability. So it’s not like it was perfect for me.

Since I never spent $9.99 a month on music to begin with (monthly average is several dollars lower), and it basically doesn’t make my life any better, then it makes no sense for me.

The part that does make me a little annoyed is that I’m not sure how things are going to shape up for non-Apple-Music subscribers in the future. When major iOS revisions come out, are the engineers even going to check and make sure non-iCloud music syncing works? Will they make sure widgets draw correctly? Will purchasing music in the iTunes Store iOS app get buggy and weird (I mean, worse than now, obvi.) I may be back to using Apple Music if the balance of frustration, and neglect, tips the other way. It’s not like I’m switching to Android.

Your Music may vary.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-09-09-The-Apple-TV-Countdown.html The Apple TV Countdown 2015-09-09T09:53:00Z 2015-09-09T09:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I am on vacation and haven’t been writing about all the TV stuff I would ordinarily have been. I have kept an eye on Twitter, and read an article here and there. Apologies for not listening to all the podcasts, and reading all the things, but there are a couple words I would like to arrange before the event.


The most surprising part of this is the rumored focus on gaming. I had guessed early on that TVKit would more likely be for creating media apps than for games (this still might be the case, and GameKit could be expanded to include the TV functions, but that’s splitting hairs). The noise makes it seem very likely that there will be several games demos. Mea culpa.

There is some strange trepidation in the tweets I’ve read from people who are serious about games, along with some outright denial, and defensive posturing, over whether or not Apple “can” and “should” do anything games related. I have to assume these reactions are mostly tied to fears gamers have over people that aren’t serious about games entering the game space. Whether that’s Apple as a company, or common folk buying an Apple TV to play games. I’m just going to outright dismiss those concerns. Almost nothing Apple demos on stage, game wise, ever really turns into anything huge. Developers usually find fun games to make much later. Infinity Blade, and cherry blossoms, and fish, etc. Humorously, Apple occasionally ropes EA into showing off some garbage. I assume they feel it helps lend credibility to their game demos.

None of that has ever inhibited people from playing games on iOS devices, or served as much of a prediction about how games would work even a few months after hardware and software releases.

People coming down hard on whether or not the Apple TV will work as a games console should read this terrible piece in Variety where the writer discounts Apple’s abilities because there is no OTT service to prove how serious Apple is about content. That kind of writing is mostly how all the gamers writing about Apple read to me. (That might be an extreme example since that Variety piece is just so bad.)

It’s worth circling back to the video content discussion, and that Variety piece, because it’s worth highlighting how myopic it is.

Launching a box without a new content service offering doesn’t surprise me at all, given that I’ve been arguing that for months. (Seriously, Tim, get in touch.)

I still expect third party apps for content streaming services to be demoed at the event. Perhaps a mention of HBO subscriptions? It is inevitable that someone will demonstrate something sports related. MLB runs many of the streaming services for other companies (including non-sports HBO, as well as other sports like the NFL). I don’t much care for sports, but they are undeniably a significant force, especially when it comes to adopting new technology. So while there’s no OTT with ESPN bundled with local broadcast affiliates, there will likely be something.

I don’t know if Apple will demonstrate anything for international customers at the event as I’m not sure how global the initial device launch is.


Why launch without every little thing? Why not wait forever for OTT? Because selling devices that can use an OTT service later makes for great leverage in the neverending negotiations. The networks and studios have no real deadline to adopt Apple’s terms. No urgency. They will continue their slow, downward spiral because it still seems like the most stable option to them.

Chicken and egg. There aren’t enough Apple TV customers to make Apple’s OTT terms worthwhile, and you can’t sell Apple TV’s that only offer non-existent OTT as a selling feature. You offer gaming and other media apps, sell the Apple TVs, then you have enough customers to make OTT worthwhile.

4K Video

I had already guessed there would be no 4K video way back when because there simply isn’t the inventory of available UHD remasters, and studios would likely demand increased prices. I do expect an eventual shift in the iTunes Store, just not now.

The next iPhone recording “4K” video presents an awkward little dance since the TV won’t have 4K playback, and nothing Apple makes actually has 1:1 pixels with UHD. Even the theoretical 4K iMac would scale the video up. All other models, beside the 4K and 5K iMacs will scale the video down. Including home movies played back on the new Apple TV.


I appear to also be wrong about Siri. Many moons ago, Dan Moren wrote a piece for Six Colors about his wish for Siri on the Apple TV. I was, of course, uncharacteristically pessimistic about Siri, and wrote how I’d rather have a remote with Touch ID. Guess I owe Dan Moren a drink or something? Or pistols at dawn? I can never remember which.

The event, which will transpire before anyone probably reads this, will surely be interesting.

Event Space

Did it occur to anyone that the space is so big because offering hands-on TV demos takes a lot of room? Especially TV demos with Siri which necessitate some level of noise control? The place is probably full of little rooms with TVs.

I wonder what TV panel Apple will have on display? I doubt it will be Samsung. It would be pretty funny if they went through a lot of trouble to obscure the manufacturers with some black tape. Hehe.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-21-Media-Stocks-Tank-After-Analyst-Says-TV-Business-is-Broken.html Media Stocks Tank After Analyst Says TV Business is Broken 2015-08-22T06:08:00Z 2015-08-22T06:08:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Mathew Ingram writing for Fortune:

Disney (DIS -1.18%) alone lost 6% of its value, ending at its lowest level in six months, and has now lost more than $30 billion in market cap in a little over two weeks. Time Warner (TWX -1.62%) was also down about 5%, to its lowest level in 2015, and 21st Century Fox (FOX -2.65%) was down a little over 4%. CBS (CBS -2.04%) and Discovery Communications (DISCA -0.81%) were both down by about 5%, and Viacom (VIA -0.95%) dropped by more than 6%.

The stocks recovered a little bit today but they’re all still down.

The analyst comment that set this all off:

“The market is now valuing U.S. ad-supported TV businesses as structurally impaired assets,” Juenger said. “We believe this is fair and warranted, because: a) we believe TV advertising is undeniably in secular decline; and b) affiliate fees are now also being put at increased risk. When an industry is undergoing a massive structural upheaval, one major revenue stream is already impaired — and now there are signs the second one may be as well — investors won’t wait for final conclusive evidence to reevaluate how much they are willing to pay for the existing status quo cash flow streams.”

In plain English: ad sales are going down, and fees collected from satellite and cable subscribers are declining. It really isn’t so jarring if you’ve been paying attention to media reporting. The media reporters just usually frame it as slight downward trends. Wall Street frames non-growth as death. Those guys are so fun.

As Mathew notes, Netflix and Google are also down. He speculates that “The Market” has taken it’s anger out on all media. Those guys should sacrifice a small animal, or something.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-20-Studios-Gamble-on-Untested-Directors-for-Big-Movies-With-Mixed-Results.html Studios Gamble on Untested Directors for Big Movies With Mixed Results 2015-08-20T08:53:00Z 2015-08-20T08:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Josh Rottenberg wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times comparing Colin Trevorrow to Josh Trank. The first few paragraphs make it read like it really is about the two of them, but then the piece goes in a more interesting direction and speculates about why studios want someone inexperienced for these big tent-pole productions.

Both directors were caught up in a trend that has gathered steam in recent years, as studios have been increasingly looking to untested directors to helm high-stakes tent-pole movies. Most recently, in June Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios hired Jon Watts to take over the “Spider-Man” franchise on the strength of his minimalist thriller “Cop Car,” which Watts shot in his rural Colorado hometown for just $800,000.

Sony did something similar already, when they hired Marc Webb to direct the Amazing Spider-Man reboot, and brought him back for the sequel. Sort of a mixed bag there. If you scroll down to the bottom of the LAT piece there’s a “Nine young directors who’ve made the leap from small films to blockbuster projects” list that even highlights Marc Webb in spite of the text above discussing the new fresh-face being brought in for the Spider-Man franchise.

So many factors but one that doesn’t typically get brought up is the fact that many films are made after the footage has been shot. The old joke “we’ll fix it in post” is something everyone’s heard before.

“The studio executives and marketers want to control the movie so badly, they don’t want a visionary director,” says one high-ranking talent agent. “They want to basically make the movie themselves. So much of it is made in CGI now anyway that you can fix it if it’s messed up, so they can get away with a lot more mistakes. And they don’t really care about deep performances from the actors — that’s not really what they’re looking for.”

I can’t speak to this from any tentpoles I’ve personally worked on, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that this is a possible explanation for entrusting unknown directors. Re-editing sequences, flopping plates, stitching two plates together, omits, reshoots, and completely animated shots that can be tweaked until 1 month before release.

Colin notes that he didn’t experience that on Jurassic World but Trank, in his deleted tweet, does lay the blame at the feet of studio meddling. It’s possible the executives at one studio don’t intervene like they do at another, or that they only step in if they (the suits) perceive a problem. (Whether it’s warranted or not.)

As an audience member, I frequently wonder how a studio went along with a director’s impulses, but I also condemn a studio interferring with the artistic intent and making a movie by committee. It’s kind of hard to reconcile these opposing views.

The article even touches on gender for a bit. Noting that inexperienced men are getting these offers, and there doesn’t seem to be the same happening for women. Colin chimed in with a theory that the many women are turning down the opportunities offered to them — LAT highlights Ava DuVernay turning down Black Panther. I’m not sure that I would really focus on her turning that down as an example that women just don’t want these jobs.

In any event, it’s worth thinking about what’s in Rottenberg’s article.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-16-Hows-Your-SIGGRAPH.html How's Your SIGGRAPH? 2015-08-17T07:45:00Z 2015-08-17T07:45:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ This past week was SIGGRAPH, a yearly event held in different cities. The last LA one was in 2012, so it’s been a while since I’ve been.

I half-jokingly suggested to Dan that would we meet up at SIGGRAPH and tour it like other podcasters do with CES or WWDC. One of our favorite podcasts (we’re podcast fans too) had a comedy bit poking fun at people constantly asking other people, “How’s your CES?”

Then, before I knew it, we had plans in place and Dan was coming to LA, I was taking a day off work, and we were making silly jokes.

It was such a busy week I haven’t even had the chance to reflect on it until now.

Tuesday, I had to drop off my car (some jerk hit it when it was parked) and pick up a rental, work a day, drive to downtown (turns out there was a Dodgers game causing traffic!), go to a Ringling College of Art and Design event, stop by the bar Dan and I selected for the meet up, and then meet Dan in person in Little Tokyo. I found out at the bar that they had a membership policy, so I got to worry about that, and I had a nasty aftertaste from a margarita and a mojito, so I took a little travel-sized bottle of Listerine I had with me to meet Dan. I spit the mouthwash into a planter just in time to turn to Dan waving to me. I’m not sure how the day could have gone any smoother.

The next day, I met Dan again, picking him up from the LA Hotel (weird name, right?) I put Dan in charge of getting us to the downtown Blue Bottle Coffee (formerly Handsome Coffee). This didn’t work out because Dan’s phone thought he was in Arizona still. Good thing we were in Downtown Los Angeles where the streets are so easy breezy. Ha. We got there, got our coffee and headed back to The Los Angeles Convention Center.

The LACC is a sprawling complex of buildings, with various halls and parking garages. The LA Auto Show uses up the whole thing and there’s frequently plenty of people parking in the private lots around the center. Not for SIGGRAPH this year. Everything was closed up except one garage. Hardly any foot traffic around the building. If you were passing by the buildings, you would assume it was closed.

Making our way to pick up or passes was also strange. In years past, the registration has been in rooms, or in the lobby, downstairs. This year they crammed it next to the “Art Gallery” section. Dan and I had “Exhibition Only” passes which didn’t include the brightly colored, VR-tastic area so we walked back to the main show floor.

So small. Not only were there fewer companies on the floor, but each company dialed back their elaborate booths. Areas had little stands with cloth curtains to sort of shrink in the space (so it didn’t look like a void with a few stray booths). It was pretty depressing and it took hardly any time to walk the show floor to survey what was on offer. Some booths were just a table, others had tables and some demo stations of different products, like Image Metrics which would track bloody wounds, or makeup, on to your face in real time.

A few booths had space for presentations, with some chairs or benches, and large screens. Dan and I witnessed a few of the presentations, but it was all fairly auto-piloty, with slideshows, or sped up movies of workflows.

The Foundry hosted some nice ones for Mari with two texture painters from a video game studio, and another with a presentation from Tippett Studios about how they used Katana and Nuke to quickly execute a sequel project in half the time as the original. (Videos of the booth presentations are available on The Foundry’s site, but it does require creating a login to view them.)

There were some presentations in little rooms upstairs, but the schedules weren’t posted anywhere Dan and I noticed until we wandered up there. By then it was mostly for topics we did not have an enormous interest in.

Even though it was Wednesday, of a week long convention, it seemed to be winding down. Most major things seemed to have happened Monday or Tuesday. I certainly wouldn’t book a week to attend, unless I was some big head-honcho. A Renderman “Art and Science Fair” was scheduled for that night, but it ran for several hours and would have consumed the limited time Dan and I had (besides, neither of us use Renderman these days). Renderman did seem to be the biggest draw, but mostly because people are interested in Pixar (the line for the walking teapots was so long).

We went back to Dan’s hotel, recorded half of a podcast episode wrong, and then half of a podcast episode right. Listen to Episode 59 here.

We grabbed some dinner at a pretty lackluster restaurant (rounding out a full day of pretty unexceptional dining) and finally sorted out how to get people in to the membership-required bar (Dan and I are both members of a rum bar now.) One of the podcast listeners that came to the event even went to SIGGRAPH, but I continue to be fascinated by the listeners we have that enjoy the show regardless of all the inside-baseball stuff about VFX nerdery. Very thankful for all the listeners, even those that could not make it.

Reflecting on the whole thing, I came away with a pretty negative impression of SIGGRAPH 2015. It doesn’t seem to service artists a whole lot, and seems like more of a corporate networking event. Even the job fair section shriveled up and tumbleweeds blew through it. Although Imageworks had a big booth, they were hiring for Vancouver, which still hurts. I wish the people I know there well, but I’ll never be able to work there again. Seemingly none of the other companies were all that interested in LA either. Dan got a free mint though.

Incongruously, there is a ton of cool stuff that comes out of SIGGRAPH. Papers, presentations, software, etc. It mostly affects you if you’re lucky enough to work at a company that can take advantage of these advancements. Or even companies that have R&D budgets. I encourage everyone, regardless of their chosen discipline to check out the work. Stephen Hill from Ubisoft in Montreal is collecting links and putting them up on his blog.

How about a demo of OTOY’s path-tracing, physically-based renderer that streams right to your desktop browser? There’s even a real-time subsurface scattering demo that works in WebGL in your friggin’ phone’s browser.

Seriously, go look through all the amazing stuff people make that you won’t see on tech news sites.

However, if you would prefer to digest this through a news site, I would recommend fxguide, which had a number of people covering it in great detail. Day one, day two, and day three.

The industry I work in sure has changed a lot in the three years since I last attended one in LA, and I was confused about why they even bothered to have it in LA at all this year, let alone Anaheim next year, and LA again the year after that. Sony Pictures Imageworks’ move to North made Vancouver the largest concentration of VFX workers. Sure, there are small places, like my current employer, as well as Disney Animation and DreamWorks, but it hardly seems like a thriving community with high morale. Video games seems to supplement some of those motion picture losses. But they mostly seek out engineers, not artists. Same for VR.

Would I attend another? Sure. Who knows, maybe things will turn around for people in my particular position. Barring that, I’ll at least be able to document it’s steady decline. Yay.

At least I have the podcast with Dan, people that enjoy it, and some neat projects to look at.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-12-Supporting-Independents.html Supporting Independents 2015-08-12T16:53:00Z 2015-08-12T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ One of the things that I’ve started to question about Apple’s media strategy is how they approach the big power brokers and aren’t fostering a new, independent wave of content creators.

A fascinating Twitter account to follow is @YTCreators. Little tidbits of info surface throughout the day pointing to pages explaining aspect ratios, or to accounts showing videos on low-budget video production, and especially announcements about updates to the app rolling out. YouTube wants people to make YouTube videos, not just videos. There’s a whole experience they want to continue to grow.

A YouTube channel about making YouTube videos is also a natural fit. Videos range from educational to inspirational — like this video with Hannah Hart.

YouTube provides space to work, and collaborate in several major cities for channels with at least 10,000 subscribers. It’s so popular the summer signup period is full, and people have to check back after September 1st. They even offer classes, but they’re full, and they require 500 subscribers to qualify. (Which seems pretty weird for classes on getting started.)

Apple doesn’t have an education program like this. You can sign up for iMovie classes at a local Apple Store, or you can search [iTunes U for a class] that will cover the skills.

People don’t need courses, or fancy studios, or very specific software instructions in order to make video, or upload it to the internet. Creating a focused community around a type of media, and supporting that work, will foster the specific kind of content a company would like. That sounds so cynical, and unartistic, but only when viewed from very far away.


Apple’s most recent investment in social media, and video, is the Connect tab in iTunes Music. It’s not great. It’s limited to musicians right now, but if it was expanded to cover a wider array of media, like YouTube does, it would still seem pretty anemic. Marko Savic speculated about it as a possibility on an episode of Unhelpful Suggestions.

Anyone can start a YouTube channel and upload video. Connect currently requires an artist to be selling music through iTunes, which makes sense since it’s about promoting material on iTunes, but if there was Connect for TV and film, it’s worth checking out what it takes to sell a TV show (most analogous to a vlog series):

The requirements to work directly with Apple are listed below. If you do not meet all of these requirements, you can work with an Apple-approved aggregator instead. Aggregators are third parties that can help you meet technical requirements, deliver and manage your content, and assist with marketing efforts.

Technical Requirements: iTunes does not accept content in physical formats like VHS, DVD, etc. You must deliver your content as a digital file through one of the Apple-approved encoding houses. Be sure to compare their services and fee structures, as this will be a separate cost if you work directly with Apple. Appropriate file storage capability and bandwidth is also required. Alternatively, you may work with an Apple-approved aggregator instead. All video content must be stored in Beta SP format or higher. iTunes only sells video content that is DVD-quality, so the quality of your source must be significantly higher than a standard definition DVD. Content Requirements: At least 50 hours of network-aired TV content Digital distribution rights for all content you intend to sell on the iTunes Store All associated music and talent rights cleared for digital distribution Financial Requirements: A U.S. Tax ID A valid iTunes Store account, with a credit card on file * Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.

Note: Meeting these requirements and submitting an application does not guarantee that Apple will work directly with you. You may still be referred to an Apple-approved aggregator.

So just get a network TV show, use an approved encoding house, or figure out the aggregators, and you’re all set! Easy peasy!

Compare that with signing up for YouTube uploading a video.

Indeed, even signing up to distribute a podcast (and dealing with XML validation!) seems far more manageable. What if there was a Connect for Podcasts? Well… they’d need to figure out some kind of revenue stream to compete with YouTube, because ‘free’ wouldn’t cut it.

Oddly enough, artists can upload videos, and audio, as part of Connect posts that aren’t part of the iTunes store. Unfortunately, you can’t go back and find those things later because they don’t appear in search results, only from scrolling through the Connect stream.

As for growing a “brand” — It’s a one-way broadcast tool. There are comments, but they’re tucked away. They present in a chronological list, and there’s no pinning, emphasis, threading, or promotion that can be applied. It’s like traveling back in time to 2000. Looking at the comments is just sad.

Connect is clearly for the already established to announce things. They might as well turn off the comment feature.

What Ever Happened to Hollywood?

I mentioned “the established” but it’s not just referring to the already successful stars, directors, and musicians of the world, but the studio systems that support them. Indeed, much of that media might is held by a small group in Los Angeles. They’re pretty old, and not particularly in touch with the youth of today. They control content deals, and they’re the reason why “progress” gets tied up for an eternity.

Apple wants the established media, instead of fostering independent creation, and the established media doesn’t want to give an inch. They might be less, and less powerful every year, but they can still cling to it to prevent a disruption in the business of buying (leasing), and collecting (please lease it again when there’s a new format).

It seems practical for Apple to invest in independent content creators, like YouTube has, and continues to do. They might find themselves in the unenviable situation of only needing Hollywood.

“You aren’t ever gonna sell this house, and you aren’t ever gonna leave it, neither.”

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-08-Its-Practical-and-Digital-Not-Practical-vs-Digital.html It's Practical and Digital, Not Practical vs. Digital 2015-08-09T06:53:00Z 2015-08-09T06:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The Verge published a piece on August 4th titled “2015 is the year of Hollywood’s practical effects comeback“, but I mercifully remained ignorant of its existence for four days. This is another long, rambling post about how “practical effects” are good, and “CGI” is bad. You know, the kind of article that sounds very appealing on the surface because it talks about how much better things used to be, and how bad things are now. I am particularly irked that these poorly reasoned opinion pieces get broadcast to large audiences. It’s one thing if someone wants to tweet this, it’s another thing if a journalist uses his platform to broadcast things that aren’t accurate. It makes the discourse worse when that happens.

The reason it happens is because writers don’t know enough about VFX, which makes that black box an easy target. It’s whatever’s in the mystery box that made the movie bad.

The same day Kwame published his piece, Freddie Wong put out a great video that undercuts these sort of arguments. The timing is coincidental, but the subject is the same. Freddie’s video is a great way to demonstrate the flaws with “CG Sucks”. It’s not without flaws, but it’s my number one choice to refer people to.

Ben Kuchera wrote a small bit in favor of Freddie Wong’s short video for another Vox-owned site, Polygon:

The computer is a tool, and some folks know how to use it well while others don’t. It doesn’t make the tool bad when it’s used gracelessly, and we have to improve the conversation about how special effects are used in modern media … especially when we don’t even know they’re there.

Caroline Franke also endorses Freddie’s video, and agrees with him, over at the main Vox site. Curiously, she elected to embed a video from Todd VanDerWerff’s disastrous piece in favor of practical effects. The one where Todd had to print a correction that he was using an E.T. with a computer generated face (he couldn’t tell).

Back to this Verge piece:

I’m going to go through Kwame’s opinion piece and break it down. It’s not the nicest way for me to spend my time, but I don’t want to leave any lingering doubts that this sort of film critique isn’t helpful, and it’s damaging to the public perception of what I do for a living.

2015 is the year of Hollywood’s practical effects comeback

The biggest set piece in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation is also its first scene. We’ve all seen it in the trailers: a frantic but determined Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) clutches the side of an Airbus A400 for dear life as it takes off into the stratosphere. While the scene itself is only tangentially related to the overall plot of the movie, Paramount made sure this was the scene that got people into theaters. A large part of this strategy was broadly publicizing the fact that it wasn’t faked. No CGI was used. No expense was spared. Tom Cruise was really and truly strapped to the side of that plane.

Here we see the first problem. If Paramount had not promoted this as being a real stunt, then no one would know it was real or if computers were used to augment reality.

Indeed, computers were used to augment this very scene and remove the wires used to safeguard Tom Cruise’s life. Wire removal is still a visual effect, and it’s not a flashy one because you’re not supposed to see it. It is an invisible effect.

The Mission: Impossible franchise decided long ago to place its bets on over-the-top stunt work — Cruise famously scaled an actual section of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in 2011, for example. But in 2015, practical effects and stunts aren’t exceptions to special effects rules. As some of the biggest movies of the year — namely Rogue Nation, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens — rely more and more on real-life actors for their action scenes, we might be seeing the start of a shift away from CGI as practical effects become a bankable alternative.

First of all, he is citing a film no one has seen as an example of practical effects being used well. Secondly, he speculates about real-life actors being used for their action scenes more often. That has nothing to do with practical effects. In the old days, stars would perform their own stunts, on occasion, if it could be safely executed because there was no technology to do face replacement for stunt doubles. Sometimes, you’d just see a stunt double! Digitally replacing someone’s face, or putting an explosion behind them, isn’t inherently worse. If Paramount has not told everyone Tom was really on that plane then no one would have known because visual effects artists can believably pull that off these days. You could say that it would totally fly under the radar.

As far as “bankable” goes? Marketing select stunts as practical might be novel, but it’s not a distinguishing feature of the film as seen on the screen.

There’s certainly no question that CGI can take fantasies and make them seem like reality on the big screen. Recent successes like Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron wouldn’t be possible without computers allowing for flying suits of armor and cars flying out of buildings. But after more than a decade of high-octane CG theatrics from huge box office juggernauts like Transformers, Harry Potter, Avatar, Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, literally anything the Wachowskis make, and every Marvel and DC tentpole, audiences might be getting fatigued of digital models exploding into countless pixels. As Variety TV columnist Brian Lowry put it after seeing Age of Ultron, CGI can now prove “more numbing than exciting, even during what should be the show-stopping sequences.”

Kwame, and Brian incorrectly blame a writer, or director’s injudicious use of a tool to mean that the tool itself is flawed. Killing a large number of nameless, meaningless things – whether digital or practical – will always be hollow regardless of the means used to execute the effect on screen.

Groot was a digital character in Guardians of the Galaxy and people loved him. They felt bad when bad things happened to him. In the same film, there are waves and waves of people dying and it means very little. If a computer didn’t touch those scenes it would read the same, emotionally, it would just cost a ton of money to manufacture. If any journalists would like to spring into action and second-guess the things Hollywood spends money on, go for it, but that’s not this argument.

Hollywood’s reliance on CG has only intensified. In the 1970s and ‘80s, movies like Westworld and Tron made use of rudimentary computer graphics to dazzle audiences who’d never seen such worlds on the big screen.

Really? That was the perfect execution of computer graphics in film? Westworld and Tron? They should have just held steady there?

Fast forward to 2014, and we got Transformers: Age of Extinction, a movie full of so much visual noise that it was hard to tell what was even going on.

Again, this wouldn’t read as a better experience with stop-motion robots. Maybe, just maybe, Transformers: Age of Extinction might have issues with story and direction?

As computers have gotten more powerful, studios have used them to create bigger spectacles. Bigger spectacles translate to bigger box office returns; according to Box Office Mojo, six of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time were CGI-fueled summer epics that came out in just the last five years. Three came out this year alone. Raising the stakes for what what we expect from our popcorn fare inevitably means upping the visual ante. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s done well. But in overindulging what it thinks is our bottomless appetite for bigger, more bombastic movies, Hollywood might be battering our senses to the point of dullness.

Huge factual errors here because it assumes the films are successful because they used digital effects. Even the most mundane projects use digital effects for set extensions, a couple sky replacements, makeup fixes, wire removal, painting out camera reflections – Lots of stuff. It is a part of filmmaking.

Also, if spectacle was inherently successful then all expensive, VFX-driven films would be successful. That is not the case. Even Disney, which has some of the biggest successes, with VFX out the wazoo have had very expensive flops. Sadly, Tomorrowland was not well received this year, and that was “done well”. It had nothing to do with “dulled senses”. Pixels, and Fantastic Four are loaded with effects but didn’t perform as well as other VFX heavy productions.

Spectacle, even if it’s executed well, isn’t going to guarantee the movie is even a financial success. Regardless of it being physical or digital.

As Matthew Zoller Seitz wrote for RogerEbert.com last year:

Despite their fleeting moments of specialness, “The Avengers,” the “Iron Man” and “Thor” and “Captain America” films, the new “Spider-Man” series and “Man of Steel” treat viewers not to variations of the same situations (which is fine and dandy; every zombie film has zombies, and ninety percent of all westerns end in gunfights) but to variations of the same situations that feel as though they were designed, choreographed, shot, edited and composited by the same second units and special effects houses, using the same software, under the same conditions. As long as people are talking, there’s a chance the movies will be good. When the action starts, the films become less special.

In other words, all this is expected, and the miracles that cinema pulled off 30 years ago — the moments when audiences felt transported to the directors’ dreamscapes — now feel rote.

This has nothing to do with using a computer to make images on a screen. This has to do with the images that get approved to go on that screen at the whims of the director. It has nothing to do with specialness of the tool.

It should really be pointed out that people make computer generated effects. A computer, by itself, generates nothing. If that were the case, your home PC would be pumping out Pixar classics while you browse the web for new shoes.

Just as people made miniature models to blow up, or painted matte paintings, or drew lightning by hand. People have to make it happen.

But in recent years, there’s been an attitude shift bubbling up among some of Hollywood’s biggest-budget filmmakers. In a recent interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Rogue Nation co-star Simon Pegg talks about the merits of dangerous stunts over CGI:

“These days,” he says, “CG is an amazing tool, and we love it and it enables us to do amazing things. But when you see something which is digital, there’s a slight sense of disconnect. You know it’s not real. Tom taped himself to the side of a plane for real! That’s how much he cares about you!”

What Simon Pegg is describing is when he knows something isn’t real. That means the effect didn’t work out. You can also know that animatronics, stop motion, matte paintings, and optical lightning are in a movie and they’re not “real”. Go watch Arnold take a table-tennis-ball-sized tracking device out through his nostril in Total Recall – or basically any effect in that movie. Tell me how real it feels.

There actually is a visceral sense of danger and even wonder as you’re forced to acknowledge that a human being is risking their life for a film, much in the same way that there’s a greater feeling of connection to a person in makeup over her CG counterpart.

Only if you know they did. The goal is that you can’t tell whether or not they did. It is so very easy to highlight effects that did not work, but it is hard for audiences to perceive the ones that did. Freddie Wong’s video highlights a couple examples that are worth considering, but if you watch enough behind-the-scenes videos you’ll see plenty of other invisible effects.

That’s certainly true for Mad Max: Fury Road, whose promotional push made much of the fact that it was shot in the Namibian desert with real cars, real explosions, and a real flamethrowing guitar, as if to remind people that things like that could still be pulled off in real life. Of course, director George Miller also used plenty of digital effects to push his scenes over the top. Of the film’s 2,400 shots, 2,000 of them were VFX shots. But set pieces that might have been done purely by computer in other movies were choreographed in real life, making for some beautiful but incredibly dangerous scenes.

This is where Kwame should have realized his whole argument against the pervasive use of computer graphics made no sense. 83% of a film. No big deal! Not to mention the color grading (digital), the editing and retimes (digital). That is not to belittle the importance of the work performed on scene, but to highlight how this had nothing to do with computer graphics being bad. VFX shots aren’t cilantro.

And it’s especially true for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which hits theaters later this year. Director J.J. Abrams has continually and consistently paid deference to the practical ingenuity that made the original trilogy so great. So in addition to the return of the original starring cast, we’ve also been promised a return of practical effects. The new X-Wing? Real. BB-8? Real. The Millennium Falcon? So real as to injure Harrison Ford on set. These decisions are billed as a return to form, as a chance to go back to the way things are supposed to be.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the movie isn’t even out yet, the marketing push is. Also that list is wrong, because the Millennium Falcon as a set piece is real, but that ship you see flying around sure as shit isn’t. Those “X-Wings” are real set pieces but they aren’t models over that water.

Don’t give me this “real” stuff about a space movie in a galaxy long, long ago that was part of a $4 billion sale to a media conglomerate. It’s about illusion. It’s great that a person might think it’s real, but it’s about the suspension of disbelief, not physical manufacturing. Physically manufactured elements can help, but it’s not like anyone believed the puppet Yoda in The Phantom Menace was real, in spite of it being a physically manufactured puppet. (Except for the walking part.)

And that’s likely the whole point — that striving for verisimilitude today means moving away from the CG that’s an industry standard and reminding audiences of how directors like Spielberg and Lucas did it way back when.

No, no it isn’t the point at all. Film is not a documentary process. Truth is belief, not reality. Use the writing, acting, makeup, costumes, stunts, sets, locations, color grading, editing, special effects, and visual effects that make the audience get swept away in the story.

It’s clear that, at a time when so many of today’s movies are reboots or returns to older properties, studios are trying hard to mine for what made people feel so good about going to the movies in the first place. Directors like Abrams and actors like Tom Cruise seem nostalgic for a time when connecting to magical objects, spaceships from far-off galaxies, and actual peril meant relying on props, makeup, wires, and daring. They’re both saying that today’s CG landscape can’t pull that off because we take computerized effects for granted.

No, I think they did it this way because they thought it would work for the movies they were making. Again, it bears repeating that the Star Wars movie has not been seen by Kwame. He’s immediately lauding it for practical effects.

That doesn’t mean that practical effects are inherently better or that CGI shouldn’t ever be used. It just means that, like music lovers preaching the gospel of vinyl, some directors are pushing back against CGI because practical effects express their ideas about how their particular movies — and maybe movies in general — ought to be made.

What?! A whole slew of words about how computer graphics shouldn’t be used and we come to an analogy about vinyl? Vinyl?!

I anxiously await the print edition of The Verge on my local newsstand, because paper is an inherently better medium.

At the end of the day, though, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation is just a popcorn flick, diverting but ultimately empty.

“Anyway, I think practical effects make movies good but this movie wasn’t good, so oh well.”

Special effects can never replace the connection created by an excellent story that keeps you invested from start to finish. But you do feel something during those stunts, an elevated kind of thrill knowing Tom Cruise really is on that plane or on that motorcycle, risking his life so that we can have fun for a couple of hours at the movies. It could be argued that Rogue Nation would be no better if the whole thing were done with green screen.

I will gladly argue this. In fact, I have, above. Kwame’s time would have been better spent arguing this as well.

After all, real-life action gets our attention right now primarily because it feels so different.

It doesn’t feel different. It has been marketed as being different. No one A/B tested this movie with a version heavier on computer graphics. There was no Pepsi Challenge.

But with the next few years positively glutted with action movies, “different” might have a leg up on the competition.

In marketing films it might give the project a leg up on competition by virtue of the fact that audiences have been fed a narrative that one kind of illusion is inherently better for them, in all cases, than another kind of illusion.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-07-Vanity-Fair-The-VidCon-Revolution-Isnt-Coming-Its-Here.html Vanity Fair: "The VidCon Revolution Isn't Coming. It's Here." 2015-08-07T16:38:00Z 2015-08-07T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Richard Lawson (yes, that same Richard Lawson that posted baseless rumors for Gawker) went to VidCon for Vanity Fair to write about the conference, the fans, and the stars. Also the business of why they are famous. For anyone struggling to wrap their heads around the popularity of YouTubers, Viners and other influencers then this piece is for you.

Like I usually point out, and Richard also points out, it’s very easy to roll your eyes at all this, but then you’re ignoring a significant shift in the way money is changing hands for entertainment.

And with that change comes big dollars for these influencers. After our second meeting, Talavera and Leimgruber followed up with an e-mail that included some hard numbers. What they had to tell me: approximately 200 social-media influencers have earned over $1 million in the past year, and another 550 earned more than $250,000. The NeoReach guys estimate that the number of “Millionaire Influencers” will double next year. Popular YouTubers (1 million-plus followers) can earn as much as $40,000 per video, and $5,000 per Instagram post. That money is coming from sponsorships that pay out $0.05 to $0.10 per YouTube view, or $0.15 to $0.25 per Instagram like. Add on top of that the money made from Google AdSense, and any merchandise sales and appearance fees. In short, these people, and there are many of them, are getting very rich.

With all that money changing hands there are also problems. Richard describes the despair he felt at the parties. Even the concerns that some of the “older” YouTube stars like Grace Helbig and Felicia Day have for these kids thrust into sudden fame and fortune.

I’d also like to add that part of the reason it’s so difficult for non-teens to understand the celebrity of these YouTube stars is because we feel creeped-out by it.

Richard talked about his VidCon experience a little more when he was a guest on the (almost entirely inappropriate, NSFW) Throwing Shade podcast. Specifically when he recaps how Grace Helbig’s opinion on talent.

I read Richard’s piece after Marko Savic had sent me Caroline Moss’ profile on Vine star Logan Paul. A very distilled look at a specific person in this sphere which was also interesting.

Update: I was contacted by Richard Lawson about my description of his past work at Gawker. I used the words “fabricated lies” but he wanted to point out that he never made up anything, just ran rumors. I’ve adjusted the wording to reflect that. I still find repeating baseless rumors of abuse irresponsible. Though his past writing isn’t relevant to the VidCon story, I am still bothered by it.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-01-Disneys-Hyperion-Renderer.html Disney's Hyperion Renderer 2015-08-01T20:08:00Z 2015-08-01T20:08:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

Seriously, go watch the cute video done in that 50s-Disney-educational-cartoon style. Never has path tracing and ray bundling been more appealing. Literally, never.

There’s further explanation, and some swippable demos there as well. The linked PDF is also available for the very-very curious.

There are many similarities between this renderer and Arnold, which I used at Sony Pictures Imageworks.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-08-01-Apple-Music-iCloud-Music-Library-Data-Loss.html Apple Music: iCloud Music Library Data Loss 2015-08-01T19:38:00Z 2015-08-01T19:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

I know that many people find the complaints around Apple Music tiresome, but I’m not complaining because I hate it. If I hated it, I wouldn’t talk about it at all. I certainly wouldn’t spend any time trying to improve my experience with it, or writing about my experience in the event my troubleshooting helps someone, or someone can provide advice to me.

The problems break down in to recommendations, UI, social, uptime, and data loss. All of these can improve over time, and hopefully will improve quickly. There is a lot that Apple Music already has going in its favor, such as editor playlists, and a vast content library at your fingertips.

I’m just going to go over issues with data loss in this post to keep it focused. Specifically data loss due to iCloud Music Library, which is a cloud service, and not your iTunes Library, which is the local data on your computer.

Chance Changes

My iTunes library has some albums that are from polymer circles people used to buy at physical stores. Those not-from-the-iTunes-store albums seem to be the central issue for people experiencing problems with metadata on their tracks changing. Album art, album versions (particularly greatest hits), tracks (live recordings vs. studio recordings), etc.

When Apple’s quiet service changes something in a user’s iCloud Music Library some of the changes affect local copies of files (my queen songs were already on the device when it reorganized the albums and album art). Other changes only affect what happens if a file is no longer on your device, or was never on the device, and is downloaded. You might get the wrong file. This happens in ways that are not always reproducible.

That’s really concerning because then you’re just rolling dice. You open the app and something’s missing, or changed, and you’ll have no idea how long it’s been that way. If that wrong data has migrated to all your backups, or if it just happened a minute ago.

Another kind of data loss is missing playlists. I first saw Anthony Waller point this out on Twitter this morning. Then I said to myself, “Oh that sucks for him, I know my playlists are there because when I opened this the other day — OMG WHERE DID MY PLAYLISTS GO?!” Indeed, all of my playlists that were not created after my iPhone was updated, and the iCloud Music Library were enabled, were gone. That left me with “Purchased”, like Anthony, an Apple Music editor’s playlist I saved, and “Star Trek” — because I’m a super cool guy.

The playlists were all still there on my MacBook Pro. When iTunes 12.2 found its way on to my Mac, I didn’t enable the iCloud Music Library like I had on my iPhone. This isn’t my first rodeo. I use my Mac as an organized repository of collected works — you know, like a library — and I thought caution was appropriate. Turns out that was a really good idea!


Apple has provided no way for users to revert changes that are being made in iOS, and no mechanism to recover deleted data. That really bothers me because if an automated system is going to make changes to optimize my data then it’s never going to be 100 percent accurate. Dropbox is really close to perfect these days for maintaining the integrity of my data, but they still have mechanisms to recover files and revert versions.

My iPhone would not sync with iTunes. When you have iCloud Music Library enabled on your phone, it disables it and cheerfully reminds you that all your music lives in the cloud — the place where it’s totally safe and stuff. So obviously the software engineers didn’t think you needed to manually sync anything.

  1. Disable iCloud Music Library on the device.
    1. Settings > Music > iCloud Music Library toggle.
  2. Backup the iCloud Music Library on your computer. Just in case!
    1. File > Library > Export Library …
  3. Sync your iPhone with your computer.
  4. Check both libraries.
  5. Optional: Don’t reenable iCloud Music Library

Some might find this too paranoid, but really it’s just laziness. I know I have the data, I’m not sweating bullets over that, I just don’t want to repeatedly have to restore things. You can use Apple Music just fine without iCloud Music Library. Most people might not know that. The tracks all download offline, the playlists work, everything. It’s just about keeping the “My Music” section identical on all the devices without user-initiated sync. That includes keeping the things you’ve “hearted” in sync to improve recommendations.

Since reactivating iCloud Music Library would probably cause random, quiet, data loss I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort. Like I said, it’s a bigger waste of my time to purge problems than to keep it up-to-date.

Kyle Seth Gray, of Twitter infamy, went about this a different way, and he’s still relying on iCloud Music Library. In spite of his problems, he prefers the ubiquity to any potential consequences.

Whether or not you turn it back on, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t an optimal user experience, and it further tarnishes Apple’s reputation with cloud services. I would really like a bright, and gleaming reputation. You know, a silver lining…

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-30-The-Hollywood-Reporter-More-Theaters-Sign-Up-for-Paramounts-Daring-VOD-Plan.html The Hollywood Reporter: "More Theaters Sign Up for Paramount's Daring VOD Plan" 2015-07-30T23:53:00Z 2015-07-30T23:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The Hollywood Reporter might be misusing the word “daring”, but Paramount does have a unique plan to reduce the window between theatrical release and on-demand release. The agreement only covers some films (right now, it’s two horror films), and there’s still a small window of theater time. When the number of screens showing a movie drops below a threshold (300) then Paramount can release it through video on demand services in as little as 17 days. The theater chains receive a share of the profits.

“This is all about changing the definition of theatrical windows. Instead of starting the countdown from when a movie opens, we are starting from when it ends,” Paramount vice chair Rob Moore told The Hollywood Reporter when the deal with AMC and Cineplex was struck.

Big movies, like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation aren’t part of this. People are willing to go see those kinds of summer blockbusters, and everyone would love to protect the profits in that window.

Contrast that with Netflix’s day-and-date approach where none of the major chains will screen their films.

This could be a way to make more mid-budget pictures in the future, if they can be quickly moved to digital, on-demand markets, and out of the high-stakes opening-weekend races.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-30-Rumor-Apple-Will-Debut-New-Apple-TV-In-September.html Rumor: "Apple Will Debut New Apple TV In September" 2015-07-30T22:08:00Z 2015-07-30T22:08:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Well, well, well. Guess what’s back? It’s Apple TV rumors! John Paczkowski wrote that BuzzFeed’s sources tell them that the new TV box will be unveiled at a September event. The next iPhones are also rumored to be announced at the same event.

John recaps:

The device itself is pretty much as we described it to you in March, sources say, but “more polished” after some additional tweaks. Expect a refreshed and slimmer chassis and new innards; Apple’s A8 system on chip; a new remote that sources say has been “drastically improved” by a touch-pad input; an increase in on-board storage; and an improved operating system that will support Siri voice control. Crucially, the new Apple TV will debut alongside a long-awaited App Store and the software development kit developers need to populate it.

Maybe Apple’s just trolling everyone at this point?

It’s not like I care, or anything.

Curiously, John’s sources say that the OTT service will not be unveiled at the same time.

When rumors of the rumored unveiling were last destroyed via a leak to The New York Times, the blame for it was placed on the content partners not cooperating on the OTT service. (Specifically, trying to get local broadcast stations onboard, not just national networks, and studios.) As I’ve repeatedly argued, there is plenty of justification for upgrading the device even without the OTT service.

Obviously, if this rumor is true, and the device ships without an OTT service, it can only mean that Apple Executives love reading my blog. No other conclusion, really.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-28-Radar-Followup.html Radar Followup 2015-07-28T16:08:00Z 2015-07-28T16:08:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Yesterday morning I typed up a little post agreeing with Marco Arment about many of his feelings regarding Apple Music. Specifically, the lack of specificity about what was setting off those feelings. It’s not really required that people cite every little annoyance they’ve had with Apple software in order to express their displeasure.

One part of it concerned someone telling me to file a Radar (Apple’s bug tracker). I did, but I whined about how I don’t really feel like that’s called for when it comes to end users (me) picking up release software Apple ships and promotes for public consumption (Apple Music). The Radar process itself is odd, go poke around if you’ve never filed one before, and you don’t really have any idea if you’ve filed it correctly, or if anyone will check it out. Someone may check it out in six months and close it. It’s opaque.

Jason Snell saw my post and replied.

Things escalated quickly with an ensuing conversation involving many people, including Michael Jurewitz, who works at Apple and is certainly in a capacity to speak about the process.

There were many others that saw what Snell and Jurewitz were talking about and weighed in on it.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure if it’s any clearer what will happen with the Radar I filed, or any future Radars I might file, but I do feel a little better knowing that it’s not completely futile if I elect to do so. It does seem that there’s a general agreement that it’s not a requirement for end users to file one in order to express unhappiness, or disappointment. Which is probably good, since that’s all I really bring to the table.

Anyway, here’s a pug filled with ennui:


http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-27-Critiquing-Fish.html Critiquing Fish 2015-07-27T16:38:00Z 2015-07-27T16:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I read Marco Arment’s opinion of the current state of Apple Music, and he’s certainly not being koi about how fishy he thinks the service, app, and iTunes integration are.

That place is great. Nice staff, casual atmosphere, good food.

You didn’t like it? Really? Why? It’s great.

Oh, you got the fish? Rookie mistake. Don’t order the fish, it’s terrible. But everything else there is good!

Marco’s frustrations are broad, and far-reaching. He’s not articulating a specific problem he’s had, but he’s been burned by various things, and most importantly, knows other people burned by things.

On the one hand, my immediate reaction is to agree with what he’s saying. Then my second reaction is to wonder if it’s too harsh because it’s not a specific account of an issue. Then I’m back to where I started because it doesn’t matter if it’s a specific account of an issue, because that’s not how people function. He’s very correct in his restaurant analogy. Bloggers might be one-star-Yelp reviewing Apple Music, and iTunes, but that’s life.

The other day, I mentioned on Twitter that I stumbled across a problem with my music library after the Apple Music transition.

Someone replied to it with “radar ticket”.

For those unfamiliar, Apple has a bug tracker called Radar. It’s mainly for developers, and people participating in betas to use. It’s not for real humans to use. You can tell, because it still has pinstripes on the page, and shaded iOS pre-iOS 7 widgets. It’s not linked to the apps, you go find it, log in, and write a report.

I am no stranger to bugs, and bug-tracking, as I’ve had plenty of experience with a ticketing system Imageworks uses to internally track software bugs. A problem with these ticketing systems is that most people (myself included) can’t fill out the perfect ticket, or their ticket might be a duplicate issue. No one has a perfect ticketing system.

The closest analog a restaurant has to this is a comment card, but it’s a comment card customers aren’t supposed to know about, so that doesn’t really work. It’s not like calling the manager over, that seems to require a very public declaration.

While I did file a Radar, I wouldn’t really fault myself for not filing one. Nor would I fault others for simply deciding not to come back to the restaurant to order 🐟.

The allure of this particular restaurant is that it’s supposed to be a no-hassle experience.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-26-Apple-Music-Share-Testing.html Apple Music: Share Testing 2015-07-27T06:38:00Z 2015-07-27T06:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I already outlined the problems I’m having with Apple Music’s “…” and share buttons in a previous post and in an episode of Unhelpful Suggestions. Not to Beats One a dead horse, but the problems with consistency in the UI persist. Here’s a little story in pictures I shared on Twitter last night.

Also, Pat Carrol singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is amazing, so don’t judge.

I got the following reply from Ezekiel Elin about changes in iOS 9.

These reduce the number of text buttons but don’t seem to add much clarity. And what is up with the inconsistent white space around borderless tap targets?

Isn’t it also a little weird that there are different versions of the Apple Music interface being maintained for iOS 8.4 and iOS 9 when they’re basically rolling out changes to both? Poor people must be burning the candle at both ends to do all this work.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-23-New-Patent-Group-Threatens-to-Derail-4K-HEVC-Video-Streaming.html New Patent Group Threatens to Derail 4K HEVC Video Streaming 2015-07-24T06:53:00Z 2015-07-24T06:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Gather round boys and girls and listen to Ars tell the tale about how the companies fought each other over patents and licensing!

A new industry group called HEVC Advance is threatening to demand royalties for the new HEVC video codec that could halve the bandwidth required for streaming online video, or offer higher resolutions with the same bandwidth usage. The organization is promising to demand a royalty of 0.5 percent of revenue from any broadcaster that uses the codec. This move could re-ignite the arguments surrounding video codecs on the Web, and may well jeopardize services such as Netflix’s year old 4K streaming service.

Maybe if we all get really lucky they’ll just keep this Sword of Damocles hanging over UHD streaming, and whatever the next format happens to be?

This fragile situation is now jeopardized by HEVC Advance. MPEG LA has no authority over the patents—it doesn’t own them, it simply has a non-exclusive right to sell licenses to them—and companies with HEVC-relevant patents are under no obligation to join MPEG LA. If those companies are unhappy with MPEG LA’s terms, they don’t have to participate

They should have gone with Pied Piper. It has a higher Weissman Score than HVEC.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-23-Variety-Digital-Star-Popularity-Grows-Versus-Mainstream-Celebrities.html Variety: Digital Star Popularity Grows Versus Mainstream Celebrities 2015-07-23T20:23:00Z 2015-07-23T20:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Variety wrote about a survey conducted with 1,500 people aged 15-17 comparing traditional media celebrities to YouTube celebrities. (Sample size could have been bigger and also compared different age groups, but whatever.)

On the surface, this is eye-roll-inducing. For someone my age, this seems trite, but this isn’t about me. It’s where about where ad money will go in a few years.

In other survey findings: Teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity; and YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars.

Again, even though that sounds like the soulless drivel that content marketers bathe in, it’s important to consider how shifting advertising money shapes content and services we all use.

We’re already being influenced by those advertising dollars starting to move. For example: Shaun McBride’s native advertising for Snapchat.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-22-Defocused-Live.html Defocused Live! 2015-07-22T16:23:00Z 2015-07-22T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Dan and I are going to be doing the same thing we do every Wednesday night, at 9 PM Pacific Standard Time, trying to take over the world discussing a movie, but we’ve started to broadcast the recording sessions. If you’re familiar with other podcasts, like Accidental Tech Podcast, or podcast networks like Relay FM, The Incomparable, and 5by5 then you know how it works.

For those unfamiliar: A piece of really old-looking Mac software broadcasts the tenuous Skype conversation as a stream that you can listen to in your internet browser of choice. There’s an optional, IRC chatroom, where people listening to the stream can react to all the terrible things being said. There’s also, typically, a chatroom bot (referred to as a “showbot” (not a GoBot) which accepts any IRC message beginning with “!s ” as a title suggestion for the episode.

Unfortunately, both Dan and I kind of skipped the last part, so suggest titles, and Dan will use magical regex to get a list of the suggestions from the chatroom. (Dan’s not a GoBot either.)

This all worked pretty well last week when we tested with our “Maybe this will fall on its face” trial run.

We announced on Monday that we’ll be discussing Jupiter Ascending. If you haven’t seen the movie, then consider whether you would like to before tuning in. There will 🐝 spoilers. Keep tabs on the show’s Twitter account for announcements about recording times, and movies, we’ll continue to provide advanced notice there.

If you can’t tune in to listen, or you haven’t seen what we’re discussing (and you actually want to), then have no fear because we’ll still be releasing this thing called a “podcast” where audio is recorded and downloaded over the internet.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-21-The-Verges-Mobile-Web-Sucks.html The Verge's Mobile Web Sucks 2015-07-21T16:53:00Z 2015-07-21T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Nilay Patel typed an opinion piece titled “The mobile web sucks” with “It’s going to get worse before it gets better” tucked in under it. He’s doing his article a disservice though by speaking so broadly, it should really be titled, “We can’t make our web site run well on Safari and still make money”.

He occasionally mentions Google, but it is very clear that this piece is about taking Apple to task. I’m no stranger to writing long, rambling rants about Apple, but I would like to think that my writing doesn’t suffer from the cognitive dissonance that Nilay’s piece does.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

Peppered throughout Nilay’s complaints about mobile Safari are statements about how publishers have bloated web pages, but it’s up to Apple to make the bloat run.

And yes, most commercial web pages are overstuffed with extremely complex ad tech, but it’s a two-sided argument: we should expect browser vendors to look at the state of the web and push their browsers to perform better, just as we should expect web developers to look at browser performance and trim the fat. But right now, the conversation appears to be going in just one direction.

SPOILER ALERT: Apple, and Google, have been intensely focused on increasing the performance of JavaScript for years. They frequently boast about different benchmarks for compiling JavaScript, execution, and different tricks to increase the performance of repetitious code with just-in-time compiling tricks.

JavaScript isn’t even very good, it’s just ubiquitous, and no one has a solid way to replace it on the desktop, or on mobile. That’s the open web at work, pros and cons.

And that’s troubling. Taken together, Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles are the saddest refutation of the open web revolution possible: they are incompatible proprietary publishing systems entirely under the control of huge corporations, neither of which particularly understands publishing or media. Earlier this year, I called Facebook the new AOL; Instant Articles comes from the same instinct as AOL trying to bring Time Warner’s media content into its app just before the web totally kicked its ass.

LOLWUT, bro?

AOL could not compete with the open web because the open web was better. Web sites, limited as they were even then, offered diverse content, from a variety of sources, that AOL could not directly compete with inside of its walled garden.

Newsflash: This is still how it works! If your site is good, and people like going to it, guess what the fuck happens? People go there! No way!

Safari isn’t being deprecated for Apple News, publishers can even omit their site from Apple News. Facebook doesn’t have a wealth of content in their Instant Articles system either. It’s a negotiation here, not ownership. People don’t like junky sites, and they turn to not-junky experiences. It is up to publishers to compete since they are the ones in charge of the experience.

The part Nilay should take Apple to task for is how Apple’s own tools for accessing Apple News are web-based but do not function on iOS devices. It’s an iCloud “app” that consists of web forms. A missed oppurtunity for him.

He has a section where he compares his perceived experience (no measurements) on old MacBooks with the iPhone 6. He doesn’t actually check out what was loaded, or compare browsers. It’s a good thing he isn’t burdened with running a technology site because he might see some problems with this testing methodology. Namely, non-Retina, desktop devices will load different images and ads from his site. Also that he compared it to Chrome, which isn’t exactly an Apples to Apples comparison.

You don’t see much complaining about Chrome’s performance on Android, because Nilay doesn’t care to test it to see if mobile Safari and Android’s Chrome are competitive. He says it isn’t great, and that while other browser vendors can compete, they don’t offer competitive products. So … ? Apple’s fault?

Nilay abdicates responsibility for the performance, and quality of his site. Buried paragraphs down (and three ads down) in his rant:

Now, I happen to work at a media company, and I happen to run a website that can be bloated and slow. Some of this is our fault: The Verge is ultra-complicated, we have huge images, and we serve ads from our own direct sales and a variety of programmatic networks. Our video player is annoying. (I swear a better one is coming, for real this time.) We could do a lot of things to make our site load faster, and we’re doing them. We’re also launch partners with Apple News, and will eventually deliver Facebook Instant Articles. We have to do all these things; the reality of the broken mobile web is the reality in which we live.

“Ultra-complicated, bro. Guess we’ll just do all those things I was complaining about.”

I am disappointed he spilled so much ink only to wind up holding these inconsistent thoughts together like two negative ends of magnets. His site is not remotely streamlined. This rant is 10 MB, kilobytes of which are the actual article, and it’s crammed full of JavaScript and iframes.

The Verge is supported by advertising, and venture capital money investing in what advertising money can be made in the future. Large, obtrusive ads suck up the whole screen as you scroll through in mobile Safari. As you scroll you also bounce horizontally because there is bad styling on the page (presumably a problem from an ad that loaded).

This is not Apple’s fault. This is literally The Verge’s domain.

Hoisting the performance, and experience of using their own site on Apple is a dereliction of Nilay’s duty to his readers. This should have been a fiery rebuke of walled gardens with the announcement of genuine effort to improve his site. Instead, it’s a petulant, poorly researched exploration of anxiety. There isn’t anything inherently wrong about that, as long as you aren’t running a site worth millions.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-15-Snapchat-has-Become-a-Wild-West-of-Sponsored-Content.html Snapchat has Become a Wild West of Sponsored Content 2015-07-15T16:23:00Z 2015-07-15T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Russell Brandom and Ryan Manning wrote an interesting piece for The Verge this morning. Readers of the site will know that I don’t often discuss the Snapchat because I don’t enjoy the service, and can’t even bring myself to be academically interested in their efforts to monetize entertainment content through their Discover service. Perhaps the most interesting part is the generally creepiness of sponsoring people with followers to promote products in a way that crosses the line from entertainment into advertising. Sure, there’s product placement in entertainment (often with really clunky dialog about using a product or service) but there’s something about the way a singular person promoting a product that has a disgusting feel to it. As if this personal blog would start to talk about the virtues of Taco Bell’s Cap’n Crunch Berry Delights™.

That time I wrote about the Starbucks app? Because I wanted to, not because I was compensated to do so. That would never be my default assumption when reading someone’s personal blog, but what about in a few years? Will I look at someone else’s writing, or their videos, and distrust their reporting because I’m suspicious of compensation that isn’t clearly spelled out? That’s not even a foreign notion, with it occasionally happening on websites. It’s not like I’m a reporter, nor is Shaun McBride. Shaun knows that the disclaimers can make people avoid sponsored content:

“As a society, we’ve kind of learned to tune out advertisements on TV,” McBride says. “With Snapchat, we’re not used to it. When you advertise on Snapchat, if you do it in a fun and creative way that adds value; they don’t see it as an annoying ad. They actually enjoy it.”

Shaun fails to understand that this is fundamentally deceptive. Even if he does an amazing job at constructing his videos in a way that communicates that money is changing hands (probably not, bro!) that doesn’t mean that everyone is. After all, it is the very act of making it seem like it isn’t an ad that gets people to pay attention to it.

As all the grownups know, there’s a good reason to regulate this. The Verge cites a Cole Haan case on Pintrest where the FTC fined Cole Haan. However, as Russell and Brandom note, that’s very different for Snapchat, or Periscope, or anything else where the content expires.

But Snapchat’s self-destructing nature makes it hard for regulators to keep up. The FTC isn’t an investigative agency and most of its targets come from consumer referrals. But if a video disappears as soon as you watch it, it can’t be sent to regulators, and recording and hosting a Snapchat Story is still out of reach for most consumers. Advertisers on broadcast channels face even stronger restrictions, spurred by concerned parent groups, but there’s no equivalent for social media, and the ephemeral nature of Snapchat means there’s little concerned parents can point to.

Not to highlight an unfinished writing project, but blurring the lines between advertising and personal lives is the sort of dystopian future that speaks to me.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-08-Apple-TV-Service-Only-in-Dreams.html Apple TV Service: Only in Dreams 2015-07-08T16:08:00Z 2015-07-08T16:08:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Ever since the announcement of Apple Music, and Beats 1, Twitter has been atwitter with discussion over what this could mean for Apple’s oft-delayed TV and Film efforts. I’m still relatively certain that the most probable outcome is that Apple will merely empower broadcasters, and studios, to setup their own apps with content services with rich, multi-media experiences. I don’t think it’s going to be as dramatic a shift as some are forecasting. More of a transition away from cable boxes, to Apple TV boxes, with a limited set of services that more or less mirrors the kind of television metaphors North American audiences are used to. (Including ads.)

That’s not as much fun as Apple taking on curation authority and crafting the whole experience of interacting with the content. So let’s entertain some of the farther-fetched ideas. Only in dreams, we see what it means…


No, not Swift, not even Taylor Swift, but the thing everyone calls “curation”. It’s not really a museum, it’s selecting, and placing, multiple pieces of entertainment in a linear order. Even Apple Music’s playlists are a form of programming, even though they aren’t “on the air”. Beats 1 is all about linear programming. Calling it curation just makes it sound so much more artistic.

A piece of content can also frame other programming inside of it. Like when a DJ’s block starts on a radio station, or on Beats 1, and they provide the frame around the songs that are played. TV has similar vehicles, with MTV’s VJ’s in the 80s and 90s being the closest approximation. There are also those monster-movie blocks, with Elvira, or Dr. Paul Bearer. There’s that guy in a suit on TCM, or even a disembodied voice on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre. Even something like VH1’s old Pop-Up Video program puts the framing inside of the media as an overlay.

While there is a certain silliness to that kind of framing on television (it’s often done with very inexpensive sets, and very inexpensive to license media) there can be an element to it that many find valuable. There was a bit of time where social media feedback ran in tickers around the screen in order to get people to tune in to provide the frame for the inexpensive movie or show.

In terms of taste, I’m not sure I buy in to that kind of execution from Apple. I could see, perhaps, the VJs, since there are musical minds at play at Apple, and music videos are still popular online, even if they aren’t on the garbage station MTV turned into.

That’s a very tiny slice of programming, for a very specific thing. Audiences are mostly favoring consumption of serialized, hour-long dramas with short seasons these days. Would Apple license marathons? Unlikely. Would they program their own TV channel to showcase programming from different sources? How would CBS feel about mixing their shows with AMC and FX? TV is very unlike radio in this regard. Zane Lowe has the luxury to pick and choose from labels.

This could be possible with film. There could be an AMC-like host, or a FX “At the Movies” set of hosts, discussing what people are about to see, maybe some interviews with stars, and directors. It’s certainly been done before, and it’s possible to buy the rights to broadcast films on a TV channel from a variety of studios.

That means that in our list of hypothetical formats we have MTV VJs, and people introducing movies — both on linear, live, video.

(If anyone at Apple is reading this, and they need some volunteer film buffs, please, get in touch, I’m totes down for this bananas plan!)

How do you satisfy network TV in a way that doesn’t turn over authorship to the networks? They would have to select off-the-air TV, like Netflix and Amazon, or they’d have to finance their own TV production, like Netflix, and Amazon.

Apple Studios

This is the part I can’t ever see happening as long as we’re in a business climate where the large broadcasters have content people want to watch. Really, I think this isn’t feasible. The second Apple opens up shop and starts financing pilots for TV shows, the broadcast networks are going to start pulling their shows from sale on iTunes, and any collaborating with Apple on a streaming OTT service will cease.

Apple absolutely has the money to do it, but they would have to do all of it. This isn’t like Beats 1, this is like Apple producing all the artists you hear on Beats 1. Totally different situation. Totally different skillset, and a real commitment to something that isn’t Apple’s primary goal.

Sure, anything’s possible, but it would be an enormous leap to go it alone on TV production just to sell phones and TV set-top boxes. Pragmatism would dictate trying to create the same, comfortable TV metaphors and associations, but with a better user experience. That means the networks.

Netflix started their own film studio, but the theater chains are refusing to show Netflix’s films in their theaters because Netflix will show them day-and-date on the service and in theaters. It hasn’t stopped Netflix from moving forward, with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos vowing to release more films. It certainly wouldn’t stop Apple, but it just means Apple needs to really be focused on this.

The Little Fish

Something more likely than Apple starting up studio operations, is providing funding, training, tools, and promotion for independent productions.

Let’s say you’re in film school, and you have a great idea for a film, you pitch it to Apple for a grant, receive it, and create the video, available for Apple’s video service. Apple doesn’t like to directly fund people (see app developers) so it might be some sort of VC fund thingy. Whatevs. Money stuff.

Another possibility is training people to perform, and manage the tasks required for their independent productions. Like WWDC, but for an Apple-focused production, and publishing suite of tools. Now imagine it’s also sort of like a cross between SXSW , NAB, and SIGGRAPH. There’s a showcase of the previous years’ work, panels, camera vendors, motion tracking vendors, lighting rigs. Hopefully it would have good food too, that would be nice.

In terms of tools, Apple has ceded most of the ground it had in the mid 2000s when they bought up, or internally developed, all the top-tier pro software they could. Tools that rivaled what Adobe and Avid had at the time. Then everything has slowly been withering up since then. Replaced mostly with an emphasis on inexpensive, third-party apps that are more specific in the tasks they do, and not the all-encompassing apps they once were. It’s still conceivable that Apple can reinvigorate those efforts. Sure, not a lot of people bought a Mac because Shake ran on it, but what if your goal isn’t Mac sales, but iPhone sales from things made on those Macs? You can justify spending money on pro software for Macs if it significantly improves the availability of media for the devices you make profit off of.

Not to mention, you can also partner with Adobe to make specific Mac focused tools that simplify production for Apple’s video service. Fill out some metadata fields, and push the one-click publish button, and your feature film is in iTunes Connect ready to go. Easy as YouTube[^1]

[^1]: Not really, I imagine that Apple would want to review the content in some fashion. It’s a family-friendly company. It would be interesting to see who would be responsible for securing ratings, or if Apple would come up with approximate, internal ratings. What could go wrong?

There are also production services Apple can provide. A limiting factor for many independently produced films, and web series, is the money to buy the right infrastructure for their project. Some of that is physical equipment, some of it is software, and some of it is craftsmanship others provide. It’s very expensive to hire a VFX house to do your greenscreens, add fire, muzzle flashes, and blood hits. They have infrastructure costs, and people they need to keep staffed. What if Apple had a service for connecting these artists so they could do work for one another? Even a booking schedule? Someone like me could be available for compositing work, and deliver assets through an Apple pipeline, even review, and track time for billable hours. That’s not off-the-shelf software, and it’s not something YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon, or Netflix provides. There’s so much friction in film and television production that has to do with infrastructure and manpower issues. Poof, Appled-away.

Finally, the biggest tool Apple can wield with any of their services is promotion. They select apps for promotion on iOS, and the Mac App Store (to varying degrees of profit). They select films and TV shows to appear in those categories of the storefront. Apple Music taps select artists for playlists, and to appear on Beats 1. Imagine a showcase of independently produced material. Many people jump at the chance to be seen, or have their work seen.

The part where Apple might get tripped up, is what terms they set for their generous help. Exclusive streaming to Apple’s service? Forever, or for a window? What physical rights do they have? You’ll notice Apple hasn’t taken the book publishing world by storm with iBooks Author. All the best tools and services don’t amount to much if you can make more money elsewhere (or at least the perception that you can).

If you don’t like working with the established parties, and you can’t outright remove them, slowly increase the relevance of other parties, diminishing your reliance on the established ones.

Back to Reality

Apple’s totally just going to release TVKit which will let companies build rich-media apps to showcase individualized, branded streams of content, bundling some expenses together, and we’ll have new-cable, via Apple. More like what Apple Pay did for credit cards, than what Apple Music has done for music streaming.

But when we wake, it’s all been erased, and so it seems, only in dreams…

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-08-For-You-Perhaps-But-Not-for-Me.html For You, Perhaps, But Not for Me 2015-07-08T16:03:00Z 2015-07-08T16:03:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ The internet’s favorite curmudgeon, Dr. Drang, has arranged his thoughts on Apple Music. They’re mostly negative, as anyone who follows the good doctor on twitter might expect.

Let’s start with Connect. This is, to me, the least interesting part of Apple Music because I’m far too jaded to believe that anything put here is straight from the artists themselves.

Yes, this is the experience I’ve had. Connect automatically forms a list of people for you to follow based on what you purchased through iTunes (at least, I haven’t seen any artists that were purchased through Amazon and synced to iTunes). This includes my buddy, Mr. 305 — Mr. Worldwide — Pitbull. His Connect posts occur often and exclusively feature a promotional photo of Pitbull. This is not really something that excites me, and seemingly is by some PR assistant somewhere. A few things, from other artists, read like tweets about tours. I don’t go see tours, even though I live in LA, so these sorts of broadcasts don’t mean anything to me as a fan. The only novel feature is the occasional posts with music in them, such as one by ZEDD, or Macintosh Braun. That’s really not the predominant Connect experience, and still doesn’t feel direct, in any way. You can comment on some of the posts, but there seems to be absolutely no point in doing that, and no value to be gleaned from the comments of others — a huge surprise.

Dr. Drang goes on to highlight several problems he has with Beats 1. However, if you pay attention to the wording of it, Dr. Drang hasn’t listened to much of the linear programming — curation — being done on the channel. He’s mostly poking fun at the notion of it. The praise, from many young people, is mostly about the concept as a vehicle for music discovery. Something another of the Internet’s top curmudgeons, Philip Michaels, agrees is pretty silly. Modern radio programming is mostly not very good even though it’s conceptually similar. So the praise is warranted, if overblown when it comes to the notion of sequencing audio clips with DJs.

Dr. Drang is also open to the idea of some shows, and willing to write others off. He even talks about an old radio program he’d like to hear, but again, he’s not really listening to all of the current programming to know if it’s missing. Not that I fault him for that, I certainly can’t listen to most of the programming. Even a show that piqued my interest, Elton John’s Rocket Hour wasn’t on at a time that I could listen. The schedule is also nowhere to be found in the app and relies on listeners finding the Beats 1 Tumblr page.

Effectively, they’ve reinvigorated the need for a DVR, or On Demand (podcasts), and TV Guide. Ironic, no? Particularly in light of trends in television services.

Next on the Apple Music list of services is My Music. Because I didn’t already have an iTunes Match account, I had to go through the process of scanning and uploading my iTunes library. This took about two days of continuous connection, and both iTunes on my Mac and the Music app on my iPhone lied to me through most of the process. For example, even when the progress circle in iTunes showed the uploading to be nearly complete, none my Beatles tracks were ready. Their iCloud status in iTunes was still “Waiting,” and they were unavailable for streaming on my iPhone.

I’m a little disappointed in Dr. Drang for jumping on iTunes 12.2 so quickly and letting it mangle his music library. The nice thing about the iOS app is that it’s not mangling my jams through some first-generation importing and syncing method. On the day Apple Music launched, Apple released iOS 8.4, and many hours later iTunes 12.2. As I noted on Twitter:

Spoiler alert: It was rushed out the door and wrecks some music libraries.

Hard pass.

I’ll eventually (probably accidentally) update to a newer version of iTunes, but I’ll wait a round.

A brief tangent: Apple should do what many other services with apps do and distribute a version of the app that can use the service in advance of the service being available. Then they can turn on, or off, the availability of the service as needed. When I mentioned this practical approach on Twitter (which has an iPhone app that follows this methodology) I recieved pushback that Apple probably rolls out iOS and iTunes updates at the last minute because it’s a way to meter the traffic on the service. Poppycock. Whether or not someone will update their software is not an effective metering tool, compared to controlling the ability to connect to the service as a meter, and the ability to patch the clientside software because you see problems with the service rolling out. Not doing both at the same time.

Anyway, back to Dr. Drang’s post:

Part of the problem is that generational thing. When I went through the For You setup and made the Genre selections, I ran into a dilemma: should I include R&B or not? I knew perfectly well that Apple Music would see R&B as primarily Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Usher, and, God help us, Robin Thicke; so my inclination was to turn it off. But if I did that, would I be blocking Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Gamble & Huff, and the entire Stax label? That was too much of a risk, so I left R&B in my Genre list. To my chagrin, I soon found lots of current R&B in my For You suggestions, but not a hint of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

It’s not simply generational. Indeed, Dr. Drang generously lays much of the blame on the fact that he’s old (I would say that has more to do with reluctance to try new things). The problems I’ve had with “For You” have been similar even though I’m a spritely 32 year-old.

The bubbles are whimsical, and pretty, but they are not the best way to get started with my musical tastes because the bubbles are overly generic. I have a library full of music, and a rich history of iTunes purchases. Connect uses that to find artists for me to automatically follow, but none of the bubbles are pre-populated by this data. It’s like I’m setting up my music tastes from scratch, which is a chore. After refreshing the bubbles many, many, many times I gave up and confirmed it, figuring it would be easier to prune later. It hasn’t been easy at all. Country music is a genre I typically loathe, almost universally, and yet, there was country music. You know, for reasons.

Long-pressing something I’m not interested in, and selecting the menu item to see less of that, doesn’t remove it from the “feed” of the For You section. Cee Lo Green just sat there, staring at me. His smile mocking my very attempt to control his authoritative playlist.

Even the playlists that are aligned with my tastes don’t appeal to me because they are, for the most part, too tame and too obvious. Of what value, for example, is a “Led Zeppelin Deep Cuts” playlist to someone whose library already has every Led Zeppelin album? If I’ve said I like Cheap Trick, I’ll probably like the songs in a Cheap Trick playlist, but how does that help me discover new music?

This is a huge problem with For You, and something that could be improved by actually using any of the data that Apple already has available to them. I received an “Intro to Pitbull” playlist and an “Intro to Queen” playlist. I own every track on both of the lists. I can tell Apple I don’t like the suggestions, but that’s not true. I want Apple to form future recommendations from those, but I don’t need my whole library I already bought available to be streamed back to me for a monthly fee.

Dr. Drang skipped the New tab, but I’ll just assume he doesn’t like it either. I absolutely hate the way this is “organized” it’s like they maxed at 5 items on each list and moved on to the next. The UI widgets are all over the place. Presumably, this is mostly to distinguish these quick blobs from the other quick blobs. There’s stuff that’s “Hot” and “Discovered” which doesn’t connote anything to me about wether or not I might like it. There are lots of hot things I don’t like. Hot pans, hot weather, scalding hot tea, I could go on.

The category selection, like all of the other category selection, is so broad that it’s not completely effective as a filter. As Jason Snell pointed out on a recent episode of Upgrade where he discussed Apple Music with Myke Hurley, what Apple interprets “Alternative” to be covers a whole lot of ground.

There are a few things that are buried here that have really delivered though, and that’s in these same playlists that For You tries, and fails to surface. Browsing through the maze of playlist sections I found an absolutely fantastic playlist (The Tropical Side of Pop by Apple Music Pop). I gave it a heart, and then I couldn’t find it. The hearts don’t store it anywhere for me to access, and I couldn’t remember the exact name of the playlist, just that it had pink, lawn flamingos on it. I found it once, to add it to my music, and I found it again, just now, to try and remember where it was buried in the interface. It’s not that the playlists are bad, but that For You is doing such a terrible job of surfacing the ones I want that relying on the New tab to find interesting lists raises all the same questions about discovery that For You is ostensibly supposed to solve.

Dr. Drang hints several times in the piece about the value of the service relative to other options. Indeed, his whole piece is about the value for him, specifically. I see many of the same problems he sees mirrored in my own experience with the iOS app, and I do wonder about the value. I buy less than one album of music from iTunes a month, often going three, four months without buying a single track. For Apple to convince me to stay on after the trial is over, they need to convince me I would end up buying, and listening, to more music that would justify the monthly rate I would be paying.

As a free service, it’s great, but it’s not really a free service in three months.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-07-05-Apple-Music-Share-and-Share-Alike.html Apple Music: Share and Share Alike 2015-07-06T02:23:00Z 2015-07-06T02:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ After waiting the requisite number of hours to update to a new iOS release, I started poking around with Apple Music, and I’ve been particularly interested in how it has functioned offline in comparison to its predecessor. Like, 1 in 5 buttons in the main interface show you a white screen with gray text saying that you are, in fact, offline. It’s a barrel of fun, turn on Airplane Mode and give it a whirl.

Fortunately, you can make tracks, and albums, available for offline listening, but there’s no genius playlist functionality. Finding it in an ellipsis menu (not all ellipsis menus offer the function) yields a modal dialog that you need to be connected to cellular or WiFi to create a genius playlist.

This was not a problem in the previous iteration of the app, because the genius data was updated when you synced your phone, and available offline.

I’m not sure a lot of thought went into something which matters so little in 2015, but hey, I thought I’d mention it.

Something more relevant is the all-encompassing, unexpected junk-drawer of the ellipsis button. The button is seemingly attached to every part of the interface, and they don’t mean you’ll see the same items when you click on each of them.

The closest, existing analog for this is the share button. A box with an arrow pointing out of the top would either bring up the system share sheet, or a custom menu with share options, depending on the application.

The ellipsis does not improve on this button, because now the share functions are occasionally in the ellipsis menu, or in a share button. Sharing a song you are currently listening to now requires, 1-3 modal menus, depending on where you are in the app, and which button you clicked on. If you are viewing an album, there’s a share button that immediately brings up a share sheet. Curiously, the same share button feature is present in the ellipsis button next to the share sheet button. This is an odd redundancy.

As for tracks: If you are viewing a track of the album, and it’s taking up the full screen, the share button brings up a menu asking if you want to share the song, then the share sheet.

If the track is not taking up the full screen then you’ll have the ellipsis to use for access to the menu with share options.

This makes the ellipsis buttons, that have share features notched in to their many-tiered, ever-changing menu of options, the most reliable way to share albums and music. The text buttons have no share sheet iconography. They spell out what they do in centered text alongside all the other options for building playlists, etc. Like a menu in OS X, or Mac OS, the text items that bring up other modal sheets/menus present ellipsis next to them. Menus with stuff, and more menus with more stuff. It’s ellipsis’ all the way down.

There’s also the rather unexpected behavior of what happens when you try to share something in your library that is not in Apple Music. In the above image, that Leonard Cohen track, from that specific album, is not available to share. However, it still presents you with the menu items to share it, and opens a share sheet. If you click “copy link” nothing is copied to the clipboard buffer. If you try to tweet it, a blank sheet unfurls for you to send out a completely empty tweet. In a rather perplexing move, the same song, on a different Leonard Cohen album, is available to share. No error pops up, and no option to refer people to the other, available track, is presented. As far as I know, the track in my local library is just like everything else … only it isn’t. Surely this came up in testing? Are there no Leonard Cohen fans at Apple?

A big part of the business proposition of Apple Music is discovering new music. Word of mouth plays a huge part in spreading music around. Apple knows this, because the app basically wants you to have access to a menu item to share things. Apple just has a lot of slack they can tighten up here. This was a ground-up overhaul of this app, and it seems they could not come up with any elegant solutions for this all-new first impression of the app, other than putting “…” everywhere. It feels like Microsoft Office.

Which takes me to the new Clippy, “For You” …

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-26-Supreme-Court-Legalizes-Marriage-Nationwide.html Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage Nationwide 2015-06-26T16:53:00Z 2015-06-26T16:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I’m overwhelmed by the news this morning that marriage between two men, or two women, is possible in all 50 states. The same excerpt from Justice Kennedy’s opinion that you’ll see everywhere today:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod- ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be- come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con- demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza- tion’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

That’s really the heart of it. People are people, and they want that dignity. Even if someone is not going to be married, or they are and they get divorced, the point is that it’s a possibility. (The same can be said of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.) That they are every bit as human — deserving of love and respect. Even all those single people can feel whole.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-25-Inquisitive-44-Dan-Moren-and-Star-Wars-Episode-V-The-Empire-Strikes-Back.html Inquisitive #44 - Dan Moren and 'Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back' 2015-06-25T16:23:00Z 2015-06-25T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Myke Hurley shifted gears on Inquisitive a little while ago, and started talking to guests about their favorite albums. While I’ve listened along to the show since the transition, I’ve felt a little outside of it. I don’t appreciate music at the album-level. I’ve always been selective about what I’ll listen to off of any album, and don’t really have a deep connection to an artistic story the artist wants to tell. I wouldn’t survive in the record store in High Fidelity.

However, Dan picked the perfect thing, a soundtrack. I have had a deep love of soundtracks since I was a kid. I suppose I didn’t really consider them “albums” because they’re part of the film they come from. It’s not the same creative relationship as the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds. Beats in the songs have to align to editing of the film, and action from the story. Many soundtracks are great to listen to because they evoke the film — I can picture Khan’s attack on the Enterprise in the track “Surprise Attack” just by listening to the score. Divorced from the film, I can’t help but wonder what kind of listening experience people would have.

Listening to Dan recount his love for soundtracks, and lack of appreciation for pop music, really echoed the same feelings I had about music when I was younger. I do appreciate his selection, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams, because I also love the score. Two years ago, I even had the chance to listen to John Williams conduct the LA Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl while people in the amphitheater waved lightsabers around.

Sometimes, on these podcasts that prompt a guest, or panelist, to answer a question, I try to figure out how I would answer. Not because I am in any danger of being asked it, but because it’s a fun creative exercise. Like Dan, I assume I would wind up staying “on brand” and selecting a Star Trek soundtrack.

Then again, it could be kind of fun to troll everyone and pick the first music I ever bought, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack with George Clinton, The Immortals, Orbital, KMFDM … untz, untz, untz.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-23-Starbucks-Without-Lines.html Starbucks Without Lines 2015-06-23T17:38:00Z 2015-06-23T17:38:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Starbucks has an online ordering program available to customers using the Starbucks app on their iPhone. For those unfamiliar, the app is pretty weird. It bridges the gulf between gift card, loyalty card, store locator, and “special offers” inbox. Before you can use the online order, you must have money on a Starbucks gift card, or you can create a virtual gift card inside of the app and load it via a credit card, PayPal, or Apple Pay. This is honestly the weirdest part. It’s like buying Xbox Live points, but at least there’s the utility, and security of Apple Pay.

Once Starbucks captures your money, you can brandish your iPhone at any Starbucks register, and get it scanned to pay for orders. Customers can now use the app to browse the menu and place orders for pickup at a store, bypassing Starbucks’ lines.

This is a key differentiating factor between Starbucks and every other coffee company out there: convenience. They need to compete on convenience because their coffee usually tastes like cremated goats. Even if you are a fussy coffee drinker, it’s important to take a pragmatic look at how Starbucks is deploying technology.

2 to 5 Minutes

Press “Order” in the Starbucks app and you’ll see a little collage with any previous order at the top, and some other photos of suggestions below. A search box appears at the bottom, and clicking on it brings up the standard categories, as well as just letting you type the name of what you’re looking for. The menu displayed is for the nearest Starbucks location to you. You can swipe to other locations, or manipulate the map to find them. You don’t have access to search for an address (let’s say you’re driving somewhere and want coffee at the destination). All locations seem to display the same “2-5 minutes” for your potential order.

For some reason, Starbucks’ reserved roasts they use in their Clover machines are not available for purchase at any location I’ve examined so far. I suspect that’s because the availability of the beans varies so widely they decided to skip that level of inventory tracking.

Once you select an item, you can pick and choose what goes in it. The first time I placed an order via the app I made the mistake of not examining what it considered standard to include. I was quite unhappy to find 4 pumps of “classic syrup” in my iced coffee. This can be easily altered, and it was user error, but I do encourage you to examine what’s toggled on in your beverage.

Once an order is placed, you receive an immediate modal notification that a receipt is available to view, and a tip can be left. A banner notification also drops down, and the screen behind the banner and the modal dialog shows the order is confirmed. They should tweak that part of the experience.

Leaving a tip is painless. You can adjust it after leaving the tip, or wait to leave it at all until much later in the same day (I believe the window is 8 hours?) and it comes out of the same card-money. This is nice if you haven’t had time to go to the ATM, but at the same time, I have to imagine that cash tips are preferred.

The pickup experience is as awkward as I’m capable of making it. The first location I picked up a beverage from made the drink in under a minute so I wasn’t even sure it was mine. The app also says you should “ask the barista” for your order, so I did because I didn’t want to just grab and drink and walk out. He pointed out that the printed label that said “JOSEPH > MOBILE” was, indeed, my mobile order. The second Starbucks location was busy kicking out drinks, and I didn’t see mine on the counter so I waited quietly. Eventually, the barista asked me if I was waiting for an iced Americano. I sheepishly replied that I was, but not the “venti” size she was holding with “DENISE” written on the side with marker. I started to explain that it was a mobile order, in the only way I know how (with too much detail) and before I could finish she was apologizing for and pulled a completed drink out from behind the counter. I apologized back because I should have just asked right off the bat, instead of looking for it on the counter like the first place. Picking up online orders is totes awk.

I would rank each experience highly for speed, and for the intangible benefit of not having to stand in a line and listening to other people order things. Their coffee is still their coffee.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-22-James-Horner.html James Horner 2015-06-23T06:53:00Z 2015-06-23T06:53:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Tonight, on Twitter, I saw reports that James Horner’s plane crashed near Santa Barbara. At first, no one was sure it was him. His assistant confirmed it, and I was overcome with sadness. He was a tremendously talented man, and hugely influential on my appreciation of films, and of film scores.

His scores for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock contain musical cues, and themes, that I can hum on command. His work for Aliens contains mainly similar elements, to his Star Trek scores, but arranged in a distinct, and bone-chilling way. I have a playlist that pulls action pieces from those three (as well as from Cliff Eidelman’s Star Trek VI score) that I listen to sometimes when I’m driving around in LA traffic (it’s exhilarating).

Even some of his work on the “cheesy” things early in his career – like Battle Beyond the Stars and Krull – are full of bombastic, action beats.

Chronologically, I think the first film I heard his score for might have been The Land Before Time. It’s a heartbreaking, sweeping score, and the animated feature would lack weight without it. The scene where Littlefoot’s mother dies still breaks my heart, even though this is a film I saw in 1988.

Horner’s score for the Rocketeer captures a child-like wonder, as well as Americana. Glory‘s choral elements are very moving, and spiritual. Titanic has that element of romance.

To me, I’ll most often think of him when I hear the blaring crashes in Surprise Attack.

He will be missed.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-21-One-Year-of-Defocused.html One Year of Defocused 2015-06-21T17:23:00Z 2015-06-21T17:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ With the release of “A Podcast Loaf”, Dan and I have just past a full year’s worth of podcasting. 52 episodes released in total. It might not sound very impressive compared to the output of many other programs, but I feel quite rewarded by the experience.

While it may be a hobby, and not an empire, Dan and I treat it pretty seriously behind the scenes. Microphones, recording spaces, software, etc. We have a calendar, we schedule our late-night recording times. We have a Slack group with multiple channels for organizing work for the show, and show-related tasks. Even the silly, little flourishes like gifs (soft “g”), or a couple seconds of a song comedically spliced in, all require collaborative work.

Speaking of work, Dan has edited almost every single episode of the show. Though I am quite happy to dabble in the task from time to time (most recently with The Birdcage.) He really deserves a round applause for it.

I’m also pretty proud of our lively mix of movies we’ve discussed. It’s not a sci-fi podcast, or a 90s podcast, or an action movie podcast — it’s a little bit of everything.

Here’s a list of films that you can traverse to go right to an episode if there’s anything you might have missed and want to check out.

Our show mythology isn’t really all that deep. There’s the notion of the “shame burrito” (which has it’s origins in giving up on life and just getting a burrito you know you probably shouldn’t eat). “Cats Per Mango” is just nonsense, so really, don’t worry about what that means. Of course there’s the fan favorite pastime of Star Trek and Simpsons references that go over Dan’s head (something he is very proud of).

It’s a fun show to make, and we’ll keep making it. Thank you to all the fans that engage with our brand on Twitter, and to the few guests we’ve had on (something we will hopefully have more of in the future). You’re the real heroes for putting up with us.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-09-Unjustly-Maligned-15-Watchmen-with-Merlin-Mann.html Unjustly Maligned 15: Watchmen with Merlin Mann 2015-06-09T17:23:00Z 2015-06-09T17:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

Ever since I was aware of Antony Johnston’s podcast premise – discussing with a guest why something has been unfairly derided – I suspected someone would get around to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film. A couple weeks ago, when I saw Merlin Mann tweet a lot about Watchmen I suspected he might be the guest on the show doing that. He was. Turns out.

I always get a little trepidatious about people discussing the film for a few reasons:

  1. I worked on visual effects for the movie.
  2. Most people do not like the movie.
  3. It is my favorite movie I’ve ever worked on in my 9+ years of doing visual effects.

Set trepidation to maximum:


I enjoyed listening to the episode, overall, and I’m recommending you listen as well. One of the more surprising aspects (to me, anyway) is that this was the first time Antony had seen the film.

My opinions about the project are strongly colored by my time working on it. When I think of it, I think first of the Dr. Manhattan shots, and then about everything else. The amount of effort, and time, people put in isn’t immediately evident to viewers, but it was all difficult VFX back in 2008 (keep in mind the movie was released in Spring of 2009). It was a huge team effort. Animation, effects, textures, rigging, lighting, resource management, compositing – literally everyone.

Most of my favorite shots are the subtle ones, where there’s just a curl of the lip, and a tilt of the head. The subtle churning of effects under his skin providing some extra life. Most of that is overlooked in the film, particularly if the film is just a general affront to your sensibilities as a comics fan. That’s a shame, from my point of view, but I am a little biased.

Many of the shots are still used in my demo reel.

Fortunately, Antony and Merlin agree that they approve of Dr. Manhattan. That’s all the validation I really need. Group hug.

Also, I’m really sorry about blowing up Rorschach.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-05-Unhelpful-Suggestions-2-A-Better-Idiot-Box.html Unhelpful Suggestions 2: A Better Idiot Box 2015-06-05T16:23:00Z 2015-06-05T16:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/

A couple weeks ago, Marko Savic and I recorded our first episode of Unhelpful Suggestions. A podcast about technology, but discussed through a slightly different lens (very-slightly different, depending on how you classify lenses, and people as lenses). It’s not a gay podcast, per se, but it’s part of that whole lens thing I was talking about.

Reactions weren’t negative, so we made a second one, and released it last night. That’s also my cue to blog about it here.

The first and second episodes discuss the Apple TV, and we ride a sweeping, emotional roller-coaster from rumors of a new box, and OTT service, to rumors that there’s no new box, and no new OTT service. It’s a pretty short roller-coaster.

Feedback on the show is appreciated.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-03-Clockwise-90-Cord-Nevers.html Clockwise 90: Cord Nevers 2015-06-04T05:23:00Z 2015-06-04T05:23:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ I always enjoy the Clockwise podcast. It’s a bite-size tech podcast (compared to most) and still packed with interesting people, and perspectives, interacting in unanticipated ways.

Unfortunately, this week, the Apple TV news dropped a few hours after it recorded. It still contains many things to keep in mind about the anticipated service, and platform changes. Notably, Christina Warren is on the episode to share her insight on entertainment. As always, I agree with her predictions about bundles, etc.

http://joe-steel.com/2015-06-03-The-Same-Progress-as-Last-Year.html The Same Progress as Last Year 2015-06-03T23:48:00Z 2015-06-03T23:48:00Z Joseph Rosensteel http://joe-steel.com/ Brian X. Chen at The New York Times is reporting that Apple will not be announcing the rumored Apple TV at next week’s WWDC event:

Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple’s set-top box for televisions. The company planned as recently as mid-May to use the event to spotlight new Apple TV hardware, along with an improved remote control and a tool kit for developers to make apps for the entertainment device. But those plans were postponed partly because the product was not ready for prime time, according to two people briefed on the product.

Apple declined to comment.

(Takes a deep breath.)

“The product was not ready for prime time” is not a hardware issue as Variety chooses to interpret it.

It’s not even the HomeKit integration, as 9to5 Mac discovered in an official Apple support document that the third generation Apple TV will do all the HomeKit stuff too.

Gaming didn’t kill it, because that was on wish lists more than it was ever hinted at by any of these reports or leaks. Seemingly the “TVKit” rumor had more to do with apps, which we know can include things like streaming media apps.

What really killed this was the OTT service. Recode reported earlier this week that the OTT deals would not be in place by WWDC and so no service would be announced.

Supposedly, that missing piece has killed every would-be update that’s been rumored for the last three years.

That’s fine, really. The OTT service was never announced, but it was so heavily rumored, and reported on, that it felt like it was inevitable. Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS, was openly discussing a streaming service for Apple at the Code Conference only a week ago. He hinted that the big hang-up was money, but was “excited” about his ongoing conversation with Eddy Cue.

Indeed, Showtime, which is owned by CBS, has gone ahead and announced Showtime as a standalone service available for Apple TV and iOS devices today, but nothing about CBS’ other properties or even existing digital programming.

As Jason Snell noted on Six Colors, it’s “one of those stories that reads a bit like Apple managing expectations…” I agree. Better to disappoint everyone this week, than leave the media, and audience, wondering why it’s absent next week.

Let’s look at this excerpt from The Verge’s 2014 WWDC predictions from last year:

Apple TV: Tim Cook has been teasing for a while now that more is in store for the Apple TV, but there’s exactly nothing in the way of details. Multiple reports have suggested that Apple is trying to work with cable providers to get live video content and effectively replace your set-top box with something much more powerful — how exactly that’ll work, however, is still unclear. Other reports have suggested that some key improvements will come to even the familiar Apple TV software soon, including support for Siri and third-party apps, giving the tiny box a whole lot more potential. All we know for now is that Apple remains very interested in television — and the rest is still to come.

Again, we’re at the point where there’s nothing new, and it might be on the horizon. We’ll just keep moving the horizon back like that dolly-zoom in Poltergeist.

You’re almost to the door, Diane!

On the Bright Side

There are three, positive things to note about the Apple TV:

  1. Apple’s only selling a three year-old set-top box. There are still 11 months before they’re selling a four year-old box.
  2. No FOMO over not buying a new Apple TV, because no one can.
  3. The Apple service errors are easy for very young children to recognize, and comprehend.