Unauthoritative Pronouncements

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Amazon's Standalone Prime Video Plan

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.

2016-04-18 07:54:27

Category: text


Sunsetting Midnighter

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.

Fork

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.

Goat

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.

Grayson

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.

2016-02-20 17:00:00

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The Talk Show With John Gruber 146 ‘“They Might Be Giants” With a Spanish Accent’ With Special Guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi ►

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.

2016-02-12 14:45:00

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Firebug

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

Have You Heard About Cesium?

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

Amazon or Amazon Prime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now:

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

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

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

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

Firestarter

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

Punkin’ instigator. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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

BREAKING: the $50 Kindle Fire feels cheap.

2016-02-12 09:00:00

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Unhelpful Suggestions #13: MarkoGyvering the Situation ►

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.

2016-02-08 23:35:00

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Sour Note

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.”

2016-02-04 08:30:00

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Defocused: 2015 Year in Review

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.

2016-01-04 08:10:00

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Sad State of What to Watch on Apple TV

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.

2015-12-30 08:00:00

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End of the Year Defocused Updates

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.

Thanks!

2015-12-21 08:00:00

Category: text


Point One Better

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.

2015-12-09 08:30:00

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