Unauthoritative Pronouncements

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Variety: Digital Star Popularity Grows Versus Mainstream Celebrities ►

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.

2015-07-23 12:30:00

Category: text


Defocused Live! ►

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.

2015-07-22 08:30:00

Category: text


The Verge's Mobile Web Sucks

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.

2015-07-21 09:00:00

Category: text


Snapchat has Become a Wild West of Sponsored Content ►

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.

2015-07-15 08:30:00

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Apple TV Service: Only in Dreams

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…

Programming

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…

2015-07-08 08:15:00

Category: text


For You, Perhaps, But Not for Me ►

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.

2015-07-08 08:10:00

Category: text


Apple Music: Share and Share Alike

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” …

2015-07-05 18:30:00

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Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage Nationwide ►

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.

2015-06-26 09:00:00

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Inquisitive #44 - Dan Moren and 'Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back' ►

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.

2015-06-25 08:30:00

Category: text


Starbucks Without Lines

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.

2015-06-23 09:45:00

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