Tag Archives: iTunes

The broken iOS online commerce experience

Minor rant/niggle. The other day I remembered that I wanted to order the new book by Jeff JarvisPublic Parts. I was out and about, so I took out my iPhone, opened the Amazon app, and searched for the Kindle edition.

Of course, thanks to the changes Apple have made to the way in-app content is sold, with 30% of that sale going straight to them through iTunes, sellers like Amazon have decided to stop allowing digital content to be ordered in-app on the iOS platform. I can’t really blame them, although it’s interesting to see Microsoft rumoured to be following the now-established “30% App Store rule” for Metro apps Windows 8, with other content gatekeepers likely to follow suit, one would assume.

So I get a polite message telling me that rather than buying Jeff’s book, I can go ahead and add it to my wish list, change to the website via Safari (how many iOS users actually realise the browser is called “Safari”, incidentally?), and purchase it there.

The first thing the Amazon website wants to  do is entice me to download the Amazon App for iPhone. I’m using an iPhone, so why wouldn’t I want it? I smirk to myself and continue. It’s actually just as quick to repeat the product search on the website as it would have been to add the item to my wish list, find the wish list, and open the item.

Once it gets to the part where taking the money is involved, of course, Amazon have that just as well sorted as they ever did – one click and I am, as they say, done… well, apart from the part where the website assumed I wanted to book sent to my iPhone, since I was shopping from that device. Anyway… looking forward to reading Jeff’s new book on my Kindle later tomorrow!

No wonder Amazon want to just go out and build an all-in-one content and physical goods purchasing tablet.

Back to my Mac, aka Lionification

There are simply so many things to write about lately, but the one which has finally prompted a post is this:

Lionificated

… yes, it’s a computer desktop. Exciting stuff, huh? 😛

Background

I’ve been a Mac user for a little over four years now. In fact, the journey has been more-or-less chronicled here on my blog since acquiring a MacBook Pro in 2007. I still have the same machine, and it is still in great condition, although I’ve been through several batteries. It has never seen a fresh install of the OS since it shipped (with OS X Tiger 10.4) – instead, it has been upgraded through Leopard and Snow Leopard (which I really liked on its debut).

Over time though, it has become less central to my computing experience. I moved from Windows to Ubuntu on my day-to-day work machine, and my computing life fragmented to include a netbook, smartphones, and most recently a tablet (which is yet another of those things I keep meaning to write about!). Main use cases for the Mac continue to be Keynote – by far the best presentation software available on any platform, in my opinion; Lightroom and iMovie; and iTunes, which is firmly embedded in my life as a sync source for my iPhone and for organising my music library. Even though the iTunes data itself was migrated off the now-comparatively-weedy 120Gb internal drive a couple of years ago, I’ve continued to struggle for a comfortable amount of available disk space, but I still use the Mac for all of those things and I can’t really think of a viable alternative, despite the cloudification of many of the other services I use and their associated data.

Pros and Cons

When Lion was announced and the features previewed last year, I really struggled to see anything compelling in the release. It was clear that it was the iOSification of the desktop OS. The early views of Mission Control looked cluttered and bloated (combine Dashboard, Spaces, and Expose? surely a mess?). I wasn’t a fan of the idea of the Launchpad, I didn’t have a multitouch trackpad, I like to be able to switch and recompose app windows on a GUI and not run things full-screen. My early experience of the Mac App Store wasn’t positive either, with many apps I’d previously purchased having to potentially be repurchased to get the benefits of autoupdate that the App Store could bring.

My early 2007 MacBook was just on the cusp of supported hardware for Lion (it scraped in by virtue of the Core 2 Duo processor; I bought a Magic Trackpad a little while ago to take advantage of gestures, although since it’s separate I still haven’t used it a great deal). I already mentioned my continual struggle for space on the hard drive, but knowing that Apple had actually managed to make the OS smaller in previous releases by getting rid of legacy cruft, it seemed like Lion might be worth a shot.

I spent the week before the release cleaning things up – removing any remaining Classic apps or PPC apps that relied on the now-defunct Rosetta (very few, mostly old camera drivers which were only included in their respective packages to support older machines at the time they shipped); running OnyX to clean out caches and logs; uninstalling anything I’d not used for a long time; cleaning down Library and Application Support folders associated with software I no longer use. Yes, a clean install would have got around this, but on the flipside I would have spent a lot of time putting things back the way they were and reinstalling software. Once I’d done the upgrade I was miffed to discover that the installation package had vanished, but I’m glad that the brilliant Don McAllister has found a way to recover it from the Mac App Store for future use!

So what do I think?

Well, the scrolling thing is interesting. I get the reason that so-called “natural” scrolling has been introduced to unify the touch interfaces across OS X and iOS, and I also realise that while I could switch it off, it’s not going to go away so I may as well get comfortable with the idea. It’s one of those brain-rewiring exercises, similar to the one I’ve been going through learning Unity on Ubuntu, and for the same reason – there’s little point in fighting the future once the decisions are made.

Now for two things I didn’t expect to like: Mission Control and full-screen apps. I really, really like them… I’ve always used a large number of Spaces to organise my workspace and I’m finding that Mission Control makes this even more intuitive. I can still quickly zoom out to have an overview and move things around, and if I’m using the Magic Trackpad the swiping to switch apps and spaces is nice too. There are a few apps that need work on their full-screen modes, notably Chrome, but that will come in time.

I’m not bothered by iCal or Address Book having strange faux-“natural” new looks, since I’ve migrated almost all of my use of those apps to Google anyway, for maximum interoperability across devices and platforms. On the rest of the visual aspects, I’m not sure I like the “zoom/pop” dialog boxes yet. The more rectangular buttons do seem more serious and polished than the older Aqua lozenge style, but it’s a shame to see a much more grey overall feeling across the UI.

Java is gone, as Apple said it would be, but the procedure to get it back was very smooth and simple, typing “java” in a command window started an Apple Update installation, with within a few moments it was all done.

Java on Lion
A couple of little niggles with some other apps. I also found myself resetting my Dock (which I’d been running in 2D with various folders docked as Stacks) to its default state by clearing down the associated .plist files and restarting it, to get it back to the way Lion comes out of the box / download.

The future

I mentioned a tablet and a variety of other lightweight devices, but I can’t see myself abandoning the PC device (in this case a laptop of some kind) just yet. As I mentioned in the discussion of scrolling, I’m firmly of the opinion that we need to adapt to new ways of interacting with technology, and I’ve got a range of devices to play with right now. However, I haven’t yet found a replacement for the keyboard / graphical desktop / pointing device combination that is as effective for creating content as a PC (be that Mac, Windows or Linux, with keyboard and mouse/trackpad/pointer). I can type quickly on a touchscreen smartphone or tablet now, but it’s still not as comfortable for creating text and laying out images as a graphical computer desktop of some kind. I can perform simple and basic image or video edits on a mobile device, but again for anything more extensive I find myself wanting to see more and have finer control than I get with a fat fingertip on a small touchscreen.

So all of that leads me to think ahead to a next device… not that I must have one at the moment, but still. I’ve increasingly fallen out of love with Apple over the past year or two as they have behaved in an increasingly anti-competitive manner over Android, the App Store, made silly restrictions locking out hardware replacement in new iMacs, etc. – but I can’t see myself escaping the ecosystem completely due to the quality of the software I’ve already mentioned, even though I’m not locking myself in to the entire Apple life end-to-end.

The new generation of MacBook Airs hit on Wednesday alongside Lion, and I’m reconsidering whether or not that would make an acceptable replacement for an older 15″ MBP. On paper, at the expense of a diagonal 2″ of screen real-estate, I would still get +1Gb RAM, potentially more storage (256Mb flash storage over 120Gb HDD), a CPU that’s clocked slower (1.7GHz vs 2.33GHz) but probably runs faster due to architectural improvements… it’s tempting… if I could be convinced that I’d get the performance I’d like in iMovie and Lightroom, and if I had the cash, then I might make that jump. I suspect that Lion and the Air make a great match.

The great iTunes library migration of 2009

Last week, I finally got fed up with the constant pain of bumping up against the disk size of my MacBook Pro. The largest chunk of space on the 120Gb drive was the ~35Gb taken up by my iTunes library. It was time to move it.

Moving out, making space

I’d previously thought about moving all of my music to the network and serving it out of daap-server on Ubuntu. The issue is that I sync my iPhone with the MBP and therefore I want my music library available locally, rather than streamed. I have a smart playlist which randomly selects about 7Gb of stuff from my library, leaving room for my apps, podcasts, and photos in the rest of the 16Gb space on the iPhone.

The thought of moving my iTunes library has just been such a painful one that I’d been putting it off for ages. I finally found a really good guide to the subject that reassured me, though – I could move the bulk of the library to another drive, and iTunes would still “work” (in the sense of enabling me to rip more, or download new podcasts) even when it was disconnected. I’m not going to go into the steps in detail here, read the iLounge guide to Transferring your iTunes Library – but it was basically a case of attaching a big external disk, changing the location of the iTunes library in the preferences, and Consolidating it; then deleting the local files on the internal drive.

Once all ~35Gb of music, video and podcasts was safely relocated, I decided to try something else. I unplugged the external USB drive, and attached it to my Airport Extreme base station. It appeared as an Airport Disk (with the same name as it had as a local disk) on my desktop. I started iTunes, and… hey presto, It Just Worked. So I now have my main iTunes library on my home network, visible to the iTunes application when the MacBook is on the same network, and can sync my iPhone when I’m there.

Time to rip

Once I’d finally made space, and also got the library into a location with room to breathe, I decided to make a start on something I should have done a long time ago. Up until now, I’d ripped CDs randomly according to when I wanted to hear particular albums or tracks… now, it was time to systematically get the whole collection into digital format.  Plus, I don’t actually own a stereo / hifi with a CD player anymore, so the only way I’m consuming music is through the computer. There are about 500 CDs to rip, so this is an ongoing project.

A few people asked on Twitter what format I’m going for. Purely on the basis of convenience and accessibility of format, I’ve decided to go with high quality MP3 rather than OGG, AAC or FLAC. I know MP3s will pretty much play anywhere I might choose to put them. Sorry to the audio aficionados.

Bumps in the road

There are just a few things which continue to mildly bother me:

  • If I’m not on the home network, iTunes reverts to a temporary/default (local) library location. I tend to Sleep the Mac rather than shutting apps down, so if I go home and reconnect to the network, I have to remember to close and restart iTunes for it to pick up the “proper” library location… otherwise it continues to point itself at the internal location. Selecting “Consolidate Library” by accident when the library preference points to the local disk can have bad consequences (it tries to copy everything back from the external disk to the internal one!)
  • iTunes has a weird relationship with album art. It can find some, but not others… does it depend on what is in the iTunes store? I’m partway through the D section of my CD library right now, and in general the rippage has been fine, but none of the Beatles or (oddly) Def Leppard albums have album art that iTunes can find. AllCDCovers.com (and, sometimes, my scanner) to the rescue!
  • There’s another, smaller iTunes library on a Thinkpad that I’d like to be able to merge in. I’ve seen some third-party tools which can apparently do merges and retain play counts and ratings, and also do duplicate checking… I need to look into those.

Generally though – really happy with how this has worked out, and I wish that the solution to my full disk problem had been more obvious some time ago. Now I have some disk space to play around with iMovie 09 🙂