November 21, 2014 2:44 PM PT
It’s come to my attention that I may have a problem. And that problem is: not enough HDMI ports.
Right now, connected to my TV are an Apple TV, an Xbox 360, a Mac mini, and an Amazon Fire TV. If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: I do find myself saying a little prayer every time I plug something else into the power strip back there.
I also had a Chromecast up until I left it in a hotel room last month. My new TV, purchased in August, has all those handy smart TV features. And yet, for some inconceivable reason, I still ordered an Amazon Fire TV Stick when they were announced a few weeks back. (It didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $20 for Amazon Prime members like myself.)
Basically, I buy video-streaming devices with slightly less devotion than Scott McNulty buys Kindles.
November 21, 2014 7:12 AM PT
Back in September I mentioned that Adobe was going to get Photoshop running on Chromebooks. At the time, I was hopeful that this meant actual Photoshop code was running on those (generally) low-cost laptops.
This week I got a demo of Photoshop running inside Chrome, and while it was really interesting, some of my assumptions were faulty. It turns out that when Adobe says Photoshop is a “streaming app,” they mean it—it’s much more like screen sharing than native software. Photoshop runs remotely on a Windows-based server, and video of the app’s interface streams to the Chrome browser.
Adobe insists that performance is good, even on low-speed network connections. Files can be opened and saved to a Chrome user’s Google Drive, and it’s the full version of Photoshop that’s running. Though you might think of an app that’s really just streamed video as being laggy and slow, Adobe says that’s not true—and on some slow Chromebooks, the performance of Photoshop can actually be faster than it would running it locally, because the server’s got a lot more power than the chromebook.
Right now this is a pilot program targeting educational markets, both K-12 and higher education. According to the Adobe representatives I talked to, higher-ed adoption has been “tremendous,” and they’re now considering how this program might be used more broadly across the education market.
I’m not sure whether this sort of approach to software is the future of computing or just a very strange side street, but there are a lot of non-traditional aspects to this approach: Chromebooks rather than Macs or PCs, streaming video rather than onboard executable code, and even Adobe’s approaches to subscription-based software licensing factor in.
The server side stuff is technically impressive. This approach required the creation of a special version of Chrome Remote Desktop and an adapted version of the Google Drive desktop client on the server side, and a new Chrome App Remoting API on the client side. Presumably the work Adobe and Google have done here will allow this sort of approach to be replicated with other streaming apps in the future.
As for my hopes that this was a sign that Chromebooks might become more versatile in the future? I suppose that’s true—just not in the way I originally expected.
November 20, 2014 11:51 AM PT
iOS 8 and Yosemite’s Handoff feature is pretty cool: Start writing an email on your iPhone, for example, and you can seamlessly pick it up on your Mac. But of all the activities that support this feature, there’s one pretty glaring exception.
Music, as Apple is so fond of telling us, is part of the company’s DNA. But despite its development of iTunes Radio and recent acquisition of Beats Music, the basic ways in which we listen to music haven’t really changed since the earliest days of the iOS—or even the iPod.
Remember that very first iPod ad? Sure, it looks inexpert and dated compared to today’s carefully-crafted, almost formulaic Apple tone: the shaky camera, the cheesy dancing, the glimpses of the Aqua interface on OS X. But the “plot” of the commercial is still an everyday occurrence for many: you’re listening to a song on your Mac when you have to leave the house. And, if you’re anything like me, there are few things more annoying than stopping a song mid-play. Great, now I have a guaranteed earworm for the rest of the day.
Of course, you could queue up the same song on your iPhone, fast forward to the same place in the track, pause it on your Mac, then press play on your iOS device. Just the kind of delightfully smooth experience we’ve come to expect from Apple, right?
For a while it seemed like a third-party app called Seamless (not to be confused with the food-delivery service) had solved this problem, using a iOS app paired with a Mac helper app. But it seems to be gone from the App Store, so it’s back to the manually-adjusting-playback-position gig.
But why not Handoff? Like any of the other apps it supports, Handoff should just pop up a Music app icon in your iOS device’s lock screen or the iTunes icon in your Mac’s Dock; slide or click on that, and your audio should just keep playing where you left off. (The Podcasts app could take advantage of the same feature, though it’s at least supposed to sync playback position between devices automatically via iCloud.)
Granted, it wouldn’t work in every case—for those who sync only a portion of their music to their iOS devices, for example, or cases where you stream music but don’t have an Internet connection—but it seems like it could bring a nice, Apple-like touch to the music-listening experience for many users.
Maybe Apple’s got something up their sleeves in the music department; rumors, after all, have Beats Music becoming part of Apple’s default iOS apps. I’m hopeful that such a venture might also include supporting Handoff for Music and iTunes, so that we may all continue our jams uninterrupted, no matter where we go.
November 19, 2014 4:54 PM PT
Apple released a new iPad this fall. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It’s the iPad Air 2, and of course it’s the best iPad ever, because the new iPad is always the best iPad ever. But the iPad Air 2 is better in ways other than the usual thinner-and-lighter metrics: In some unexpected ways, the iPad Air points toward a future of iOS power and productivity that hasn’t existed up until now.
November 19, 2014 12:26 PM PT
Apple today has apparently done a giant search-and-replace on the App Store to replace the word FREE with the word GET. This is apparently related to an EU ruling that it’s misleading to call apps with in-app purchases “free”.
That’s fine—I don’t mind the clarity. But GET isn’t a price, it’s a call to action. Calls to action work great on buttons, but in listings like the ones in the image I’ve posted to the right, the word GET is appearing in a description field. Which is why it reads like someone went through the App Store and just did a search-and-replace.
Perhaps omitting the text entirely from
free Get apps would be a better approach here? (Also, can the software that runs the App Store not differentiate between apps that are truly free and apps that are “free” with in-app purchases, and treat them differently?)
In any event, let this be a lesson to us all: Freedom isn’t free. It requires an in-app purchase.
(Update: Apple has now fixed the display of GET text in places that aren’t actually purchase buttons.)
November 17, 2014 10:11 AM PT
There’s a lot of talk about podcasting these days, mostly because big names from public radio are doing interesting new things with the medium, and people who write for major media outlets tend to listen to public radio. All of a sudden, thanks to the imprimatur of big media, podcasting is apparently back. Even though all the tech geeks have been listening to podcasts for years now, and it’s been growing as a medium all this time.
Still, as a huge fan of the medium (you may have noticed), I’m happy that more attention is being paid to it. A rising tide lifts all boats—and this stamp of approval from mainstream media will reach future podcast listeners and future podcast advertisers alike. It’s a good thing.
Media outlets aren’t the only ones suddenly paying attention to podcasting. Today Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch reports that Spotify’s app includes hidden references to podcasting features. This follows the purchase of podcast service Stitcher by Spotify competitor Deezer last month.
More importantly for Spotify, Deezer gave me smart explanation of why podcasting was interesting: Deezer is making a big move to do more with in-car services, and podcasts and talk radio are especially popular in that setting. It could be that Spotify, which also has a number of connected car integrations in place, is thinking along the same lines.
Podcasts are replacing the radio for tech savvy car commuters, and once less savvy commuters are exposed to podcasting I suspect they’ll do the same. I’m not entirely convinced that Spotify is the best vehicle for this, but someone’s going to crack it. As Marco Arment wrote yesterday, it may take some time:
Smartphone podcast apps and Bluetooth audio in cars have both helped substantially, but both have also been slow, steady progressions that are nowhere near complete. No smartphone app has caused a massive number of new listeners to suddenly flood to podcasts, and people don’t upgrade their cars frequently enough for any automotive media features to cause market booms. A lot of people still listen to podcasts in iTunes, and a lot of cars still don’t have Bluetooth audio. We’ll get there, but it takes a while.
If one of the biggest concentrations of podcast listenership is in the car, then the difficulty of connecting podcasts to cars becomes the biggest barrier to the success of the medium. Car tech has traditionally been terrible, thanks to the weird dance between automakers and their equipment suppliers—but that’s starting to change, mostly thanks to Google and Apple. The new Android Auto and CarPlay features allow most new smartphones to project a simplified version of their interfaces onto the screens of compatible car-entertainment devices.
Yes, as Marco points out, this will take years to trickle down to most cars, but it will. It makes too much sense to let the likes of Google and Apple drive these entertainment systems with the much better hardware and software that’s in the pocket of almost every driver.
While I think there’s a huge opportunity to bring the podcast medium to a broader collection of listeners—if I were to do a tech startup, it would probably be something related to this—I’m not convinced that the Spotifys of the world are the right companies to do it. Spotify’s brand is about music, not talk. It’s also unclear what Spotify’s terms would be, and as someone who thinks Stitcher’s terms are really crappy, that’s a serious concern.
No, the company that could do the most to make podcasting a success is Apple. Apple’s got the biggest directory of podcasts on the planet at iTunes and the two most popular podcast-listening apps (Podcasts and iTunes). In the mid-2000s, Apple tried to make podcasting the next big thing, and the world wasn’t ready. Apple’s commitment to podcasting dramatically receded after that—remember when GarageBand was for podcasting?—but with iOS 8 it added Podcasts as a default app, so maybe the tide is turning.
It’s great that podcasting is having a moment in the spotlight. Maybe this is the right time for Apple and other tech companies to forget about the false-start of 2005 and bring this amazing medium to the masses. I’m pretty sure they’re going to love it.
[Hat tip to Federico, Stephen, and Casey.]
November 14, 2014 3:36 PM PT
Monument Valley’s Forgotten Shores expansion pack came out this week, a $2 in-app purchase that added eight new levels to the $4 game’s original ten. And not long after, the complaints—in the form of one-star app reviews—began to pour in. Plenty of people, including your correspondent, clucked their disappointment that people would write overwrought complaints about not getting the fruits of developer Ustwo’s labor for free.
But amid the Twitter counter-outrage, a few people were quietly making an unpopular point: This story isn’t just about ungrateful masses not appreciating the work that developers do. It’s about the expectations (misguided or not) of App Store customers.