Tag Archives: iTunes

So what does that location database on your phone really do?

Jim Smith, who knows a thing or two about mobile, pokes around in the controversial consolidated.db database on the iPhone and comes up with this:

“I’m pretty certain that consolidated.db is used to seed the assisted GPS used for iOS location servers. If you open the map, or check in via FourSquare, it will look to see if the cell you’re in is one it knows about. If it is, then that greatly reduces the need to look for satellites. This also explains why it doesn’t store the older  (or less accurate?) locations. My guess is that the algorithm says something like: have I been here before? If yes, is my accuracy better than last time? If yes, replace the old entry with a new one.”

Which answers the question that’s been bugging me, which is why that database wasn’t purged regularly. For this purpose, it’s important to keep it on your phone, where it can be queried fast.

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When is “the best price” for customers not “the best price” for customers?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 08:  A Wal-Mart customer...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Sage Gruber’s contortions to position Apple’s subscription pricing scam as “good for consumers” are getting so wild that he’ll be a high-level yoga master before you know it:

“Why not allow developers and publishers to set their own prices for in-app subscriptions? One reason: Apple wants its customers to get the best price — and, to know that they’re getting the best price whenever they buy a subscription through an app. It’s a confidence in the brand thing: with Apple’s rules, users know they’re getting the best price, they know they’ll be able to unsubscribe easily, and they know their privacy is protected… So the same-price rule is good for the user, and good for Apple”

John’s being obtuse here. How would a publisher offering a lower price than that offered through Apple’s store be bad for customers? It wouldn’t – it would be bad for Apple. Customers could choose to vote with their wallets – take the lower price on offer elsewhere, or take the convenience and privacy advantages of using in-app purchasing.

By the same logic, any large retailer could use its position in the market to force suppliers not to allow anyone to undercut it, and claim that it was simply ensuring “its customers got the best price”. I’m sure Wal-Mart would love its customers to “know that they’re getting the best price” by contractually obliging people not to sell their products for less elsewhere. Nothing to do with hobbling the competition, oh no sir.

As I’ve said before, Apple’s subscription offering is a mess. It offers publishers little value compared to what developers get, and it’s not good for consumers because it effectively stifles competition. No amount of juggling semantics by talking about “Apple’s customers” – like they own them – will change that.

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Apple’s subscription system: A mess

From ‘Apple Just Fd Over Online Music Subs’ | paidContent:

“Music and video services do not have a 30 percent margin to give away to Apple NSDQ: AAPL. It means you’ll see them exit the market on iOS devices, paving the way for Apple’s own iTunes streaming.”

Does the subscription system include music content? No one knows, and Apple isn’t saying.

Does it cover content sold piece by piece, like books? This quote:

“We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

from Apple’s Trudy Muller certainly says it does. But no one really knows, and Apple isn’t saying.

I doubt that Amazon could follow this rule, even if it wanted to. What’s more, the only ambiguity in that statement is around “outside of the app” – because if that also means “in a browser from any machine” then Kindle on iOS is dead in the water. Is Apple confident enough of its own position to do that?

Of course, some publishers will just go for it. Apple is betting that the publishers will see the opportunity as great, and the risk of being left behind as greater still. The fear factor of missing out will loom large.

But it will leave a sour taste, and publishers will know they’ve been screwed over. In the short term, that won’t matter much. But when a company keeps playing hardball constantly, insisting on the same cut no matter what service it provides because it’s in a position of power, sooner or later it gets bitten back.

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Moodagent – a great tool for playlists

Once you start to have thousands of songs on your iPod or iPhone, if you’re anything like me you tend to find that you listen to the same few songs over and over again. It’s almost like you’re paralysed by having too much choice.

Apple’s Genius mixes are one way around this, but they tend to be rather one-dimensional. Because they work principally on the basis of genre, they can sometimes bounce between up-tempo and slow, dark songs with sweetness and light.

Moodagent (iTunes Link) is a method of creating lists of songs which match your mood. The way it works is simple: it analyses your library, matching each track against an online database of “moods”. This can take a few minutes if you have lots of songs – around ten minutes for the 3,000 or so songs on my iPhone.

You then express what “mood” you’re in by playing around with five sliders, representing five mood aspects: Sensual, Tender, Joy, Aggressive and Tempo.

The app then creates a playlist of 25 songs which match that mood. When I tested it, it produced some really good quality playlists, which managed to mix up different genres while retaining a definite theme amongst the songs.

There’s one drawback, though. Although Moodagent plays songs using the iPhone’s built-in player, it can’t (yet) save the playlists you create back to iTunes. You can, however, save the playlists within Moodagent, so your carefully-crafted list can always be retrieved.

Moodagent is free, and at that price who could argue? But if it actually cost a couple of pounds, I’d still thing it was worth it.

(Image by Parislemon)

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Five things Apple could do to make MobileMe great

One thing that hasn’t been talked about in connection with the (presumed) launch of Apple’s tablet on Wednesday is how MobileMe fits into the picture. There’s a good reason for this: MobileMe is one of Apple’s “forgotten products”. Used by many, but rarely talked about, mainly because it has been upgraded only slowly and has never really had any groundbreaking, compelling features.

In comparison to the cloud-based services of Google and others, it often feels like something of an also-ran. I’m hoping that Apple will do some fun things with MobileMe on Wednesday, tying it deeply into how the product works. However, even if MobileMe isn’t a core part of what the tablet is it deserves an upgrade. So here’s my five suggestions of ways that Apple could turn MobileMe from an also-ran to an essential.

1. Turn iDisk into a real file sync engine, with cloud-based Home folder

With more and more of us owning multiple computers, and more devices like the iPhone capable of using files, keeping all of your documents in sync is becoming incredibly important. MobileMe has a sync engine, in the shape of iDisk. Only one problem: it’s slow, and works only with Macs. Compared to services like DropBox (which I also use) and SugarSync it feels like a product straight out of the dark ages.

2. Beef up the web email client

MobileMe email really only comes into its own when you use it with a desktop client, and in particular Apple Mail. If have to use the web client, you’re going to feel like you’re using free Yahoo! email circa 1998. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just… basic. Server-side filtering? Not a chance. Server-side spam handling? Nope. Threading of conversations? Integration of IM? Forget it. Unless you really want to avoid your email, it’s just not good enough.

3. Make “personal domains” more powerful

Personal domains are a simple idea for making better use of the lovely little sites you create with iWeb. Essentially, you can set up your MobileMe web space so it appears to be at a proper personal domain, such as ianbetteridge.com. Only one problem: Unlike equivalent services from Google and many others, it ONLY works with web sites. If you want your email from (say) [email protected] to automatically go to your MobileMe address and – importantly – the replies to come from that email address too, you’re out of luck.

4. Music, videos and apps everywhere

Apple has already started to take steps towards allowing you to have all your bought music and videos available everywhere. Since the last version of iTunes, you could set things up so that libraries connected with the same Apple account shared content automatically – a great help if, like me, you have multiple Macs. But the next step is to take this further: make any music, video or app I buy that’s associated with a MobileMe account available on every Mac, PC and iPhone that’s attached to that account, via a web page or (if they must) through iTunes. I should be able to stream any track that iTunes knows I’ve bought, even if it’s not in the library of the machine I’m using. For machines with limited storage – like a tablet – this would be a great option.

5. Bring Galleries into the 21st Century

I’m one of the few people who seems to like putting my photos up on MobileMe’s galleries. I like its simplicity and its clean interface. What I don’t like about it is that it lacks “discoverability”. Unless I tell people where my galleries are, they’re very hard to find. Why? Aren’t Mac users social people?

None of these things are rocket science for a company like Apple, but all of them would immeasureably improve MobileMe. At the moment, even for Mac users, I have great difficulty in recommending MobileMe as an essential purchase – change these five things, and it would be a lot easier.

(Photo by Dekuwa – http://flic.kr/p/4UH8s7)

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Is this the end of the road for Hackintosh netbooks?

Oh dear. According to OS X Daily Apple is effectively killing off support for Intel’s Atom processor in OS X 10.6.2.

The biggest consequence of this is, obviously, that anyone who wants to roll their own netbook running OS X is going to have to stick to either 10.5 or 10.6.1 – or, for the hardcore, hack future versions of OS X to run a stock 10.0 kernel.

Of course, Apple is under no obligation at all to support hardware it doesn’t use. But some will undoubtedly take this as a sign that Apple wants to kill off the Hackintosh community.

I don’t buy that, for a couple of reasons. First, the netbook market is probably the one which Apple has the least actual interest in. When someone runs OS X on a £300 netbook, they’re not doing it to replace a potential Mac purchase. Lost revenue to Apple from netbooks is probably as close to a rounding error as you can get.

Second, no sane company would tinker with the kernel of its operating system just to disable something of no commercial consequence. It’s one thing playing around with iTunes to stop the Palm Pre syncing. It’s quite another to mess around with code which you absolutely, 100%, need to be reliable.

It is, however, a shame.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like support for Atom is back. Which rather puts the kibosh on the conspiracy theories, I think.

UPDATE 2: And it seems like it’s definitely out again. Oh well.

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If Apple is going to control the iPhone app channel, it needs to do it properly

Fraser Speirs – App Store Review is broken.

"The problem that I and others are having right now is that it doesn’t scale. Apple requires that every single update to every app go through the same vetting process (although who knows exactly what this involves?). I submitted Exposure 1.0.1 to the App Store last Friday and, five days later, one version is “In Review”. The other is still, mysteriously, “waiting for upload”, even though I already did.

If Apple can’t guarantee a maximum 24 hour review process, they should drop it. What would happen if I was trying to correct a data loss or security bug, and the update sits in App Store limbo for five or ten days? Fortunately I’m not facing that situation, but these are fixes for painful crashing bugs that are really affecting users of Exposure. All the while, users continue to comment negatively on these already-fixed-but-not-released bugs in Exposure’s reviews on iTunes. Without demos, those reviews are an app’s lifeblood."

Fraser is completely right, of course. If Apple is assuming the responsibility of ensuring that each and every application meets some nebulous "quality" threshold, it has a duty to both consumers and developers to do things promptly. If a developer can’t release bug-fixes in a timely manner because Apple can’t check code, the system is broken and needs to be fixed.

I get the feeling that Apple is only now learning a set of lessons. How to handle an online software distribution channel, something that it appears to have assumed would be a piece of cake after its experience with music and video. And how to create and manage enterprise-level messaging infrastructure ("Exchange for the rest of us").

Unfortunately, it’s learning those lessons in public, and taking the knocks to its reputation as it goes.