My favourite new feature in OSX 10.7 Lion

This has got to be one of my favourite new ‘features’ in OSX Lion, it’s found inside the iCal app:

That unnecessary ‘s’ when displaying ‘1’ unit of time has bugged me for at least the last two versions of OSX, such a simple attention to detail but one strangely overlooked by Apple for such a long time! Now my OCD brain can stay calm when adding new events into iCal!

Why Apple won’t make ‘Reading List’ a digital locker for web content

Apple have added a new "Reading List" feature to the next version of Mac OSX which is currently under development, 10.7 Lion. Reading List allows you to collect web pages and links for later reading, as such obvious but slightly inaccurate comparisons have been made to services like Instapaper and Readability, however, Reading List is different from those services as it doesn’t seem to actually cache, modify or strip back the content of the pages added to it. I was a bit surprised by this seeing as Apple added the ‘Reader’ function to Safari a while ago which basically adds the same kind of stripping back of content for easy reading that these other services offer. It seems like an obvious marriage of the two features.

Reading List + Reader = A step too far?

In light of this disconnect between these two features in Safari I’ve been wondering if there is a deeper motivation for not blending the two together. If users had the capability to use a version of Reading List which automatically used the Reader function to strip content back then I wonder if publishers would complain that Apple was robbing them of page views / ad revenue or manipulating their content without consent?

These are accusations that some have thrown at Instapaper and Readability, interestingly Readability does actually give 70% of the monthly fees that users pay to the publishers of sites that their users visit so there is obviously merit to this kind of service but also a conscience about the impact that it may have on websites which depend on visitors and advertising revenue.

I wonder if Apple are aware of this and feel that merging these two features in Safari would be a step too far? From an end user perspective the ability to strip out adverts from web pages and store website content for offline reading is a great user experience compared to browsing many of the advert-filled, cluttered websites out there. From a web publisher perspective the potential impact on revenue a service like this, albeit with the goal to provide an enhanced reading / user experience for web content, could be huge if a company like Apple integrates it directly into Safari.

Digital Locker / Cloud Streaming

Another couple of items of tech news recently were the launch of Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Google’s Music beta both of which offer what is known as Digital Locker or Cloud Streaming services for music.

Both of these services allow you to upload your own music to the cloud so that you can play it back via various net connected devices.

Now where this gets interesting is that both Amazon and Google have launched these services without any specific permission from the record labels, specifically they claim that there is no need for any special licensing terms as the service is intended for music that people own already or in Amazon’s case music which is purchased via the Amazon MP3 store.

In contrast to both Google and Amazon’s approach there is a lot of speculation about an upcoming cloud streaming offering by Apple, rumoured to be called iCloud it is thought that the service will offer cloud storage and streaming of music and movies that can be accessed via iTunes on Mac or via any iOS device. The difference between Google / Amazon and Apple is that Apple are apparently actively seeking licensing agreements with the Music companies in regard to providing this cloud based digital locker / streaming storage service and as such have the backing of the music industry.1

It’s obviously a hot topic – and which is the legitimate approach? Should Apple have to negotiate and pay money to the music companies to allow users (us!) the ability to stream content that we have already purchased? Or are Amazon and Google right that no licences are required or money due to the music companies? It’s a tricky one, but the music labels are adamant that licences are required and so it seems likely Amazon and Google will have to come to some kind of agreement or otherwise face some long drawn out legal challenges.

Reading List will not be a digital locker for web content

Apple’s stance in regard to the whole situation of digital locker / cloud streaming shows that Apple wants to keep things straight between themselves and the rights-holders of the content that will be stored in their rumoured ‘iCloud’ service. If you apply this same respect for rights-holders and publishers content to a feature like Reading List then it’s not too big a jump to surmise that Apple may not want to do the same thing to web publishers content.

It’s hard to know if there’s anything of substance to this theory, it’s just something I’ve been wondering about. The fact that even the Reader feature itself exists in Safari could be viewed as being a sign that Apple doesn’t think there’s a problem offering features that manipulate web publishers content without their consent. But given that there is / has been debate about services like Instapaper2 and that services like Readability do give money back to the publishers whose content is being accessed and read via their services, it is obviously not a clear cut situation either way. As such it would be entirely responsible for Apple to consider the implications of such a feature.

Discuss!

1. I also suspect that another difference with Apple’s service may be that it only supports content purchased directly via iTunes rather than letting you upload any music or video content. Two things back this up, 1: the music labels do not like the idea of users being able to upload their own content due to piracy fears, and 2: the Ping social network within iTunes only lets you like and share music that is in the iTunes Store.

2. I should point out that Instapaper does offer integration with Readability and as such allows Instapaper users to give back to the web publishers whose content they consume via the service. I definitely don’t intend to give the idea that the creator of Instapaper or similar services don’t respect the rights of web publishers! In fact it is possible for publishers to request that content be excluded for parsing by both Instapaper and Readability’s services – something that doesn’t seem to be possible for the Reader function built into Safari! I am myself a user of Instapaper and use the bookmarklet and RSS feed as a simple way to manage a list of articles to read at a later date.

Apple previews Final Cut Pro X at NAB in Las Vegas

Apple made their presence felt at the NAB show in Las Vegas with a preview of the next version of their Final Cut Pro video editing app, Final Cut Pro X.

In what is no doubt a long overdue update Final Cut Pro X brings what a lot of Pro video users have been waiting for: a totally redesigned interface, 64-bit memory addressing, multi-processor support, background rendering (no more render window), GPU rendering, use of more than 4GB RAM, video sizes from standard def up to 4k, real-time native format video processing – that’s quite a list!

The other announcement that is pretty awesome – a new price: $299 (not sure what that’ll be in £GBP yet, about £199 I’d guess) and, similar to Apple’s Aperture software which had a price drop recently, Final Cut Pro X will be available through Apple’s Mac App Store.

Native AVCHD?

An often featured subject in blog posts here on Suburbia is the AVCHD file format. Previously AVCHD required transcoding into some other format such as ProRes in order to edit it in Final Cut Pro, so a good question is whether the new ‘real-time native processing’ feature means that this transcoding will be a thing of the past? This is a feature that Adobe’s Premiere Pro has had for a while, albeit one that requires quite powerful hardware to make use of it. It will be interesting to see how Final Cut Pro X compares with this.

June launch date

Final Cut Pro X is due to be launched through the Mac App Store in June. In the mean time you can find out more about the new features via a couple of YouTube clips filmed at the preview announcement:

Dis-N-Gaged

Almost exactly seven years ago, before the launch of Apple’s iPhone and the ubiquity of the App Store, Nokia launched the N-Gage. The N-Gage was a combination mobile phone and gaming device that was intended to take on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance.

The N-Gage (mk1 pictured below) was pretty much the first gaming phone and should really be considered a failed yet bold attempt to kick-start what is now a huge multi-billion dollar business globally. The N-Gage didn’t get the kind of success Nokia really hoped for despite the many millions invested in marketing. I actually liked this phone and did happily use it as both a phone and gaming device, although admittedly the main game I played was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater! Combining a gadget with skateboarding is a sure way to catch my eye.

Sidetalkin’

The most obvious quirk of the phone’s design was that you had to hold the thin edge of it to your head to make calls, so it looked pretty comical! (Check out http://sidetalking.com/ !) Nokia subsequently brought out the ‘N-Gage QD’ which removed the side-talking feature and added a backlight and made it a bit smaller, as well as putting the game card slot on the outside instead of inside behind the battery!

The demise of the N-Gage started back in 2005 when the N-Gage as a hardware device ceased production leaving only N-Gage as a software component on various Nokia devices. However, September last year marked the final nail in the coffin (N-Gage 2003-2009: An Obituary) of the N-Gage when it was finished off completely.

As quirky as it looked, I think the N-Gage was an interesting concept which was ahead of its time – location-based multi-player networked gaming via bluetooth or over the internet via mobile-phone networks? Back in 2003? Who would ever be able to afford the data fees that the carriers would have charged you back then?!! Nokia spent a lot of money trying to make it a success, but the timing just wasn’t right for a device with those capabilities.

Nokia are really up against the wall these days with Apple’s iOS platform and the Android platform pushing the bar in both hardware and software capabilities. Although I’m a hardcore iPhone user I used to be a very happy Nokia user, the Symbian S60 OS integrated pretty well with my Mac. Once I got an iPhone of course that all ended, but I’ve still enjoyed using my various Nokia handsets such as the N80 and N95.

Pushin’ the envelope

Nokia do seem to be trying to find their feet in this changing mobile device landscape, certainly the Nokia N8 device has some great features, especially the 12MP camera which seems to produce some pretty spectacular photography.

Innovation like Nokia’s Push project also seems to demonstrate some of the same pioneering spirit behind the N-Gage, breaking new ground by exploring the use of mobile devices as part of our physical activities – of particular interest to me are the skateboarding and snowboarding prototypes (as I said earlier, a sure way to get me interested is to combine gadgets with skateboarding!).

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of these initiatives (I’d like to get my hands on either the skate or snow prototypes to play around with them!). For now I’ll just end with saying farewell to the Nokia N-Gage!

More random thoughts on the iPad

I’ve already written my thoughts on the iPad, but here’s a few more thoughts about the iPad that have either been going through my mind or I’ve read about elsewhere and that I think are worth drawing attention to.

Another reason why Flash won’t be on the iPhone: Flash isn’t the only web plugin

If Apple allows Flash on the iPad (or iPhone / iPod touch) then the floodgates will be opened for other plugin such as Microsoft’s Silverlight and Java to be allowed onto the device. Possibly even opening Apple up to anti-competitive scrutiny for only allowing Flash. If Flash isn’t on the iPhone then no other plugin / runtime has any more of a right to be there either.

Mac OSX Snow Leopard an indication of OSX on iPad-like devices?

Reading this TechCrunch article about rumours of a possible larger iPad running something more like the full Mac OSX made me wonder whether the slimming down process involved in the development of Snow Leopard is a clue as to whether we’ll see OSX running on lower-powered, lower-energy processors. Perhaps we’ll even see Mac OSX running on the ARM processor architecture itself? Even if not on a different processor architecture then at least on some other efficient low-powered chip.

The controlled nature of the iPad’s OS has gotten some people worried that future versions of Mac OSX will end up being the same with no ability to install apps of your own choosing etc. It would be interesting to pose this question directly to Steve Jobs – just what is the future of Mac OSX? I guess we’ll find out at the next WWDC!

Many Flash games websites wouldn’t be playable on the iPad

Louie Mantia makes some really good points in his article “Flash Isn’t The Problem, Flash Design Is The Problem”. Many Flash based websites rely on you hovering over menus to navigate through them, and the majority of Flash games use the keyboard as the means of controlling them. Both of these methods of interaction are not applicable to the iPhone or iPad’s interface paradigms, as such even if Flash was on the iPhone or iPad you wouldn’t be able to use many of these sites or play many of the games!

~

If I think of anything else or find other interesting post I’ll add them here :)

Tip: Setting up a Minolta PagePro 9100 printer under Snow Leopard

Mac OSX 10.6 brought quite a few new but subtle features and changes, one of those subtle changes was the dropping of support for the AppleTalk protocol. Many people who upgraded to Snow Leopard (or newer versions of OSX) got caught out and suddenly found themselves with a non-functioning printer.

I was aware of this change but even so I found myself in the same position, and despite all the various articles and posts I read I couldn’t get my Konica Minolta PagePro 9100 printer working. I resorted to sharing my printer via an old iMac that was running OSX 10.4 and printing that way, it worked but would take a long time to print a single page and frequently had to be rebooted to keep it working.

After running like that for a few months I decided to try and figure out how to get the PagePro 9100 working directly again as I couldn’t handle using the same slow process any more. Amazingly I managed to find a Konica Minolta setup guide and it actually worked! So here’s the process:

Configuring a PagePro 9100 printer under Snow Leopard

I followed instructions in an old Konica Minolta support PDF document that you can download from the Konica Minolta site, unfortunately their site is rubbish and doesn’t let you link to files easily so here’s a link to download it:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18567/Crown-MacOS10_3-installation.pdf

Note: Before you start you’ll need to know your printers IP address, the PagePro 9100 can be set to have a fixed IP address but this wasn’t needed when printing using AppleTalk so yours may not be set up with one. You’ll need to get that changed using the printer’s controls on the top. You really need to get this sorted out before you can proceed any further. Update: See end of article for help with IP address settings on your printer !

Ok, here’s the simple setup process:

  • You need to set the printer up using the IP printing method, you’ll see a blue circular globe icon in the Add Printer dialog so click that option.
  • Use the Line Printer Daemon option under the ‘Protocol’ drop down.
  • Enter the fixed IP address of your printer into the ‘Address’ field.
  • Enter a queue name in the ‘Queue’ field (I used PagePro 9100).
  • The ‘Name’ field will probably have taken the IP address automatically but this can be changed to PagePro 9100 too.
  • Select the ‘Select Printer Software’ in the ‘Print Using’ dropdown at the bottom. You should be able to find the Konica Minolta PagePro 9100 PPD file in the list. Choose that from the list.

Set the appropriate trays / bins etc for your printer etc and then that should be you set up hopefully!

Addendum: Configuring the IP address settings on the PagePro 9100

In response to a request for help in the comments below I’ve added some instructions on how to configure the IP address settings on the PagePro 9100. Configuring the settings is a bit of a pain due to the tiny little single-line display on the printer, but hopefully these instructions will help!

You need to make sure the printer is not getting a dynamic IP address via DHCP, so you need to disable DHCP on the printer. Once that is switched off you can then set the fixed IP Address that is required in order to set it as per the instruction in this article.

To get to the settings to do this press the green ‘Online’ button on the printer controls to put the printer into Offline mode, then use the ‘Select’ / ‘Next’ / ‘Previous’ buttons to move through and select options.

You need to drill down to the following settings:

Menu -> Administration -> Communications -> Optional NIC -> Crownnet -> TCP/IP

Now that you are in the TCP/IP options you need to disable DHCP, select ‘DHCP’ from the available options (there are quite a few to choose from, just keep clicking through using the Next/Previous buttons), set this to ‘#disabled’ and then click the ‘Menu’ button once to move back up one level.

You now need to set the fixed IP address, you should be back up one level with ‘DHCP’ showing in the screen. Click next a few times and select ‘Internet Address’, you should now be able to enter all the digits of your IP address. Please note that you need to include 3 digits for all four parts of the address, so rather than just ‘192.168.0.4’ you need to enter ‘192.168.000.004’.

Make sure to use whatever IP address range your network runs on, routers use various different ranges so you need to set an IP address that is appropriate for your network’s range.

Addendum #2: Get default page size on PagePro 9100 to be A4 instead of ‘Other’

If you’re using the PagePro in the UK or at least with UK region settings in order to print to A4 paper then you may find that whenever you print that the printer always uses a default page size of ‘Other’ instead of A4. Although this actually prints to A4 correctly it always bothered me that it showed this way, so I decided to figure out what the problem was.

After a bit of looking around in the PagePro 9100 OSX EN.PPD file I found all the entries relating to A4, in PPD files the dimensions of paper sizes are configured using a dimension called points, basically there are 72 points to an inch. In the case of A4 in this PPD the dimensions used are 596 by 842, however, A4 is a metric-based page size of 297mm by 210mm so I checked out what these convert to in points.

It turns out that the PPD rounds all of the page dimensions to the nearest point, so I then edited the PagePro’s PPD file to use the accurate point dimensions for A4 which are 595.28 by 841.89 (you need to replace it in a few locations in the file). I then re-setup the printer with the updated PPD and it now uses A4 as the default page size once more! It seems that OSX 10.6 is fussier about the specific page dimensions than OSX 10.5 was, but this tweak sorts it out. I’m sure you could modify the PPD for any other paper format that you wanted to use, just google the correct point dimensions for your page size and the update it in the file.

Here’s a link to an already modified PagePro 9100 PPD file with updated A4 dimensions to save you having to tweak it yourself.

Addendum #3: OSX 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, 10.12

These instructions will basically work for all version of OSX since Snow Leopard, so 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.9 Mavericks, 10.10 Yosemite, 10.11 El Capitan definitely all work and 10.12 Sierra should be fine too as the protocols used are the same.

Tip: Use a symbolic link to force Mail.app downloads into the main Downloads folder in Mac OSX (Updated for OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion)

TIP UPDATED FOR Mac OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion! – Mac OSX 10.5 introduced a setting in Mail.app Preferences to set where email attachments are downloaded to when you open them or when images are loaded in HTML emails. If you’ve never looked in the default ‘Mail Downloads’ folder you might just get a surprise as to how much junk is actually in there as it’s not obvious that these files are building up!

It is possible to change the location for these downloads so that it is in a more obvious location, but I found that even when setting an alternative to the default ‘~/Library/Mail Downloads’ folder, such as the main ‘Downloads’ folder, that these attachments would still download in the default ‘Mail Downloads’ location. The solution to this problem was to delete the ‘Mail Downloads’ folder and create a symbolic link to my preferred ‘Downloads’ folder.

To do this you need to navigate to the ‘Mail Downloads’ folder which you’ll find in your user account folder (the folder with your name and the Home icon), then go into the ‘Library’ folder and you should see the ‘Mail Downloads’ folder. Note: Since OSX 10.7 Lion came out the ‘Library’ folder is hidden by default, to get to it you need to access the ‘Go’ menu in the Finder whilst holding down the alt key.

Next step is to delete this folder and then fire up Terminal on your system – this bit requires a bit of command line entry but it’s fairly straight forward. When you open up Terminal you should end up with a login prompt and you will be located within your user account files on the system, presuming this is the case we can get on with creating the symbolic link!

In the example below I am going to create a symbolic link to the main ‘Downloads’ folder that is used by Safari so that all downloads from either web browsing or email will end up in the same place:

ln -s ~/Downloads "library/Mail Downloads"

If all has gone well you should now find that any attachments you open from emails will now appear in your regular downloads folder instead of the hidden away Mail Downloads folder!

UPDATE: OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion changes the location of the Mail Downloads folder

In OSX 10.8 the “Mail Downloads” folder location has moved to the following location (See this MacOSXHints article for more details):

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/Library/

To apply the above link for OSX 10.8 you will need to use the a different command to create the symbolic link. The first step is to go to the new folder location, I’d recommend doing this via the terminal as you need to run the command from there, go to: ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/Library and delete the existing ‘Mail Downloads’ folder that is in there. Then use the following command to create the symbolic link in this new location:

ln -s ~/Downloads "Mail Downloads"

Once that’s done all your attachments in OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion should now end up in your Downloads folder allowing you to easily keep track of attachment files and avoid them unnecessarily clogging up your hard drive.

Thoughts on the iPad

Apple have finally unveiled their tablet device to the public so we can finally stop hearing all of the pontification that has gone on for the last few months about a device that Apple had never given any public indication even existed (the pontification only to be replaced by the rumblings and grumblings of those who got too enamoured by some of the various rumours!).

In the true spirit of “Internet Journalism” I thought I’d add my own thoughts about Apple’s newly announced iPad. Here are a few thoughts / questions about the iPad and the impact it may have.

Flash on the iPad?

It’s a question being asked by many people, and with a move to a larger screen some would say it deserves even more to be on the device. However, I wouldn’t expect it soon, if ever to be honest. Unless the Flash plugin can be made more efficient processor, memory, energy wise it won’t happen.

I don’t think this is simply arrogance on Apple’s part as some might say, I think Apple approach the usage of the iPhone OS that runs on the iPhone and the iPad with a view to making it as efficient as possible. Some people were expecting or hoping for the iPad to use the full Mac OSX but are disappointed that it’s not on there, although some see that as a limitation I think it shows that Apple isn’t willing to put even their own more fully-featured OS on the iPad as it wouldn’t run as efficiently on the device. So if they do that with their own OS why should we expect an unmodified / unoptimised version of Flash to be allowed on the device?

I do think there is more to it than just the issue of efficiency though, John Gruber makes some good points in his recent post “Apple, Adobe, and Flash“. Personally I doubt Flash will ever be on the iPad or iPhone.

Will there be a new iPad App Store “Gold Rush”?

Even though I doubt Adobe will ever get Flash on the iPad I do look forward to seeing what native apps Adobe might bring to the iPad. Photoshop Mobile is a great little app for the iPhone so a larger sized version of that could be pretty cool. Apple have set a nice precedent for full-featured apps like Keynote, Pages and Numbers at $9.99 each so there could be some financial incentive to create a good image editing app.

It may only be a 1ghz processor in the iPad but it appears to be far more powerful than the raw ghz would suggest. It would be great if the $9.99 price point can remain as it might encourage developers of iPhone apps to develop more for it, as the race to the bottom and the $0.99 / £0.59 price point has made the supposed “Gold Rush” of the App Store an impossible dream for many, many developers.

Does the iPad signify the end of Mac OSX?

Some people have concerns that Apple’s focus on the iPhone OS is an indication that Apple is heading away from the geek or power user and is instead focused solely on the domestic / consumer end user. Whilst that may be true to some degree (Apple is a consumer electronic company after all) I think that Mac OSX has a strong future and a rightful place on the more powerful hardware that the MacBook, Mac Mini, iMac and Mac Pro computers offer.

I think that iPhone OS will influence the future development of Mac OSX in regards to user interface and aesthetics. Mac OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard brought a lot of efficiency improvements, largely thanks to the optimisation required to get iPhone OS running on the limited hardware requirements of the iPhone and iPod touch (along with the dropping of PPC support!).

The iPad is the gateway drug for Mac OSX development.

The iPod and iPhone have often been seen as a ‘gateway drug’ for Apple laptops / desktop computers – people like how nicely they work and are then attracted to Mac for the same reasons. In a similar way I think the iPad will be a gateway drug for iPhone developers getting into developing apps for the full Mac OSX that runs on Apple’s laptops and desktops.

Designing apps for the iPad will bring with it some new challenges for mobile device developers – more screen space for the user interface, processor and memory improvements. Apple are touting the iPad as a third category of device in-between a smart phone and a laptop, developers will have to get used to this paradigm as well.

The iPad isn’t just a laptop with a small screen (i.e netbook) it’s a new type of device with hardware and software tailored to suit the demands of a lower speed cpu and lower memory. Netbooks generally push the limits of their smaller hardware form and tend to run Windows XP or Windows 7 which are really laptop OS’s and as such really need to be running on at least a 1.6ghz atom cpu with 2GB of memory to be usable. The iPad is built a whole different way, with a focus on using the minimum of cpu speed and memory by maximising the efficiency of the OS.

Where the iPad becomes the gateway drug is that as iPhone developers (many of whom didn’t previously develop for Mac OSX) get into developing iPad apps they will get more familiar with developing for a larger screen resolution. They’ll bring with them the knowledge and experience of developing apps within the tight constraints of the iPhone’s cpu and memory and start to enjoy the freedom and power that the iPad’s higher spec offers them. It’s only a short step to see how a developer could then take the next step up and make their apps function on the full Mac OSX laptop / desktop OS.

I look forward to seeing an increase of very efficient programmers developing apps for Mac OSX in future, having learned to code Objective-C within very tight limitations. :)

Other media coverage etc.

Adobe Flash to add DRM in the player via Flash Access 2.0

I’ve blogged a few times about Flash and how it seemed like an obvious tool for the job of a cross-platform means to provide protected streaming video, in particular for the BBC’s iPlayer in the UK. Many of the things I’d thought in those old posts have actually happened now, streaming Flash video is now used to provide access to the BBC iPlayer content on many platforms such as Mac OSX, iPhone / iPod touch, Wii, PS3 and other devices. Streaming Flash video is also used for Hulu.com in the US.

In addition to the streaming option Flash is now used to provide a cross-platform downloadable iPlayer service via Adobe AIR’s protected runtime, so it’s all come a long way really. Of course no-one really likes DRM but at least it does provide a way to make all of this content available (geographic restrictions aside) without any major restrictions – apart from not being able to download directly onto the iPhone / iPod touch I suppose!

Adobe Flash Access 2.0

Adobe has just announced a new version of a software developer kit called Flash Access 2.0 (previously known by the snappily named ‘Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server’). One of the main features is that it will enable protection of files that can be played directly within the Flash player instead of requiring it to be wrapped within the Adobe AIR runtime. This will offer a lot more flexibility in that files can be played directly within the browser. The technology supports MPEG4 H.264 content as well as FLV files so the quality of video provided via this technology has the potential to be very good.


Example of Flash Access 2.0 workflow.

I’m not sure if this has any real impact for services like BBC’s iPlayer as they already have a downloadable option via the AIR based iPlayer. It’s an interesting situation with distribution of digital video content really, DRM was a complete failure when it came to audio but there’s no sense that content creators are about to take the same approach as the music industry. Of course the big missing piece to the digital media distribution puzzle is that none of this Flash based content can be used or distributed to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch platform.

Time for Fairplay DRM to be broadly licenced?

I’m not holding my breath waiting to see Apple add Flash support to their devices and I understand that in many ways. However, the main benefit I’d see personally for support for Flash video on the iPhone is to be able to access more of the streaming video content that is out there as most of it is Flash based, and only the likes of Youtube have the means to offer content in multiple formats. Asides from accessing Flash format streaming video I’m not bothered about accessing any other kind of Flash content on my iPhone (I think the Javascript / HTML / CSS3 / WebKit stack is much more suited, that’s maybe something for another blog post).

Although there’s some sense in supporting Flash video on the iPhone I think what could be a solution is for Apple to make their Fairplay DRM licencing available for others to use on their own websites, media stores etc. If we’re not likely to see media become completely DRM free then what is at least needed is any easy, cross-platform, cross-device method to distribute digital video content to whatever device is desired. At the moment the whole digital video distribution system is full of restrictions, dead-ends and political manoeuvrings by big media companies.

I wonder if it’s going to take greater consumer unrest to finally force the various companies to work together for the greater good, to simply be able to play video content that you’ve paid for on any device you want? Especially if that device is an iPhone or iPod touch? At the moment it’s just “a bag of hurt“.

P.S. Don’t anyone suggest Microsoft’s Silverlight as a solution, we don’t need yet another format for video distribution!

 

iTunes 9 and other wonders…

Apple’s 09/09/09 Media event introduced some new things both expected and unexpected, many expected an iPod touch with a camera but instead there was an iPod nano with not only a camera but FM radio and a built-in pedometer! I was surprised about the FM radio as I never expected that to be added to an iPod. Here’s a few of the things Apple introduced today along with some thoughts / notes etc:

iPod shuffles – shiny rainbows

Now in multiple colours as well as a special edition stainless steel model. There were rumours that this tiny little iPod was going to be ditched but that didn’t happen. They also announced a new 2GB model along with shuffle-compatible third party headphones and controller peripherals. I’m not sure how much smaller you could make an iPod shuffle really. (iPod shuffle ?)

iPod nano – complete with camera

At first I didn’t think an iPod nano with a camera was that big a deal but after watching one of the video clips demoing the video features I found myself wanting one to carry around so that I could film things again. I’ve missed being able to film stuff since getting my iPhone 3G, however, there’s no way I’m buying yet another iPod so I’ll just have to look into getting an iPhone 3GS at christmas time instead! The nano’s video format is 640×480 pixel h.264 video and looks to be pretty good quality, it almost makes me wish Apple would just make a dedicated camera but I don’t think that will happen. (iPod nano ?)

iPod classic – memory bump

There’s nothing that different in store for the iPod classic, just a simple storage bump from 120GB to 160GB instead. I still like the classic iPod and the scroll wheel, it’s a great interface for accessing files. The iPhone / iPod touch’s touch screen is great but the scroll wheel is still very efficient I think. I wonder though how much time is left for these iPods? Probably still a fair bit, but once flash memory gets into at least 128GB sizes I think the iPod classic will be assigned to the history books. (iPod classic ?)

iPod touch – 64GB model and price drop

There was no rumoured iPod touch-with-camera announced, just a price drop on the existing model as well as a 64GB model announced. I think a new version with a camera is in the works, it just doesn’t make sense for the nano to have it and not the touch. Also the lineup is now 8GB, 32GB and 64GB, I’d expect to see it become 16GB, 32GB and 64GB when the new model is announced. That’s just my speculation though. Update: This press release from Apple about the new iPod touch updates paints a slightly different picture though, it indicates that the 32GB and 64GB iPod touches have the same internals as the iPhone 3GS, “The 32GB and 64GB models also include up to 50 percent faster performance and support for even better graphics with Open GL ES 2.0“. Interesting. (iPod touch ?)

iTunes 9

An expected announcement and one that took up the majority of the media event. iTunes 9 introduced a revamped interface (with it’s usual introduction of unusual / new interface aesthetics!) and a few other new features. One thing that’s disappeared though is the shopping cart feature, now you have to either add it to the also newly added Wish List feature or you have to use 1-Click purchasing! That’s a little bit scary.

There’s now also the option to share items on the store to either Facebook or Twitter, I was hoping for more integration with social networks, particularly last.fm but alas it’s not to be. One other thing I noticed is that iTunes now finally behaves like all other good Mac apps and will actually maximise when you click the maximise button! Previously this would toggle iTunes into it’s Mini Player mode, I’m really glad they’ve changed this.

Here’s a rundown of some of the new features of iTunes 9:

  • iTunes LP – Intended to introduce the digital equivalent of album covers complete with liner notes, lyric, videos etc. This is something that is long overdue, I look forward to checking out some of these. Another question though is how are these made? I’m pretty sure they won’t involve Flash but I’ll be keen to find out how they’re produced.
  • Home sharing – This basically allows you to easily share tracks between up-to five machines that you can authorise to play back songs. This seems really handy for households with more than one computer, drag and drop songs between shared libraries.
  • Redesigned iTunes Store – Improved navigation is one of the main tweaks, it now seems more like a web page with consistent navigation along the top of the window. You can also set an option in the preferences to use the full window when browsing the store, this basically gets rid of the list of options on the left hand side. It’s quite handy to get a bit more space when browsing the store.
  • iTunes Extras – Another long overdue feature! I’m not that impressed with the iTunes store’s video offerings, many movies are not available to rent until long after many other rental stores have had them. So these movies are only available to purchase, what’s more they’re a bit expensive too compared to picking them up in DVD format from somewhere like play.com or even at your local Tesco supermarket. Ok, rant over. iTunes Extras basically adds a bit more value by including the special features that you’d get on your regular (and cheaper!) DVD purchase. I’m a tiny little bit more likely to buy one now (I still probably won’t though).
  • Genius mixes – An interesting new feature, it finds songs that go well together and automatically makes mixes out of them. One thing to point out though is at first I couldn’t see where this feature was, you need to choose ‘Update Genius’ from the Store menu in iTunes in order to update and activate the feature.
  • Improved syncing – Undoubtedly one of the most sought after features by anyone who owns an iPhone or iPod touch and has a lot of applications on it, you can now organise the layout of all of your apps inside iTunes itself. It’s not quite how I’d proposed it but close ;)

iPhone OS 3.1

iPhone OS 3.1 for iPhone (and 3.1.1 for iPod touch) were announced too. It introduces a few new features that tie in with iTunes 9’s new features, nothing massively new but then again it is a point update. Amongst the various features shown on the iPhone OS software update page a couple of little tweaks caught my eye:

  • Remotely lock iPhone with a passcode via MobileMe
  • Warn when visiting fraudulent websites in Safari (anti-phishing)

Being able to lock an iPhone remotely enhances the already brilliant MobileMe feature of locating your iPhone via GPS and also remotely wiping a lost iPhone. Anti-phishing support in Mobile Safari is a great feature too, something all browsers need these days.

Anyway, enough writing about it all, I’m going to go and re-organise my iPhone apps :)