Why the AppleTV isn’t such a new concept for Apple…

Although Apple have for some time had games available for the iPod many people have wondered if Apple would release games that would be playable on the Mac itself. Although not always considered the greatest gaming platform, due to the smaller amount of games available, the Mac has never the less had some great mainstream games available. But Apple has never developed any games itself for the Mac.

Picture of Apple's Pippin games consoleIf you’re new to the Mac platform you may not be aware that Apple has in fact dabbled in the gaming market before, just not for the Mac itself!

Apple actually developed a games console in the mid 1990s called ‘Pippin‘, it was intended to be a platform that they would license to third parties instead of releasing it themselves.

Unfortunately it wasn’t very successful due to the more powerful Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 which were available at the time. Bandai were the only games company who licenced the Pippin and they only sold a few thousand units at the time.

It’s interesting that a licencing model was the goal for the Pippin as it was at this time that Apple also ran their first and only official Mac Clone program which allowed other companies to develop and sell their own hardware which was capable of running the Mac OS.

Another interesting thing about the Pippin is that it ran a cut down version of Mac OS as it’s operating system, if you’re familiar with the buzz around Apple’s latest release the AppleTV and the upcoming iPhone then you’ll know that they both1 run essentially a cut-down version of Mac OSX.

The AppleTV – Mk I?

Picture ofthe Apple Interactive Television BoxAnother perhaps little known fact is that Apple have also developed a prototype set-top box for delivering interactive TV once before. Simply known as the ‘Apple Interactive Television Box‘ this device preceded the Pippin by 1 or 2 years, it was never actually released for sale though and was cancelled at a very late stage of development.

Although far from having the capabilities of the AppleTV it does show that Apple have had a long standing interest in becoming part of the home entertainment ecosystem within people’s houses.

It was likely that this unit was intended to deliver content via the cable providers of the time such as standard TV shows but allowing play and pause functionality. The intention was also to provide interactive content in the form of quiz shows and educational content.

The seeds of an idea, but not time for harvest

Both of these concepts had some interesting ideas at the core, but due to bad timing they never amounted to anything. It’s interesting to note that both of these concepts were developed during the period in Apple’s history when Steve Jobs was not in the company, whether these concepts would have been developed under Steve Jobs’ leading is hard to say, but the previously mentioned Mac Clones program was swiftly closed down upon his return to the company in late 1997. I think it likely the Pippin and Interactive Television Box would not have seen the light of day.

Picture of AppleTVAppleTV: Game on

Since the announcement of the AppleTV there has been a lot of speculation as to its capabilities, did it have some hidden functions that hadn’t been announced at the time? The possibility of additional functionality seemed likely and it didn’t take long after the release of iTunes 7.1 before people had a snoop around in the resources of the software to look for clues to any hidden purposes for the AppleTV.

Inside the software there are strings of text used to display the various messages and alerts shown whilst using the software, interestingly amongst these strings are these:

“4309.161” = “Are you sure you want to sync games? All existing games on the Apple TV ?^1? will be replaced with games from this iTunes library.”;”
4309.162″ = “Are you sure you do not want to sync games? All existing games on the Apple TV ?^1? will be removed.”;

The presence of these strings clearly shows that at the very least some of the games available for the iPod will also be playable on the AppleTV. How much more sophisticated the games available will be remains to be seen, when you consider the possible input device(s) that could be used with the device then there’s no reason why these games have to be as simple as the iPod games. There’s a whole range of ports on the AppleTV including the USB port which so far Apple has said is purely there for ‘maintenance purposes’.

In an interview on Wired.com, Greg Canessa – the Vice-President of PopCap games – specifically mentioned the AppleTV as one of the target platforms for their development:

It will be about taking the stable of franchises and games out of PopCap’s studio and adapting, customizing it for different platforms — adding multiplayer, new play modes, HD, customizing the user interface and display for Zune, ipod, Apple TV, Nintendo DS, PSP.

Notably missing perhaps from that list is the Nintendo Wii console, whether this is intentional or not is hard to say but given the runaway success of the Wii despite it not being as powerful as it’s contemporaries the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 shows that gameplay is not all about raw power. The AppleTV may not have the raw power of the XBox or Playstation but it may offer something close to the capabilities of the Wii, or perhaps even more given the Wii’s lack of HD playback capabilities.

Ripening opportunity2

Great design and application is something that Nintendo and Apple both share, it may be that Apple are looking to take advantage of the increase in popularity of the casual gaming market that Nintendo have cornered so well and to take a slice of that for themselves. The old ideas of the Pippin and the Interactive Television Box look like they have re-emerged from the ashes to a far more opportune time.


1: The iPhone definitely runs OSX, the AppleTV is rumoured to do so and it seems very likely that this is the case.

2: Sorry, this post was full of Apple related puns, not all of them intentional originally!

PureTracks.com to go DRM free – tipping the balance? [updated]

With all the recent hubbub about DRM and downloadable Music tracks it has perhaps comes across as purely rhetoric by a lot of the record labels.

Some people have called into question Steve Jobs’ motives over the whole ‘Thoughts on Music’ letter as being simply a smokescreen to deflect the grumblings within various European companies.

Whatever your opinion on the matter there is some positive movements happening within the Music download industry, money being put where their mouth is so to speak.


iPodObserver.com reports that Puretracks.com has announced the removal of DRM from their music files, starting with the Independent labels and adding more DRM-free tracks as time goes on.

Interestingly PureTracks previously used Windows DRM for their files which means the tracks would have been in Windows Media Audio format files, this move indicates that it will make use of pure MP3 format files as PureTracks have indicated that the will work on iPods. It does appear there will be a mix of both DRM’ed and DRM-free tracks available depending on the Record Label’s preference.

If PureTracks can mix it up, why not iTunes?

I’m playing devils advocate here I guess but I’m wondering if there’s no way that the iTunes Store couldn’t offer a mix of track types? My original thought is that Apple would prefer to keep the user experience simple, so offering some tracks with DRM and some without would be a bit confusing for the user. However, John Gruber of DaringFireball.net wrote an interesting article “Would Apple Mix DRM and Non-DRM Music at the iTunes Store?” which has some interesting points. Maybe there’s scope for a mixture after all?

Update: A couple of interesting links…

Rick Moynihan left a comment pointing to an article by Cory Doctorow regarding Steve Job’s call for removal of DRM from music tracks. I also came across an interesting article on the LA Times website which gives another interesting perspective on the call for removal of DRM, both definitely worth reading.


Open doors, not closed Windows?

This post is a bit of a follow-up to my last post ‘Dear BBC…‘ regarding the BBC’s new iPlayer proposal which is going to use Windows Media DRM to deliver the files. This is basically just a few thoughts / ponderings based on things I’ve been reading related to this whole issue.

Windows Media DRM, is it the only solution to the iPlayer requirements?

I’ve been looking around a little bit to see if there are any alternatives to using Windows Media DRM (I’m going to refer to this as WMDRM for short herein) for delivering the media that the BBC want to make available. The main reason that WMDRM has been chosen is that it is apparently the only form of DRM that will provide the means for the content to time out at the appropriate point. The BBC’s proposal suggests that programmes will be available to download for up to seven days after original broadcast but that the files will be valid for up to thirty days after downloading.

Now what I wondered is whether WMDRM really is the only option available for delivering this kind of time-sensitive protection, so far though I haven’t really found an alternative DRM. I have heard rumours that Apple’s FairPlay DRM has this kind of development in the pipeline though, the more I think about it I reckon Apple already has something like this working. However, given that Apple’s model of selling content on the iTunes Store is purely for outright purchase rather than ‘renting’ content coupled with the fact that Apple don’t currently licence their DRM to anyone else there is no need for Apple to implement this kind of model in practice. But I’m pretty sure they’ve got this kind of function written into FairPlay if / when they want to use it.

A couple of points of possible interest for alternative DRMs I found are:

  • Real Networks Helix – Real Helix platform (of note is that Real for a while managed to reverse engineer Apple’s FairPlay and offered the only online music store that could deliver Music using their own format as well as DRM’ed Windows Media and FairPlay’ed DRM tracks for use on iPods, however Apple put a stop to that functionality in various software updates, plus Real generally got slated for their accompanying PR campaign.)
  • OpenIPMP – Described as ‘Open source DRM for MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 adhering to ISO/MPEG IPMP open standards (MPEG IPMP Hooks and IPMP-X), ISMAcryp and OMA DRM 2 specs. Includes CA, PKI, DOI mgmt, ISMA streaming, license server, encoding/encryption, player, plugin architecture, etc‘.

The only good DRM is NO DRM?

Perhaps a better option is to not use DRM at all? A growing number of companies, organisations and people seem to think so. About a year ago the British Library expressed concern about the impact DRM has on their ability to ensure long-term access to copyrighted content, part of the British Library’s role is to catalogue everything published in the UK. DRM makes this difficult or impossible and getting round it, perhaps, illegal.

At the recent Midem music trade fair in Cannes the topic of selling music without DRM was discussed, perhaps this shows a turning of the tide by the Labels considering DRM-free distribution as the way forward. EMI has already experimented with DRM free music sales through Yahoo Music using raw MP3 format audio files.

There are perhaps several reasons why the Record Labels may be interested in selling tracks without DRM, one of which is the Labels’ desire to have better control over the music market, something that DRM stops them from doing. Another reason is that some Labels seem to perceive the iTunes Store market dominance as some kind of monopoly hold over the labels, this is true to the extent that Steve Jobs has resisted the Label’s demands for a different pricing structure based on popularity of tracks rather than the standard $0.99 / £0.79 per track model used by iTunes and many other online music stores. There are growing calls from European countries for Apple to open up their FairPlay DRM to licensing, Norway being the most recent country to rule that the FairPlay DRM terms and conditions violates local laws.

I’ve heard and read people say that Apple want to keep FairPlay DRM in place without licensing as it ensures their iPod hardware and iTunes Store sales continue to be successful. However, I’ve always felt that FairPlay DRM’s restrictions are about the least restrictive out there, couple this with Steve Jobs resistance to the Record Labels’ attempts to place further restrictions (albeit with some compromise regarding CD burning) and it’s never appeared to me that Apple would enforce DRM if they had a choice, they did promote the ‘Rip, Mix and Burn’ meme after all!

Joking aside though, my feeling on this seems to be confirmed by an article by Steve Jobs posted on Apple.com on 6th February entitled ‘Thoughts on Music’. The article contains a lot of interesting bits of information, it gives a background to how we got to the current state we are in regarding DRM and music. Steve also proposes three possible ways forward regading selling music online:

  1. Continue with the way things are with multiple competing DRM schemes.
  2. Apple to open up FairPlay DRM.
  3. Abolish DRM entirely.

Steve gives a good explanation of what is involved for options 1 & 2, however, the third option is the most interesting:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

So, there it is, straight from the horses mouth so to speak. If there was ever any doubt about Apple’s thoughts / motives regarding DRM I think Steve Jobs just made it quite clear.

What’s this got to do with iPlayer? Is DRM a necessary evil in this instance?

I think it highlights the two different functions or types of DRM in use: One for outright purchased content and one for leased or time-sensitive content. It does appear potentially that there is no need for DRM on purchased content but that there is a need for protecting content that publishers want to make available for a limited period of time. Mmm, so, I’m not really any further forward at presenting an alternative solution for the BBC in regards to the iPlayer’s DRM am I? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Apple could step up to the mark and make a version of FairPlay available to the BBC that allows time-sensitive content.
  • Adobe could step in here and make a DRM method for their Flash player format, especially ideal with the recent launch of the Flash player for Linux

Apart from those couple of thoughts I’m not sure of a way forward, so I’m still not very happy with the current BBC iPlayer proposal. Amongst the details of the BBC Trust’s proposal is discussion of other methods of delivery such as peer-to-peer file sharing, according to Wikipedia the BBC have done some tests using a peer-to-peer system called Kontiki. I’m not sure this really offers anything other than a different method of delivery rather than an alternative DRM method though. Of interest though is a new venture called Joost that was created by the original founders of Skype, their ‘About us’ page states:

Joost™ is a new way to watch TV, free of the schedules and restrictions that come with traditional television. Combining the best of TV with the best of the internet, Joost™ gives you more control and freedom than ever before – control over what you watch, and freedom to watch it whenever you like. We’re providing a platform for the best television content on the planet – a platform that will bring you the biggest and best shows from the TV studios, as well as the specialist programs created by professionals and enthusiasts. It’s all overlaid with a raft of nifty features that help you find the shows you love, watch and chat with friends, and even create your own TV channels.

So, an interesting delivery model but it doesn’t provide an answer to the challenge of finding an alternative DRM for use with the BBC iPlayer proposal.

Perhaps if Music becomes DRM-free, TV / Video will follow suit?

Steve Jobs’ article cites the fact that 90% of music sold is via CD format that contains no DRM whatsoever and this is the reason why DRM for music online makes no sense as it is so readily available in non-drm form. In contrast TV shows and Movies on DVD are primarily in a protected format so that argument doesn’t hold up there. Is it really feasible to expect the BBC and any other provider of TV / Video content to make it available without DRM? I can’t really see it happening, although anything that is distributed using those methods is sure to have it’s DRM circumvented and the content finding it’s way onto sites such as YouTube, Google video and other web sites. It’s still probably a losing battle for the Movie / TV industry but one that I don’t think they’ll yield too in a hurry.

Finishing up, any ideas?

Researching and writing this has made me have a little empathy with the BBC’s situation. They are facing, like Apple did with the big music labels when they proposed the iTunes Store, the requirement to provide a protected way to distribute digital files to satisfy the holders of the copyrighted material. I haven’t really found an obvious viable alternative, other than just dropping DRM altogether.

Anybody got any other ideas / suggestions? If you do then don’t forget you have an opportunity to give feedback on the BBC Trust’s proposals. I encourage you to check out the questionnaire on the BBC Trust website, paying particular attention to question #5:

"How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?"

Don’t forget that the Microsoft DRM the BBC iPlayer will use will also limit functionality for certain older Windows OS’s too, so it’s not just an issue for Mac OSX and Linux users!

I’m of course interested to hear people’s thoughts on this in the comments below too :)

Update: Interesting links


What’s the future for ‘iTunes’?

Ever since Macworld San Francisco I’ve been wondering about the future strategy for the iTunes application in regards to it’s name. I mean I know that the Store is known just as the ‘iTunes Store’ and not the ‘iTunes Music Store now but ‘iTunes’ is still a pretty specific reference to Music really.

Not just music…

As the iTunes Store has for a while sold TV Shows and Movies (at least if you live in the US, not for me in the UK though) then it’s pretty obvious that there’s more to it than just music. However, what I’m really talking about is the actual iTunes application. For the last couple of major versions it has supported playback of video as well as audio, this hasn’t been hard to miss. However, the changes that have been slightly under the radar has been the fact that synchronisation of non-music features such as Contacts from the Mac OSX Address Book application, once something handled by the (increasingly redundant!) iSync application, is now handled inside iTunes.

The iPhone effect

With the announcement of the iPhone then it’s a no-brainer that this handling of Contact information is going to be even more important, perhaps even genuinely useful! (I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve looked up contacts on my iPod).

One of the innovative aspects of the iPhone is the visual voicemail feature which allows you to browse a list of all the voicemails you’ve received. It’s just a guess but I would imagine that this will be added to the list of things that may be synchronised to your computer via iTunes. Ok, so adding audio voicemail into iTunes is still just dealing with audio files, but I reckon it’s just just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the data that will be contained on the iPhone.

Name dropping?

So, with all these different data types in the mix it’s interesting to ponder how the name ‘iTunes’ fits in amongst all of this. Will we see a change of name? Perhaps there is a different iApp required? Maybe, but perhaps it’s a likely outcome that it’s just a further evolution of the iTunes app name to encompass the broader capabilities and functions it contains? Ok, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to come up with that theory I guess.

What’s in iName?

Anyway, let’s see the names in use amongst the iLife / iWork apps already:

  • iTunes
  • iMovie
  • iPhoto
  • iDVD
  • iWeb
  • GarageBand
  • Pages
  • Keynote

Ok, there’s not a completely consistent ‘iName‘ format here so it doesn’t mean that any new name would have to be in that format. However, I think it probably would be purely because of the core association of iPod and iPhone with iTunes as it is now.

GarageBand as a name is a bit of an odd one out really as it’s the only app in the iLife suite to to have the ‘iName’ format. Of course neither of the iWork apps are in that format either but they are part of the iWork package, I wonder if this is a possible scenario for iTunes as an app? Perhaps it could split off into two or more apps as part of a renamed ‘iTunes’ package? Maybe…

Educated guesses?

This is just my little bit of idle pondering, but I’m really not sure what the future of the iTunes application and/or name is. Any ideas?


Anniversary, Frenzy Festival and Get a Mac

Ok, Wedding Anniversary gifts, the theme was definitely about ‘pods’, Annie got me the book ‘JPod’ by Douglas Coupland and I got Annie an iPod Nano:

JPod and iPod picture


The Frenzy Festival was excellent again this year. Sporran Again opened the event again, David Crowder band were awesome. I also got asked if I was one of the members of ‘Delirious?’ too! Last year some people wanted their photo taken with me, which I did obligingly!!!

Frenzy is an excellent event, check it out next year if you missed it this time round.

Get a Mac

There’s some more Get a Mac ads on Apple’s site now, check them out at http://www.apple.com/getamac/, they’re quite funny.


BBC’s accidental interviewee is now on Wikipedia, plus ‘Return of the iPod’ and dumb joke…

I was just reading that Guy Goma, the person accidentally interviewed by the BBC in regards to the outcome of the Apple vs Apple court case, has his own page on Wikipedia.

He seems to have enjoyed quite a bit of fame since the interview and has appeared on TV several times since. Unfortunately the Wikipedia page also says that it has since been discovered that he has overstayed a tourist visa and may be deported due to being here illegally.

If it was on purpose that he stayed I bet he never thought he’d get found out by being put on national television!

Return of the iPod

So, I’d heard back about my broken iPod that I’d sent away. They said it had a faulty hard drive which was what I thought. I didn’t bother getting it fixed as I’d rather spend money on a brand new iPod instead.

It arrived back yesterday and I thought I’d just try to sync it up once more, the darned thing synced uo and managed to copy all the music over without freezing!!! I tried it loads of time the other day and it hung every time! I also managed to listen to two podcasts without any problems, so far it’s behaving itself, I think it’s a matter of time before it goes funny again but I’ll see how it goes.

Maybe it just wanted to go for a wee holiday? The fresh air in Brighton must have done the trick!

It was funny having no iPod for a few days, I’m so used to listening to it that it was hard not to go out and buy myself an iPod shuffle for £49 just so I could listen to podcasts! I resisted though :)

iJog, er, I mean iPod + Nike advert

macTV videocast has a cool ad for the new Nike / Apple show, check it out here.

Finally, what’s the difference between Apple and Nike? Answer: one of them makes software and hardware but the other one just makes softwear.


So, would you use an iPhone?

There’s a stack of rumours abound that Apple are hard at work making an ‘iPhone’, an iPod and phone combination. Their recent partnership with Motorola and the ROKR and SLVR phones with iTunes signifies some interest at least in the mobile phone area.

I read an article on ITWire – An Australian IT site called “iPod soon a museum item as cellphones rule” and I wasn’t sure I agreed with the point that the writer Stan Beer was making. Basically his point was that standalone mp3 players such as iPods and also PDAs will be made redundant by mobile phones due to phones getting better mp3 features and bigger storage making them more competitive.

He suggests that the fact that phones come with a lot of other features like cameras, pda-like functions, TV access that this makes them a more attractive option to people, additionally he states, “they also offer a better way to get music“. It’s basically on that point that I think he’s missing something.

The missing issue is that mobile phone companies like to charge a good premium for things like buying music or ringtones online. Unless the cost of buying music is the same £0.99 / $0.99 or less that people pay per track via normal web access then people won’t sign up wholesale to purchase music via mobile phones, it means that people would use it much like the Motorola ROKR phone with iTunes and just transfer from their desktop computer.

Hopefully companies like Helios in the US with their new approach in providing price plans and services targeted at letting people use mobiles to access services such as MySpace or chat apps etc will push the bar for this kind of thing and make the price of mobile web access much much cheaper. Just now it’s pretty expensive, just take a look at Japan and then apply the kind of services they have to the UK and US and maybe people using the “iPhone” to buy music wirelessly will happen. Maybe Apple will just add WiFi to the phone and people can avoid having to use the carriers networks altogether and just download from the ever-increasing amount of wi-fi access-points instead.

Another thing is that not everyone wants an all-in-one device, not everyone wants a mobile phone or wants to pay phone fees, iPods are a cheaper and cheaper commodity and the cost of ownership is low, it doesn’t cost more to own apart from buying new music, cell phone costs are kind of expensive for many people so I would hesitate to say that a standard iPod is going to be redundant in a years time.

One final point is that the iPod isn’t successful because of it’s wealth of features but perhaps rather the dearth of features – it’s simple to use – how many people say that about their mobile phones? All the additional features in the world haven’t helped companies like Creative or even the once-mighty Sony to make a significant dent in the iPod’s success, there’s a huge army of third-party accessory makers for the iPod, I really don’t think the iPod as it stands is becoming obsolete, probably just even cheaper and more prevalent!


Paying homage

So, Annie’s in Toronto. I told her she had to go visit some place special for me.

Annie outside the Toronto Yorkdale Apple Store

Can you spot her?

She phoned me up from her sister’s cell phone to tell me she was there! She wins the title “iWife 06”!!!


The importance of cross-platform testing

Well, in my new mission to post on this blog regularly I have gone and created a nice new blog widget for the purpose of quick and easy posting to the site. It’s working pretty well but I still can’t figure out how to save preferences in widgets, it just doesn’t seem to work. Perseverance needed!

With all the hoohaa about Apple’s Bootcamp software that allows you to run windows going on I thought it best to test and see what happens to sites when viewed using Bootcamp.

I chose my friend Alyn’s Blog as a test subject, here’s the results:

So, you can see that sites do look quite remarkably different when using Bootcamp.