Apple Music is here, and the reactions are mixed. There’s confusion over some interface glitches, and questions about whether you’ll lose access to your music because of adding DRM to cloud-enabled music, even if you already own those tracks. I suspect some things are still being worked out, but the watchword is to save your own copies of your music library and don’t expect them to be replaced by an online version. That’s where the trouble starts.
Will Apple be announcing amazing sign-up numbers for Apple Music at the conference call with financial analysts scheduled for Tuesday, July 21st? Or will they wait until the first 90-day free trial period is up to get a sense of how many people are actually keeping their subscriptions? That way, they can judge what percentage of early adopters are staying with the program.
Then again, I wonder if those analysts will actually have the courage to ask about Apple Watch sales figures this time, now that the product has be available for nearly an entire quarter.
Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured an extended discussion of Apple Music and how it stands up to the music streaming competition. First up was columnist Kirk McElhearn, who is also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who presented a full picture of his early reactions to Apple’s subscription music service. Does it make the grade, or are there problems still to be fixed? Since Kirk is a serious classical music lover, did he find Apple’s setup a little wanting for people who aren’t among the majority of listeners?
You also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, who focused the first part of the discussion on Gene’s new watch. No, it’s not an Apple Watch, but a $12.88 calendar watch that he bought at Walmart. At least it keeps time fairly accurately. You also heard Jeff’s reactions to Apple Music and the reports of problems with the service and the interface. After a brief pop culture back and forth, Jeff also talked about the next Apple TV. And once again, your humble editor said that 4K Ultra HD support would be there from the get-go, despite what some tech pundits claim.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Introducing Ray Hernandez, Operations Manager of FREE, which stands for Foundation of Research into Extraterrestrial Encounters. This is the organization co-founded by astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, which focuses heavily on experiencers. According to the material we have from the organization: The Mission of FREE will focus on “Research, Education and Support” but will primarily focus on scientific investigation through surveys and interviews on individuals who have had UFO related contact experiences with non-human sentient beings (commonly known as “ET Contact”) and to compare this group with individuals that have had other types of “paranormal contact experiences.” In addition, Ray will discuss his personal paranormal encounters and how that led to the creation of FREE.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
The way some tech bloggers put it, Apple has become the Big Brother depicted in George Orwell’s “1984.” Yes, the very first Macintosh commercial railed against conformity, largely against the IBM PC, but now that Apple has become so large, there’s a feeling on the part of some that Apple is taking unwanted control of your choices and your experiences even if they aren’t scraping your email to find fodder for targeted ads.
So when you buy an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac — and now an Apple Watch — supposedly you have been imprisoned in a walled garden, and you are forced to accept the company’s choices on how to use your gear. Sure, it’s not easy to escape Apple’s mobile restrictions if you want to use apps that aren’t in the App Store. Instead you have to jailbreak your device, which can also make you vulnerable to malware-ridden apps.
But the App Store has an estimated 1.5 million apps. Sure there’s enough in that library to cater to most every need. Yes, I realize there are certain types of apps that aren’t allowed, in large part because they require system resources or forms of inter-app communication that Apple doesn’t support. An app to capture Skype audio is a notable example. But that’s not the result of a nasty trick to take control over your experience. No doubt there are legitimate security concerns that Apple needs to consider before such things are allowed.
Customization is also not as extensive as an Android device. But here Apple’s choices seem logical. People want a consistent, reliable experience, not loads of options that make little sense and don’t materially improve your experience. I found, for example, loads of settings in a Samsung smartphone’s Phone app that should have either been activated by default, or served little value in delivering good quality audio with reliable connections on a carrier’s cellular system.
Remember, too, that Apple isn’t telling you what apps to download. There aren’t all that many standard-issue apps on your new i-device, and you aren’t confronted with loads of junkware, apps that may barely work, that can overwhelm, say, a Samsung smartphone without lots of storage capacity.
The Mac experience is amazingly free. Remember, this is a Unix OS, and you have a working command line in the Terminal app that gives you loads of control over what you want to do with your computer. There are third-party apps that harness hidden commands without requiring you to use Terminal. You aren’t even tethered to OS X. You can use Boot Camp to set it up as a Windows PC if that’s what you like, and you can run loads of operating systems via a virtual machine. I’m a member of Microsoft’s Windows Insider program , in fact, running the latest Windows 10 with great performance courtesy of Parallels Desktop.
So I don’t feel at all constrained, or forced to observe a multinational corporation’s restrictive viewpoint about what kind of computing experience I must have. I don’t feel that I’m limited in what I need to do to accomplish my daily routine. Over the years, in fact, I’ve even lived in the Windows environment and found that quite constraining since the quirks of the operating system kept getting me in the way of dealing with my apps. I wrote books about Windows and couldn’t wait to shut it down and return to an environment in which I felt comfortable.
Yes, I know about people who complain that a Mac is putting restrictions on the things you can do, and perhaps that applies in their situation. But if it’s about setting more useless preferences that don’t enhance your productivity, that’s not my scene. In the early days, I installed a positively ridiculous number of absurd add-ons to my Macs, but one day decided that I was just wasting time better spent on accomplishing something. So I gave up on the silly changes in scrollbars and window designs and the other nonsense that once polluted my desktop in the very old days.
I realize Apple has some constraints on the sort of apps available in the Mac App Store. Again, audio capture utilities are verboten, and the same applies to disk optimization and repair apps, and security apps that provide background analysis of your system, apps and email to ward off potential malware. But nothing prevents you from going elsewhere to buy such apps. Apple’s somewhat restricted requirements for the App Store aren’t for everyone, but you aren’t forced to buy your software there.
So when I read a hit piece suggesting Apple was trying to force you to fit into a certain mold with Apple Music, I had to laugh. I agree an initial encounter might confront you with mostly pop music offerings, which may not be your cup of tea. But I do not see evidence that it’s not adapting to my own particular music tastes. They can be eclectic, since I grew up when traditional pop music, typified by, say, Frank Sinatra, was fading and being supplanted by rock and roll.
So you can imagine that my typical musical diet, consisting of pop, easy listening, classic rock, some jazz and some classical, with a smidgen of country, might be a difficult match for any automated programming system. The original iTunes Radio couldn’t manage anything close to my needs. It seems Apple Music, after watching what inspires me to click Play, is slowly figuring it out. All right, there’s too much stuff in there that I’d never allow to disturb my personal time in the car, such as Tom Jones, Barry Manilow and Paul Potts, but it is getting better. Donovan turned up today, along with Joni Mitchell and even a best of Monkees compilation. Whether it will become good enough to earn $9.99 a month from me after the free trial ends, I’m not certain.
But I do not feel Apple is enforcing someone else’s tastes on me. With over 30 million tracks promised, I’m sure there’s plenty of room for most anyone’s tastes, aside from the artists who aren’t allowing streaming yet. But I have a pretty full Beatles collection of my own, so I’m not constrained by that limitation, which I hope will be temporary.
Now one article I read suggests that Apple set up the service to fail, claiming that even such supposedly successful subscription services as Spotify are living on life support, burning through venture capital. Indeed, Spotify’s 2014 revenue increased to $1.3 billion, an increase of 45% from the previous year. But net losses soared from $68 million to $197 million.
Apple has a virtual bottomless pit of cash on hand, but you don’t expect them to sustain losses on anything. Since Apple Music merely extends a global streaming system that’s already in place for iTunes, and the $3 billion paid to acquire Beats is a drop in the bucket to the company, Apple Music may actually pay for itself within months. Remember there is no free version, although the Beats 1 and iTunes Radio are available separately at no cost.
So what about the conspiracy theory? Well, if other streaming services cannot get past losses and build sustainable businesses, they will ultimately disappear. That will focus the market on Apple Music, and then Apple and its music industry partners can decide whether it’s worth keeping around. But don’t forget that the hit piece avoided the fact that people aren’t buying music as much as they used to. Yes, there is a vinyl resurgence, but it’s far from sufficient tot sustain an industry by itself. Clearly enough people do want to subscribe to an almost all-you-can-eat music service and pay a modest monthly fee for the privilege.
Wherever our preferences in music may go, Apple will be there to cater to them. That’s not about forcing you into conformity, but delivering exactly what you want, or as close as it can.
Again, I’m not at all sure whether I’ll keep the auto-renew option checked when the 90 days are up. Most of the music I’ve selected represents something I already own, although a lot of it was never ripped to iTunes. So it’s not that I would suffer that much if I returned to my ways when it comes to acquiring music.
When it comes to Apple, the most loyal customers over there years have been creative people. That’s not about forcing them to fit into Apple’s mold, but giving them the freedom to build the products and services in which they believe. That is quite the reverse of a walled garden.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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