December 8, 2016

Signal v. Noise:

I was captivated when Apple opened its first set of physical retail stores in 2001. But in the last few years, the stores have really turned me off. I don’t like stepping into them. They don’t make me feel welcome — rather they make me feel like I need a good reason to be there. Of course I have a reason to be there, but I don’t like the fact that I have to declare it upon entry.

The irony of this web site’s name is not lost on me. This is a lot of noise that brings to mind Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Greenery is a fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore and renew. Illustrative of flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors, the fortifying attributes of Greenery signals consumers to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate.

Arguably one of the most influential figures in the history of gaming, this is a big moment for Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo. From the Verge interview:

“Super Mario Run is going to introduce millions of more people to the fun of Mario, and it’ll become the entry point for them,” Miyamoto explains. “And then the question becomes, once you’ve gone through that entry point, then what comes next? Is it a more traditional Mario experience? Is it something like the Mario Galaxy games? We’ll then have to look at what it is these new fans want from a Mario game, and we’ll continue to see Mario evolve in that way.”

Nintendo is exploring some new paths (Investment in Pokemon Go, Nintendo Switch, and porting Mario to iOS), all of which seem to be working very well.

Looking forward to next Thursday’s rollout of Super Mario Run and, in March, to the Nintendo Switch and the open world version of The Legend of Zelda.

Campaign:

May 2, 2006: The first spot from the “Get a Mac” campaign, “Better,” airs in the US. It is one of eight spots that Steve Jobs approved out of the 12 that were produced from the first three-day shoot.

Part 1 can be found here.

Jimmy Fallon plays Super Mario Run and Zelda: Breath of the Wild in front of Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto

This was delightful, infectiously fun. Turns out, Jimmy Fallon is pretty good at this game. Great marketing for both Super Mario Run and the Nintendo Switch, which they showed off midway through the video, with Jimmy getting a chance to explore the open world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Switch.

I love that they had Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto in the audience to watch. My favorite part of the show was Miyamoto playing the Super Mario theme with the Roots.

Super Mario Run teaser trailer

Run!!!

Nintendo’s official Super Mario Run gameplay video

Nintendo’s Super Mario Run will debut one week from today, an iOS exclusive at least through the end of the year.

Interested in the gameplay? The video embedded below will take you through the highlights. To me, this feels like a Nintendo game worth of Super Mario. The fit and finish is just what you’d expect, the sound effects spot on.

Apple VP Jennifer Bailey got onstage at the Code Commerce Series and spoke, interview style, about the current status of Apple Pay.

If you have even the slightest interest in Apple Pay, this is worth watching. Jennifer is well spoken, really knows her stuff, and offers some projections on where Apple Pay is going. For example, she proposed that in 2017, two thirds of the top 100 retailers will accept Apple Pay.

A few years ago, I wrote about Craig Federighi being a natural presence on stage. He’s confident, self effacing, well-spoken, and passionate. He does a terrific job representing Apple.

To me, Jennifer Bailey has that same personality. I think she’d be great on stage at an Apple event. She certainly breathes life into Apple Pay discussions.

I’m not a fan of the article’s title, but it is definitely an interesting read. At its core:

Taking advantage of an exemption tucked into America’s Byzantine tax code, Apple stashed much of its foreign earnings—tax-free—right here in the U.S., in part by purchasing government bonds, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. In return, the Treasury Department paid Apple at least $600 million and possibly much more over the past five years in the form of interest, a Bloomberg review of its regulatory filings shows.

And:

Blaming U.S. companies for following the tax code, however complex or flawed, is misguided, says Richard Lane, a senior analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

“If these companies don’t need the money in the U.S., there’s no incentive to give Uncle Sam” that money in taxes, he said. “What sane chief financial officer, who’s doing their fiduciary duties to shareholders, would pay money to some entity for no good reason? If there’s a moral issue, I’m not sure whether there’s immorality to that.”

In a nutshell, the article details that Apple is buying US Treasury bonds to park overseas earnings, while still maintaining that money as overseas.

Given the availability of this strategy, if I’m an Apple investor, I suspect I’d be upset if Apple didn’t follow this strategy.

December 7, 2016

We’ve teamed up with Sonos to make it easier than ever to keep the music going strong. Now Spotify Premium users can control their Sonos straight from the Spotify app using Spotify Connect. Use all the features you love about Spotify: the curation, discovery, and sharing and hear it all throughout your home in crystal clear sound. You can also access the multiroom power of the Sonos home sound system directly in the Spotify app. We’ve brought out the best of both worlds to give you the smartest and most seamless home sound system yet.

This is huge. I love Sonos, but using their app is a real pain.

The National Hockey League has informed teams that it is in late-stage negotiations to strike a partnership with Apple that could see the company’s iPads and other technology become commonplace on team benches, TSN has learned.

I have noticed lately that there are screens behind the benches during Bruins games, but I’m not sure what they are. I believe they are just monitors for the coaches to look at replays.

Tedium:

As proprietary, non-standardized formats go, Iomega’s Zip drive got a heck of a lot further than most of its competitors. It managed to improve on a format people were used to (the old floppy) just enough that it ensured it’d gain popularity. It fit niches for people who had to share a lot of data. And it even had a sizable base of home users—which was impressive for its time. But the Zip drive was a famously problematic product, and one whose faults created big problems for Iomega. Today’s Tedium talks about the Zip drive, along with the era of proprietary PC storage.

I’ve often wondered if Iomega could have hung on if they hadn’t ignored the Click of Death issue. If they had been more responsive to customers, we might have stuck with them. Now, with the rise of the internet and the ability of customers to communicate and warn each other much more quickly, there’s no way Iomega could have hidden the issue for as long as they did.

21st Century Fox Inc., Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. and Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures all confirmed over the past week that they are looking to offer high-priced, home-video rentals of new movies shortly after they open in theaters. Some studio executives have been pushing to allow home rentals as early as two weeks after theatrical debuts and are considering a deal with iTunes as one option, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

One option is a premium-priced online rental for new movies, at prices of $25 to $50, a possibility under consideration at the studios, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

I think this would be great, and I’d be willing to pay a premium to be able to rent movies that are still in theaters. However, $25 is a bit rich for me. I’d wait until they dropped the price to about half of that.

fastcodesign:

Perhaps you heard. A few weeks ago, Apple released a book called Designed by Apple in California: a $300 hardcover containing 450 photos of Apple products, chronicling almost 20 years of Apple’s industrial design—and specifically, Jony Ive’s Apple industrial design.

But I also thought where the book started was interesting: 1998’s candy-colored iMac G3, the first Mac released after Steve Jobs came to Apple. This is an important computer, true. But it’s not the first computer Jony Ive designed for Apple. Nor is it his most forward-looking.

It’s understandable the reasons behind the decision but it certainly can be argued it should have been included.

Bloomberg:

Fitbit Inc., the fitness band maker, has acquired software assets from struggling smartwatch startup Pebble Technology Corp., a move that will help it better compete with Apple Inc.

The purchase excludes Pebble’s hardware, Fitbit said in a statement Wednesday. The deal is mainly about hiring the startup’s software engineers and testers, and getting intellectual property such as the Pebble watch’s operating system, watch apps, and cloud services, people familiar with the matter said earlier.

The Pebble fire sale is the result of financial struggles in a smartwatch market that failed to grow as quickly or as large as initially hoped and hyped. Industry shipments slumped 52 percent in the third quarter, according to research firm IDC, and Pebble cut a quarter of its staff earlier this year.

This has been predicted for a long time so it comes as no real surprise. The market is dominated by Fitbit and Apple and, while it was a darling of the Kickstarter and early adopter tech crowd, the Pebble never really had much mainstream success.

Just over a year after acquiring the scraps of Rdio, Pandora has revealed Premium, its take on an on-demand music streaming service, designed to compete against the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. Just like every other $10-a-month music streaming service, Pandora Premium will offer users an extensive library featuring millions of songs available on-demand, ad-free streaming, and the ability to save your music offline.

Where Premium separates itself from the Spotifys of the world is personalization. Pandora’s smart playlists will allow users to automatically add similar songs to a playlist at the tap of a button. Premium also features personalized search, which will give different users different results based on their listening history. The browse section is tailored to your tastes, including the new release section.

I’ve been a customer of Pandora for quite some time and love it—they have the best algorithmic radio stations in the industry. With Premium, they are combing that with on-demand music just like the other music services offer. This is going to be an interesting battle to watch in 2017.

Counterpoint to Jim’s issues with Apple Music

If you have not yet read it, take a few minutes to read Jim Dalrymple’s heartfelt critique of Apple Music, iTunes Match, and Apple’s embrace of Hip-Hop.

I do agree with a lot of Jim’s thesis, especially his points about iTunes Match and Apple exclusives. Rock and metal seem to have become second class citizens there.

That said, I have become more and more a fan of the overall Apple Music experience, warts and all. I love being able to share music with my kids via our family plan. There’s hardly a song I can think of that I can’t find on Apple Music. My kids share what they love, which keeps me up on newer music, and I get to share the roots music that informed and influenced the music they love.

I think Apple Music’s DNA is broadening, not narrowing. Though I do agree that Apple exclusives tend to be star-centric, with focus on trying to sign deals with the biggest names, that makes business sense.

But Apple Music is not abandoning other flavors of music. As I write this, I have Metallica’s newest (Hardwired to Self-Destruct) blasting direct from Apple Music to my MacBook Pro’s speakers.

As I make my way through the new releases on Apple Music, I see Disturbed: Live at Red Rocks, Sixx:A.M.’s Prayers for the Blessed, both mixed in with plenty of pop, jazz, country and, yes, plenty of hip-hop. That said, Jim’s point is certainly well taken. There’s way more hip-hop/rap than rock. The trend is clear.

I see this as a bit of a pendulum. The most highly represented music is driven by the personal tastes of the people running the show. That makes sense. Before Beats entered the equation, the pendulum swung the other way.

And with all that said, I hope that the folks at the top will read Jim’s editorial and take it to heart. The choices made with iTunes Match and Apple Music exclusives do matter. Don’t let your own personal tastes limit the Apple Music experience for those folks who skew different.

Phil Schiller says November all-time App Store monthly sales record

Phil Schiller’s tweet:

November 2016 was a record breaker for the #AppStore – the highest monthly sales ever in App Store history!

No matter the ebbs and flows of iPhone and iPad sales, the ecosystem continues to grow steadily.

The Iconfactory:

Center Stage is a new and dynamic way to browse tweets that contain only media in your Twitterrific timeline. Users have been requesting a media-focused timeline in Twitterrific for quite a while and we’re pleased to announce it’s finally arrived.

I don’t use Twitter in such a way to make this Center Stage feature attractive to me but if you are looking for a different way to view your tweets, Twitterific is a great, free (with in-app purchases) Twitter client.

The Ringer:

It was inevitable that, in an industry where improving sleep has become its own sub-economy, alarm clock sounds would get disrupted, too. Sure, morning alerts have taken many sonic forms over the course of human civilization, including rooster crows, ringing bells, and Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe.” But as more Americans become loyal smartphone users — especially the kind that sleep next to their gadget each night — tangible alarm clocks have been replaced with apps that get creative with their morning racket. In this new medium, the strategies for waking up have multiplied, sometimes adopting gimmicky or cruel approaches in the search to answer the same questions: What’s the perfect sound, light, or smell to wake up to?

I use an app called “Rise Alarm Clock“. It has a lovely alarm sound called “Camping Trip” I use to gently wake up to. What alarm clock sounds do you use?

Breaking the fourth wall

I love a good fourth wall break, when someone in a show or film turns and speaks directly to the audience, or into the camera. When done well, it creates a more intimate relationship between the actors and the audience.

Here’s a bunch of examples of doing it well.

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

As it does every year, Apple today has put together its end-of-the-year “Best of” sections on the iTunes Store, App Store, and iBooks Store. The sections are meant to highlight the best content of the year across various categories. For instance, Apple has named photo editing app “Prisma” as the iPhone App of the Year.

Moving down the list, Apple has named “Clash Royale” iPhone Game of the Year, while “Severed” has been named iPad Game of the Year. “Sketchbook Motion,” meanwhile, has been named iPad App of the Year.

There are lists for Apps of the Year, Games of the Year, and things Drake has done…er…Song and Album of the Year.

Try this Twitter experiment. Pick an emoji, any emoji, and send it to @botmoji. For example, when I tweet this:

@botmoji 🤑

I get back this:

🤑 Money-Mouth Face http://emojipedia.org/money-mouth-face/

The response is immediate and a nice way to quickly find out the intention of the more obscure emoji.

Google’s emoji Twitter bot

If you type an emoji, followed by @Google, you’ll eventually get a response from Google, using the #KnowNearby hash tag, with a localized search based on the emoji.

For example:

🍕@Google

will return a search for local pizza.

This is interesting, but the response takes too long to be truly useful. I do like the experiment, though.

BBC News:

Eight users have complained to Shanghai’s consumer watchdog that their iPhone 6 series handsets spontaneously combusted or exploded.

The US tech giant said it had conducted tests on the devices and had found “no cause for concern with these products”.

One technology analyst told the BBC she did not believe it to be a widespread problem.

And, most importantly:

Apple said the iPhones had external physical damage “which led to the thermal event”.

Neil Cybart, Above Avalon:

It feels like cracks are forming at Apple’s edges. The company is straining to push out hardware updates. Supply issues are getting worse. Apple is reportedly moving away from selling beloved products like stand-alone displays and wireless routers. Meanwhile, Microsoft, Amazon, and Snap are gaining buzz with new niche hardware while Apple appears to be hanging back and resting on its laurels.

Something feels off with Apple, and the blame is increasingly pointed at Tim Cook. I suspect these feelings are a result of Cook betting now is the time to milk the iPhone. Apple is doubling down on the iPhone to build one of the world’s most formidable tech ecosystems, and few are taking notice.

Not sure I agree with the title here. The term “milking” gives a sense that Apple is spinning its wheels, doing nothing but sucking every bit of juice it can get out of the iPhone line. But if you read the rest of the article, it’s clear that this is all about expanding and fortifying the iPhone ecosystem, something Tim Cook has done spectacularly well.

Thoughtful read, well worth the time.

This new look has been slowly rolling out over the last few months, with Safari being last to get it. I like the new look and functionality.

From the Netflix blog:

As we launch more than 1,000 hours of original content next year, we know we have less than 90 seconds to capture someone’s attention and get them excited about a title — that’s why we’re introducing video previews into the TV browsing experience.

What’s a video preview? For starters, video previews aren’t teasers or traditional trailers. They are specially designed video synopses that help members make faster and more confident decisions by quickly highlighting the story, characters and tone of a title. In developing this experience, our testing showed that people watched more of a story, demonstrating these previews helped them browse less and watch more.

I like the experience, I do see value in seeing curated video clips instead of a box shot or still frame.

That said, I think more data would be even more helpful. For example, I’d love a Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic/IMDb score for each movie (in addition to the Netflix score, which I rarely agree with).

As I’m making my way through Netflix’s lists, I inevitably make my way over to IMDb, etc. to get a sense of how the movie is received by others. A low score won’t necessarily stop me from exploring a movie, but an extremely high score will keep me in the game, keep me from missing a little known but highly praised niche project.

[Via iHeartApple2]

December 6, 2016

Apple Music hits 20 million subscribers by focusing on Hip-Hop

In an interview with Billboard today, Apple’s Eddy Cue revealed that Apple Music has surpassed 20 million paid subscribers. There are a few other tidbits of info in the article as well.

And despite a mandate from Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge, exclusives will continue in the near future “where appropriate,” adds Cue. “They work really well for everybody concerned — they’re great for the label, they work for the artist and for us.”

Exclusives drive numbers and a subscription service is all about churning people, hopefully adding more in the top than those falling out the bottom. Apple is perfecting it.

“We’ve always thought that hip-hop was underrepresented both in iTunes and in the streaming chart. And more people listen to hip-hop now than ever before so we’ve done a lot of work in that area.”

I’ve said this since the launch of Apple Music, but it seems very clear now. “Music” is no longer in Apple’s DNA—hip-hop is what’s important to Apple. Again, it’s a numbers game. More people are listening to that genre than ever before, so Apple can leave the Rock/Blues/Metal acts to another service and still add subscribers using hip-hop exclusives. It’s actually refreshing to see Apple finally admit it.

People like me with an existing music library that rely on the often non-working iTunes Match are no longer Apple’s market. I even opened up a second Apple Music account to see if iTunes Match would work—it didn’t.

In a lot of ways it makes perfect sense that Apple is building a music service that doesn’t require a music library—there’s less hassle and they don’t have to rely on services like iTunes Match to please those customers. Apple is catering to those customers very well. However, it’s a shame they don’t care about the rest of us any more.

What Apple will recognize is that the people they attract with exclusives will go to the next music service that has an exclusive without blinking an eye or without any loyalty to Apple. By that time, the base of users that they’ve relied on for years will also be gone.

And the churn continues.

Update:

I feel compelled to write an update because there seems to be some confusion over what I wrote last night.

I’m not saying that Hip-Hop is not music or isn’t an important genre of music—it is. In fact, it’s probably the largest music genre in the business today. What I’m saying is that Apple is focusing its entire service on that one genre.

If I go to the “Browse” section of Apple Music on any given day, the majority of what I see is only Hip-Hop. That’s not Apple having music in its DNA, that’s focusing on the churn of music subscribers—that’s a totally different thing than loving all types of music.

More importantly, pieces of Apple Music still don’t work like Apple said they would. One of the great promises of Apple Music was being able to bring your existing music library to the service and it would know what songs you have. When I look at an album on Apple Music that I already own, it often says that I don’t have it—how can that happen if iTunes Match is working the way it should?

How is it that I can play a radio station, rate a song that’s it’s playing from my library and the rating disappears immediately?

How can I tap play on an Apple Music song and it plays a completely different version of the song?

Why doesn’t my iCloud Music Library on my Mac update every day with the songs I played in the last 24 hours when it’s supposed to?

When the iCloud Music Library does update, why doesn’t it include songs from radio stations that I played, even though those songs are in my library?

How can I dislike songs and albums and they continue to show up in my For You section?

My issue is not that Apple is focused on Hip-Hop, it’s that they are only focused on Hip-Hop to the detriment of the other issues. They need to fix the service and focus on their love of all music, not how many subscribers they have.

Apple was always about building the best product and people would come. Apple Music doesn’t seem like that to me.

I love Portrait mode and use it all the time. Having a few tips from pros will only make it better.