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Exclusive TV Shows on Apple Music

I have no problem with Apple making television shows.

I know a lot of people consider it a distraction. What are they doing? Their software is full of bugs. This is not the core of what Apple is. Why is Eddy Cue running off and making TV shows in the midst of all these serious issues with Apple TV and iTunes?

The answers to all these questions is simple: Apple Music. During a live interview with Recode yesterday, Eddy Cue revealed that their first original TV show, Planet of the Apps, will be available exclusively to Apple Music subscribers. And that makes perfect sense. Subscription services, after all, live and die by their exclusive content. Apple can only get so many musical artists to offer new album exclusivity for a few weeks on Apple Music. Sooner or later, Apple needs to have other things that Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, etc. can’t ever get. Otherwise, why choose Apple over all the others?

If Apple were selling Planet of the Apps on iTunes as a one-time purchase, I’d say they’d lost their minds. But tying this to Apple Music suddenly brings the strategy to light.

If you have a problem with Apple creating original content for Apple Music subscribers, then you must believe Apple shouldn’t be in the subscription music business. Because that’s the only long-term play for Apple to succeed. Yes, it seems odd that their first show out of the gate is about developers and not music (Carpool Karaoke will be coming shortly after Planet), but remember: this is the first of many shows to come. The more content Apple produces, the more likely they will get new subscribers who aren’t currently interested in their offering.

Apple could be offering exclusive audio entertainment instead of video. They may choose to do that in the future. Who knows? The point is, if you want to grow your subscriber base, you need to offer something other services can’t. And video is pretty compelling.

Video puts Apple in the advantageous position of offering all the music you’d ever want, and exclusive shows no one else has, all for one price. I doubt Netflix is going to be signing bands anytime soon.1

Right now I subscribe to Netflix, HBO, and Acorn. I get Amazon’s video through my Prime account2. I’m interested in some shows on Showtime and a few other networks, but thus far, none of them have had enough content to make me start forking over the monthly fee.

I don’t subscribe to any music streaming services at all. I’m an old fart who prefers to buy albums like it’s 1950. So how does Apple get me to sign up for Apple Music?

Planet of the Apps is not going to get me, to be sure. The show looks dreadful. Then again, I hate reality TV, and I’m an app developer, so clearly I’m not the target audience. Carpool Karaoke, likewise, sounds about as appealing to me as stabbing myself in the eye with a fork for thirty minutes.

For thousands, if not millions of others, though, those shows may prove to be the deciding factor. Man, I really want to watch that new show. And I can stream any music I want with that same fee?

Why wouldn’t you drop Spotify at that point?

And eventually? Maybe the tenth or fifteenth show Apple produces will be compelling enough to get even me to join. Heck, the majority of Netflix’s exclusive shows are terrible. But then they pop out Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and The Crown, and I’m all in. That’s how this game is played.

Apple doesn’t have to crush Spotify, Netflix, HBO, etc. to win. They just need to offer more and more shows until more and more of us make Apple Music part of our monthly billing cycle. Sounds like they’re on the right track.

  1. Is the name “Apple Music” unfortunate, given that they are now going to be offering music as well as video? No more awkward than iTunes being the app I launch to watch movies, I guess. And let’s face it: “Netflix” doesn’t make much sense for a service that is known more for its TV shows than movies these days.
  2. I rarely watch Amazon shows because they have no Apple TV app. Eddy Cue says the ball is in Amazon’s court on that one. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t pay for Amazon video just to get their video. And I would pay for Prime even if it didn’t offer video. But I suspect by offering video, Prime has grown its user base significantly. ↩︎

iPad Identity Crisis

“As long as we keep ping-ponging between iPhone and Mac, iPad will continue to be stuck in between them, never quite better than one or the other.”

—Me, May 22, 2015

I said that a year-and-a-half ago, and it’s still true.

I stopped thinking of iPad as a replacement for anything a long time ago. It’s a device you use in specific ways for specific things.

Yes, for many users, an iPad alone can be all the computer they need. Apple sells a ton of iPads to these people. But replacing your PC is not the only use for an iPad. It's not even the most interesting one.

I use my iPad in places where a laptop wouldn’t be as good. I use my laptop in places where my iPad wouldn’t be as good. I have no desire to get rid of either of them. I suspect I’m not alone.

I have no idea what Apple has in mind for iPad this year, but I seriously hope they plan to make it neither more iPhone nor more Mac like. Play to the device’s strengths with the hardware innovations, and new and interesting software will continue to be built for it.

More on AirPods – A Few Weeks Later

  • The fit isn’t perfect. The buds are just a bit loose for me, and that’s unfortunate. But they don’t fall out while I’m walking around, and they stay enough in place that it doesn’t bother me. An occasional adjustment gets them right back into that ideal sound position. I’ve learned to be less paranoid about them falling out randomly, in any case.
  • I tried the silicon gel covers that some companies make for the regular Apple Earbuds. They fit perfectly on the AirPods, as they are exactly the same size. And the extra layer of silicon does help the buds stay in my ears a bit better. Especially for my right ear, which as I mentioned before, is a bit larger than my left, evidently. Problem is, once the covers are on, the AirPods will no longer fit into the charging case. They slide into the charging ports, but the lid won’t close. This is the one time I’ve actually wished Apple paid less attention to detail in their manufacturing tolerances. If those cutouts were just a bit larger, the lid would close perfectly. Unfortunately, the lid not closing is a deal breaker for me. So I’m back to using them without any extra covers.
  • Given this size issue, and knowing that for some with even bigger ears than me it’ll be an even bigger deal, I wish Apple would consider making at least two sizes of AirPods. Maybe they will. They make multiple sizes of Watch bands, after all. This is the reality of the wearables market. People are all sorts of shapes and sizes, right?
  • I don’t think about battery life at all. The buds themselves last more than a few hours; more than I generally listen in one sitting. Whenever they aren’t in my ears, they are in the case, where they recharge. The case has never come close to being drained in a single day. And I’m a “charge all the things every night” kind of person, so I have yet to drain the case down at all. I suspect if I forgot to charge the case for a while, I’d get at least four or five days of normal use out of them before absolutely needing to recharge. That’s unscientific, but the bottom line is that it’s never going to be an issue for me, because I do charge them every night.
  • Speaking of charge, I do wish the iOS battery widget would show the AirPods charge percentage (the buds and the case) at all times, rather than just when the AirPods were active. That would probably cost some battery life, but it would be good to know the case charge, in particular, without having to stop the music and place the buds into the case. Maybe I should just not care about the charge percentage of the case, since it never seems to be a problem for me. But I’m a data junkie about this stuff.
  • Not having wires is amazing; being able to seamlessly switch pairing between my Macs, iPads, iPhone, etc. is even better. I even use my AirPods at my desk in the office at home, where I have a set of nice wired headphones. Because it’s so easy to switch to them, and they are in my ears already. This means I can also walk around the apartment to get a glass of water, etc. without being tethered to my desk, continuing to listen to audio from my Mac. Pure bliss.
  • I wear the AirPods out and about every day. So far, two people have asked me about them. One had no idea what they were and was just stunned that I had wireless earbuds. (This was only a day after I got them.) The other asked if they were the new “Apple Wireless” earbuds. (That was a few days ago.) The AirPods are going to break out of tech culture and into popular culture fairly quickly, I’m thinking. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them showing up on more “normal” users in a few months.
  • I have dropped the buds a few times (one onto a subway platform, which was frightening, to say the least) but they are so light that there wasn’t even a scratch on the bud. This has only occurred when I was in the process of putting them back into the case, or putting them into my ears. They are a bit slippery, and they do need to be handled with some care. Also, winter hats/gloves/scarves, etc. mean you need to be aware of the buds a bit more. Of course, I no longer have to worry about my scarf getting tangled in the cable, so it’s a tradeoff.
  • The sound quality is still really great. Especially for a wireless earbud. This continues to be the most pleasant surprise for me. There is almost no isolation, though. Loud subway cars coming into stations, traffic, sirens—these all force me to pause my podcasts. This is probably a good thing for walking around the city, as those noises are important to hear. But it can be a bit annoying at times. I think I’ll likely still want to take my H6 headphones on airplanes, at least.
  • I know some have wished for more touch gestures, so you could do more than play/pause or invoke Siri. I’m guessing most of those people have not used the clunky touch controls on other wireless headphones. The thing is, putting your hand up to your ear is not a normal thing. Making precise gestures in that area of the body without looking is harder than it would seem. I’m guessing Apple has tested this and has found it not ideal to be sliding up and down along the bud, etc. The more you handle the bud, especially for those of us for whom the fit is not tight, the more likely you’re going to knock one out of place, too. Maybe a triple tap could be useful to skip ahead. But enough people have complained about the double tap not always being recognized that I wonder if even that would be ideal.
  • What I’ve been doing for controlling volume is using my Apple Watch. I know not everyone has an Apple Watch, but when I get on the subway, I just open up the Now Playing screen from my Dock, and then I have quick access to volume and skipping without taking my phone out of my pocket, at least. My Watch is set to leave the last app running, rather than returning to the watch face, so the controls are only an arm raise away.
  • I never use Siri with my AirPods, so I’ve set the double tap to play/pause. I know I can take a bud out to make that happen, but then I have a bud in my hand. I tend to pause my music and podcasts a lot while I’m writing an email response, thinking about a solution to a code problem, etc. I want to be able to stop the music and still do things with my hands.
  • I have edited an episode of my podcast, Release Notes, using the AirPods. I could not use them to record music, however. The latency is just too great for performance. Even for edits, it wasn’t ideal. But AirPods are not meant for professional recording sessions, so this isn’t a knock against them, per se.
  • People are suggesting Apple should make Jet Black AirPods. I think that’s another great idea (along with different sizes). It depends on how well they sell and how badly Apple wants to be in the headphones business, I guess. I’m sure they don’t want to overshadow the Beats brand, but then again, they didn’t brand these with Beats in the first place, so you never know. My guess is that the AirPods exist mainly as a gesture to other headphone manufacturers that better wireless headphones are possible. And to help sell the concept of an iPhone with no headphone jack. I hope manufacturers take the hint and we get some amazing new models this year, as I’ve said before.

Speaking of iPhones with no headphone jacks: I wasn’t someone who cared about needing the dongle for my wired headphones for a few months. I did forget my dongle once, which sucked, to be sure. And there were definitely times when I wanted to listen to music while also needing to plug the iPhone into my Mac. In other words, I had no problem with the removal of the jack philosophically, but I did experience the downside of that tradeoff a few times. Now that I don’t have to think about wires at all, none of this is a concern at all. I can see Apple dropping the headphone jack on the iPad this year. The Mac will likely come sometime later (because of the aforementioned latency issues for recording). We are moving towards all headphones becoming a wireless accessory. Period. It’s still a transition period, so there will be pain along the way. (Price, latency, needing to charge batteries, etc. are all still obstacles to overcome.) But given my experience so far with AirPods, the future of headphones is looking pretty awesome.

Ring in the New Year in Style

New Year’s Eve is a time for celebration. I often find myself texting friends, siblings, and other loved ones just after the ball drops to wish them all the best in the year to come.

Traditionally, I ring in the New Year with a champagne toast. (Or a toast with whatever other beverage is handy.) If you like to do the same, this year I’ve got you covered for how to combine your toast with your texts to loved ones: The Mixologist Sticker Pack.

Mixologist conveniently contains a glass of champagne (along with dozens of other cocktails) which you can send along to friends and family as a way of adding extra mirth to your well wishes.

You can even wow them more by sending the sticker with the “confetti” effect Apple provides. I’m guessing most of your less tech-savvy friends will think you performed a magic trick on their phones with the confetti, as they likely haven’t seen that yet.

For a quick demo on how to send with confetti (or balloons, or lasers, if you prefer), check out the video below.

The Mixologist Sticker Pack is available on the App Store.

AirPods Early Impressions

  • It took all of ten seconds to take the AirPods out of the package and get some music going in my ears. And that included choosing the song I wanted to test first.1 The pairing process has that “magic” feel that so many claim Apple no longer produces.
  • The AirPods sound pretty good. Better than any wireless headphone I’ve ever tried, in any case. They can’t compete with my B&O H6s, but how could they? Meanwhile, not having a cord is going to make a huge difference in my travels around the city every day. So I think the tradeoff is going to be worth it for me. I have my good wired headphones for home use whenever I really want to listen to the absolute best quality audio.
  • I can’t use Apple’s included white earbuds at all. There’s simply no way to put them into my ears and get a proper seal without physically holding them constantly with my hands. I was skeptical about AirPods for this reason, as they are pretty much exactly the same shape as the earbuds. But it turns out, not having the cables pulling the buds down makes a big difference. I have no trouble getting the AirPods into a position where they produce the proper balance of bass and treble, and so far, they mostly stay put while sitting and working.2 I still need to test them further while walking, but so far the fit is way better than I expected. I may look into the many silicon sleeves that are out there to tighten up the fit even further. Though that could make them hard to put back into their case.
  • I haven’t tried taking a phone call on AirPods yet. At the rate I usually talk on the phone, it may be months before that changes.
  • I absolutely love the idea of having wireless headphones that can switch between my phone, Mac, and iPads with zero hassle. Compared to un-pairing and re-pairing constantly with my last set of wireless headphones, this is like waking up in the future. So far, I’ve had no issues getting them working on my iPads and my iPhone. Neither of my Macs as of this writing seem to be syncing the pair over iCloud. They are both running the latest version of Sierra, so I don’t know what’s going on there. The AirPods simply don’t show up in the Bluetooth menu. I know this is supposed to “just work” so I’m hopeful this is a temporary iCloud glitch. Switching over to my Mac for audio is something I do fairly often.
  • I think I’m going to keep these. And that surprises me quite a bit. I fully expected AirPods to not work for me at all, given my history with Apple’s earbuds and fit. But they sound good enough for day-to-day music and podcast listening, and the lack of wires is going to be epic for me as I move around the city.
  • I get why so many reviewers have described AirPods as the best thing Apple has released in a long time. You can tell a lot of attention to detail went into all aspects of the design, and the integration of the hardware with software is where Apple shines most.
  • Having said that, I do hope Apple eventually licenses the W1 chip inside AirPods to other headphone manufacturers.3 I would absolutely love to see what B&O, or Bose, or Sennheiser could do with wireless over ear headphones that paired this seamlessly.
  • As I said when the iPhone 7 and AirPods were announced, we’re going to have much better wireless headphones a year from now because Apple has done away with the headphone jack. AirPods should kick the other manufacturers into high gear. If they can’t match Apple’s pairing magic, they can at least up the ante on sound quality and offer more options beyond earbuds.

Update: I rebooted my MacBook, and the AirPods now show up in the Bluetooth menu. Not sure if the reboot was necessary, or if they would have shown up eventually. But that’s resolved, anyway. I’ll have to check on my iMac when I get back home.

  1. Rush’s “Big Money”, of course. Power Windows is a particularly well produced album, so it makes for a great test of any headphone. Another song I tried soon after: “Crazy” from Seal. One of the best mixes in the history of recorded music. ↩︎
  2. My right ear must be a bit bigger than my left, as that one seems to slip ever so slightly over time. Still, I expected them to fall out instantly, and they don’t. ↩︎
  3. Yes, I know there are Beats headphones with the W1, but I don’t like Beats, and that’s an Apple brand, anyway. ↩︎