Tag Archives: iTunes

Extras, Indeed

While everyone else in the community is still losing its mind over the battery bump, I thought I’d offer a change of pace and criticize something a little more concerning about Apple’s recent endeavors. It didn’t take much effort to find something less controversial, at least.

Let’s take, for instance, the experience of watching iTunes Extras material on an iPad.

iTunes Extras are like DVD bonus features for the movies you buy on iTunes. Some movies only offer an alternate commentary track. Others get quite elaborate, with tons of deleted scenes, interviews, mini-features, the whole nine yards. I’m a big fan of the concept. I am a huge nerd, after all.

A few years ago, you could only watch this bonus stuff on your Mac, which was stupid. Then in 2014 Apple gave iOS the ability to view them again, which was welcome news indeed. Why would I want to watch several hours of video content on my Mac instead of my TV or iPad? Seemed like a no brainer, so I was glad Apple was going to correct this silly omission.

So what’s the problem, Joe? Apple gave you what you wanted, right?

I’ll just make a bulleted list, to keep it simple:

  • iTunes Extras are streaming only. Can’t download them to the iPad. So, no broadband Internet connection at the time you want to watch, no Extras. You can forget about queuing those 90 hours of Hobbit Appendices for your flight to New Zealand, even though you ponied up the extra cash for a 128GB iPad.[1]
  • Where do I find the Extras? There’s no Extras button on the main movie launch screen. First hit play on the movie, then, if you happen to have an Internet connection, and you happen to notice before the controls fade away, there will be a button for Bonus Features on the bottom of the screen below the playback controls. It’s as if Apple is afraid you might actually want to watch this stuff.
  • Enter the Extras, use the menu system, hit play on one of videos. About two minutes in, it’ll pause, as the connection struggles to keep up. This will happen several times while you’re watching no matter how good your broadband is. All part of the experience.
  • Pause the Extra, put the iPad to sleep. You’ve now lost your place. You’ll have to start the entire process over and guess where you were in the video you were watching, if you can remember which one you were watching, that is.
  • Tap on a notification to jump to another app really quickly. You’ve now lost your place. See above.
  • This one is my favorite: Rotate the iPad so that you change orientation.[2] You guessed it, you’ve now lost your place. The video will switch over to the main feature movie and play that. Because that makes perfect sense.
  • Pause the Extra and hit the home button. It’s okay. You can say it. You’ve lost your place yet again. Only it gets even more interesting. Now, the audio of the main movie feature will begin to play, in the background. Ironically it’ll start where you left off the last time you watched the actual movie, just as an extra kick in the nuts. Open up the video app, and sure enough, the main feature movie is now playing. Hit pause, go do whatever you wanted to do, then come back and start all over again.
  • Try scrubbing through the Extra you were watching, and the experience makes the old AppleTV scrubbing seem fluid by comparison. Slide to 8:42, the playhead will jump to 6:23 for no reason. Try to push it back to 8:42, it’ll jump to 11:47. Push it back again, let it jump to 5:50. At this point you’ll just watch it again from the beginning until you get back to where you left off.

I suppose all of this is better than having no ability to watch the Extras at all on mobile, but not by much. After all, if you have a perfect Internet connection, and you want to watch the Extras all in one shot without pausing or getting interrupted for any reason, then it’s just peachy, as long as you don’t mind the occasional pause for the connection to catch up. I’m sure this is how it was tested before being approved for release.

These are not hard bugs to find. They have been present for a while. Either no one is watching iTunes Extras content on their iPads except me, or Apple considers it a super low priority. Which is fine. But it is an embarrassment. Much more so than an ugly iPhone case, at any rate.

  1. I went back to 64GB on my iPad Air 2 for this reason alone. Unfortunately, with the Pro, the only option, if you want the broadband necessary to watch iTunes Extras, is to also get 128GB of storage that you won’t be able to use to store those Extras.  ↩

  2. This is something that happens unintentionally sometimes, like, you know, if you happen to be watching in bed and forgot to lock orientation as you change positions. That’s only happened to me about six thousand times so far, so it’s no big deal.  ↩

On the demise of Ping

Ping: What went wrong | Macworld: “And therein lies Ping’s primary defect. Though dressed in social garb, at its heart, it’s a crude advertising vehicle. And one—undoubtedly to the great disappointment of some at Apple—that too many people saw through.”

(Via Macworld.)

Another great article from Christopher Breen. I’d add that another of Ping’s shortcomings is that you can’t simply post links to interesting articles, stories, pictures, etc. Artists could post whatever they wanted, but regular users like you and me had to start every conversation with a link to a song in iTunes. Talk about “marketing smell.” That limitation was just plain stupid. 

Part of me thinks that any social network that tries to limit people to just talking about music is doomed to fail, anyway. I mean, I love music more than the average person, but I don’t always want to share only music. Sometimes, I want to share stories about music, apps that help you make music, books on the subject of music, pictures of my favorite bands, etc. The reason Facebook works so well is that you can literally share anything about anything. Sure, this leads to a lot more noise than signal, but it also encourages participation. I have a hard enough time finding things that I find post-worthy on a social network without the network itself telling me what I can and can’t post. 

I know the current trend is towards more targeted social networks, but that’s simply a reaction to Facebook’s monopoly. I have to think that most of those mini networks will either be acquired by Facebook or die from lack of participation eventually. A small, targeted audience can’t live on advertising as easily as Facebook. You’ll never have a big enough audience to pay the bills. 

Jason Snell on iTunes

iTunes: Time to right the syncing ship | Macworld:

The iTunes we’ve all come to know has had a good run, but it’s reached the point where it is a crazy agglomeration of features and functionality. If someone were to design it today, it wouldn’t remotely resemble its current state. And as a portal to iOS devices and the iTunes Store, iTunes is too crucial to Apple’s business to ignore or run on auto-pilot.

(Via www.macworld.com)

I think just about everyone who uses iTunes, which is everyone, agrees with the sentiment here. iTunes is definitely over bloated, and it’s trying to do way too many things at once.

But I think it was John Gruber who pointed out a while ago that iTunes is one of very few cross-platorm apps for Apple. The reason they packed so much into that one app is that they don’t want to be in the business of building and maintaining several Windows apps. Sooner or later, something is going to have to give, but that’s how we got here, anyway.

What I do is limit my need for iTunes as much as possible. Podcasts? I use Downcast for that. Movies and TV Shows? All done with iCloud on my Apple TV and iPad at this point. Photostream and Dropbox takes care of most of my photo needs.

So the only thing I really sync with iTunes anymore is music. I could use iTunes Match for that, of course, but that’s still so buggy I can’t rely on it. I expect that will get better over time.

I think Apple’s strategy isn’t to break up iTunes into several new apps, but rather to eliminate the need for iTunes almost entirely. Turn it back into a simple music store/music player for the Mac, and replace everything else with iCloud.

We’re just not quite there yet.

iTunes Match Confusion Abound

Here are some of the most common queries, concerns, and misconceptions about Apple’s music service, laid out for your reading pleasure.

via iTunes Match: What you need to know | Macworld.

Macworld wrote a nice article here clearing up a lot of the misconceptions surrounding iTunes Match. I think this is a classic case of people hearing what they wanted to hear back when Apple announced this service. Many had it in their heads that it was some grand Cloud strategy that would allow them to no longer store any of their music on their devices, and just stream it all at will from anywhere. And that’s not really what iTunes Match is.

Which is why I questioned the value of iTunes Match when it was announced, and everyone else seemed to think I was crazy.

The way I see it, there are only two reasons to become an iTunes Match member, and only one to become a long-term subscriber.

1. You have a lot of songs in your iTunes library that are lower quality than 256 AAC, and you want a quick and cheap way to upgrade all those tracks to better-quality versions.

2. You have a lot of obscure music that isn’t available on iTunes, and you’re too lazy to set up music synching with your computer and let it sync once.

The first reason turned out, to my surprise, to be enough for me to sign up, at least for one year. I don’t plan on re-subscribing next year, as reason 2 doesn’t apply to me. But I found that I did indeed have a lot of tracks (over 7,000) that were either ripped from my CDs prior to the iTunes Store era, in which case they were mostly MP3s, or, and this was the kicker, bought prior to Apple’s switch over to iTunes Plus, in which case they were still encumbered with DRM and only encoded at 128k. Apple has long had a service whereby you could pay 30 cents a track to upgrade your old purchased tracks to 256, non-DRM versions, but with the size of my purchased library, I was looking at over $350 to upgrade all my older tunes to iTunes Plus. So I never did. And that would leave my old CD rips out, as well. Being able to upgrade all those tunes alone made the $24.99 for one year of iTunes Match a no-brainer for me.

For those of you who never paid for your music back in the Napster era, think of iTunes Match as a one-time $25 fee to make as much as 25,000 songs of that music legit, no questions asked. My guess is that if you didn’t value the music enough to pay for it back then, you won’t now, even at that bargain price.

Beyond upgrading old purchased and CD tracks to 256k, though, I don’t really see the point of iTunes Match in the long run. Because, and here’s where the confusion comes in for a lot of people, it’s not a streaming service. There’s a streaming component, but it’s not the primary focus.

Sure, you can technically stream songs in iTunes that aren’t on your computer. And your AppleTV, which doesn’t have a hard drive, will stream your music as well. But that doesn’t make iTunes Match a streaming service. Rather, it’s a service that happens to stream sometimes.

iTunes Match is essentially iCloud for your music. Like iCloud, there is a copy out there in the Cloud for you to grab and pull down to any one of your devices. But the focus is still on the local copy of the file. On iOS devices, if you listen to any iTunes Match track that isn’t currently on the device, it doesn’t stream; it DOWNLOADS the track and leaves it on the device after you’ve listened. It plays the local copy, not the Cloud copy, in other words.

And, to be honest, that’s the way I want it. I don’t live in this fantasy world where I’m connected to solid, uninterrupted 3G or Wifi 24-hours a day. In fact, where I listen to music the most (on the subway, walking around downtown San Francisco, and in many cafés) I’m connected to neither 3G nor WiFi quite often. So a Cloud-only music service would be fairly useless to me. I’d be without music a majority of the time.

Downloading the occasional random track that I didn’t think I’d want while I was around my computer last is a nice bonus, sure. But the chances that I’ll want to do that often enough to justify $25 a year are slim.

I’m perfectly content with going to iTunes on my computer and telling it to sync my music over WiFi once. After that, everything I buy new on the iTunes Store gets downloaded automatically to all my iOS devices, anyway. And all my past iTunes purchases can be downloaded with a tap, no iTunes Match needed. It’s only my old CD rips that won’t be available in the cloud after my first year is up. No big deal to me.

If the majority of your music isn’t from iTunes, AND it’s obscure enough that iTunes Match won’t even recognize it, AND you still want to be able to download it at will, then sure it makes sense to keep subscribing year after year to iTunes Match. Otherwise, sign up for the first year, get your lower-quality tunes matched up, and then you’re good to go.

If you’re really looking to store no music on any devices, and you just want to stream everywhere all the time, then Apple isn’t where you want to get your music. Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, etc. are the way to go for you.

If you’re a quality nut, and you only want songs ripped in pristine AIFF or Apple Lossless, no Cloud service is ever  going to be for you. You’ll be manually syncing forever.

If you have more than 25,000 tracks, you should seek professional help. You’re a collector, not a listener. No one who owns that much music has listened to it all once, let alone enough to appreciate it.

Why so many people seemed to think that iTunes Match was going to be everything for everyone is a mystery to me. As I said before, I think a lot of people heard what they wanted to hear, rather than what was actually being announced.

KERUFF, responding to Musically’s article on Amazon’s and Google’s online music ventures

Amazon & Google play into Apple’s hands with their early, incomplete music stores


Apple likes to be late, and better. So by racing to market without licences, have Google and Amazon simply set their services up as the Creative Nomad jukeboxes of the cloud music age? Ironically, by launching without deals from labels, both companies may have given Apple the leverage it needs to strike the very licensing deals that will help its cloud service blow them out of the water.

I think Musically could be right. And there’s certainly no first mover advantage on the scale that Apple had with the iPad. One month here or there won’t make much difference. Especially as it strikes me that both Amazon and Google have released half baked products that will look pretty shoddy when Apple announces their service, probably in June.

I completely agree, and I’d add that the first mover advantage is even less of an issue in this case, because as of now streaming music lockers is still more of a nerd’s dream than anything the average person knows he or she wants yet.

Until the 4G/WiFi infrastructure improves, having digital music stored in the cloud is much more of a “nice to have” than a replacement for local storage. Especially where I live in San Francisco, the notion of having an iPod that can only get its music from the cloud is silly, at best. I’d be lucky to have 3G or wireless access 40% of the time when I’m away from home or work.

So Apple can certainly take its time here. I wouldn’t be surprised if streaming online music is only a small part of the “iCloud” product. And depending on how long the deal takes with the labels, it may even not be a part of the initial announcement. Amazon and Google sure did make negotiations easier for Apple, though.