Tag Archives: itunes

Subscriptions (and Apple Music)

We’ll get back to the agony and ecstasy of personal transport in a bit, but I wanted to do a quick write up about subscriptions (and Apple Music).

I have something of an aversion to subscriptions.

It’s a bit of a dilemma for me, because while I get that you need to pay for things, the idea that I have to continue paying to get access to a piece of software or, to a lesser degree, some service, is kind of scary. I realise software development isn’t free, and subscriptions make for attractive revenue streams for developers who constantly work on new features, but not enough to release proper upgrade versions, but traditionally, paying an upfront cost for something and then owning it until the day you die is still somehow more palatable.

Maybe it’s just because we’ve paid upfront for software for so long that makes this idea that you need to keep paying or lose access to the stuff that you’ve worked on seem so foreign. Office 365 isn’t so bad in that you can still open and view documents created with the office suite, but even when the price of the subscription makes the cost the same over time, it’s still a hard pill to swallow.

At the time, the Photography Plan for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop made a lot of sense. I recently purchased Lightroom 5 about a year after Lightroom 4, and at that stage I was paying about $100/year for Lightroom, so I’d essentially be paying $20/year extra for Photoshop which seemed like a great deal. Unfortunately, a few things have made this less attractive over time.

For one, Adobe hasn’t released a new version of Lightroom since 2015, so I’ve ended up paying more than those who picked up the standalone version. I also haven’t used Photoshop as much as I thought I would have, making that “added value” null and void, and to top it all off, Adobe has slowly increased prices. New subscriptions to the Adobe Photography Plan are currently $14.29/month, which starts to eat into that extra value of Photoshop, especially if you’re only using it a few times a year.

So that’s software, what about services? Things get a little more complicated when we’re talking about services. I don’t watch enough mainstream TV to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix or any of the other Australian offerings, and even though there are some great streaming services for anime, I’ve never really been able to reconcile paying a monthly fee for their entire library when I only want to watch one or two shows.

I think one of the main problems I have with subscriptions is that most of the time, I’d rather pay for an entire year upfront, instead of a month at a time. It’s weird, but I think I have an easier time justifying $120/year than I do $10 a month, especially if I’m getting some kind of discount that makes the annual option even more appealing.

How does all of this apply to Apple Music? To answer that question, we kind of need to talk about Spotify first…

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Spotify and Me

Spotify launched in Australia around a month ago, during which I was able to give it a red hot go. I wrote on MacTalk about my experience with the all-singing, all-dancing streaming music service:

On the face of it, Spotify is brilliant. Who doesn’t want a music collection the size of the iTunes Music Store for free? All the big names are on-board: Universal Music Group, EMI, Sony, Warner, and so on. Spotify means that anytime you want to listen to a track — be it something that you’ve just Shazam’d or something you heard on the radio a few days ago, you can open up Spotify, search for your track or artist of choice, and listen to their music, completely free of charge.

[…]

When I first started out, I wasn’t so sure about Spotify, either as an iTunes replacement or as a standalone music ecosystem. I had my doubts about how Spotify could work for me, especially with such a heavy emphasis on the social and music discovery (and it’s not just because I have what some would call an extremely varied music taste, either). The fact that Spotify prioritises the social aspects of music over some of the intelligence of iTunes should give you some idea as to whether Spotify will work for you. Maybe the world doesn’t need to know you love listening Carly Rae Jepsen as much as you do, (which is exactly why there’s a Private Session feature). You can share tracks, artists, albums, or playlists to pretty much anywhere you can think of. There are still things that irk me a bit about the service, such as the fact the range of metadata is paltry, no, basically non-existent, in comparison to iTunes. You don’t get play counts in Spotify, Last Played info, number of skips, or any of that kind of information. It’s basically just track name, artist, time, and album. That’s it.
But you know what? Not having all of that metadata is strangely liberating, too. It means I don’t have to worry about meticulously keeping my library organised, or worry about album art, because Spotify does all of that for me. I get that Spotify isn’t for everyone — if you’re into very specific music genres or particularly obscure stuff (you hipster, you), maybe Spotify isn’t exactly what you’re looking for in a streaming music service. But hey, that’s what the 30-day trial is for, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not sure whether I’ll continue with Spotify or not after my trial is up. It’s a great service, and there’s a lot to love. Being able to look up and play almost every artist I can think of is extremely, extremely cool; it innately satisfies the desire for instant gratification everyone seems to have these days, and perhaps for that reason alone, means that Spotify will be hugely successful. On the other hand, I miss my metadata and my smart playlists terribly. Having none of that info in Spotify is a pretty big blow to how I’ve been listening to music in the past.

Earlier this week, I cancelled my Spotify subscription. As it turns out, I did miss that kind of metadata more than I might have originally let on. The thing is, I rely on play counts to tell me how much I “like” certain music. Last played information, combined with play counts, tells me how long it’s been since I’ve listened to heavily-played tracks in my library, like Call Me Maybe. I’m convinced that Smart Playlists are the best thing since sliced bread, and losing them in Spotify was too much of a compromise, seemingly for the advantage of music availability and discoverability.

Which is kind of a shame, because there’s lots to love about Spotify Premium. Having the biggest music library accessible wherever you have a data connection is nothing short of amazing, and it comes in ridiculously handy forms: a few friends wanted to listen to a song, and instead of looking it up on YouTube, I simply opened up Spotify, put in the artist name, and there it was — because if nothing else, isn’t technology supposed to make this kind of stuff more accessible to people? Isn’t technology like Spotify meant to lead to greater enjoyment of the things you love the most, i.e. music?

I liked how Spotify because it scrobbled to Last.fm on mobile. I liked how having Spotify on my phone meant I didn’t have to carry around all the music I wanted to listen to. I liked (in part) how Spotify was all about the social — sharing music to others, listening and subscribing to playlists others had made, and even all the discovery features to help you to discover new music. In the end though, paying $12 a month for those privileges didn’t seem worth it to me, especially as I started listening to my own music within Spotify towards the end of my subscription. I mean, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of having the largest music library, literally at your fingertips?

Thankfully, there’s good news. The difference between Spotify and Rdio is that Spotify has a free tier, too: for exactly nothing, you can use Spotify as a preview of whether you’ll like a new album by an artist, or if you’re just looking to play a song that you don’t own and don’t want to go track down. You don’t get access to the mobile version of Spotify on the free version nor any of the ofline features, but that’s not a big deal when you’re listening to local files you own, anyway. Plus, I don’t mind syncing music to my device even though it takes up precious megabytes. All this means that Spotify on the desktop still manages to satisfy that “instant gratification” drive I have when it comes to music — I can still listen to any song I want to, just with a short ad interspersed between tracks.

In fact, just the other day I opened Spotify to listen to a Pink song I had heard before but didn’t own — after playing that a few times in Spotify, I acquired a copy and now it sits on some 68 plays in my iTunes library.

If you haven’t given Spotify a go yet, you should. It’s a good service with many neat features — it’s just that for the way I personally listen to music (i.e. going for the overplay with one, two, or a whole album at a time and swapping between artists and albums I love), Spotify and Me just weren’t meant to be.

And I think I’m okay with that.

Enjoy the tunes, indeed.

@bdyling You are excellent, thanks. We did try to get the balance right. Enjoy the tunes 🙂Fri May 14 01:12:05 via TweetDeck

Enjoy the tunes, indeed.

I guess this particular story begins with Telstra. They ran a competition a little while ago for “social reviewers” of the HTC Desire, currently the flagship Android handset available in Australia. The HTC Desire boasts pretty impressive specs, and judging by the amount of tweets, Telstra seem to be pushing this one pretty hard, far harder than they ever promoted the iPhone (both models). Maybe they prefer Android to Apple’s “walled garden”, maybe it’s because they can load the device with as much BigPond-branded content as they desire (hurr, hurr, get it? Desire?), but whatever the reason, it’s certainly getting some attention.

As this is a pretty big deal for Telstra, having “social reviewers” means that it gets exposure, and all that yummy PR stuff which I won’t go into here. As a bonus, all the “social reviewers” get a free HTC Desire handset to hang onto, but they have to, as their namesake suggests, review the Desire.

Being fairly active on Twitter, and having a randomly-regularly updated blog, I thought I was in with a shot. Add to the fact that I resided in a semi-rural area (Tasmanians made up some 3% [or maybe 6%, I can’t remember] of the 2000+ entries they received Australia-wide), and I thought I had a real shot at this whole “reviewing a product via social media” thing.

Evidently, I was wrong.

Anyway, it turns out I didn’t get in. Boo. More on this in a second.

As a consolation prize for giving up 15 minutes of my time filling out the online application, I did, however, receive a $15 BigPond Music voucher for my personal info.

Tonight’s mission, should you choose to accept is, it to find $15 worth of music to download via BigPond Music. Wish me luck! =}Fri May 14 09:11:25 via Tweetie

Wanting to get my money’s worth, I set forth to purchase $15 worth of songs from BigPond Music. The songs that I chose meant I actually ended up having to pay about a dollar more, but I guess that was the idea all along.
Anyway, I ended up grabbing the following songs:

  • My First Kiss [feat Ke$ha] – 3OH!3
  • Airplanes [feat Hayley Williams] – B.o.B
  • Pyromania – Cascada
  • Not Myself Tonight – Christina Aguilera
  • Caught In The Crowd – Kate Miller-Heidke
  • Your Love Is My Drug – Ke$ha
  • Blah Blah Blah – Ke$ha
  • Burn It To The Ground – Nickelback
  • If We Ever Meet Again – Timbland
  • Drops Of Jupiter – Train
  • Mr Mysterious – Vanessa Amorosi

Say what you want about my music tastes (I wish I could say I set out to purchase the worst of the worst music currently available, but sadly not), but I chose this music based on the top 200 list on iTunes. I’d listen to the preview in iTunes, and then if I vaguely recognised the song (and didn’t already have it in my iTunes library) I’d add it to my BigPond Cart.

At this point, I have a couple thoughts to share. One, the BigPond music website isn’t the most user-friendly or accessible. It certainly has an alright search feature, but it places the songs where you have to scroll a considerable amount to find the song you’re after and add it to your cart. I didn’t even try using the previews as I knew it would have been in some horrible Flash implementation, but in the end too many clicks, too much scrolling, and a whole lot of wasted space made for a convoluted experience. Oh, and the shopping cart was in Flash too.

That being said, I wasn’t sure what quality or flavour of DRM the music downloaded from BigPond would come in – I had a hunch it was DRM free and of reasonable quality, but I didn’t know for sure. Upon completing my download I was pleasantly surprised that the files were completely DRM-free and of 256kbps or greater – the majority of my files are actually in 320kbps MP3. Nothing like iTunes’ own 256kbps “purchased AAC” that laces the file with your user ID so that they can track if you share a file simply by using some strings command, if my memory serves me correctly. I did have to re-download the artwork (which came pre-embedded in the files, but 128×128 is sooo 1998) and raise the volume of the tracks a bit, but apart from that I was pleasantly surprised.

Two more thoughts about the music itself and I’ll move on to talking about some social media things.

One, the price. Most of the tracks that I downloaded were $1.65, and others still were just 99c. Compare that to iTunes’ current extortionist price of $2.19 for the more popular songs and $1.69 for pretty much everything else, and you’ve got a real situation. I’m not saying i’ll give up the iTunes store anytime soon, just that I was previously unaware that decent alternatives exist. Ignorance on my part, but it is what it is.

Two, people these days listen to utter shit. Seriously. Going through each and every song in the top 200 list in iTunes, listening to the previews along the way made me lose all faith in humanity on more than one occasion. I mean, that beaver fellow? And some other so-called “rap artists” who couldn’t produce a decent track if their lives depended on it? Gimme a break. The kind of music on that list downright horrified me, pure and simple.

Finally, the social media part.

While I won’t deny being a little miffed at not winning (being able to experience a Desire* for a month or so would be an awesome introduction for the next-generation iPhone due to launch in about a month), I do have a couple of gripes about how the whole thing went down.

Now I can understand why Telstra wanted the most influential, the most socially “out there” people for their “social reviewers” program. It makes sense because they’d want as much coverage as possible if they’re going to be outlaying some amount of money north of $20,000 for this Desire social review program. I’m no expert on what the marketing industry is like, but I’d infer that a substantial sum like that is a pretty big deal, especially for a single handset in Australia’s largest telecommunications company’s arsenal. Someone up in Telstra’s upper echelons must really like that phone.

Maybe it’s because I’m a little too bitter than I really ought to be about the whole thing, but if Telstra wanted the best of the best social media people to review the thing, why couldn’t they have just hand-picked the people to begin with? Hey, look at so-and-so, they follow over 1000 people on twitter, they’re followed by quadruple that amount, and their recent tweets express a desire to check out the Desire (previous puns notwithstanding), let’s pick them! From there, those actually interested in the program could ave gone on to be shortlisted, and so on and so forth.

Instead, they invited everyone in Australia who was over the age of 18 and interested in FREE STUFF that had a decent social profile on the internet to enter their competition, setting up a whole lot of people to be disappointed. To be honest they probably weren’t expecting as many people to apply as they did, but the lesson here is to never underestimate the intensity of human greed. Or to follow more people and have a Daring Fireball level of activity on your blog before you apply to be a social media reviewer for Telstra.

But it doesn’t end there.

You see, the numbers of this social media review program went a little like this: 25 HTC Desires for the social reviewers valued at $779 each, with $100 of Telstra pre-paid credit tacked onto that for a total of just over $21,000. But that’s only what the official terms and conditions mention. What isn’t mentioned is the $15 BigPond Music credit (presumably) given to all the people that weren’t accepted into the program – all 1975+ of them (Telstra only states that they received over 2000 entries). It doesn’t take a genius to work out that they gave out over $30,000 in vouchers. Like Beau, I too think that they should have had more Desires available and less vouchers. Why Telstra, why?

Doing some serious stalking of the people actually involved with this whole shebang reveal two interesting things – I know a couple of people on the list by name (and reputation) only, and there’s even one person from Franklin, Tasmania – not too much further south than where I live.. FFS. No one from WA that immediately stood out, but I’m sure Telstra chose someone.

Also, looking over their social profiles reveals that most of them are now “Telstra-branded”, and by that I mean they all have a little disclaimer saying: “I have been given a HTC Desire handset by Telstra free of charge to review. Comments expressed by me reflect my user experience and personal opinion”. Read into that what you will.

Final thoughts, and I’ll wrap it up – just before I posted this I came across an eye-opening article on Why I went back to the iPhone from the HTC Desire. It’s a brilliant read, and affirms my decision; I’ll take Apple’s walled garden any day, thanks! Maybe if they gave those same reviewers the next-generation iPhone to review… ? Would certainly make for some eye-opening comparisons – how much do ordinary consumers care about what resolution the screen is? Or what format it captures it’s video in? Or even how it handles different audio codecs? Or how the memory management on Android is anything but automatic? I mean, closing the Sense UI over an app? Seriously?

Signs I’m feel way, way too bitter about this: 1500 words, man. One thousand, five hundred. How’s that for in-depth, Telstra?

Oh, and by the way – comments, criticisms, and any inferences expressed by me reflect my user experience and personal opinion.

Isn’t that the norm on a blog anyway? 🙂

* not to mention the puns. Oh, the puns.

Now with less DRM!

Sure, $2.19 a song mightn’t sound too pretty, but it’s not all bad. Most of the songs in the Top 100 list of the iTunes Music Store are still at the old $1.69 price point, but now they come with less DRM, and at double the bit-rate.

However, the part that sucks is that 4 songs out of the Top 100 are at the new $2.19 price point. It’s interesting to note that those artists with $2.19 songs are all signed onto Sony for their label – Rihanna, Jason Mraz, Beyonce – Akons on there too, but I think he started his own label?

It’s not all bad. I certainly won’t be switching to BigPond Music anytime soon. 😀

UPDATE: Okay, so maybe it is a little bad – as of the 8th April 2009, 1 out of every 5 songs in the iTunes Top 100 list is priced at $2.19. Eeek! :O

A new era in iTunes Music has landed. Sans DRM.

While Phil hasn’t mentioned it in the keynote just yet, it looks like iTunes might be getting a big catalog overhaul, with most major labels finally offering up DRM free tunes. Our tipster mentioned DRM free goodies from Virgin, Sony BMG, American Recording and more (iTunes Plus has mainly been limited to EMI and some independents so far), and that most previously purchased songs are now upgradable for the same old price of $0.30 a song. We’re still digging around on the iTunes Store trying to figure this out — it’s offering to upgrade our library, but the transaction won’t go through yet — and we’ll obviously know more if it gets a keynote mention. Let us know if you have any luck picking up those non-EMI MP3s on your end.

Update: As you’ve you probably noticed in the liveblog, Apple just made this very much official, and announced that some 8 million songs from all the major labels will indeed be DRM free, with a full ten million planned by the end of the quarter. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also announced a new pricing structure for tracks, including a new $0.69 tier and a $1.29 one, which music companies will apparently be able to use at their own discretion. And, to keep things really spicy, the company has also announced that music store downloads are now finally available over 3G, and at the same price and the same quality.

via iTunes going primarily DRM free? (Update: yes, it is! 3G downloads, too) – Engadget.

Finally.

Average Macworld is Average.

C’mon, Phil.

We didn’t want huge product demos. We didn’t want explanations of every single new feature. We didn’t want the constant stalling, the in-depth promos, or any of that stuff. Most of all, we didn’t want to pay $2100 for 4GB more RAM in our new MacBook Pro 17″, a machine that already costs $4499. 😮

$2100 for 4GB more RAM in the new 17.

$2100 for 4GB more RAM in the new 17".

…nor did we want to pay extra for a matte screen. 😮

$90 more for a matte screen? GTFO.

$90 more for a matte screen? GTFO.

We wanted new products. We wanted an iPhone OS 3.0 demo. We wanted Snow Leopard, Mac Minis, and an iMac speed bump.

What we got was 8 hour battery life. What we got was iLife 09, iWork 09, and the Keynote Remote. What we got was iWork.com, DRM-free iTunes Music, and the iTunes Music Store available over 3G/EDGE networks.

Sure, the updating of the 17″ MBP to a Aluminium Unibody with dual graphics cards for $100 more was nice of Apple, but I’m currently sitting on the fence – 8 hour battery life vs inbuilt battery. 😕

iWork 09? Meh, could be better. With the addition of iWork.com, this can be seen as an above-average update. Collaboration, sticky notes, and more!

Download the Trial today!

Download the Trial today!

iLife 09 actually looks alright. I have now fallen in love with iPhoto all over again – and now believe that the Mac platform rules for that kind of thing. You can’t go past Facebook/Flickr integration.

Facebook integration for the win!

Facebook integration for the win!

…those tagged names now come down to your iPhoto! Also new is geo-tagging, “Faces” (awesome new facial recognition), and “Places” (which obviously links into the geo-tagging). All come with that special Apple polish we all know and love!

Faces, and Places.

Faces, and Places.

The other thing that got me excited was the iWork updates. Full screen Pages, new text transitions in Keynote, and some funky features I didn’t really care about in Numbers.

iCONic.

iCONic.

New features in Pages 09

New features in Pages '09

New features in Keynote 09

New features in Keynote '09

However, the introduction of the Mac Box Set was a really huge improvement, but something they should have done a while ago.

They should have called it the Macs Box Set, as in Max. Box. Set.

They should have called it the Macs Box Set, as in Max. Box. Set.

One more thing – DRM-free iTunes music! You can upgrade your music right now for 50c per song to DRM free, which comes in 256kbps AAC.

I can haz DRM-free Music plz? Kthx.

I can haz DRM-free Music plz? Kthx.

However, even with all the song and dance, I couldn’t feel there was something missing. Where is our Mac Mini update? Where were the iMac speed bumps? Where was the multi-touch Mighty Mouse, Aiport updates (thanks, adamd), or Cinema Displays, Mac Pros, Home Media Server, or the Mac Tablet, iPhone Nano, or even the fabled Mac Pro Mini?

End of the day, it’s just another Macworld keynote. For now, download the iWork 09 trial (warning, it’s 500MB), and enjoy the rest of your day.