Graham Spencer

700 posts on MacStories since January 2011

Graham is a regular contributor to MacStories, a law and economics student at university and connoisseur of great TV shows. With a particular passion for telling stories with the aid of data and visualizations, there is a high likelihood that he wrote a story if you see a graph on MacStories.

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Rdio Focuses on Freemium Model, Updates Apps with New Design

In the face of growing competition in the streaming music market, Rdio, a four-year-old service that charges for online subscriptions, has moved into a new phase with abundant free music — as well as free music’s ever-present companion, advertising.

“What we’ve learned collectively over the last few years,” said Anthony Bay, Rdio’s chief executive, “is that the most successful models are freemium models.”

As The New York Times reports today, Rdio has done well over the past few years, but it is clear that other competitors (most notably Spotify) have been doing far better by placing a strong focus on a freemium business model. As a result, today's updates to Rdio aren't much of a surprise to me, but I'm glad they have also taken the time to once again refine the design of their apps.

For those curious, the free version of Rdio will be available in 20 countries initially and will allow unlimited access to stations. Rdio Unlimited will unlock the ability to play albums and playlists, as well as remove ads for $9.99.

Rdio’s move is a result of a deal with the radio network Cumulus Media that was announced a year ago, in which Cumulus was granted an equity stake of at least 15 percent in Rdio’s parent company, Pulser Media, in exchange for providing content and promotional services that Cumulus says are worth $75 million over five years.

The new design is not a major departure from their existing designs, but rather a welcome refinement. For example the new apps get rid of the confusing to distinguish 'Heavy Rotation' and 'Top Charts' sections and are instead replaced with a far more understandable section called 'Trending'. There is also a new 'Browse' section which has curated Rdio stations into various categories including 'Top Stations', 'Aussie Hits', 'Alternative' and 'Fitness'.

The other big new feature isn't actually available yet, but there will also be a 'Home' tab which promises to be "an evolving feed of personalized music stories that surfaces the best of Rdio in a single destination". It'll be built from what you listen to, your friends listening activity, recommendations from Rdio, and other factors. On the whole it seems like a more advanced music discovery tool than the currently available 'Recommendations' page, which is mostly based on your music listening habits.


App Store Review Guidelines Updated to Consider New iOS 8 Features

To take into account of new iOS 8 and Yosemite features including app extensions, HealthKit, HomeKit and TestFlight, Apple has this week updated their App Store Review Guidelines for developers. The bulk of the new features are covered in the new guidelines in sections 25 to 28.

Whilst the new guidelines cover everything from requiring keyboard extensions to provide a number keyboard type and prohibiting HealthKit apps from writing false or inaccurate data, a majority of the new rules focus heavily on protecting the privacy of users. For example, keyboard extensions and apps using HealthKit or HomeKit must provide a privacy policy, apps using HealthKit or HomeKit cannot use data for advertising or marketing purposes and any apps using the HealthKit framework cannot store any health data in iCloud.

Furthermore, Apple has slightly changed one of its introduction dot-points to specifically warn developers not to create "plain creepy" apps.

We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn't do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted.

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CloudApp 3 for Mac Brings Effortless GIF Screen Recording, Support for Teams

CloudApp today launched version 3 of their Mac app and it comes with the addition of a new feature called CloudApp Motion. Behind the fancy name is actually the really useful tool of being able to record your screen and automatically upload a GIF version to CloudApp. Alongside the updated app, CloudApp have also announced CloudApp for Teams, which includes team pricing plans and custom features.

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iTunes Festival Schedule Updated with New Acts, Apple TV Channel Available Again

The eighth annual iTunes Festival is on again from September 1st, and in anticipation of the month-long festival, Apple has again updated the schedule with new musical acts. The schedule is now mostly complete, with headline acts announced for all but two of the thirty days. Some of the recent additions have included deadmau5, Ed Sheeran, Placebo and Mary J. Blige amongst others. You can view the full iTunes Festival schedule here.

Apple also appears to have made the iTunes Festival channel available on the Apple TV once again overnight. The channel will let you view performances live and on demand during the festival, as well as view the full schedule. The other way to watch the iTunes Festival is through the iOS app or iTunes.


Apple Initiates a Limited iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program

If you missed it late last week, Apple has implemented a limited battery replacement program for the iPhone 5. The program involves replacing the battery for certain iPhone 5 devices that have suddenly begun to experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently. The devices affected by the issue were sold between September 2012 and January 2013 and fall within a certain serial number range.

If you have been experiencing battery issues with your iPhone 5, you can check your device's serial number on Apple's website to see if it is eligible for the free battery replacement. The replacement program has already begun in the US and China, but will be available in other countries from this Friday, August 29th.



Google Photo Sphere Comes to the iPhone

Google yesterday launched a free iPhone app for their Photo Sphere Camera tool. Photo Sphere originally launched in October 2012 as an Android 4.2 feature, allowing people to create their own panoramic views that can be uploaded to Google Maps. The new iPhone app is simply a port of that original Android functionality and allows you to take your own 'Photo Spheres' with an iPhone (4S and above). Unfortunately you can't view other people's Photo Spheres in the app - just ones that you have made and two samples.

It reminds me a lot of Microsoft's Photosynth which has had an iPhone app for some time. Photosynth also has the advantage of letting you save a static panorama to your camera roll or even share an interactive Photosynth (where you can make it unlisted). By contrast, if you want to share a Google Photo Sphere, your only option is to publish it to Google Maps. On the plus side, Photo Sphere did seem to make slightly better quality panoramas in my testing.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to not link you to the Google Photo Sphere community and the Photosynth website, both have some incredible panoramas that are well worth taking a look at.


Apple Debuts New ‘Your Verse’ iPad Adverts

Earlier today Apple posted two more iPad ads as part of their ongoing 'Your Verse' series. These latest two ads feature Detroit community activist Jason Hall and the Beijing-based electropop musicians of Yaoband. The 'Your Verse' series of ads tell stories about how different people use their iPad in their own unique ways, not only through a 30-second ad, but also through dedicated webpages that tell their stories in more detail.

Part of the 'Your Verse' webpages are dedicated to highlighting the apps used frequently by those featured in the ad. For Jason Hall that includes Prezi, Penultimate and Phoster.

It began simply enough. Just 10 friends on a Monday night ride. Soon it was 20. Then 30. In its second year, the ride grew from 130 to 300 cyclists in two weeks. As the numbers increased, Hall turned to his iPad and made it the command center for all things Slow Roll. “We use it for everything we do, from mapping to communicating to ordering new T-shirts,” he says.

For Yaoband they use iMaschine to capture various sounds that they use in their performances, whilst also using iMusic Studio and iMPC.

Inspired by the pulse of life in modern China, they started by capturing audio samples with iPad and turning them into progressive beats. Nothing was sacred as they flowed in and out of musical genres, mixing electronica with rock, rap, and traditional Chinese songs. “We were just like scientists in a lab, trying many formulas,” says Peter. “Every single song was a surprise, because it was always better than I imagined.”

You can view the full ads below, or view them on the 'Your Verse' pages for Yaoband and Jason Hall.

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Inside Apple’s Internal Training Program

In “What Makes Apple, Apple,” another course that Mr. Nelson occasionally teaches, he showed a slide of the remote control for the Google TV, said an employee who took the class last year. The remote has 78 buttons. Then, the employee said, Mr. Nelson displayed a photo of the Apple TV remote, a thin piece of metal with just three buttons.

How did Apple’s designers decide on three buttons? They started out with an idea, Mr. Nelson explained, and debated until they had just what was needed — a button to play and pause a video, a button to select something to watch, and another to go to the main menu.

Update: In the original article I said that the Apple employees spoke "off the record" to Chen, this was a mistake and I apologise unreservedly for that.

Brian Chen of The New York Times has perhaps the most detailed look at Apple University to date after speaking to three Apple employees who agreed to speak about it, on the condition of anonymity. The entire article is fascinating and definitely deserves a read, but for those of you who aren't familiar with Apple University, it is Apple's internal training program. The program was started by Steve Jobs in an effort to embed Apple's style of decision making into the company's culture - as was revealed in Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography:

In order to institutionalize the lessons that he and his team were learning, Jobs started an in-house center called Apple University. He hired Joel Podolny, who was dean of the Yale School of Management, to compile a series of case studies analyzing important decisions the company had made, including the switch to the Intel microprocessor and the decision to open the Apple Stores. Top executives spent time teaching the cases to new employees, so that the Apple style of decision making would be embedded in the culture.

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Apple Claims to Support 629,000 European Jobs, European Developers Take 32.5% of App Store Revenues

As first noticed by 9to5 Mac, Apple has published a webpage dedicated to promoting the impact that they have had in creating or supporting 629,000 jobs in Europe (defined as EU member countries plus Norway and Switzerland). They break the numbers down a bit more, attributing 497,000 to the App Store, 132,000 to jobs directly or indirectly supported by Apple, 116,000 jobs created at other companies as a result of Apple's growth, and 16,000 Apple employees.

Throughout our history, we have created entirely new products - and entirely new industries - by focusing on innovation. This has resulted in nearly 630,000 European jobs at Apple and at developers and businesses supported by Apple. In addition, the App Store has created hundreds of thousands of jobs that previously did not exist in the European economy, enabling developers to launch new companies and earn $6.5 billion from App Store sales worldwide.

Interestingly, they reveal that $6.5 billion in App Store revenues has been paid to European developers, given that $20 billion has been paid to developers in total, this means the share of App Store revenue taken by European developers is 32.5%. Apple has previously revealed US developers have received $9 billion, but that figure hasn't been updated since late last year, so can't be used to calculate an accurate share of revenues taken by US developers.

Share of App Store Revenues

Europe (32.5%) - Rest of World (67.5%)