Posts in Linked

Rdio Launches High-Quality Streams, Interactive Notifications on iOS 8

Last week, Rdio addressed one of my longstanding criticisms of the service by launching high-quality AAC streams with a 320 kbps option for Unlimited users:

Today we’re happy to announce we’ve converted our entire catalog of over 30 million songs to high-quality AAC audio. Listeners around the world now have four sound quality settings to choose from across iOS, Android, and the web. All Rdio users can choose between data-efficient 64 kbps all the way up to 192 kbps. Rdio Unlimited subscribers now also have the option of listening in pristine-quality 320 kbps. Plus individually select your audio settings for a variety of uses, whether you’re using Wi-Fi or cellular streaming or listening to offline downloads.

Rdio is late to the 320 kbps party, but better late than never. I like how the updated iOS app has individual settings for streaming and download quality over WiFi and Cellular connections.

And speaking of the iOS app, it was also updated with new iOS 8 features and support for CarPlay. I couldn't test the latter as I don't have a CarPlay receiver, and the fact that Rdio is now optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is pretty much a given with app updates at this point.

The use of interactive notifications by Rdio is clever: if someone shares a song or album with you, you can swipe down on the Rdio notification to view it or start playing it. The Play button has to launch the Rdio app first, but it's still a nice shortcut that should remove some friction from sharing with other Rdio users.

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Apple Pay in Australia

Beau Giles figured out a way to use Apple Pay, currently limited to the US, in Australia. Essentially, given the right settings and card, Apple Pay will treat the user as an American tourist in another country, with an obvious consequence:

Unfortunately, as you’re essentially paying with a card from the US, you’ll be paying currency conversion fees for anything you buy in Australia with Apple Pay.

I have tried this myself, and I could show the Apple Pay setup screen in Italy, but I don't have a compatible American credit card. It's too bad, because the MasterCard Nearby app shows plenty of Contactless-enabled stores in my area.

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iTunes 12′s New Interface

I find iTunes 12 to be one of the most confusing UIs Apple has ever shipped (it's up there with the Health app for iOS 8). I don't listen to all my music in iTunes, but I like to think that I'm not completely ignorant about the app either. I use it for iTunes Match, I am a regular iTunes Radio listener, and, of course, I have a huge library of apps in it. Lately, I've even been using it to listen to podcasts because I wanted to try iCloud sync.

I don't understand most of the changes that went into the iTunes 12 interface: from the lack of a sidebar to the new tabs for navigation and separation of media types and iTunes Store, I feel completely lost using the new iTunes.

Thankfully, Agen G. N. Schmitz has a good overview of the changes over at TidBITS. He calls the iTunes interface “cleaned-up”, but when I read stuff like this…

Sidebar purists (such as myself) might be a little cheesed off by the starkness of the My Music view, but you can easily return to the sidebar by clicking the Playlists text button placed in the top middle of each media type view. This selection is sticky, so if you choose to view Playlists in Music, and then head over to view the Movies media type, you’ll return to Playlists once you select Music again. However, the iTunes Store view (available in all the media types, save for Tones and Internet Radio) trumps this stickiness. If you select iTunes Store while in Movies and then choose the Music media type, you’ll find yourself still in the iTunes Store — only switched to the Music section.

…I'm baffled by Apple's choices. This used to be simple: there was a sidebar with a Store button and you clicked the button and then you changed sections in the Store. Now, you have to account for “stickiness”.

I look at the screenshots of the new iTunes, I try to use the app, and I don't know what's going on. Maybe I'm the problem because I'm not “committed” to learning iTunes enough – but that's not supposed to happen with good interface design.

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Apple Pay FAQ and Apps

Earlier today, Apple posted two support documents detailing frequently asked questions about Apple Pay and the security and privacy of the service.

From the FAQ:

When I’m paying in a store using my debit card in Apple Pay, should I choose Credit or Debit on the terminal?

When presented with this choice, we recommend you to choose “Credit” to get the most consistent Apple Pay experience. Choosing “Debit” may not always work successfully with some older merchant payment terminals and backend systems.

And about security:

When you pay using Apple Pay in stores

Paying in stores that accept contactless payments with Apple Pay uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology between your device and the payment terminal. NFC is an industry-standard contactless technology designed to work only across short distances. If your iPhone 6 is on and it detects an NFC field, it will present you with your default credit or debit card. To send your payment information, you must authenticate using Touch ID or your passcode. No payment information is sent without your authentication.

MacRumors has a list of the retail stores that have begun accepting Apple Pay in the US today. Apple has also launched an Apple Pay section (currently on the front page of the US iPhone App Store) showcasing iOS apps that have been updated with Apple Pay support, including the Apple Store app.

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Apple Pay Demos

Apple Pay, the company's new payment system for iPhones and iPads, rolled out in the US today with iOS 8.1, and Kyle Russell has a nice demo video of the feature in action:

Holding my thumb to Touch ID and my phone to the payment terminal, it took about a second and a half to register at Walgreens and the same amount of time at McDonald’s. Don’t expect it to change the entire experience however: you still have to sign for the amount shown at the drug store and get a receipt to show to the cashier when picking up your order at a fast food joint.

Jason Snell shared a similar experience at Six Colors:

I pulled the iPhone 6 out of my pocket and before I could even move it closer to the payment terminal—newly festooned with a Now Accepting Apple Pay tag—Apple Pay appeared on my phone and asked me to verify my purchase via Touch ID.

Below, a few demo videos from YouTube as well, showing the simplicity of Apple Pay with contactless payments.

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Yosemite HIG

I missed the updated OS X Yosemite Human Interface Guidelines document when it was posted by Apple last week following the public release of the OS. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:

People love OS X because it gives them the tools and environment they need to create, manage, and experience the content they care about. A great OS X app integrates seamlessly into this environment, while at the same time providing custom functionality and a unique user experience.

Before you dive into the guidelines that help you design a great app, take a few moments to explore how OS X Yosemite uses simplicity, consistency, and depth to give users a content-focused experience.

The HIG is always a recommended read for developers and designers who want to craft software for Apple's platforms. The Yosemite HIG includes an in-depth explanation of Apple's focus on context, clarity, and content on the desktop, and it's available here.

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Spotify Announces Family Subscriptions

From the Spotify blog:

Are you currently sharing your Spotify account with the entire family? Want to keep your 60s soul classics playlist separate from your kids’ Frozen soundtrack and save money in the process?

Well, great news! With Spotify Family you can now invite up to four family members and share one billing account whilst keeping your listening history, recommendations and playlists completely separate.

Family subscriptions were one of the main reasons my girlfriend and I used Rdio with a family account. Now, we'll be able to give Spotify a try and see if it works better for her (understandably, she doesn't care about trying every single streaming service like I do) – and plans will also be cheaper for two users (Rdio starts at $17.99 for two members, Spotify Family will be $14.99).

Spotify Family subscriptions will be available soon.

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Retina iMac Questions Answered

There's a lot to consider about Apple's new iMac with Retina 5K Display. Marco Arment has a comparison of the new iMac vs. the Mac Pro (on paper) – here's what he writes about 4K and 5K displays:

This difference is much bigger than it sounds. It’s the same, proportionally, as the difference between typical 21- to 24-inch and 27- to 30-inch monitors: “4K” computer monitors have 8.3 megapixels, while “5K” has 14.7 megapixels. Without software scaling to simulate higher density, the “right” size for a 4K monitor tops out at 24 inches, while a 5K monitor looks right at 27 to 30 inches.

It’s a huge difference.

Make sure to read the entire post as he makes some solid points with interesting technical observations.

Christina Bonnington also published a great FAQ on the new iMac at Wired, and I liked her explanation of why 5K is actually useful:

For most of us, a 5K display is just an extravagance, a high-end computing machine with specs that make our friends’ jaws drop. But for professionals in some industries, such a high pixel density is quite important.

For example, 5K resolution is great for those working on 4K content. “You can view all of the images at their true native 4K resolution, which is very important, and then have a fair amount of leftover screen space all around it for controls, icons, and even a generous 3.2-inch high text area at the bottom for commands and text input,” Displaymate’s Ray Soneira told WIRED. This actually ends up being better and more efficient than using a second monitor because you can keep your eyes on the images while working on them, instead of having to glance off to the side.

IHS Technology’s Rhoda Alexander points out that in addition to those in graphics-related fields like CAD and CG, healthcare imaging (like radiology) also has need for displays with a very high resolution.

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