Last week, I listened to Jared Leto from Thirty Seconds to Mars talk about his hometown of Los Angeles. He talked about, and then played, the songs that remind him of the City of Angels and other songs that have inspired him as a musical artist. It was great to listen to, not just as a big fan of Thirty Seconds to Mars but as someone who has just spent over two months living, studying, and working in Los Angeles.

So where did I listen to Leto and these songs? iTunes Radio.

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Mar
20
2014

Thinking Outside The Watch

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Today’s smartphones and tablets know a lot about us, but they don’t really know us. If Apple’s going to enter the wearable market, I believe (or at least, I hope) they will find an obvious benefit of wearing a device that goes beyond displaying notifications on your wrist.

In episode 40 of The Prompt, we discussed this topic in regard to Android Wear, Google’s recently announced initiative for wearable devices that, at the moment, seems primarily focused on so-called smartwatches. Also on The Prompt, we discussed the importance of fashion and how fashion design is often ignored as a core aspect of wearable tech two months ago in episode 33.

The current crop of smartwatches feels like a replay of smartphones before the iPhone. Smartphones were bulky, had some convenient features, and tried to cram old metaphors of PC software into a new form factor, resulting in baby software. Most smartwatches I see today are bulky, have some convenient features, and try to cram features and apps from smartphones and tablets into a form factor that’s both new and old (watches have been around for centuries), but the “smartwatch” tech gadget has become a trend only recently. As a result, smartwatches on the market today appeal mostly to tech geeks who are interested in some of those few interesting features (namely notifications, map directions, and the intersection of smartphones and watches), but they’re not really smart because they generally fetch data from a primary device – the smartphone – and they’re not really good as watches either.

Sometimes I wonder if the tech press is more enamored with the current idea of smartwatches than people actually care.

To a degree, though, I understand why having notifications on your wrist may be an interesting proposition: for the geek who lives in the connected age, everything needs to be faster and easier. Faster Internet and easier access to Twitter. Faster processor and easier ways to manage the inbox. A simplified interface that strips down unnecessary elements and displays a notification on your wrist while also subtly vibrating? To the geek and tech blogger, that’s both cool and useful. And to a certain extent, I also get why some of the apps available for smartwatches may be worth trying: shopping lists on your wrist mean you won’t be afraid of dropping your phone at the grocery store, and who doesn’t love checking for Twitter DMs on a watch?

But I think that discounting wearable devices – whether worn on your wrist or around your neck, on your chest or on your finger – to small displays capable of displaying notifications and mini-apps dramatically undervalues the potential of wearing tech on your body. (more…)

Mar
19
2014

How I Use Pinboard

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For the past year, I’ve been asked on multiple occasions by MacStories readers about Pinboard, and I thought it’d be fun to address that question with a detailed explanation of my usage of the service.

I love Pinboard. I realize that it may be somewhat strange to share such feelings for a web service, therefore allow me to rephrase it: I love what Pinboard’s creator Maciej Cegłowski has been doing with the service and I love Pinboard’s focus and direction.[^twitter]

Pinboard is a bookmaking service purposefully devoid of complicated social features and primarily aimed at personal bookmarks. If you’ve been on the Internet for a few years, you may be familiar with Pinboard as the straightforward alternative to Delicious from the days when Delicious used to be a bookmarking service, and that still holds true. Fundamentally, Pinboard is a service to save links.

In spite of its simplicity and barebones presentation, Pinboard is packed with clever options and settings that you can use to tailor the experience to your needs. There are compatible apps (Pinboard has an API), bookmarklets, RSS feeds, and many other tricks and hidden tips that can considerably improve your usage of Pinboard, and I’m going to cover those, alongside some personal suggestions, in this post.

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Jan
28
2014

Why Beats Music Matters

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Beats Music

How do you treat music less like data and more like art, and make a business out of it? That’s the question Beats Music, a spin-off of Beats Electronics risen from the acquisition of MOG, wants to answer with their new music streaming and recommendation service.

I first got wind of Beats Music in December, and, when I heard the news last week that Beats Music was launching to the public, I thought I wouldn’t care. As MacStories readers and The Prompt listeners know, I’ve been happily using Rdio for the past three years: Rdio gives me all the music I want, it lets me check out New Releases and subscribe to playlists created by other users, and it’s got a Stations feature that automatically recommends music I may like based on my history and listening data collected about me. There are many reasons why I prefer Rdio over Spotify, which I’ve shared on several occasions in the past. Rdio works: you type stuff in, you get music back. If you don’t want to search, the service gives music to you with recommendations that go from “good” to “great”.

As coverage of Beats Music started coming in and cynics quickly derided the service for being part of a company that makes headphones audiophiles don’t like, I got curious. Beats Music’s CEO Ian Rogers, for instance, has a quite amazing story of being a pioneer of Internet-based music delivery and marketing, working (and touring) alognside Beastie Boys at a very young age, eventually going to work for Nullsoft, Yahoo Music, TopSpin Media, and now Beats Music.

The creation of Beats Music itself was spearheaded by Jimmy Iovine (historic music producer and co-founder of Beats Electronics with Dr. Dre), who ended up hiring Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor as Chief Creative Officer of the new service because Reznor himself had been looking for a new take on music streaming services.

On a product level, Beats Music offers no free tier as it is a paid-only service that delivers 320kbps MP3 streams and promises to pay artists higher royalties thanks to the lack of cheaper, ad-supported streams. When I went to check out Beats Music’s website, I found an honest, well-written FAQ that explained the company’s vision and motivations for launching a paid service just after Spotify and Rdio extended their free tiers to tablets and desktops.

I could go on with a list of factors that contributed to piquing my interest in Beats Music. Such as the way Rogers worded his explanation of the service’s paid-only model, or how he explained their strategy to The Verge and then offered a simple screenshot as proof that ads in music may not always be the best option. Or how Reznor – for context, the guy who left his label to try “alternative” marketing campaigns that included leaving free copies of NIN songs in USB flash drives in bathroom stallssaid that “to brag about being agnostic and just providing access to music seems to me, as a culture person, as a fail” when asked about Spotify’s search and algorithm-based music platform.

As a music lover and iOS geek, it seemed silly to dismiss Beats Music just because of others’ opinions about headphones, and I’m glad I didn’t. I can’t stop using Beats Music. (more…)

Jan
24
2014

This Is My #Mac30

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Thirty years ago, Apple introduced the Macintosh with the promise to put the creative power of technology in everyone’s hands. It launched a generation of innovators who continue to change the world. This 30‑year timeline celebrates some of those pioneers and the profound impact they’ve made.  - Apple.com

Here’s my story. In 1994 I was a college-bound high school senior that loved art, especially drawing. I knew I wanted to use my creativity as a career but didn’t know exactly what to do. I remember the day when one of the art supply closets was reconfigured into a small, 3 computer lab. The computers were all Power Macintosh 6100/60s with a System 7 OS — and nothing like I had ever seen before. I cannot recall what art program was on them but they kept drawing my attention every time I went to art class. We got them late in the school year, so I was only able to play around with them as no formal classes were started until the fall — and I was about to graduate. We couldn’t afford anything like that growing up so I thought I was lucky to just have a few weeks to take in that new user experience.

After moving into the dorm for my freshman year in college, we had an Apple computer lab in the building and the Internet was still new and we didn’t know what to do with it besides looking up things we weren’t supposed to – come on, we were all 18 year old boys!. Anyway, we wrote papers on Macs and used search engines such as Webcrawler, Lycos, Go.com, and Infoseek. I didn’t see those machines as the creative machines that I played with in high school; rather, as machines that we were required to use to do homework. But I hadn’t forgotten about what awesome powers they possessed for being creative.

Jump to sophomore year in the fall of 1995. One of my roommates shows up after summer break with a 1993 Apple Color Classic and I realize what a fantastic little machine it was. Not only could I write papers and play simple games, but I could create little pixel drawings and use type! That feeling I had during my senior year art class was back. I finally realized what I wanted to do for a living and I had found my digital, Apple-carved canvas.

In the second semester of my sophomore year, I enrolled in an intro course to Graphic Design and loved/excelled in it. Being able to express my creativity on that new medium felt breathtaking. While taking design classes, I would do some evening computer lab work in the art building up on the third floor where they had a more focused lab used for computer graphics and “digital photography” — it was a new term at the time and people were excited. Along with my graphic design classes, I started a digital photography class and that was where I was first introduced to the Apple QuickTake Camera and Adobe design software. While graphic design taught me history, practice, typography, and what is good layout, digital photography taught me scanning, Photoshop/Illustrator, and basic HTML coding. It was the best of both worlds, really. I was getting my minor in art history as well so it felt like a very balanced approach towards getting my BA in Studio Art with focus on Graphic Design.

After graduating college in August of 1998, I knew I had to go into debt and buy the original Bondi Blue iMac. I loved the machine: an entire PC, wrapped in a space age color casing that wasn’t beige? Who wouldn’t want one? I used it for some small freelance work, Internet, and gaming. Soon after, I started my job as a graphic designer for a daily newspaper and worked on Macs every day. We had Quadras, PowerPCs that evolved into G3/G5/G5 towers and iMacs in the nine years I worked there. Not only did I have the design background but I now had the technical knowledge of how those machines worked as our IT admin only knew Windows so I was not only the Graphic Design Supervisor, I was also the Mac admin. In 2002 I added a Titanium Powerbook G4 – one of my favorite Macs of all time — then bought a Power Mac G5 Dual Processor in 2004.

In 2007, I completed the full circle and purchased another 24″ aluminum iMac, but this time a much larger and faster version. After almost 7 long years, the longest I’ve ever had a computer, the hard drive died just weeks ago. Rather than sell this (still) awesome piece of computing history, I’m going to give it a new hard drive and a second chance on life, much like Steve Jobs gave Apple one when he returned in 1997.

Apple has been such a big influence in my professional life and personal life. With devices like iPods, iPhones, and iPads, Apple has truly changed how their users have evolved and who they are today. It’s amazing how at one time a computer took up an entire room and now it easily fits in our pocket. The old saying is right,“the Apple (user) doesn’t fall far from the tree”. This is my #Mac30.

Jan
23
2014

My First Mac

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After my friends and I graduated from high school in July 2007, we decided to take a vacation to Spain and go see our favorite bands in Benicàssim, at an annual music festival. That was the year when Arctic Monkeys were already pretty popular thanks to 2006's record-smashing debut album and Favourite Worst Nightmare (but they were still shy on stage), and just a month after the iPhone went on sale in the United States.

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Jan
15
2014

Thinking About An iPad Pro

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iPad Pro

I’ve been thinking about a rumor that I’ve seen showing up in tech headlines lately – that Apple is working on a larger version of the iPad (dubbed “iPad Pro”) that is allegedly on track to be released in Fall 2014. While I haven’t been paying particular attention to rumors (with the exception of Mark Gurman’s original reporting), the idea of a larger iPad reported by the tech press thus far strikes me as an odd proposition. As someone who uses the iPad as his primary computer, I wanted to recollect past instances of this rumor and reflect upon the consequences that such device (and way of thinking) could have on the iPad line, iOS, and consumers. (more…)

Safari

I guess you could say that I was quite the fan of Google Chrome.

Before switching to Chrome last year, I didn’t have a “favorite” browser or “browser of choice”: I just kept jumping between Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, trying out all the features that the three major players had to offer on OS X. I’m pretty sure that, at one point, I even tried to go a full week with using Opera. My browser requirements have always been fairly standard (several open tabs; a lot of reading; sync with mobile devices), so I could afford to change browsers without having to worry about setting up a complex environment from scratch.[1]

As I started using my iPad as my primary computer last year, I was growing increasingly annoyed with the state of iCloud sync in Safari and lack of major overhaul to a design that originally shipped with iPhone OS 1. I don’t frequently abandon systems that work for me due to stagnation, but iOS 6’s Safari exhibited a certain staleness on top of issues with bookmark and tab sync that, for me, were becoming an annoying problem. I liked Safari’s speed and native integrations with iOS, but it was prone to errors and boring.

On the other hand, Google Chrome for iOS was promising, familiar, and power user-friendly. I fell in love with Google’s support for x-callback-url, which I integrated in several workflows of mine as it allowed me to save time when switching between apps on my iPad; sync was nearly perfect; I praised Google’s superior implementation of voice dictation and feedback, although I noted how their Voice Search couldn’t exactly compete with Siri. Google kept pushing updates to Chrome for iOS, making it a capable browser for average and power users alike.

A few weeks after publishing my review of iOS 7, I decided to uninstall Chrome from all my devices and move back to Safari as my main and only browser on my iPhone, iPad, and two Macs.

I’m not looking back. I’m happy with the new Safari – so much, in fact, that I’m even considering Reading List as my “read later” service going forward.

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Nov
12
2013

After a surprising and unexpected launch, I made a reservation for a Retina iPad mini earlier today at my local Apple store, waited five hours, then drove to the store and bought it. I got a 32 GB, LTE, Silver iPad because, when I made the reservation, that model wasn’t available in Space Gray and, as an Apple store employee later told me, reservations cannot be modified after the fact (not that it really matters – the store didn’t have it in stock today). I don’t care about the color of my iPad, and I prioritized getting one as soon as possible over looks. I think that Silver looks great.

As I’ve already discussed, I’ve been working from my iPad mini for the past year, and I couldn’t wait to get an upgrade to enjoy the higher resolution of the Retina display. I was forced to get used to the old iPad mini’s display, but that doesn’t mean I liked it. The form factor was more important than the display in the end, but, this year, I can have both: the iPad mini’s lighter body and the Retina display. I was, to use an euphemism, “fairly” excited about the Retina iPad mini.

Don’t consider this post a “review”. Rather, this is a collection of my first impressions with the device after less than five hours spent working with it. I am posting this list of points primarily for myself, so I can solidify my thoughts by making them public and getting the opportunity to reference them later. Secondly, I am publishing this post for readers who asked me questions about device and still don’t know whether they should buy an iPad mini or an iPad Air. This is not a buyers recommendation guide, but I’ll try to my best to collect everything that I thought of in the past five hours. (more…)