Posts in stories

Mapping The International Availability of Entertainment Services

It is 2014 and we live in a rapidly globalizing world. Unfortunately, that is not always apparent from the technology press, which focuses primarily on developments in the US. That is not meant as a slight against others who write about technology -- it is just the reality. But thanks to our global and interconnected world, companies increasingly need to be able to do well in more than just one geographical market to succeed and grow. Additionally, customers outside the US are more aware than ever (thanks to the Internet and technology press) of new products available in the US and will place loyalty in the companies that bring those products to their country too.

It was this train of thought that led me to write a trilogy of so-called ‘Mapping’ posts in 2012 which covered three main topics: the availability of entertainment services across the world, the expansion of Apple Stores internationally and the rollout of various iPhones and iPads after their US launch. All are still available to be viewed, but as significant time has passed, please bear in mind that they are no longer current.

Today I am back to revisit the topic of entertainment services. The purpose, as was the case last time, is to see the international availability of entertainment services from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Not only have we updated the information on all of these, but we have also added data about the availability of Rdio, Spotify, Deezer, Netflix, Hulu, Kobo, and Nook. Hopefully, with the aid of new maps and graphs included, you will get a better picture of how these entertainment services fare in catering to today's global market of consumers.

Technical notes on the interactive content

This article is a bit different to most others we run on MacStories as it includes interactive graphs and maps. Most importantly, if you are reading this from an RSS reader or read-it-later service such as Pocket or Instapaper, we would suggest you read this article in a web browser as those interactive elements form a big part of this article and will unfortunately not be visible in those services. If you are on an iPhone or iPad, don’t worry, we have made sure they work and look perfectly fine on those devices as well.

When you come across the interactive maps, there are a few things to be aware of. Firstly, they are interactive in the sense that you can zoom in (pinch to zoom on iOS, buttons in the top-left for Macs/PCs) and take the map full screen (button in the top-right corner). In order to compare the worldwide availability of various services, you simply need to click or tap on the service names that are listed directly below the map and the map will update with relevant countries shaded to indicate availability.

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The iPad, The Software, and The Screen

Following a lack of growth for the iPad line in Apple’s latest quarterly report, I’ve seen a number of articles suggest the idea that, in spite of Apple’s best efforts to establish a third product category between the smartphone and the laptop, the iPad is done. That people, after an initial fad of high iPad sales, are showing “no interest” in the tablet form factor because they’re now served well enough by laptops, desktop computers, and larger smartphones. I think that ascribing slower iPad sales in the past few quarters to a generalized lack of interest shows an understandable kernel of concern among tech writers, but also a misunderstanding of the iPad as a device.

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Visualizing The Addition Of Apple TV Channels Over Time

The Apple TV is a curious product. It has been called a hobby product by Apple; rumors constantly suggest a 'groundbreaking' new Apple TV is imminent, and Apple has chosen to add features to it on a more frequent, but irregular, schedule than their other products. What I mean by this last point is that unlike other products and services such as iOS, iCloud and even Apple Maps, Apple has not seen the need to wait for a keynote to update the Apple TV with new services.

In fact, since the Apple TV (second generation) was released in 2010, Apple has added new 'channels' to the Apple TV on 18 seperate occasions. Excluding Apple's own channels, the Apple TV now has 33 third party channels in the US, with a handful of other channels only available in countries outside the US. Even more interesting is the fact that in the last 12 months Apple has rapidly increased their pace of adding new channels, with 26 being added in that time period.

I did this research after noticing a more frequent and steady stream of news about new channels being added to the Apple TV. I don't have any explanations or theories for this recent acceleration of channel additions, but am curious as to where the next few months will take us. Will the pace continue, will Apple slow down, or will they eventually open the Apple TV up with an App Store? Of course, the even bigger question is whether the Apple TV will ever really become more than an accessory to your TV or iOS device and become a so-called "revolutionary" device that challenges 'the status quo'. Only time will tell.

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iOS 8 Wishes

With iOS 7, Apple profoundly altered the foundations of their mobile operating system's design and functionality, and I want to believe that iOS 8, likely due later this year, will allow them to keep building towards new heights of user enjoyment, design refinement, and exploration of features suitable for the post-PC era. The transition to iOS 7 hasn't been perfectly smooth, but, less than two months away from WWDC, there's clear, promising potential on the horizon: plenty of new iOS low-hanging fruit.

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Tuning into the Curious Design Decisions of iTunes Radio

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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Thinking Outside The Watch

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. Read more

How I Use Pinboard

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.[1]

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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Why Beats Music Matters

Beats Music

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. Read more

This Is My #Mac30

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.  -

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,, 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.