Microsoft’s and Apple’s bets on downloadable subscription services would seemingly place them behind their streaming counterparts in the long run, but that’s not quite the case. Their success shows that they’re neither ahead of the curve nor behind it; they’re simply meeting the expectations of their players. Apple debuted 30 games on Friday on a service that costs $4.99 a month and is often included in larger Apple product purchases for free. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier costs $14.99 a month and includes games on Xbox console, Windows PC, and Android devices — and will now regularly feature launch-day releases from Xbox Game Studios, Bethesda Softworks, and even Sony, along with a rotating collection of more than 100 catalog titles. They’re providing the best deals in gaming at this moment.
Compare Friday’s news and these strategies with other industry announcements from this week. Nintendo ceased selling a digital collection of Mario games for no greater reason than artificial scarcity, despite already hosting an online subscription service that could house the games. And Sony confirmed that it will be closing its digital storefronts for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita — with no clarity on how or if those venues or their games will be preserved, let alone be made available in the future.
Earlier today, Spotify announced their latest feature rollout for both free and premium users: Spotify Mixes. Inspired by the Daily Mix, which the company introduced in 2016, Spotify Mixes are a collection of personalized playlists tailored specifically to each user and available in three main “flavors”: in the updated Made for You hub (which you can find in the Search page), you’ll find Artist Mixes, Genre Mixes, and Decade Mixes.
Here’s how Spotify says these new playlists will work:
Each mix is created with you at the core, based on your listening habits and the artists, genres, and decades you listen to most. They’re rooted in familiarity, meaning that you won’t just hear your favorite artists, but your favorite songs from those artists.
Then, we supplement by adding in songs we think you’ll love, meaning they’ll be filled with the music you have on repeat alongside some fresh picks. So whether you want to jam out to a specific artist or hear more music from another decade, there’s a mix just for you.
According to Spotify, these new mixes will update over time to reflect your listening habits and will present a dynamic collection of playlists from different artists, genres, and decades, including both songs you already know and new ones the service thinks you might like.
I received the new Spotify Mixes this morning and, as you can see in the image above, they provide an eerily accurate representation of my diverse music preferences – from late 90s Placebo and mid 2000s emo punk to modern artists such as Pale Waves and Taylor Swift.
As I’m writing almost on a weekly basis now, I’m impressed with Spotify’s ongoing streak of product launches and understanding of what their users seek in the service. With genre filters, the ability to shuffle liked songs based on mood, and now mixes for decades and artists, Spotify helps me enjoy and rediscover music in any moment of the day; so far, I’m glad I decided to switch from Apple Music for a year.
As announced by Spotify last week, the company is rolling out a refreshed home hub in its mobile app featuring a new Recently Played section, an easier way to stream new releases from your favorite artists, and shortcuts to play and resume podcast episodes with one tap:
About a year ago, we reworked the Spotify mobile experience to refresh our Home interface. Since then, Spotify users have been able to access the content they love more quickly and easily—and maybe even discover something new straight from their home screen. But the ease and discovery don’t stop there. This month, we’re announcing a series of updates that will make the Home experience even more personalized for each and every listener.
We’re constantly working on ways to improve our user experience. Through this latest update, we’ll be rolling out several advancements on the mobile Home hub designed to make finding the audio you love easier and more intuitive. These will roll out to users globally on iOS and Android this month.
In my tests with Spotify this year, I’ve been positively impressed by the company’s pace of updates. What I find particularly intriguing in the refreshed home hub design is the integration with podcasts: I was very skeptical of blending music and podcasts in the same app when I switched to Spotify at the end of last year, but the more I use it, the more I understand why podcast listening in Spotify is growing rapidly. There’s something about making both kinds of audio content accessible in one place that works well for removing friction from having to choose what I want to listen to. I’m curious to see how Spotify will balance music and podcast episodes in new home hub (which I don’t have in my Spotify app yet).
Nearly a year ago in the middle of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Italy, I published an article that would turn out to feel obsolete in less than a month: in my Modular Computer story, I detailed my experiments with various accessories for the iPad Pro and how the device was capable of filling different roles in my computing life thanks to the Smart Keyboard Folio, an external 4K monitor, Apple’s Magic Trackpad, and a set of kickstands. About a month later, my laptop setup for the iPad Pro was upended by the arrival of Apple’s Magic Keyboard; as a result of the Magic Keyboard’s floating design and integrated keyboard/trackpad approach, I’ve preferred using my iPad Pro in laptop mode more often, even when I’m sitting at my desk.
A year later, Italy is going through the so-called “third-wave” of the pandemic (with a terribly mismanaged vaccine rollout and, for whatever reason, a different government) and I’ve spent the past 24 hours testing Kensington’s long-anticipated StudioDock, a $400 docking station1 that aims to turn the iPad Pro into a desktop workstation with support for display rotation, expansion via USB-C, USB-A, and SD card slots, and integrated Qi charging for iPhone and AirPods. And just like last year, I find myself torn between appreciating the potential of this product and concerned about its timing given rumors of an impending iPad Pro refresh just around the corner.
A day of usage2 isn’t enough time to evaluate this kind of product and its long-term impact on an iPad user’s daily workflow. I feel particularly uncomfortable giving MacStories readers any sort of buying advice here because of the price tag (again, $400 for the StudioDock version I tested) and the short amount of time I was able to spend with the accessory. For these reasons, I’ll try my best to focus on what the StudioDock is, what I like about it in the context of modularity and converting the iPad Pro into something it’s not (or, at least, something Apple probably didn’t anticipate), and a few features it’s missing.
Earlier today, Apple provided TechCrunch with a fascinating clarification regarding the ability in iOS and iPadOS 14.5 to pick “default” audio apps for music, podcast, and audiobook playback.
From Sarah Perez’s article:
Apple has clarified that the iOS 14.5 beta is not actually allowing users to select a new default music service, as has been reported. Following the beta’s release back in February, a number of beta testers noticed that Siri would now ask what music service they would like to use when they asked Siri to play music. But Apple doesn’t consider this feature the equivalent to “setting a default” — an option it more recently began to allow for email and browser apps.
Instead, the feature is Siri intelligence-based, meaning it can improve and even change over time as Siri learns to better understand your listening habits.
For example, if you tell Siri to play a song, album or artist, it may ask you which service you want to use to listen to this sort of content. However, your response to Siri is not making that particular service your “default,” Apple says. In fact, Siri may ask you again at some point — a request that could confuse users if they thought their preferences had already been set.
On the surface, it appears as if Apple’s argument boils down to semantics. Because iOS 14.5 will not offer a proper page in Settings to configure “default” audio apps (like you can for browsers and email clients, as I argued on yesterday’s episode of Connected), then it’s not correct to say you’ll be able to change the default music app on your iPhone or iPad. We could debate why Apple is not building a page in Settings for this but still allowing Siri to integrate with third-party streaming services and apps (competitive advantages vs. antitrust concerns?), but that’s besides the point. What I find more interesting is that Apple explains this feature is actually doing more than just sticking to a default option:
The audio choice feature, of course, doesn’t prevent users from requesting a particular service by name, even if it’s not their usual preference.
For instance, you can still say something like “play smooth jazz radio on Pandora” to launch that app instead. However, if you continued to request Pandora by name for music requests — even though you had initially specified Apple Music or Spotify or some other service when Siri had first prompted you — then the next time you asked Siri to play music without specifically a service, the assistant may ask you again to choose a service.
From this perspective, given the dynamic nature of this functionality, I understand why Apple may be uncomfortable comparing it to the ability to switch default browser and email apps. At the same time, I want to mention how I’ve been using iOS 14.5 for the past month, and after an initial configuration, Siri continued to default to Spotify and never prompted me to pick another one again. I’m giving Apple’s explanation the benefit of the doubt, but I’m curious to see how this feature will work in the final release of iOS 14.5.
Fascinating new option announced by Spotify last week, coming soon to the app’s ‘Liked Songs’ default playlist:
Your “Liked Songs” on Spotify are a collection of you—spanning every genre you’ve ever enjoyed and each mood you’ve experienced. Some days, you might be looking to play the entire eclectic mix, while on others, you’re searching for a certain feel.
Starting today, Spotify is rolling out a new way for our listeners to easily sort their “Liked Songs” collection for every mood and moment through new Genre and Mood filters. With this new feature, listeners with at least 30 tracks in their collections will be able to filter their favorite songs by up to 15 personalized mood and genre categories.
In the last update to Apple Frames – my shortcut to put screenshots captured on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch inside physical device frames – from December, I added support for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Since the introduction of revamped widgets in iOS 14, Apple Frames is the only shortcut I’ve configured as a small, standalone Shortcuts widget on the first page of my Home Screen: I use it dozens of times every single day, and I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of time its image-based automation has saved me over the years.
I meant to link this great article by Jason Snell a couple weeks ago:
Every time an app I rely on exposes its mortality, I realize that all the software I rely on is made by people. And some of it is made by a very small group of people, or even largely a single person. And it gives me pause, because whether that person decides to stop development or retires or is hit by the proverbial bus, the result is the same: That tool is probably going to fade away.
A lot of the software I rely on is a couple of decades old. And while those apps have supported the livelihoods of a bunch of talented independent developers, it can’t last forever. When James Thomson decides to move to the Canary Islands and play at the beach all day, what will become of PCalc? When Rich Siegel hangs up his shingle at Bare Bones Software, will BBEdit retire as well? Apps can last as abandonware for a while, but as the 32-bit Mac app apocalypse taught us, incompatibility comes for every abandoned app eventually.
The final segment of this week’s episode of Connected reminded me about the impermanence of software (which is something I covered extensively before) and how, ultimately, the apps we depend upon are made by people, who will eventually stop working on them. As Snell argues, we may not always be prepared for change in our workflows, but that’s exactly what I love about keeping up with new apps and revisiting the way we get our work done.