Tag Archives: music

Starting over

“Am I always starting over
In a brand new story?
Am I always back at one
After all I’ve done?”
— Always Starting Over, from the broadway show If/Then

Daniel said on the latest Core Intuition that it’s important to celebrate major work milestones, like shipping a new app or quitting a job. I didn’t think I’d be celebrating right away, but as it turned out, my wife met me for lunch on Friday and we had a beer to mark the occasion. She snapped this photo:

Some things just work out. I couldn’t have picked a better t-shirt to wear if I had planned it.

When 5pm came around I made a final comment on Confluence, replied to a couple emails, and then signed out of HipChat. But I didn’t have time for much reflection. My son and I were busy packing up to head to a campout with Boy Scouts. Then as soon as we arrived back the next day, I turned around again to take my daughter to see Idina Menzel.

The concert was incredible, somehow including both Wicked’s “Defying Gratify” and Radiohead’s “Creep” — and yes, of course Frozen — to make a show with both the occasional explicit lyric and little kids pulled up from the audience to sing. It was only while driving home from the concert that I had a moment to think what I need to do next. Idina’s lines from If/Then at the beginning of this post kept coming back to me.

I’ve worked a long time on a few things, and they were pretty good, but now it’s time to start over. I turn 40 in a few months. It’s time to figure out what the next 10 years of my life should be about.

Apple Music and free Beats 1

Apple Music launched today with iOS 8.4. Christina Warren has an early review for Mashable, in particular mentioning the value of For You:

“The real heart of Apple Music is the For You tab. This is basically your music homescreen. When you open the section for the first time, you’re asked to go through a discovery exercise. This was lifted directly from Beats Music and it’s one of the best discovery tools I’ve used over the years.”

If Apple Music can be thought of as Beats Music 2.0, then the Connect tab is probably a little like Ping 2.0, an update on Apple’s first attempt to build a music-only social network. As Daniel and I discussed on Core Intuition 187, any service that demonstrates a network effect — everything from eBay to Twitter — needs some critical mass of users to reach its potential. I was curious whether Apple could achieve this if the Connect feature was locked behind a paid subscription after the initial 3-month trial.

What I missed is that Connect and even Beats 1 will be free. From the Apple Music page:

“Even without a membership, you can listen to Beats 1 radio, see what artists are posting on Connect, and hear our ad‑supported stations.”

Beats 1 is one of the more interesting aspects of Apple Music to me. I just signed up for the trial and plan to continue at the $15/month family subscription.

Amazon Echo

Dan Moren wrote on Six Colors last month about the Amazon Echo. On the voice recognition working so well:

“The Echo’s hardware deserves a full share of that credit. The microphones on this device are impressive; even when I’m several rooms away, Alexa rarely mishears me. I’ve triggered it from my kitchen and from my hallway, the latter of which doesn’t even have line of sight to the Echo.”

I have one too. I pre-ordered it on a whim and then promptly forgot about it for 2 months. Then seemingly the next thing I knew it had showed up at my house. If I had remembered about the order, I might have cancelled it, but now I’m glad I didn’t. The Amazon Echo is great.

I remarked on Core Intuition that it’s like a task-specific Siri, with better accuracy because there are limited things you want to ask it. Play some music, set a timer, measurement conversions. It can’t do everything, but what it can do is particularly useful in the kitchen or living room. Plus it’s probably the best wireless speaker we’ve ever owned.

Because it’s so effortless to play music now, I’ve uploaded some tracks from iTunes to the Amazon cloud via their music uploader. (Remember when we wanted DRM-free music? This is a concrete reason why.) And since we have an Amazon Prime membership, I’ve discovered that we have a significant amount of good music in the cloud already.

I’m looking forward to Apple Music and will probably subscribe, but I’ve realized after having the Echo for a while that Amazon is quietly sitting on something pretty special. They should do more with music — I didn’t realize until now that they even had a dedicated iOS music app — and more to build and promote their service. Music is in their “DNA” just as much as it’s in Apple’s. After all, Amazon’s 2nd offering after books was music CDs.

Ending the App Store top 200

I was chatting with some developers this week, complaining about this post on spamming the App Store and wondering if we’d ever have a better App Store, when I finally realized how we get there. The block for me had always been the top 200 lists. We all know that you can game them, buy your way in, and apps that make it in even on their own merits have a huge advantage over everything else, sometimes for months. But I couldn’t conceive of how you could actually get rid of them and if it would make the store better or worse.

The answer is in Beats Music. They have no overall top 200 list! Instead, they have a bunch of people — musicians and writers who deeply care about music — curating playlists. The top 25 playlists in a genre are so buried in the app that I had to search them out just to write this blog post, because they seem to carry no more weight than any other playlist. Much more common are playlists like “our top 20 of 2013”. That’s not a best-selling list; it’s based on real people’s favorites.

There are literally hundreds or maybe thousands of other playlists. Intro playlists for a band, related artists that were influential to a singer you like, playlists for a mood or activity, and more. This extra manual step makes it much easier for an algorithm to surface great music: just look for playlists that contain songs you already like, and chances are good that you’ll discover something new.

I wrote about Beats Music earlier, how it underscored to me that Apple needs to find the next product category to fall in love with, just like they used to feel about music. Of course we know that Apple already loves apps. Show that by doubling down on featured apps, staff picks, and app playlists.

How would this fix the junk problem in the App Store? Simple. No one in their right mind would ever feature one of these ad-filled, “re-skinned” cheap apps. Great recommendations mean less reliance on search, making scam apps more difficult to find by accident. (This focus is so complete in Beats Music, for the first couple days of using it I didn’t even realize you could search for a specific song or album.)

This idea isn’t new. Here’s Jared Sinclair on app playlists, with the twist that they’re based on apps you have installed and use:

“App playlists should be rigorously simple: just a list of apps. Not all the apps ever downloaded, but the apps that a given user currently has installed on their device. The assumption is that if somebody has an app on their device, they probably like it.”

That would be great. But seeing Beats Music ship with almost no traditional music charts at all — in an industry that has embraced the top 40 for decades — tells me that the Beats approach would also work for apps. I think you need both an “installed” playlist and many more fully curated playlists to actually replace the top 200 in the App Store.

Apple will need to ramp up their staff to do this, but if a new company like Beats can do it, surely a company as huge as Apple can also try. And they’ll have help from app fans everywhere. Writers are already doing this: see Federico Viticci’s must-have iPad apps of 2013 (could easily be an app playlist) or all the photo apps mentioned on The Sweet Setup (favorite photo apps playlist) or TechHive’s 5 apps for budgeting (my playlist would’ve added MoneyWell).

Apple shouldn’t wait until Thursday to feature a few great apps. Feature apps all the time. They’re on the right track with some of the “best of” sections in the store, and with the “Near Me” feature. Go a little further and it will make all the difference to bubble up great apps, and let the junk in the App Store fade away. For the first time I can imagine the store without a top 200 at all, and it looks amazing.

We love music

In my short post about why we chose Mapbox for Sunlit, I said I wanted to use it because the folks working at Mapbox clearly love maps. We are so used to mega-companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft trying to provide every possible service, it’s nice sometimes to just buy directly from a specialist.

I think that’s why Beats Music is going to be successful. Music is all they’re doing, they’ve hired a staff of specialists — curators who are passionate about not just music but specific genres — and even their sister company makes music products: headphones and speakers. For more background on Beats Music, I recommend this write-up from MacStories and this (http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/21/5325766/interview-with-beats-music-ceo-ian-rogers-video).

Remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod? He said: “We love music. And it’s always good to do something you love.” As he continued to play some of his favorite songs, we believed him. The driving force behind the iPod and iTunes was to make it significantly easier to listen to music. They hit it out of the park and changed the music industry.

Today, Apple is either spread too thin or content to do the bare minimum only. iTunes Radio looks like something they felt they had to build, not something they wanted to build. Beats Music is in a completely different league, with a deep set of features and content. It looks like an app that’s had years to mature, not a 1.0.

I’d like to see Apple get back to doing fewer things and doing them well. That means no TV or smartwatch. They need more product categories like photography, which they excel at. The iPhone camera is the best, the built-in Photos and Camera apps are great, and there’s a rich layer of third-party apps to fill in additional features. Apple’s photos ad perfectly captures this.

Apple, fall in love with the next product category and lead us there. We’re ready for the next thing you love, not the next thing that Wall Street assumes everyone wants.

Spoiled by iTunes, and the future of music

I have been “iTunes-free for four weeks now”:http://www.manton.org/2007/01/goodbye_itms.html, and I hate it. It must be like quitting smoking, except without the fear of dying always at your back. I stopped by a Best Buy the other day and couldn’t find any CDs to buy. How do you shop for music without listening to it first? How do you find new artists without “customers also bought…” sidebars? Years ago I might listen to the radio to discover new music, but that was before the dial was permanently stuck on NPR.

“Steve Jobs dropped the bomb”:http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughtsonmusic/ while I was at lunch yesterday, and I furiously read and re-read it and watched the fallout. Blog entries in NetNewsWire lit up like clockwork. As “I posted to Twitter”:http://twitter.com/manton, when the balance tips again to user control we’ll look back at this as a real shift in thinking. And the reason you know it’s true is because it sounds redundant to say the words.

But today… I browsed for music on iTunes and then ordered CDs from Amazon.

Holiday hacking on Wii Transfer 2.0

I got sick (the flu?) shortly after Christmas, but nevertheless managed to sneak in some coding on Wii Transfer 2.0, which I hope to release this weekend. The big new feature for 2.0 is music and picture sharing. Essentially, there is a web server built into Wii Transfer. You can use the Wii’s Opera web browser to connect directly to your Mac running Wii Transfer and pull up MP3s or iPhoto albums. I’ve licensed “Jeroen Wijering’s Flash-based tools”:http://www.jeroenwijering.com/ for listening to MP3s and browsing photos. The interface isn’t perfect yet (the buttons should be bigger for easy TV viewing), but I think it’s pretty good for a first shot at this. The web server portion is based off of “Jürgen Schweizer’s Cocoa example code”:http://culturedcode.com/cocoa/.

“Check out this screencast”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/screencasts/sharing.mov to see what most of it looks like. The first part shows the new Wii Transfer main window UI with a source list for switching features, and the second part shows what it looks like from the actual Wii. I just setup a tripod and filmed off the new HDTV with my digital camera.

I also started back on “real work”:http://www.vitalsource.com/ today. We have some neat stuff shipping later this month that I’ll be blogging about more once it’s ready to show. I knew I could easily get lost in inconsequential stuff on the Tuesday after a long break, so I spent a bit of time yesterday reviewing to-do lists and getting my head on straight. Got some real coding and design done today, so no complaints there either.

All in all, 2007 is starting off great. (Except that I still seem to be sick, but I’m going to try to ignore that for a bit longer.)