iTunes Pass – First Take

There’s a lot of buzz that Apple’s getting into the subscription music business with the launch of a iTunes Pass today. What’s iTunes pass? From the EMI press release.

With iTunes Pass, music fans can get new and exclusive singles, remixes, video and other content from their favorite artists over a set period of time, delivered to their libraries as soon as they’re available. The first iTunes Pass debuts today in conjunction with Depeche Mode’s forthcoming 12th studio album, “Sounds of the Universe,” to be released on April 21 in the US. Fans who sign up starting today get the alternative/dance pioneers’ new single, “Wrong,” as well as the Black Light Odyssey Dub Remix of the new track “Oh Well.”  They will also receive the new album on its street date plus great music and video exclusives before and after the album’s release over the next fifteen weeks. The Depeche Mode iTunes Pass can be purchased starting today for $18.99.

Well, I guess it’s technically a subscription but this hardly Apple getting into the same business as Zune Pass, REAL’s Rhapsody or Nokia’s Comes With Music. What this is an updated distribution model for content ownership, which is actually pretty important (but not important enough for Apple to make the announcement as opposed to EMI). The question is what exactly am I getting over the next fifteen weeks in terms of content that would make this valuable?

Over time, this is something that can help the industry drive new revenues but it doesn’t quite change the game in a major way. Subscription services based on the “all you can eat model” for a fixed monthly fee still face challenges. Consumers for the most part still only recognize two models for music consumption, the free and ad supported stuff on radio or music you bought or owned. While consumers "rent" content all the time from theaters, cable companies, netflix etc, there’s also a lot of other stuff sold on dvd. This is not binary, rent or buy. It’s going to be both side by side but the first step to making this mainstream is to educate and evangelize the market, which is something REAL, Napster, Microsoft etc have all failed to do. Perhaps iTunes Pass will start to engage the market at a different level and help change consumer thoughts on how music is purchased and consumed. That could lead the way to more interesting stuff down the road.


Update – EMI clarified what you get over the fifteen week period. “in addition to the two tracks today + album, more than a dozen indiv pieces of content, inc lots of exclusive stuff.” Seems like a pretty good deal if you’re a fan of the band.

Safari 4 – First Take

imageJust installed both the PC and Mac version and so far I’m impressed. Forget Chrome for OS X, Safari is likely to remain the Mac user’s browser of choice. It’s hard to innovate on the browsing experience, it’s simple, familiar and works well but I like what Apple’s done here. The performance enhancements are quite real. GMail in particular is very, very fast as is Google Reader. Apple says the new Nitro JavaScript engine executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. It certainly feels quite fast here.

Some of the other features like Cover Flow are mostly eye candy but I love the new tab interface and the full page zoom is something I’ve wanted in a browser for a long time.

Apple is pretty serious about the web and Safari takes this commitment to a new level. More importantly, Apple did it in a way that focuses on standards without proprietary extensions to deliver on that experience. As the web continues to grow in importance, the ability of a browser to work with key sites is critical and the browser that defines drives standards controls quite a lot. Imagine a browser that couldn’t support YouTube for example. By driving new enhancements for Safari as well as leveraging the Windows platform, Apple is growing the installed Safari base and at the same time making certain Mac OS as a web platform will has the latest and greatest browser support as well. No waiting for IE or Google Chrome.

Driving innovation with Safari on the desktop will also likely help the iPhone down the road as well. Safari changed the mobile web experience (on not only the iPhone but other webkit based browsers) and I expect we’ll see some of the cool new stuff here in future versions of the iPhone’s OS.

Apple’s also been able to leverage distribution for the browser through iTunes. Let’s face it, iTunes is one of the most downloaded applications. Apple has been wise to make Safari an optional part of the iTunes installation and that’s helped give adoption a boost as well.

There’s some obvious comparisons to Netscape vs. IE and the browser wars of the last century. While today’s browser battles are being played for different stakes, they are no less important. Investing in Safari is an important strategic move for Apple that will push their technology further on to the Windows platform and cement support in OS X. Expect more responses from Microsoft, Google and Mozilla. Browsing’s getting interesting all over again IMHO.

Apple introduces Safari 4

In a surprise move, Apple dropped a new version of Safari this morning for both PC and Mac. You can read the press release here and download the software here.

Here’s what’s in the new release. I’ll have a full hands on posted shortly.

— Top Sites, a display of frequently visited pages in a stunning wall of previews so users can jump to their favorite sites with a single click

— Full History Search, where users search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages to easily return to sites they’ve seen before

— Cover Flow, to make searching web history or bookmarks as fun and easy as paging through album art in iTunes

— Tabs on Top, for better tabbed browsing with easy drag-and-drop tab management tools and an intuitive button for opening new ones

— Smart Address Field, that automatically completes web addresses by displaying an easy-to-read list of suggestions from Top Sites, bookmarks and browsing history

— Smart Search Field, where users fine-tune searches with recommendations from Google Suggest or a list of recent searches

— Full Page Zoom, for a closer look at any website without degrading the quality of the site’s layout and text

— built-in web developer tools to debug, tweak and optimize a website for peak performance and compatibility

— a new Windows-native look in Safari for Windows, that uses standard Windows font rendering and native title bar, borders and toolbars so Safari fits the look and feel of other Windows XP and Windows Vista applications.


Dorothy Parker and me

I get the same email every so often, asking how I write what I write and where do my ideas come from and how do you get over writer’s block.

The answer is, I don’t know. I think about what interests me and go from there. Writing is hard. It’s called a discipline for a reason. I start every day writing. I for about an hour or two every morning. Every morning, on the road or not (which is more than I can say about my workout schedule). I force myself to write *something*. Some of it becomes blog posts, some of it makes it into research reports, some of it goes into columns and one day, some of it will go into a book I want to do about the research industry. It all gets used somewhere :) The key to writing, is well, writing. Don’t ask about, just do it, ask people to read it, and then write some more.

Dorothy Parker said it best for all those who make their living with words. "I hate writing, but love having written".

Fellow writers, what inspires you to put pen to paper?

Sony and Nintendo should be concerned about Apple

The more I think about, the more clear it so to me that Apple is going directly after Sony and Nintendo, positioning the iPod Touch (and by extension the iPhone as mobile gaming platforms). One look at their latest ads should pretty much confirm this. Apple is correct, the iPod touch is the a gaming machine and a contender against the Nintendo DS. Why? It is not tied to a mobile phone contract; it is a great audio/video player; it has WiFi enabling multi player games along with web surfing and email. In reality it is the first successful MID although Apple wisely doesn’t market it as such. Here are a few reasons why the iPod Touch works.

  • Games for the iPhone & iPod touch are for the most part, much cheaper than Nintendo DS and Sony PSP titles. Although I’m seeing a small price creep on game pricing there are lots of  titles at $0.99.
  • There are quite a lot of free titles available. Game play is a very accessible feature, even for those on a budget.
  • iPods are still cool, even as you get older.
  • If the original iPod brought 1,000 songs in your pocket, the iPod Touch is bringing an entire game library. No disks or cartridges to carry around.
  • The iPod offers a better game experience than either Nintendo or Sony offers as media centric or Internet experience.


Here’s some of what I’ve been playing, titles tend to fall into two categories, classic genre titles and iPhone optimized

Genre Classics

Rebel Onslaught – It’s a typical 3D rails shooter that’s very reminiscent of StarFox and the like. Plays well, and there’s not a lot new here in terms of innovation. But it is fun.

WordsWorth – Think Bookworm genre word game. Again, not much new but well implemented.

Low Gravity Racer – Think Wipeout racing style game. Fun and well executed.

All these titles are interesting as they do represent tried and true formulas on the platform. They work well and play. Consider them the table stakes. What gets more interesting are the two iPhone optimized titles I tried.

Crayon Physics – It was a YouTube sensation last year and it’s something that’s totally optimized for the iPhone experience. Draw with your finger, use multitouch to navigate and zoom and shake to erase. It’s totally fun and totally not something you’d see on a PSP.

Dropship – It’s a semi-3d shooter with a difference. The controls materialize on screen when you place your thumbs there. Multi-Touch is the way the game is played. It’s not totally new in terms of gameplay (lots of elements of older titles, noticeably Choplifter) but interaction that could only be done on this platform.

It’s titles of this quality that are making the platform look more and more viable as an alternative to dedicated mobile consoles. If I were Sony and Nintendo, i’d take some notice of what’s going on here and start thinking about how my platforms need to evolve.