Proactive Savings from Amazon Pre-Order

Received the following from Amazon today which was a nice surprise as I’ve never seen this before – from them or anyone else actually.

Greetings from

You saved $3.99 with’s Pre-order Price Guarantee!

The price of the item(s) decreased after you ordered them, and we gave you the lowest price.

The following title(s) decreased in price:

War Child: Heroes
Price on order date: $16.98
Price charged at shipping: $12.99
Lowest price before release date: $12.99
Quantity: 1
Total Savings: $3.99

$3.99 is your total savings under our Pre-order Price Guarantee.

War Child is a solid album for a great cause btw …

Disney Digital Copy

Disney Digital Copy - Wall-E

I just activated my first Disney Digital Copy for Wall-E
and I was very pleasantly surprised by the relative ease of the process. I could see my parents easily navigating this process without questions and that’s a definite win on the consumer tech front.

You just insert the DVD (Disc 3 for Wall-E) and run the app which pops up on start. Once you do that, iTunes pops up and ask you for the code to unlock the “download.” Once confirmed, the digital copy copies into your iTunes library and you are good to go. You can copy or stream this version to AppleTV and of course take it with you on a laptop or iPhone / iPod.

Convenience is good!

Thinking Apple’s iTunes Genius is not really that smart

I’m finding the iTunes Genius feature to be pretty disappointing … The sidebar function is simply a re-branded mini-store from previous versions offering a mix of things I own and offers the usual :30 sec sample limitation. The Genius playlist function could be a whole lot more interesting than it is, but only shows me music I have in my collection … why? This seems like a massively missed opportunity enable rich discovery yet only looks to your collection to create a genre-based playlist. I can already do that, though perhaps instead of taking one click on an active track might take a few more clicks and random shuffle.

If I were Zune or Nokia, I’d be all over this as discovery and the subsequent purchases could really differentiate. Zune has announced their plans to offer Channels which are genre “stations” that sync to your portable player just like the Zune cards of your friends. These are features that can really start to show the power of the subscription model. Add to this the ability to sync over the air and you’ve got a very dynamic portable experience. It’s unclear what Nokia’s intentions are around discovery, but Comes With Music should reveal itself shortly and offer a large catalog of opportunity to subscribers. The current music store offers over the air purchase and download and the CWM package will do the same. Too bad there’s been no announcement (or discussion) around the US market yet.

It’s impossible to know whether Apple’s move here is an intentional decision or something that’s really just a limit of per track DRM. Subscription music (rental or own) is infinitely more flexible and lets you easily experiment with new music while per track, only lets you sample in small bites paying as you go.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Why a Nokia Zune phone makes sense

The rumor has been floating around for a week or so now via Zunescene, here’s my take. I think everyone wins in this deal.

  • There’s been no mention of any kind that Nokia will launch Music in the US or Canada and Zune could instantly fill that as that’s where they currently play. Nokia is already cutting deals in other countries (think we are up to 8 now) and Zune could get instant access to listeners there.
  • Nokia would instantly get a social network built around music via the Zune Social, which is compelling yet under utilized by Microsoft. There’s a great sharing and discovery aspect to the Social when you have a subscription which would only be enhanced by adding a real time connected device like a mobile phone.
  • Nokia handsets already support Windows DRM. I can’t imagine it would take very much to update the software to go from Plays for Sure to Zune since they are really based on the same technology.
  • Subscription music rocks! I’ve had a Zune subscription for about 6 months and it’s been an excellent tool in my musical discovery process. I love that I get any album as they are released on Tuesday and regularly use the meta-data they offer to discover more music. I could easily live without Comes With Music (again there’s no mention of this coming to the US yet) and would love to use my handsets as additional Zune’s in my plan.

I actually can’t think of anything bad here. Sign me up!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Shure SE420 Earphones – The best I’ve used!

I’ve had a pair of Shure EC4 in-ear phones for a few years and I recently shorted out my second pair. I’m not sure what the deal is with my usage, but I tend to kill mobile headsets and earphones far too easily.

Tonight while waiting in Atlanta I decided to go for it and upgrade my listening experience. I was holding off on getting another high end pair of earphones but after a few days with some low end and cheap Denon’s from Target I couldn’t take it anymore. I have a full week of travel ahead and had some time to kill in the airport tonight…

The Shure SE420 Earphones are a bit larger than the previous model I used and a bit of an upgrade in their line as well. They still fit incredibly well and as you’d expect from an earphone like this offer a number of fit options so you can be comfortable and content with the sound experience.

They run about $350 so I hope my wife is not reading this while on vacation with the kids! The price defines the experience though … Having tested the full line of Ultimate Ears Including their $500+ pair of 10 Pro’s I’m very pleased with my decision. Shure has restyled their entire line of earphones so they work better over the ear (wrapped as you might see a professional musician wear) and are now modular in design as well. The modularity allows for various accessories to be attached including their phone attachment which I can definitely see adding now that I get how this all works. With my previous set, the phone piece would have made a substantially longer mess of cable, but the base line is quite short so adding a new piece for a phone mic and call button is both easy and logical to do. This will actually kill my quest for a pair of multipoint bluetooth earphones so I can use them across my small army of mobile gear… Perhaps another post is warranted for this topic.

I’ve been jamming to a variety of music – electonic, hip hop and jazz on a Zune 8GB and am very pleased with the results. The Nokia N810 was next as I do a lot of watching and listening and soon the N95 where I expect to be using the aforementioned phone adapter.

Shure’s earphones are in-ear and sound isolating – not noise canceling. I much prefer this method as the sound is focused the environment remains unaltered. I can’t hear anything going on around me on the plane as I type this … and I was unable to hear anything in the airport either. I’m saying this as a positive and an extra bonus is that you don’t have to jack the volume causing potenial damage to your ears.

You should be careful if you plan on walking around a high traffic area.

All in all – a solid purchase. I’m very pleased with this upgrade and looking forward to many hours of happy listening with my new Shure SE420 Earphones

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

AppleTV Take 2

Apple - Apple TV - Features - Movies

As I am sure you know, I was really looking forward to an update to the AppleTV and Steve largely delivered today!

The new software (available in two weeks) will bring a completely revised interface, direct downloads for purchase and rental of movies as well as purchase of TV shows and music. I love the flickr integration (it’s what I use) and am looking forward to putting some of the new 720p HD content to the test.

There were some clear concessions to get the studios to play here. HD content is substantially limited compared to SD for movies and there’s no day in date with DVD releases as my cable provider currently offers.

I’ve seen some rather ridiculous criticisms from people on twitter about the lack of 1080p material. This is just a spec and most people do not have systems capable of showing the differences anyway. Before you say this is like the edge vs. 3g claim on the iPhone it’s not. It’s real. Anyway …

A legitimate critique here and not something Apple can really do to fox is that HD rentals are not transferable to your Mac. The HDCP copy protection baked in will not allow it. It also may not allow you to play through an analog cable converter if you are connected that way… just be warned. Copy protection of this kind is pretty strict. I hope the likely to follow HD purchases will be allowed to sync as there’s only so much space on the drive – even the larger of the two.

There are a few things missing:

  • There’s no way to expand the storage capacity yet. I checked the Apple support docs and there does not seem to be any reference to external USB storage, Airport Disk or Time Capsule which is a shame.
  • I’m assuming that Apple has also not added the ability to control playback on an AppleTV without the TV. As it stands today, it cannot be used like an Airport Express for audio output.
  • No way to record live TV… I had a feeling this would be missing as it directly competes with the sale of content from the iTunes store, but it’s still the way most of us view TV — from TV. Elgato has made some beautiful updates to their eyetv software with the v.3 release and this will definitely complement the AppleTV nicely. Even better though would be a direct add-in for the AppleTV to record without a computer… like if that USB port accepted the eyetv hybrid
  • More important to me than the DVR piece though is the ability to support other codecs. We know the hardware is capable and this would seriously open the box to let it do what we all want. Again, not very Apple… but it would be quite nice.

None of the missing pieces are deal breakers … but would be very nice to have. All the new stuff with the UI and iTunes store come in today’s AppleTV (after the software update) and new boxes being shipped will get a nice price cut which should hopefully increase adoption. Apple’s got a very compelling system here even with the knocks. I might just have to upgrade my original unit for the larger drive as I have a feeling there’s going to be quite a bit of downloading in our house.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,

What’s in store for AppleTV?

With Macworld coming this week I’ve been actively considering what’s in store for us and the one thing I’m hoping to see (almost more than an Apple MID) is an AppleTV strategy in conjunction with some updated products.

Apple could, as I’ve thought for a few years now, easily own the (still fledgling) media center market. While the current crop of MediaCenter PCs offer far more than AppleTV they are not really targeted at a mass market. Apple owners must add additional devices to handle TV recording and since Apple currently only officially supports the iTunes ecosystem from both a codec and content perspective it’s a tad limiting. That said, what it does it does very well.

It’s easy to add a Mac Mini to your system, which offers more power than an AppleTV, but the simplicity of the interface should be a benefit not a hinderance to getting access to content. Most people (not the geeks though we are most likely to want this first) do not want a keyboard and mouse a the TV. You want to lean back and use the remote… The AppleTV is a potentially perfect solution, but it needs to evolve.

What’s the grand vision? In my mind it looks something like this:


Assume it’s all open for change, and consider that Apple actually has most of these parts in place now though they just don’t all connect … yet.

  • I’m feeling the AppleTV is ripe to support an even larger drive than it has now, though ideally it would work with an Airport Disk / NAS which would give you considerably more flexibility and storage potential.
  • In addition to enhanced storage options, the AppleTV needs to gain the ability to record live television. In an ideal world that would come through CableCARD, though ATSC tuners would be acceptable as a consolation. CableCARD would let you record premium channels like HBO, while ATSC is limited to what’s coming in over the air and unfortunately is not even available in all markets.
  • Apple’s rumored Movie Store (rent and purchase) is likely to be shared at Macworld, and everyone believes that you will be able to purchase from AppleTV at that time as well. There’s no reason to assume (we are dealing with rumors here) that the store would not also support direct purchase of Music and TV shows. The iPhone already has a great purchase and sync function for music … seems like a logical extension to use in for AppleTV.
  • I’ve added Subscriptions to the iTunes store and hope we see this eventually. It’s probably unlikely for Macworld this year, but is something I hope Apple really considers. Rhapsody has led to purchase for me and subscriptions bust the walls down for people to actively sample.
  • The iPhone has some serious potential in my vision. Using Back to My Mac technology, the iPhone would be capable of controlling the AppleTV from within the home as well as anywhere you can get a connection. Apple actually already has the technology to control considerably more than just the AppleTV and the iPhone / (or iPod Touch) is a perfect form for this. Back to My Mac would just the way to do it from outside your home… Though it would potentially also offer a remote way to schedule recordings or purchases you want to watch upon your return.
  • I also see the iPhone as a new addition to where content can be streamed (not just synced). Through wifi and the likely 3G successor we’ll see this year, you get a remote viewing platform to rival SlingBox.

While I realize that adding LiveTV goes somewhat against the grain in the Apple ecosystem of iTunes, it’s an important component to the overall media center vision as it’s still the primary vehicle for how most people consume broadcast material. It would be trivial to add…

Another detail I did not include in the illustration, but I feel is important to note is that Apple should really open the capabilities of the box up to developers. A plugin SDK would enable a new world of opportunities for content providers and even more importantly the addition of codecs. Let’s face it, there’s a whole world of content well beyond the iTunes store and the Quicktime world and simply letting people view that as you can on your Mac would be a win. Of course that challenges Apple’s H.264 vision a bit and so I’ll just leave it as wishful thinking for now. There are always hacks to get around things…

Apple has nothing but opportunity with AppleTV. While it’s been a hobby since it launched it’s time to rip the doors off their hinges and define the market. It’s easily within reach.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,

All Nokia Media

I decided last week that I wanted to simplify my mobile media experience and ordered a 6GB microSD card so i could my N95-3 and N810 for evrything instead of also carrying my iPhone just for a few albums and podcasts. I’ve had an iPod since it was first released and have had my computer media experiece live inside iTunes. The full Apple ecosystem is strong and I’m a firm advocate of sync and go … Or at least I was.

For the most part the songs and albums stay the same on my ipod and it’s really podcasts that change with any real frequency – daily to weekly as things update. I thouht the 6GB card would be mainly in the tablet vs the phone as I started planning this but thus far (day 3) my plan has shifted a bit back to the phone. I’ve actually ordered a second 6GB card to use in the tablet so I don’t have to share and so each device can focus on some key pieces of the experience. A surprise arrived on Friday as well in the form of the Nokia N81 8GB which is designed to optimize the mobile music experience and I’ve been playing with that along with the N95.

Music and Video

Right now I have music on both phones and a limited amount of converted video on the tablet. The phones serve as really nice music players – quality seems solid on both. I have yet to do an A/B test as my recently updated iPhone (1.1.2) has not been reactivated… I’ve yet to swap its sim back from the N95 to complete the activation process!

The Nokia podcasting application does a great job importing my opml from iTunes and is able to update on a schedule or manually with a wifi connection or via cellular data. I’ve been manually switching things between wifi at home and cell on the go so I can get the latest stuff for my commute. Since I am unable to install anything on the work machine and do not have an itunes there’s no way to get an updated set of podcasts … Or even a quick download during the day on the iPhone. The Nokia phones however easily take care of business without the assistance of a computer which has really been quite awesome.

The N81 integrates podcasts directly into the music player which is something I’m hoping makes it back upstream to the N95 with a firmware update. In either case you can access podcasts as a genre and using the keypad you can live search through your collection of both music and podcasts. The Nokia Podcasting app also supports video which works nicely too though I’ve gone into the app to playback rather than use the music player which does not show video. When there’s an update to the Nokia Video Center application for the latest tablet OS2008, I will also subscribe there and predict my viewing preference will be the tablet’s larger screen.

Movies and TV shows are pretty easy to convert for the N810. Unfortunately video does have to be converted which takes time, but is relatively straight forward with the right tools. MediaConverter is probably the simplest to use and with the promise of making a file the tablet can play it’s hard to pass on it. Handbrake and (if you use Windows) Nokia’s new video conversion application also work well though if Hanbrake is your preference you might want to copy the settings from one of the other apps to make sure you get playable files.

Phone + Media Player

Like you would expect the Nokia phones pause and resume playback for phone calls much like the iPhone… So there’s no magic there, but it works relieably and well. The N81 has a dedicated music button next to the naviwheel and the N95’s multimedia key serves the same purpose. I discorvered today that a press and hold which brings up the music player on the N95, can also bring you right back to your previous application … A nice and I am sure not well known function.

The more I’ve used the phones as media players I can really see the potential benefit to an A2DP headset which would deliver stereo sound and also let me handle calls without switching things around my ear. My Shure E4C earphones are great but if I knew or needed the flexibility daily a wireless single unit would be killer.

What’s missing?

Amazingly the N81 is not supported by Nokia’s recently updated Multimedia Transfer application which would let me take advantage of playlist syncing as well as photos through iPhoto (though I use Aperture). While the N95 is supported, I’ve chosen to maintain a parallel experience and did a bulk copy (~4GB) using mass transfer mode on the N81 and a card reader for the N95. As it happens my mac mini media server crapped out at home so I had the external media drive on my desk and did a hunt and find to then drag over on both devices. This process took considerably longer than it would in iTunes to find what I first wanted and then actually to copy over. The Mac finder estimated over 2hours and after about 30 min I walked away. When I returned both were ready to roll. Sync is a really great thing to have and I hope that the Nokia Multimedia Transfer application (which has also been brutally slow for me) supports the N81 or that Nokia develops an actual plugin for itunes much like they did for iSync.

Copying video to the N810 was also done through a card reader and I will continue to do that as the video files I am using for my mobile needs are not really things I want clogging up iTunes.

Final thoughts

Outside of the initial bulk load, day to day use has been a pleasure. Music and podcasts are easy to access and update and video podcasts as well as converted video on the tablet all play well. Since I am already well converted as a two-piece mobile user, this plan works great for me though there’s no reason why the phone alone would not also do a lot of good. Of course you can’t playback any iTunes Store content as there is no Apple DRM access on anything other than their mobile devices, but that’s far from a deal breaker for me. Most of my content is from my own physical media collection and Amazon’s MP3 has an excellent DRM-free collection for “need it now” moments. I’ll probably dabble with the Nokia Music store when it eventually works in the US, but I’m less of a fan of Windows DRM.

Just as a sidenote, this entire post was written on the N810. That’s definitely not something I ever considered with the iPhone.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sip. Buy. Repeat … another day perhaps

Apple - iTunes - Starbucks

I tried the Starbucks iTunes store yesterday at a few Starbucks in NYC but failed to get to work at all. I was able to connect to the T-Mobile HotSpot which directed me to the Starbucks captive portal page, referencing the music, but the iTunes application repeatedly failed to connect.

The store was supposed to be live yesterday and seems to be referenced on the portal page… just no luck getting through. I’m not sure whether it’s not really live in all Starbucks or if they were just having some technical difficulties yesterday.

I shot some admittedly poorly focused video below via N95 as I was hoping to bring home the goods on how it worked… instead, I failed at each store.

Amazon MP3 Auto-Import to iTunes

This was incredibly easy to figure out, but still something worth sharing as it substantially enhances the Amazon MP3 store experience if you manage your music on iTunes and sync with an iPod / iPhone. By default, the music will be added to iTunes, but this actually leaves a second copy in the Amazon MP3 folder outside of your iTunes Music folder. With a simple switch in prefs, you are all set.

Amazon MP3 Downloader - Preferences

I was actually going to post on how to get things to auto-import into iTunes using a Folder Action Script, but Amazon already hooked that up by default …

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,