iPods and Podcasting – strategic talk

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday June 30 @ 9:40 am

Still on the plane, and catching up on my posts…..

Well, the announcement we have all been waiting for has finally arrived – Apple has released iTunes 4.9, the latest major release of Apple’s digital music manager/iPod transfer tool.

The big change in 4.9 is the addition of podcasting support. Podcasting is the latest incarnation of Internet radio. Instead of streaming, broadcasters – both professional and amateur – package up their programme as an MP3 file, for people to download in its entirety and transfer onto an MP3 player (or just play straight off their PC).

This means you can listen to your favourite shows whenever and wherever you want, not just when you are sitting at a PC with a working net connection that is fat enough to sustain the streaming feed.

The BBC has already jumped on the bandwagon for podcasting, having offered the Radio 5 gameshow Fighting Talk as a podcast for nearly a year now. Following on from the success of that trial, the Beeb now offers over 20 shows as podcasts, including the Today programme and In Business.

However, even with the backing of the BBC and other major broadcasters, podcasting has yet to grab the mainstream audience. With iTunes, this is now possible. Apple has integrated free podcasting content with its existing Music Store setup, has included support for RSS feeds, automatic checking and downloading of new programmes. Half the planet has an iPod, and thus uses iTunes, and the other half of the planet have other MP3 players and devices, but still use iTunes to manage their MP3s simply because it is the best thing out there for doing it. Either way, iTunes is the route into the homes of the mass audience. Unlike paid-for iTunes content, the podcasts are offered in straightforward MP3 format, not in Apple’s own AAC format, meaning that podcasts doanloaded through iTunes remain device neutral. Whether you have a Nokia phone with MP3 support or an iRiver, you can play these on your devices.

Of course, when 4.9 when online last night, the planet tried to subscribe to and download the top 20 podcasts at once, causing some service problems, but this morning, before I boarded my flight to Nice, everything was working fine, and iTunes happily downloaded the latest edition of the Nate and Di Show.

There is already a great deal of podcasting content available through the iTunes store, and this will grow at an amazing rate over the next couple of months as every podcaster out there gets on-board. I’m sure Apple will exercise their right not to carry some podcasts on the grounds of suitability and audio quality, but this is no big deal, as you can still directly subscribe to any podcast RSS feed directly in iTunes – you are not stuck with the iTunes store as your only source of podcasting material. For example, I have already added in an external RSS feed link for a show called Soccergirl Incorporated, and iTunes checks this feed and downloads new episodes as if it were an iTunes store feed.

In short – Apple once again are showing us the way. The company is bringing us ever closer to one-click podcasting subscription, while at the same time leaving the door open to podcasters that are not part of the walled garden that is the iTunes Music Store. I doff my cap to Steve Jobs and the rest of the iTunes team – you handled what could have been a PR and technology nightmare perfectly.

At the same time as the iTunes 4.9 launch, Apple also announced a reworking of the iPod line.

As expected, the one remaining standard mono-screen iPod (full-size, not the Mini) was finally axed from the line. Also axed, and a big shock to us all, was the 30GB iPod Photo. Instead, the full size iPod line will cosist of a new 20GB iPod Photo and the existing 60GB iPod Photo. These will now be know simply as iPod – the Photo bit has been ditched as there is no need to distinguish them from their full-size mono counterparts.

Sadly, there was no news about a refresh of the iPod Shuffle line. Despite much Internet speculation of larger capacities, the addition of a small LCD display and other enhancements, nothing was announced. We still hope that new Shuffles are in the works. Anything larger than the existing 1GB model will need some form of screen, as users will quickly find themselves with a device carrying 500+ songs and podcasts, and quickly losing all idea of what they are listening to, what is next, and what else is to come later on in their playlist.

Whatever happens, the iPod range needs to be rationalised – as good as they are, there are currently too many different models on sale. Apple has taken the first steps by axing the 20GB mono unit. Now they need to axe the 512MB and 1GB Shuffles and replace them with a single, larger capacity Shuffle (2GB would be ideal), with a 2-line LCD display that can display current song ID3 tags, as well as the contents of the playlist. A 2GB Shuffle with display does not need the same on-screen detail of a normal iPod, nor does it need the full functionality of a full iPod – no need for games or multiple playlists.

Finally, its time to ditch the 4GB iPod Mini – one iPod Mini is enough, and the 6GB one represents significant value for money.

Fewer models will ensure iPods remain an aspirational purchase, and ensure sales remain buoyant.

Thoughts on Apple and the big Intel announcement

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday June 30 @ 9:39 am

Not so much from an airport lounge as a post from 35,000 feet. Yep, I’m writing this from the comfort of two seats on a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Nice. I’m heading over there for a Unisys conference on Unix mugration.

It has certainly been a busy couple of weeks in the world of technology.

First up, the news I know has echoed around the web for a while now, that Apple is to begin the process of moving its hardware to Intel-based processors. The exact details remain vague, in true Apple style, but it is safe to say that the desktop units will shift first to the Pentium 4 in some form or another (expect to see single processor and some kind of multi-processor/multi-core offering eventually).

The transition process will take two years, and I expect the Power Mac towers to be the first to switch, simply because they will be the easiest to refresh, being a straightforward case design, though some analysts suggest that it will be the iMac and Mac Mini that will transition first.

Mac traditionalists are mixed on the news – some think it is great, realising that the deal will allow Apple to release new models more frequently, deliver more processing power for the money, offer lower-priced entry-level models and sort out the challenge of woefully underpowered, overly hot laptops. Other Mac devotees are disgusted by the move, seeing this as an eventual move to commoditised hardware, and MacOS running on any old piece of x86 junk. Thankfully, this is far from the truth.

While Windows will happily run on the developer units that began landing on doorsteps this past weekend, the Intel build of MacOS will still only run on ‘Macified’ systems. That means motherboards that have either a specific Apple BIOS build, or the Mac boot ROM we are more used to (exactly which will be used we don’t know – the dev units have a Apple-specific BIOS build).

One thing I can’t stress enough is that the dev units do not represent a retail product – these things really have been cobbled together in a hurry to allow developers to get going on the process of creating x86/PPC universal binaries ahead of the retail launch of the first Intel-based Mac (ensuring that there is at least something on the software shelves that will run natively on the Intel box other than the OS itself). This is why Apple will be taking the dev units back in December 2006 – making the $999 cost of the developer units a steep rental charge rather than a purchase fee.

Personally I can’t wait for the Intel-based Macs to appear – I really do believe that this could be the turning point for the platform – more power, lower component prices, combined with what should be one of the most painless transition processes ever, thanks to the concept of universal binaries (code that will execute natively on either platform) and some very funky transparent emulation code called Rosetta, which will enable PPC code to run on Intel boxes at about 80% of original speed, and completely invisible to the user – not bad at all.

Then there is the news that AMD are suing Intel on anti-trust grounds. Well the truce had to end some time. As a long-time AMD fan, I am of course backing the Athlon boys to get the win, after all, they do make the better processors.

OK – Scared now!

Posted by Chris Green on Saturday June 11 @ 1:35 am

It has come to my attention that there are some very disturbed people out there.

What follows is a message that was sent to me via an old defunct blog site I was playing with, and I’ve only just picked it up. To set the context, it was a comment in relation to a blog post about how I got my US work visa renewed in just a week last year, rather than the 2 months I had been expecting.

Also disturbing is that the author is also apparently named Chris Green, although I am unsure whether he is the one that used to run Virgin Trains, the one that does sports reporting for Radio 5 or the one that does stuff for the British National Party. All I can be sure about is that it is not me.

America worries me
I suppose that my main cause of worry is the barons in the background, the money men, the king-makers or president-makers; I don’t think that politics exists in America since both Democrats and Republicans are ruled by the power block created by David Rockefeller.

On our side of the pond we have the Rothschilds with an estimated fortune in excess of £100 trillion, gained by bailing out successive goverments in many countries over the past 3 centuries.

Rockefeller and Rothschild both belong to a group of 3 organisations – the so-called tri-partite, interestingly both Blair and Bush were checked out before their elections, by personal interviews, and Blair’s puppeteer, Alistair Campbell is a member of the big 3.

Effectively we have a fully-functioning global economy now, run by a small elite, above and separated from politics in all it’s shades.

It is a bit of an irony, Britain lost it’s Empire and the world gained a Baronial powerbase.

I wonder how long it will be before an American President decides that he is ordained by God to serve for life, and his sons thereafter, and how many years it will take before another Great Charter is written?

Constitutions giving rights to the common man are all very well, but it is Government that needs controlling; philosophical ideas of population rights were overturned the day they were ratified, by the people who were voted into power, since they were the people who were in power in the first place.

All 1776 achieved was a change of flag, and the prevention of any of the European powers gaining an ascendancy over the others, which was rather the point of the exercise from a European point-of-view, maintain the status quo and turn a profit at the same time.

My main worry in 2005 is that we have two leaders whose decisions are firmly based on the premise that they are completely right, because God says so, there is nothing more dangerous than a politician with convictions.

Of the 2 Blair has more intelligence, while Bush has a hidden hardness and guile, they both remind me of second hand car salesmen.

I’m pushing for Blair to be impeached, in reality the likelihood of that happening is approaching zero, nevertheless an effort has to be made, a stand of sorts against our elected dictator has to be made.

Whether the process is reported or hidden by the media – Sinclair, Murdoch, Fox, etc. does not matter, what matters is that we try all avenues under the due legal processes which are available.

At the root, we all have to stand and face up to our own actions, or lack of actions, I prefer to be standing, at the end of my life, in the knowledge that I stood up and spoke out about what I believe in.

My diary is located at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Regards,
Chris Green of Liverpool, Merseyside, UK

Now I am not going to dispute that there are dodgy things afoot in the upper reaches of society, particularly in our fucked-up former colony across the pond (That’s the United States by the way) – the result of the 2000 Al Gore election victory that ended up putting Redneck George into office proves that one – but after reading some of what this guy is claiming, I really am questioning the decision to shut down all those mental institutions in the late 80s/early 90s – particularly in the Liverpool area.

Is it a Mac? Is it a Mini? Hell no – It’s a Windows-based PC!

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday June 2 @ 10:14 am

AOpen's Pandora mini-PC prototype - Front

At the moment everyone might be buzzing about that Mac mini-alike concept PC from Intel, but it’s AOpen that’s throwing out the lawsuit-bait. Their new Mac mini clone, codenamed “Pandora,” is based on Intel’s reference design, runs on a Pentium M chip designed for laptops, and should be out by September.

AOpen's Pandora mini-PC prototype - Rear

Expect the lawsuit from Apple later this week/month!

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