iTunes Radio – Finer Things in Tech

In a recent post I outlined my first impressions of iTunes Radio, given it has now entered the music streaming market in Australia. Since that time I have been slowly building a few stations of my own, as well as sampling Apple’s curated stations.

As is often the case, David Chartier at Finer Things in Tech looks a little deeper at some of the other features of the service, which demonstrate those finer things that make the experience a little more elegant and to your personal taste.

Be sure read David’s article for more information on “tuning” your stations, having shared stations updated by all with access, using Siri or your syncing play history.

Four tips to rock, tune and sync iTunes Radio – Finer Things in Tech

 

Advertisements

iTunes Radio – First Impressions

IMG_0684

Almost a week ago Apple released iTunes Radio in Australia. As someone who listens to a reasonable amount of music, that same morning I began listening on my commute into the Brisbane CBD.

My main use of streaming services, (to date has involving both Pandora and Spotify), is to utilise the discovery type features to hopefully stumble across some new music I like. Given I have a reasonably sized collection of my own music accessed through iTunes Match, I have never seen the need to subscribe to the paid or premium levels of any streaming services.

After hearing about iTunes Radio last year, I was keen to see it released in Australia, knowing that as an iTunes Match subscriber I would avoid advertisements, yet have access to a free, curated streaming service. An added advantage was purported to be that iTunes Radio would learn my tastes, and adjust my stations accordingly.

Other features include the ability to build stations based on the artists or songs you choose; play iTunes Radio through any iOS device, Mac or Apple TV; check play history; immediately buy a track from iTunes (of course); utilise Siri for voice control of most features; and easily share stations.

IMG_0683IMG_0686

All of the PR aside, how good is it? For me – I have found a good mix of songs and artists in both the Apple curated Hot Alternative and my own stations based on the Arctic Monkeys and The National I have listened to so far. Although the lack of ads has been nice, this never really bothered me with Pandora, however became somewhat annoying at times when using Spotify (no great complaint though, as I realise I am accessing this music for free, and artists deserve to be paid). How well iTunes Radio learns my preferences will become more apparent with time.

IMG_0685IMG_0687

Personally I would recommend giving iTunes Radio a run. Others have found some faults with the service (relating to the use of the iTunes desktop interface, curation and lack of easy customisation). These aren’t really a problem given most of my listening takes place on iOS devices, and the other points I wouldn’t necessarily agree with from experience. Whether or not the results played by Apple when creating your own stations are to your taste, is simply a matter of, well…your taste. A comparison of Pandora and iTunes Radio and any conclusions drawn are more a reflection of personal taste rather than any definitive conclusion as to the merits of one over the other. Whether certain songs don’t belong in a playlist generated by a particular song or artist, is for you to decide, which again leads me to my recommendation – give it a try.

Is there really anything to lose apart from your time (which would be minimal if you work with music in the background anyway), and perhaps some data if you are streaming on your iPhone or iPad data plan, which, according to Gizmodo, will chew up around 28MB per hour (840MB over 30 days if used an hour per day) – though of course this is not unique to iTunes Radio, and applies to any music streaming. Probably one thing I would like to see is easier access to song and artist information within iTunes Radio itself, rather than having to follow the link back to the iTunes Store (this would be particularly useful with the “Spin the Globe” and “New Artists” featured stations).

I will certainly be utilising iTunes Radio quite a bit, and for the times I want to listen to an entire album or specific, queued tracks I’ll simply head back to iTunes Match. Whether or not the stations align more with my preferences over time remains to be seen, however my early impressions lead me to think Apple will be quite competitive in the music streaming market.

Away we go with iOS 7…almost

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Today sees the release – and no doubt many a download – of iOS 7, the latest update and vastly overhauled version of Apple’s mobile software. There are numerous feature improvements that go beyond the most obvious, which is the ‘modernised’ user interface or ‘look and feel’ of the new system.

Of the many new features, I am most looking forward to Control Center (with many system settings now finally seeing the light of day, no longer requiring numerous taps to access), iTunes Radio, improved Notification Center, automatic app updates, intelligent data refreshing, better camera control, and improved photo management. However I am sure I will find compelling uses for many of the other new features I have read about or will stumble across along the way.

This update also brings a further level of complexity in relation to which Apple devices will support which version of the operating system. A recent silent update on the App Store now sees older versions of the operating system able to download legacy versions of many apps, as this article in 9to5 Mac explains. Further information around device compatibility (and an excellent table on feature support) can be found in an article by Brock Kyle, and another at TUAW.

Incidentally it does not appear both devices I currently use (iPhone 4s and iPad 2) will support all iOS 7 features, for example Air Drop and some of the advanced camera and photo features are only available in later model hardware. It is also worth noting I must wait a little longer for iTunes Radio given it is initially US only.

What should you do before you install the update? I would suggest reading this summary from TUAW, and proceeding from there.

As I finish this brief post (which in Australia is the early hours of September 19), my iPhone 4s is showing an error on attempting to commence the update. This has been entirely expected as Apple’s servers are being repeatedly slammed by the combined weight of a highly anticipated, worldwide software rollout. Should you also be experiencing this (and judging by the comments on numerous internet sites many are), keep trying – it is only a matter of time, and in any event, at 728MB, the entire process won’t be quick.

Patience is a virtue.

Podcasts

dept4 x 4

dept4 x 4 is a new category of posts, which will be a recurring series outlining my four favourite, best, most useful, or most used items in a particular area of interest. These may include products, services, sites, apps, books…you get the picture. Whenever I post a list of this nature, it will unsurprisingly contain four items, generally in no particular order, though I am sure there is a thesis somewhere proving even a random list contains some sort of hierarchy.

Hopefully these lists may prompt you to view, listen, read, test, try or otherwise “have a crack” at some of the suggestions. I believe the greatest power of the internet lies in the discovery of the new and untried, which may ultimately provide you with an opportunity to learn, or in some way improve on how you do things. Granted, you can also waste a lot of time as well, but sometimes the search (within reason) and discovery is half the fun.

Remember of course there will be many more items in a particular category I have not seen nor heard of, and the lists will be updated over time and with new discoveries, though as always we have to start somewhere. So let’s kick things off……

dept4 x 4 – Podcasts

In this post, we take a look at my four favourite podcasts, however first a little background.

My app of choice for podcast listening is Downcast, and has been for some time. I have also previously used Instacast, which is a great app and has seen some updates since my last use. The reason for my change being at the time of switching, Downcast was also available for the iPad (though I see on the App Store Instacast is now a universal app), however the number of podcasts I have listened to on my iPad number approximately…..zero. Despite this, I have not had a reason to switch back, and have continued with Downcast. I cannot comment on the Apple podcast app having never used it, though have not heard overly positive feedback, so personally I would go with one of the excellent third-party applications.

Some of the shows listed below originally began their existence on Myke Hurley’s 70Decibels network, which has this year joined the larger 5By5 network, run by Dan Benjamin. The change has been a smooth one (from a listener perspective at least), and I assume will provide improved infrastructure and resources for these shows to allow a greater focus on content, which can only be a good thing.

In no particular order, here are my current favourite Podcasts…

(Click the show name links for much more information on the shows and their hosts)

1. The Prompt

Photo 23-06-13 7 52 36 AM

They say: A weekly panel discussion on technology, and the culture surrounding Apple and related companies.

I say: The “UN General Assembly of Podcasting”. Spanning three countries, a trio of hosts (Myke Hurley, Stephen Hackett, Federico Viticci) discussing technology in a way that is interesting for someone such as myself, whom I consider has a ‘keen interest’ in Apple related technology, but is far from ‘tech geek’ stature in terms of ability. A transition from Stephen and Myke’s previous 512 Podcast on the 70 Decibels network. Worth it for Federico’s sublime accent? Probably yes, but as always content is king.

At the time of writing, is number three in tech podcasts in the Australian iTunes Store, having reached number one in the UK. The new format is only 1 episode old, but trust me, there are great things coming here.

2. Back to Work

Photo 23-06-13 7 25 44 AM

They say: Back to Work is an award winning talk show with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing productivity, communication, work, barriers, constraints, tools, and more.

I say: After almost 10 years of online interaction, and some 122 episodes of B2W, hosts Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann recently met for the first time and recorded episode 123 ‘in the flesh’. A good deal of humour and effortless banter ensure this has the feeling of just sitting around listening to a couple of mates have a chat. What you will walk away with however are some fantastic insights into managing some of the daily struggles of ‘corporate stoogedom’ and some strategies to more successfully navigate the mire.

Some great messages, delivered in some of the most uniquely entertaining ways. My recommendation? Give it a few episodes to get yourself in the groove – you won’t be sorry, because the first half hour or so from each episode is exactly what people tune in for.

3. Mac Power Users

Photo 23-06-13 7 52 20 AM

They say: Learn about getting the most from your Apple technology with focused topics and workflow guests. Creating Mac Power Users, one geek at a time since 2009.

I say: As someone with a keen interest in Apple related technology, I am always looking for guidance and helpful hints in getting the most out of my digital devices. You may consider this a strange entrant in a list created by someone who actually doesn’t own a mac (yet), however the mix of guests and topics covered (often relating to all other ‘iDevices’), are always helpful in providing tips on workflows, shortcuts, efficiencies, and using Apple technologies to overcome many of the barriers (both at work and home) to achieving what you set out to do.

4. The Pen Addict

Photo 23-06-13 7 52 56 AM

They say: Analog tools are often pushed aside in the digital age but The Pen Addict Podcast is bringing them back, front and center. Join Brad Dowdy, aka “The Pen Addict” and Myke Hurley each week as they discuss all things pen and paper.

I say: Worth listening to for Myke’s unique weekly introduction of Brad, which varies each episode. A podcast reaching 59 episodes on items so analog (pens, paper, stationary), that normally rely on look and physical feel to appreciate, must have something going for it – and this one certainly does. Both hosts have a passion for these non-digital tools, and provide thoughtful discussion week after week on both the philosophical and technical aspects of what is featured.

A key aspect often so rare when seeking out pen related content, is that this is far from the expensive pen collector mindset, with 90% (or more), of the discussion related to very affordable items. However, this hasn’t prevented many a listener (or host) from going mail order crazy on some of the items discussed – but really, that’s why we all listen each week.

plus one more that deserves a specific mention:

+1. Mikes on Mikes

Photo 23-06-13 7 54 23 AM

They say: Michael Schechter and Mike Vardy talk technology and time management, parenting and productivity and all things in between during this podcast, all while sipping on their drink of choice for each episode.

I say: This is where it all started for me. Coming fairly late into the whole productivity game, and discovering more through both hosts respective websites, this was my first podcast subscription, and I continue to listen to the two Mikes and their various guests discuss this ‘genre’, for want of a better word. Filled with tips, philosophies and workflow advice, this is indeed a great place to start (and continue), if you are looking at approaches to improve how you work.

Other honourable mentions

In Summary

I definitely find the format of a podcast useful in gaining an understanding of a large amount of content in a short period of time. An added advantage is often there will be slight or wholehearted differences in opinion by the hosts and their guests around certain topics, which can further clarify your own thinking on a certain topic, or at least provide the stimulus to seek out more information for yourself to gain a greater understanding.

So, time permitting, check out some of those listed above and see what you think.