Posts From May 2011
The Amazon Mac Downloads Store launched just a few days ago.
Pear Note is written by indie developer, Chad Sellers, who runs Useful Fruit Software. I’m friends with Chad, and Useful Fruit has sponsored this site’s RSS feed in the past.
When I saw Pear Note in the Amazon downloads store I contacted him to ask how he got in. Since Amazon is not accepting submissions for applications I was curious about a few things, such as how and why they approached him, what the submission process is like, and how the contract works.
- SHAWN BLANC: How did Pear Note make it into the Amazon Mac Downloads Store?
- CHAD SELLERS: Amazon contacted me back in February. I’m not sure why I was picked, but I presume it had something to do with being ranked decently high on the Mac App Store’s Top Grossing list at the time. I know they contacted some other developers as well, but I seem to be one of the only indies who signed up right away. Most others seem to have taken a “wait and see” approach.
Pear Note went live on Amazon in mid-March. I’m not sure why they waited until now to announce anything.
- SHAWN: Do you know which other developers were asked to sell their software on Amazon?
- CHAD: I certainly don’t have an exhaustive list. Peter Maurer of Many Tricks and Gus Mueller of Flying Meat were tweeting with me about it a couple days ago. Both of them were unhappy about the terms of Amazon’s contract based on their tweets. I believe Jonathan Rentzsch sent me a tweet when Pear Note went live on Amazon that Victoria Wang was contacted about it for Hibari as well.
- SHAWN: How are you giving Amazon your application? When you update your app, how do you get that update to Amazon?
- CHAD: Currently, I email it to them. They are working on an online submission system, but it doesn’t exist yet. It’s non-ideal, but they processed my latest update very quickly.
- SHAWN: What are your thoughts on the lack of an “approval” process for software? Do you know if Amazon has any safeguards to stop their sellers from distributing buggy or malicious apps? Since Amazon.com is such a trusted reseller, people will have faith that if they buy an application from Amazon.com it should be a safe application.
- CHAD: For now, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Amazon seems to be approaching specific devs and presumably would only approach reputable developers. The contract of course specifies that you will not give them malware, but that’s probably not a huge deterrent.
- SHAWN: What is your preferred point of sale for Pear Note?
- CHAD: I’m happy for people to purchase from usefulfruit.com, Amazon, or the Mac App Store. I’d like them to purchase wherever they’re most comfortable.
That said, if someone really has no preference, I’d prefer them purchase from my site, as I keep a much larger percentage of the sale price in that case.
- SHAWN: If someone buys Pear Note on Amazon instead of from your website, how do the licensing and upgrades work?
- CHAD: The licensing and upgrades are the same on Amazon as they are on my website. Amazon seems to treat licensing of downloads just like licensing of boxed software — they are simply delivering the file to the user.
- SHAWN: What’s your take on the whole download process? Dan Frakes wrote about it for Macworld yesterday and it sounds pretty rough for the end user.
- CHAD: It’s certainly non-ideal, but it is much more flexible than the Mac App Store. Amazon takes the approach that a developer can supply whatever installer they like. This means Amazon can accommodate more complicated installation requirements (like those of Microsoft and Adobe apps). The result is the multi-step process where Amazon handles the first part consistently, then the app handles the second part in their own way.
There’s certainly work that Amazon could do to improve the process, but it will never be as streamlined as the Mac App Store unless they begin to place requirements on the app developer.
- SHAWN: What are your thoughts in general about having Pear Note in the Amazon store?
- CHAD: That’s a good question. The short answer is I don’t really know yet.
Amazon does not yet have an online system for tracking sales. Instead, I get a report along with payment on a monthly basis. Amazon has 45 days from the end of each month (and 90 days from the end of the first month) to give me my report and payment.
Since Pear Note just recently went live I have yet to receive any reports or payment, and so I don’t yet know how sales are. The only indicator I have right now is to watch Pear Note’s ranking move up and down. Based on that, I would guess that I’ve only sold a couple downloads since the app went live in mid-March. But that is not surprising since Amazon just began pushing this a couple days ago.
Amazon takes a much more traditional reseller approach than Apple. This is both good and bad. It means they stay out of my business when it comes to how my app works. Consequently, the Pear Note from Amazon is the same one you get from my site, while the Mac App Store version is a custom build to work within Apple’s system. So, on Amazon I determine what my product is, they just sell it. That said, they are in charge of selling it and I have little say in the matter. I set a list price and a wholesale price (which I get paid and can be no more than 70% of the list price), but they are free to sell it for whatever they like. They also have a rule that I cannot charge them more than any other distributor (which turned some other devs off).
Overall, I’m hopeful that it will be a good extra stream of revenue. Amazon certainly has a large customer base and knows how to sell. If it doesn’t bear much fruit, at least I didn’t have to spend the effort to roll a custom version of my app (like I did for the Mac App Store).
Thanks to the wonder of Twitter and email I’ve received quite a few questions from you guys inquiring about the site.
The most common question, by far, has been a semi-generic, “How’s it going?” Most of what I’ve written all this week (such as my ode to Software, a review of my day, writing challenges and observations) has been an attempt to answer that question as in-depth as possible.
Here is a final look at some of the more specific questions that didn’t make their way into the previous posts.
Do you write faster? Do you write more timely?
Admittedly, I am a very slow writer. Not a slow typer. But I do take a very long time to draft and edit my work. I was hoping that I would be able to pick up the pace of my writing and get more done in less time. So far, however, that does not seem to be the case.
I am finding better patterns of working and settling into a stride, but when I’m actually at the computer, typing, working on a long-form article, they still seem to take me as long as they ever did.
Hopefully a year from now the pace of my writing and my ability to put together informed, thought-through, and articulate articles and links will speed up. I think a combination of it is in part being able to write well at first pass, but also being clear about what I want to say at the onset.
Is it hard to come up with fresh content?
Not in the least. This was something I was worried about at the onset of taking the site full time, but I have had no trouble finding topics and ideas to write about. In fact, I’ve somewhat had the opposite problem. Many of the articles that I was planning to write once I took the site full time are still in the works. There is new stuff coming up every day.
How does the real life of your job compare to what you thought it would look like?
On the outside it looks exactly like I thought it would. I mean, I’m here at my desk every day typing and working on the computer. That was an easy thing to imagine.
Internally it is not only different but better. In part, I have grown to enjoy this job even more than I expected I would. I have always enjoyed writing and publishing this site over the years, and that’s why I took it full time in April. But each day I seem to love it and enjoy it a little bit more.
What I did not expect is that I am the toughest boss I’ve ever had. In reality there is no reason I can’t take a day or two off if I need to — the site would be fine. If I worked somewhere else, for someone else, I wouldn’t be allowed to just take a day off and help my wife around the house or do some chores that needed to be done, or run that errand I didn’t get to over the weekend. And so when situations like that arise, I am not yet comfortable with “giving myself the day off”.
This is good and bad. It’s good because there’s no way you can be self-employed without a strong work ethic and daily focus. You guys can rest assured that I am busting my butt over here. But it’s bad because what’s the point of working for yourself if you don’t take hold of the advantages that being self-employed entitles you to? There are a lot of things that stink about being self-employed as well, and those don’t go away. It seems only logical and fair that if I’m going to be stuck with the disadvantages of being self-employed I might as well take hold of the advantages that come with it.
What is your daily balance between reading, researching, and writing?
The trick to running a good link blog is to read more than just the things you have pre-supposed you’re going to link to even before you’ve read it. If so, you’ll only ever link to the obvious and expected stuff. And after a while it all starts to look and feel the same and there’s no more surprises on your site and it slowly becomes breathless.
We all know that to be a good writer you have to be a reader. And the same goes for being a good link blogger. You have to be a voracious reader. Don’t just read for the sake of hunting for what you may be able to link to, but read for the sake of learning and growing and discovering. Getting into a habit of hunting for link-worthy items will eventually lead to a very insipid link blog.
And with all that said, I admit that I need to read more.
It has been a slow journey for me to get comfortable with the fact that the vast majority of the work I put into the site is done “behind the scenes”. If I’m posting a lot of links it may look to you guys as if I’m having a very productive day, but in truth I may be totally aimlessly surfing and not actually getting any substantial work done. And so I am still learning to balance how much work I do keeping the site updated, how much time I spend reading and researching, and where all these things fit in with one another.
How are you balancing your work life and your personal life?
When the day is winding down I’m getting good at shutting the site off. Not literally, but “turning work off in my mind”. It has been a huge help to know that I’ll have 8 hours to work on it tomorrow and that I can pick back up where I left off.
That mindset is also a great way to not always be thinking about the site all the time. Before I began writing the site full-time I was always thinking about the site, and I had to squeeze every spare minute I had into it because I may not have had another chance for several days (or weeks).
But now when I’m not at work I’m not at work. I feel a noticeable change in my ability to be there, in the moment, instead of constantly thinking about work or stats or whatever. And I am extremely grateful for that.
Yesterday I wrote about how easy it is to over-think and over-edit the things I write about and link to on the site. This is also something Ben and I talked about in the latter half of last week’s episode of The B&B Podcast.
It’s a topic spanning much more than just link blogging. I think it goes so far as to encompasses leadership, creativity, and entrepreneurialism as a whole. The concept is to find the balance between think and feel. On one hand you have logic and reason, and on the other hand you have passion and zeal.
There is a way to do things where, if you find something you’re passionate about, you jump right in. And then analyze and gauge each step along the way.
But what if we flipped that approach from time to time?
When you find something you’re passionate or excited about, then think about it for a long time. Make boundaries. And then? Go for it. Let passion and zeal drive us through each step as we keep within our pre-determined boundaries.
The idea is that sometimes, instead of working with restraint inside of passion, try to put passion inside of restraint.
When I began writing shawnblanc.net full-time I was worried that I’d run out of things to write about. There are only so many apps I use all the time which I find worthy of in-depth reviews, and I’m not really one for staying on top of posting commentary pieces about every bit of breaking news.
So far I have had no trouble finding topics to write about. In fact, most of what I’ve published since going full-time has not been on the list of what I was planning to write so far. Meaning, hardly any of the articles that I was planning to write when I began have been written yet. There is still much I want to write about and there are new things arising every day.
So I find myself with the opposite problem, in that there is not enough time in the day for me to write all that I want to, and that, my friends, is a very good conundrum.
However, I will say that it has been difficult choosing what to write about. I am good at writing about things I am involved with and have experience using — such as software and hardware reviews — but am not so confident writing about more abstract issues which I am not as intimately familiar with (such as business model and industry analysis). And while I certainly enjoy writing detailed reviews about software, I haven’t yet decided if that is all I ever want to write. Moreover, I have only ever written reviews about apps that I use and enjoy. But that list is somewhat finite, which means I will, at some point, need to begin writing about software that I am not completely sold on as user. Fortunately, since this job is my full-time gig, I can allow myself the time needed to truly live with an app and get acquainted with it — even if that I am only using it for the sake of reviewing it.
As far as links go, I try to only post links to the things I find interesting or entertaining — something that I found worthwhile in one way or another.
Unfortunately, I am finding just how easy it is to over-think what I choose or chose not to link to. Over thinking these nuanced details can strangle the life out of my work. And so I have been working to focus more on the feel of what I write about and link to rather than over thinking those items. Instead of logically deducing based on n number of factors if such-and-such is worthy of a link, I base it on emotion — do I want to link to it?
In a way, I have to pretend that I’m the only site out there. That if someone was interested in the things I’m interested in, how then would they find out about those things unless I wrote about them? I can’t pass by something I find exciting or interesting because I see that others are already talking about it. That would be a road to silence.
Of course, in another way, I have to pretend that I am not the only site out there. There is so much happening in the tech / design / writing / coffee-drinking community every day that there is simply no way I can stay on top of it all. Let alone write thoughtful and in-depth pieces about everything noteworthy. Harder than choosing what to write about has been choosing what not to write about. And then being okay with leaving certain notable topics left untouched.
At the end of the day, the best advice I can give myself is to: (a) put great care and thought into what I write about and how I write it; and (b) don’t take myself or my site too seriously.
Most days I’m at my desk and starting the work day around 7:00 am. That sounds early when I write it down like that, but each morning I feel like I’m getting to work late. When I wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 my mind is usually buzzing about things to research, write about, or read. And by the time 7:00 comes around it’s likely that I’ve already been anticipating starting my work day for the past 90 minutes.
If I really just cannot wait to get working then I will allow myself to beeline it to my office and start work right away. However, I refuse to turn into one of those guys who work from home and forget to shower. A good way to avoid becoming one of those guys is by not starting a habit of jumping to work as soon as my feet are out of bed.
Chances are good that I’ve already checked email and Twitter for anything important before I get into the office though. I usually do this on my iPhone while waiting for the french press to brew.
When I get into my office I first record Shawn Today. Then, my day is somewhat wide open. There may be articles I read and loved in Instapaper the night before which I want to link to. There may be some emails I need to reply to. There may be an article I’m working on that I want to get back to writing. Or perhaps there is some research I need to do.
The two most productive times of the day for me are early in the morning and late in the night. With each time of day offering it’s own type of productivity. The mornings are when I am most excited about the day and most excited about what there is to plan and work on and link to. However, it’s in the evening that I seem to do my best writing.
Or, put another way, I’m finding that I am more creative in the mornings and more focused in the evenings.
I don’t know if this is a natural effect due to the time of day and the light in the room, or if it’s because I have been writing this site in the evenings for the past four years. Before April shawnblanc.net had always been an evening-time side gig, and so perhaps old habits die hard.
As far as specific times for specific things, I do not keep myself to a rigorous schedule. In part because I am still discovering the best times and patterns for working. Also, since my job is so centered around the web and what is taking place — each day has a life all its own — I enjoy being able to have total flexibility with each day’s schedule.
This is something John Gruber talked about during our interview a few years ago. When I asked John what his average day looked like, he responded:
I’m either writing or reading — or, occasionally, hacking on code for some new feature on the site — all day long.
Ernest Hemingway said this:
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
He was talking about writing books, but I find his advice perfectly apt for what I’m doing with Daring Fireball. Without having a boss or editor, I could do anything at the start of the day. Leaving off the day before with something specific in mind for what to do next is an enormous aid to getting going.
John’s answer made a lot of sense at the time. But now that I find myself in a very similar boat I see not just how logical this is but also how vital it is.
Because there is no senior editor telling me what to write about, nor are there a half-dozen other writers available to cover the topics that I cannot, I have to pick and chose what to write about and what to link to.
Additionally, I have found that it can be quite easy to let the Internet dictate what my hours, topics, and priorities for the site should be. I have a list as long as my arm of articles I want to write — some lengthy, some shorter — but that list can easily get ignored in exchange for what is happening online today.
It is certainly important to stay somewhat on top of any interesting and important news, but it is far more important to keep my own agenda for the site. Today’s latest craze will be old news soon enough, and so the most important thing I can do for the long-term health and growth of this site is to stay focused on writing about the things that excite and interest me.
At any given moment of the work day my monitor probably looks something like this:
Most of the applications I spend my time with throughout the day are the usual suspects: MarsEdit, NetNewsWire, Instapaper, et al. Below is a look at how these apps get used and why.
I usually have a dozen or more tabs open at any given time. I send a lot of stuff to Instapaper, and read a lot in the browser. Usually I’ll scan RSS or Twitter, open up lots of links at once, and then comb back through and read them. I also spend a significant amount of time reading on my iPad, but more on that below.
Instapaper has become as much of a business tool as it is a reading and entertainment app. I send at least a dozen articles to Instapaper every day because there is always something new flying across my browser, feed reader, or Twitter stream.
I do read quite a bit out of Instapaper but not as much as I put in. And I’m okay with that because, in part, Instapaper works as a placebo for me. Saving it to read later relieves me of any stress about having to deal with the article that minute, and I’ve also found that articles which seemed important at the time are no longer important when I get around to my Instapaper queue. So in that regard Instapaper saves me peace of mind as well as time.
I have turned into a bit of a poor correspondent. I do read all my incoming email. I get a lot of great feedback from you guys, and many of you send in links to things you’ve built or written. I love that stuff, it’s just that I’m not always able to respond back.
I feel like as I am still finding my rhythm as a full-time writer and blogger so I’ve been more or less ignoring most other things until I get the pace of my day settled. Then, I’ll add things back in — such as better email correspondence.
Something I did not expect is to find such a huge amount of value from Twitter.
Before I was began writing the site full-time, Twitter was a distraction when I should have been getting work done. Or it was a spot to spend some free time. Now, it is a tool.
I’m an extrovert and a verbal processor, and I love using Twitter to bounce ideas and questions around. It’s a great way to get feedback and input that I don’t otherwise get since I’m working alone in an office.
On my Mac and iPad I use the official Twitter clients. On my iPhone I use Tweetbot.
Notational Velocity and Simplenote
Some people are super fancy with how they use Notational Velocity. I don’t really tag items or any fancy meta stuff like that. I like that the latest work is always at the top and it’s quite easy to search for things that may be buried.
A great many blog posts start in Simplenote or Notational Velocity when I have an idea for something but it’s not fully formed yet. It goes into this app because then that idea is available to me wherever I am. If inspiration strikes while I’m at the hardware store or in the yard it matters not.
Yojimbo is the one application on my laptop that is always running. And, aside from the utility apps that live in the Menu Bar, Yojimbo is the only app that launches on startup.
There is no set rule for how I use Yojimbo — it is just the app which I use to toss anything and everything into that may not have a more logical place to be stored. I use it for passwords, bookmarks, quotes, tips, recipes, directions, and more. And I have Yojimbo’s search field set to activate globally whenever I hit Command+K — I search for items in Yojimbo nearly as often as I put them in there.
One question I often get is how I use Yojimbo differently than Notational Velocity / Simplenote. Rest assured that there is a marked difference between what goes in Yojimbo and what goes in Notational Velocity/Simplenote. Primarily it’s that the former is for anything I want to keep long-term; the latter is for anything that is short-term or in-process.
My application launcher of choice is still LaunchBar. I use it primarily for switching to and activating apps of course, but also for running a few scripts, and looking up words in the Dictionary. And the clipboard history… my, how I love the clipboard history.
I use TextExpander primarily when writing and replying to email. Mostly it helps me with signatures and common replies to common types of emails I get. The big aha moment for me was when I realized that though I could use it to help automate my responses to certain common emails I get, that automation didn’t mean my replies were any less personal.
In the six months or so that I’ve been using TextExpander, I have expanded 568 snippets and saved 55,423 characters.
My link shortener and file uploader of choice is Droplr. I share a lot of screenshots and files and text with people via DMs and iChat throughout the day and Droplr is what I use for that. I have the Droplr hotkey set to Control+Option+Command+D. Also, in case you’ve ever noticed and were curious, I use Droplr to create RSS-standards-compliant URLs if I am ever linking to a web page that has a question mark within the web address.
Now that I have a bit more open schedule I don’t need a full-fledged calendar application running all the time or taking up icon space in my Dock. I’ve been using Fantastical for a while now and love how easy it is to use, and how it can pretty much replace my day-to-day usage of iCal.
I am a newcomer to Keyboard Maestro, but it only took a few short hours before I was converted to a junkie. It is, by far, one of the most powerful, interesting, and helpful apps I have ever used. It is hard to explain in brevity, but as best I can describe it it’s an app for power users whom understand the power of AppleScripts, Automations, and hotkeys — yet who don’t know how — or don’t enjoy — to write AppleScripts.
I use OmniFocus differently now that I am writing full time. I still add all my to-do items into OmniFocus, but it’s not always the primary to-do list that I work from during my day. There are often things which I want to do for the site that I don’t have time to do now and so I’ll set them as due in a week or two. But — as usually seems to be the case — I am just as busy a week or two later as I was when I was too busy to do that item the first time. Therefore, OmniFocus is primarily full of things that should get done but which are not vital to the survival of this site. I review the list every day (usually on the iPad) and will re-arrange what has shown up as due that day down to only what is necessary and what is reasonable.
However, I usually don’t review my OmniFocus task list until later in the day — often times preparing for what is needed to do tomorrow rather than today. The reason for this is that in the morning when I am first starting out, I usually write down onto paper what I want to get done that day: is there anything I especially want to link to, are there any emails I know need my attention, etc.
The Web is always moving on to the next thing. Something that is hot right now will be cold in a few hours. An article I’ve spent days or weeks working on is only exciting for a day or two, and may not bring any new traffic or readership to the site. There is a constant turning over of projects and goals — things move fast online.
Because of this rhythm I’ve noticed that it is easy to look back at a day spent writing and reading but feel as if I didn’t actually accomplish anything that day. Which is why it’s important for me to have a short list of the things I wanted to do and when I feel as if my day was unproductive I can look at the list and see that I actually accomplished all that I wanted to.
Put another way, writing a weblog full time is not unlike farming. Lots of chores and lots of busy work that take up time every single day, but the fruit of that labor is seasonal. My daily to-do list helps me stay on track, and OmniFocus helps me keep the long-term, seasonal goals from slipping through the cracks.
NetNewsWire and Reeder
I have been rocking back and forth between my usage of Twitter and RSS for finding news, stories, and information. Though I am prone to look for news and content via Twitter, I am finding that it is not the best place for link-worthy content. Sure, I find lots of things that are interesting and easy to spend my time on, but most of the time they are things which are not worth linking to from shawnblanc.net.
The vast majority of link-worthy content I find in my RSS feed. On the Mac I still use NetNewsWire. However, I am most successful at combing through my RSS feed when I’m on my iPad. And on the iPad I use Reeder. Unless I’m really focused on a project I try to take at least one or two breaks in my day to sit down and comb through RSS feeds.
For the curiously nerdy, I am currently subscribed to 152 RSS feeds.
I do all my recordings for Shawn Today with WireTap Studio. I have the metadata for file name and audio type and quality pre-set so that once I’m done recording I just add the album artwork and upload to the S3 server.
By far, the most essential app to my life as a blogger is MarsEdit. This is where I write my site.
I write in Inconsolata, 13 pt, light text on a dark background. I have the custom keyboard shortcuts for markdown all set. And MarsEdit has a helpful bookmarklet which lets me take the current URL in Safari and then throw it into MarsEdit as a link post. And thanks to MarsEdit’s “live preview” ability, I can see exactly how the post will look when published on my website without having to write live to the site.
A side-note for the curious: my iPad gets very little use as a writing tool. If and when I write using my iPad it is with Simplenote. However, the iPad is primarily used for reading: reading my Instapaper queue, reading RSS feeds, and reading eBooks. Also, as mentioned above, I use it to review and scrub my OmniFocus lists because OmniFocus on the iPad is killer.
The Missing App
There is one glaring hole of an app that would make my professional life much easier: MarsEdit for iOS. Or something like it. I am not so much in need of a full-fledged blogging app for my iPad and iPhone so much as I am in need of a way to post links to my site from my iPad or iPhone.
I find a lot of link-worthy content away from my laptop. Either when I’m reading on my iPad or surfing the Web on my iPhone. What I need is an app that takes the current Mobile Safari URL, title, and any highlighted text and then populates a post editing window with those items. From there, if I could adjust the title and the slug and hit publish, I’d be happy.
There have been hints of this in various forms, such as modified versions of the WordPress “Press This” bookmarklet and other plugins, but there is nothing ideal just yet. I’ve added it to my to-do list to spend a good amount of time fiddling with the Press This bookmarklet to see if I can turn it into something useful, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I have yet to find a best-of-breed blogging app for the iPhone or iPad that meets my narrow and specific needs.
It has been nearly two months since I began writing shawnblanc.net full-time, and it has been wonderful. I love this gig.
By far and away the most frequently asked question I’ve been getting is: How’s it going?
And so I am going to take this week and answer that question in great detail.
- I’ll be writing about the software I use to write this site and how I use it.
- I will be sharing what my day looks like and why.
- I’ll be bringing up some of the challenges and breakthroughs I’ve had as a writer since taking this gig full time.
- I’ll discuss how I’m balancing my work life and my personal life now that I work from home and am self-employed.
- And I’ll be answering some reader-submitted questions.
But to start it all off, I wanted to first say thank you. I would not be writing this if it were not for the support from all of you guys — the members, the weekly sponsors, the readers.
Those of you who have signed up as subscribing members are providing a critical income stream which has actually allowed me to publish this site full time.
To all the fantastic developers, companies, and other fine folks who sponsor the RSS feed or advertise on Fusion, thank you.
And really, to everyone — all of you nerds who continue to show up day after day — thanks.
When I want to put on some music I reach for iTunes. That afternoon playlist is akin to the morning cup of coffee.
Listening to music should be fun and make you feel good. And so it’s unfortunate that some of the cloud-based music landscape is so depressing.
Amazon and Google have both recently announced that you can upload all your MP3s to their website and listen to them there, instead of leaving them on your hard drive. Pandora, is good internet radio, letting you build a radio station based on your favorite song. And then new services like Rdio and MOG provide you with access to their vast music library, but you don’t own any of the music.
I tried Amazon and it just made me depressed. Though I haven’t received my invite yet, the others who have tried Google Music have all said how pitiful it is. Rdio and Pandora are both fantastic at what they do, but the songs you listen to don’t belong to you.
Let’s take a closer look…
Amazon Cloud Player
To set up your Amazon Cloud Drive you have to sign up for it on the Amazon website. You get 5 GBs of storage for free forever (and it doesn’t just store music).
Once I signed up and was ready to add music to my Amazon Cloud Drive I had to download their uploader. Once I had done that, it made me install Adobe AIR, then scanned my laptop for MP3s and playlists, compared what was on my computer with what I may already have in their Cloud (which at that time was nothing).
Once the uploader had scanned and found all the music on my laptop it was then ready to upload it. All of it.
The default option was to upload everything. But I chose to opt out of uploading it all and I only uploaded one album. And I’m glad I did. I uploaded “Waking Up” by One Republic and it took 45 minutes. This one album accounts for 0.1 GB of my 5 GB limit. If I had chosen to upload to the max of my 5 GBs it would have taken over 33 hours. If I were to upload my entire music collection, which is around 40 GB, it would have taken 11 consecutive days.
I fear what would have happened had I chosen to go with the default and just upload my entire music collection. Would I have been automatically upgraded to and charged for the 50 GB, $50/year plan? How would I have survived for 11 days while my bandwidth was being eaten alive by the uploader?
It’s unfortunate that any albums you have purchased on the Amazon MP3 store in the past are not automatically added to your collection. We know they’ve got the files already up there on their servers, so why not just say: we see you have this album that you bought from us last month, we’ll just add it to your Cloud Drive now without making you upload it and waste 45 minutes of your time.
The reason Amazon doesn’t automatically add songs they have that are in your library to is that they cannot. Legally, since they didn’t get permission from record labels, they have to only provide a storage area for us to upload the music that we already bought. It’s like we’re simply copying it from one hard drive to another.
However, if you buy an album after you’ve signed up for the Amazon Cloud Drive then you can have that album added to your cloud straight away. And if you want to download it from there you can do that as well.
Something else Amazon is so happy to tell you is that if you buy an album from their MP3 store it does not count against your storage limit. Moreover, after your first purchase then you also get 20 GBs of storage for free.
However, these special perks are only for albums you buy after you’ve signed up. Any album you bought from Amazon before you signed up for their cloud will still count against your quota when you upload it. And moreover, the extra 20 GB is not the same as their 5 GB for free forever deal. What you actually get is a free one-year trial of their 20 GB plan.
Fortunately, the 20 GB plan will revert back to the free 5 GB plan once your year is over.
Amazon wants you to buy your music from them, but they need additional compelling reasons. Their prices are usually better than iTunes but that is not enough. The perks of buying an album from Amazon combined with the “perk” of what their Cloud Player offers, are meant to add up to a compelling reason to start using Amazon MP3 store.
But even these new perks don’t add up to much. In Safari on my laptop I’m having a very difficult time getting it to play one song after the other — especially if I want to start in the middle of an album.
Moreover, Amazon Cloud Player does not have a native iOS app, nor does it really support listening in Mobile Safari. Though you can technically get it to work, the website and streaming is next to worthless on the iPhone and iPad.
But if you want to power through and listen to your Amazon music from your iOS device, go to this URL from your iPad or iPhone:
Once there, you: - Log in - Tell them you don’t care that your browser is not supported - Enjoy trying to listen to music on a player that was not optimized for the iPhone
In theory the multi-tasking works, and you can listen to music in the background. But I had a hard time getting it to work well. Also, skipping forwards or backwards via the multi-tasking bar doesn’t work.
One of the whole points of a cloud player is so you can listen to all your music when you’re away from your main library, right? Well driving around Kansas City, streaming my Amazon music through Mobile Safari on my iPhone was just about worthless. It buffered several times, and flat-out stalled a few times. It was no way to listen to music in the car. Granted, Amazon doesn’t officially support iOS and so technically they can’t be blamed for the horrible streaming.
It’s funny though because streaming over 3G on Pandora is awesome — we especially use it at Christmas time to listen to Christmas music and drive around looking at lights. Streaming on Amazon is lousy. Perhaps those with the official Amazon app for the Android device have had a better experience.
So, why no iPhone app? My theory is that since Amazon wasn’t winning against Apple with price they’re adding cloud sync and streaming music player in hopes to sell more music. Their story is: “Why buy from iTunes when you can get the same album for less, auto-added to your Amazon Cloud Player, listen to it anywhere you like, and you can still download it to your laptop and play it in iTunes if you want?”
But I am confused as to why Amazon has completely disregarded iOS. Why wouldn’t they want their cloud player to work on iPhones and iPod touches? Either: (a) they did submit a native App and it was rejected but none of us know about it; (b) they are working on getting better in-browser player; or (c) they flat out don’t want to compete against iTunes and are just not trying.
I want to say that it’s (b) — that Amazon wanted to get their cloud player out ASAP and will worry about adding compatibility with iOS later — but my gut tells me it’s (c). Because why ship with an Android app out of the gate and not an iOS app?
Google Music (beta)
I still haven’t received my invitation to check out Google Music, but from what I have read about it, it is nearly the same gig as what Amazon is doing.
You upload your music and then you can listen to it on any web browser or Android device. But here’s the other thing: Google Music Beta is miserable.
Though you can’t take my word for it, because I haven’t yet had a chance to use it. I am still waiting for my invitation from Google. However, from what I’ve read it sounds like it’s even more frustrating to use that Amazon’s cloud player. And so we’re back at one of my first point that listening to music should be fun and make you feel good.
Pronounced “ar-dee-oh”, Rdio is a Web-based subscription music service. You pay $5 or $10 per month and get unlimited access to their entire music library. The $5 plan gets you web-only access, and the $10 plan allows you to stream and download music to your iPhone or iPod touch.
The solution that Rdio offers is three-fold:
- Listen to all sorts of music you don’t own.
- Listen to that music anywhere and everywhere.
- Discover new music by connecting with others on the Rdio network and seeing what they are listening to and enjoying.
And I think it’s a pretty good deal. The web app is good, the iPhone app is stellar, and streaming is strong. All in all, Rdio is a top-notch user experience and worth the money.
Rdio also has a desktop app for Mac. It allows you to use the hardware keyboard keys for controlling your music, and it will scan your iTunes music directory and add all your songs to your Rdio collection automatically. However, it requires the Safari flash plugin in order to work.
I used Rdio for a while when it was in beta and enjoyed it, but I jumped ship once they started charging. There are many people I know who use it and rave about it. Since I’m on this kick of fiddling with Cloud Music Players I thought I would re-activate my Rdio subscription and scope the landscape once again.
Here I am listening to Rdio right now, in fact. As I write these words I have Coldplay streaming via the Web app which I have running in Google Chrome. (I’d like to install Rdio’s deskop app for my Mac but am not really wanting to install Flash in Safari again.)
I have nothing but good things to say about the quality of Rdio’s service, its price, or its music collection. However, there is something about Rdio that just doesn’t settle for me. And I think it’s the fact that I’m listening to music I don’t own.
A lot of people have been championing for music the trend which began with movies so many years ago: that access is better than ownership. This is Netflix’s bag: rent all the movies you want, whenever you want, for one low monthly fee.
It’s the same idea with Rdio — you are, in a sense, “renting” an album. Though you never have to return it, so long as you keep paying your monthly dues.
However, I have a different attitude towards movies than I do towards music. I will maybe watch my favorite movies once or twice a year, at the most. A great album that I love I will listen to every day for months and months.
Movies are entertaining. Music is personal.
And so I don’t know if the paradigm that access is better than ownership has the same effect on our music library as it does for our DVD collection. The music we listen to, in many ways, is a definition and extension of who we are.
All this to say, that what excites me right now is the idea of access and ownership. I want to own my music, but I want to have it available anywhere and everywhere and on each of the music-playing devices that I own.
The iTunes Locker
These are all just rumors at this point, but the “iTunes Locker” sounds like it will be Apple’s new service that allows you to store your songs and movies in the cloud. You would then be able to stream them to any computer or device running iTunes or iOS, such as your Mac, Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
The reason an iTunes locker sounds appealing to me is primarily because my iTunes library is on an external hard drive up in my office and I am currently writing downstairs on my couch. My iTunes library is far too big for my MacBook Pro’s 120 GB Solid State Drive, and so I had to move it to an external drive.
At first I tried storing the music folder onto my Time Capsule so I could access it via the local network here in my house and still listen to music on my laptop no matter what room I was in. But that was a nightmare. So I put it onto an external hard drive and plug that drive in whenever my laptop is at my desk.
In an ideal world I would always have access to my whole iTunes library from my laptop, Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone. Most people solve this by purchasing a Mac Mini and setting it up as the shared media library for the house. This is a pretty good and clever solution for home media library, and would solve most of my problems. The trouble is that: (a) a Mac mini isn’t cheap; (b) if I’m not at home then I don’t get access to those songs; and (c) if I don’t use the mini for syncing my iPhone and iPad then I can’t get all the music and movies I want onto those devices.
If and when Apple opens their iTunes Locker it could potentially solve my dilemma, as well as providing some other great services.
From where I’m standing, I see 4 significant advantages that Apple will have with their music streaming and syncing service that Amazon and Google do not have:
Your iTunes music library will be instantly available online. This is by far one of the biggest shortcomings of Amazon’s and Google’s offerings. Because they don’t have a deal with any of the music labels they have to force you to upload your music, song by song, for day after day.
I cannot imagine Apple not saying that “all the music and movies you have bough through iTunes are already waiting for you in the Locker.” The question is will that music bought in iTunes be free to stream or will the be an “upgrade” charge?
Due to a recent patent, it looks like there will be little to no buffering pauses due to combining snippets of songs stored locally with streaming of them. If you synced only the first 15 seconds of your music you could store 20 times more music on your iPod than if you were syncing entire songs.
This would beat down one of the biggest shortcomings of streaming: the time it take to buffer. Once you “get going” then you usually don’t notice a pause in playback, but jumping from song to song (as opposed to listening to an album straight through) means you have to wait for the next song to buffer.
iPods are the worlds most popular MP3 players. Using Amazon or Google means you have to ditch the MP3 player you’ve been using. (I have many friends who own Android devices and/or PCs who also own iPods.) This to me is one of the primary advantages an iTunes music locker would have, in that, it is a cloud-syncing solution that is integrated with the software and hardware we already use. The Locker would be an upgrade to how we already listen to music.
iTunes is the largest music store in the world and is already a big part of how you listen to music. Which means with iTunes Locker your music could be available on all your Apple devices that have an internet connection. Instead of buying a Mac mini to use as a media center so your iMac, Apple TV, and laptop can all get access to your music and movies, you could just sign up for the locker instead.
There are likely going to be several things that will give the iTunes locker an edge over Amazon and Google, but the premier advantage will be its integration: integration with your current library and integration with your current music-listening lifestyle.
…a specced-out 13-inch MacBook Air.
The previous Macs I have owned include a 12-inch PowerBook, a Quad-Core Mac Pro, and a 15-inch MacBook Pro (my current machine).
I’ve used my Macs for all sorts of things. From running drum loops and audio tracks while drumming, to doing print and web design, to project management and email hubbub. Now, the vast majority of work I do on my computer entails writing.
This MacBook Pro was originally meant to be my secondary computer. I had been doing all my print design on the 12-inch PowerBook, but by 2008 when that little guy was going on 3 years old, it did not like Adobe any more. So I figured I would get the beefy Mac Pro to see me through for years and years of design work (knowing how easily the Mac Pros can be upgraded as needed).
But then my wife needed a computer as well, and she always liked how “cute” the 12-inch PowerBook was. And so I bought myself a mid-level MacBook Pro to serve as my secondary computer. Because I was out and about enough that I needed a portable, and I figured I should get something that I could also do design work on.
However, the MacBook Pro turned out to be quite comparable to the MacPro for the work I was doing. And so it seemed silly to have two professional-grade machines taking up space. I sold the Mac Pro to a local recording studio and have been using the MacBook Pro ever since.
And, believe it or not, the PowerBook is still in use by my wife as her primary computer. Though, as she’s been using her iPad more and more the PowerBook is slowly but surely seeing less use.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro that I am using right now is from early 2008, just before the unibody models were released. It has nearly identical specs to the current 13-inch MacBook Airs: almost the same CPU, same screen resolution (though mine is “stretched” into a 15-inch screen instead of squeezed into a 13-inch screen), same amount of RAM, and I even have an SSD (since my HDD gave out on me last fall).
However, MacBook Pro could use a few ‘upgrades’. I am running low on drive space in my 120 GB SSD, and so I have to keep my media library on an external drive. My battery is crawling towards its grave — only holding about a 90-minute charge now. And the logic board has been giving me troubles here and there — oddities with sleeping patterns and trouble working with bluetooth devices from time to time. I can tell this thing is nearing its end as my primary work machine.
There’s no denying I’m a Mac nerd, but I am not one who upgrades just for the sake of upgrading. I don’t rush to the Apple store and buy the latest gadget unless I actually have a purpose or need for it. I have been trying to squeeze every last ounce of life from this MacBook Pro and after 40 months of use it is about ready to take a break.
I am confident that it will make it a few more months, and hopefully I can time things just right so that I’ll be ready for a new laptop as the next generation MacBook Airs ship.
Reasons Why I’ll Be Getting a 13-Inch MacBook Air
Things I don’t need 90% of the time
- A 15-inch screen: most of my work is done with my laptop hooked up to my 23-inch cinema display (the awesome matte screen that’s encased in aluminum; the ones that Apple made before they ruined them by putting glass on the front and making them glossy). When I do have the laptop out and about, a smaller footprint would be preferred over a larger screen. Moreover, I would rather carry a smaller bag, one that my 15-inch MacBook Pro can’t fit into.
- The optical drive: in fact, I nearly loathe my MacBook Pro’s optical drive — or at least the sound it makes every time I boot or wake up the laptop.
- Ethernet: I use Wi-Fi.
- FireWire: I don’t even own a video camera.
Things I do need 90% of the time:
- An SSD drive: once you go SSD you can’t go back.
- An internet connection
- A keyboard
- A screen
The 13-inch MacBook Air has everything I do need, nothing that I don’t, and even a few additional features such as being light weight and having a thinner form factor. Which means that for me, going from a 15-inch MacBook Pro to a 13-inch MacBook Air will be an upgrade.
What if there are 15-inch MacBook Airs? Would I buy one of those? As I mentioned above, I would rather have the smaller size over the larger screen. Especially since most of the time it will be connected to an external monitor.
So then, why not an iMac? While it’s true that most of the time my laptop is docked to the Cinema Display, I’d go crazy if I couldn’t take my laptop with me. I don’t travel all the time, but I’m certainly moving around enough between various rooms of my house or various coffee shops on a regular basis. Moreover, when I do travel I need to be able to take my work with me.
I’m holding out for the refresh because, based on the latest rumors, it looks like it will be a substantial one.
- We already know that the MacBooks Airs shipping today have faster SSDs than the ones that were shipping a few months ago.
- Thunderbolt is coming, it’s just a matter of time.
- The hinge for Thunderbolt will be the Sandy Bridge processor.
Even if I did buy one of the currently-shipping MacBook Airs it would be an upgrade. But it has been 8 months since the Airs were last refreshed, and since I have a tendency to hold on to my computers until they wither and die it’s worth it to wait a little bit longer to get a laptop that will be quite a bit more superior to the current models.
The IKEA Galant desk that I’ve been using for so many years has height-adjustable legs. And so I thought this week I would try standing at my desk. There are more and more studies coming out about the negative physical effects of sitting for hours and hours every day and I want to keep healthy.
Yesterday afternoon I raised the height from 27.75 inches to 38.5 inches:
I worked here for about 2 hours last night doing my weekly housekeeping bills and email scrub. This morning I’ve been here for a little over 3 hours now. They say the first 2 - 3 days are the most difficult, and then you fall in love with it. So I guess we’ll see.
The thing I was most worried about was typing. But the change in height doesn’t effect the use of my hands on the keyboard or at all. I thought that it would be less comfortable to type and use my computer, but there is no change.
The change is all in the legs and waist at this point. But it’s a good change. Instead of feeling sore from poor circulation I feel tired from standing.
I guess we’ll see how it goes, but I’m anticipating this will end up being a permanent move. (If anything, it will be nice to end my day a little bit tired from standing all day.)
And here’s what the desk looked like before I raised it (I took this shot in the middle of cleaning off the desk, so my computer and what not were not there):
- Over-the-air sync
- Forecast view on the iPad
- Review function on the iPad
No other to-do list app does all 3 of these things as well as OmniFocus does.
On the homepage of a weblog, when you’ve scrolled to the bottom of the recent posts displayed but before you get to the footer, what should you see?
Most commonly you’ll find a link for “previous entries” or “older entries”. A link that takes you to Page 2 of the site. And page 2 is always the same format as the homepage.
There are some unique dynamics to weblog design. You’re designing for three groups of people:
- Regular readers who check in daily, or near daily
- Familiar readers who check in occasionally
- New visitors
Regular readers tend to hang out at the top of the site or in the RSS feed. Since they are tracking with the weblog they are up to date with what’s been written lately. In fact, many regular readers may not even visit the site and read only from their feed reader.
Familiar readers who check in occasionally are likely to only peruse and read what’s on the homepage. They come to the site, look to see what’s new that they haven’t seen since last time, and then move on.
New readers are actually most likely showing up for the first time onto a permalink page because they got to your site via a link or a search result to something specific. From there, if they like what they’ve read, they’re likely to read more articles or click to the home page and see what is happening.
And so, when someone (who is most likely a new visitor) has scrolled to the bottom of the recent posts on the homepage, before they get to the footer what should they see?
Is a link to Page 2 the best option? I don’t know; the advantages and disadvantages vary based on the site.
Advantages of having a link to Page 2:
- It’s conventional: Lots and lots of sites use it.
- It’s familiar: Because it’s conventional.
- It’s simple: There is only one option: If you want more, click here. If not, see you later alligator.
- You stay in the same context: The format of page 2 is the same as page 1 which means the reader is not changing contexts from reading to lists to reading again.
Disadvantages of having a link to Page 2:
On this site I post dozens of links to every one article. If someone is scrolling through page by page it means they are primarily scrolling through lists of links. And while that’s cool, links are not the premier feature of this site. Though they are the most common type of post, they’re not the most valuable.
Some of the work I am most proud of may not have been in the past few weeks or even months. Someone browsing page by page may never get to what I am most proud of.
What Others are Doing
I wanted to see how other weblogs handle pagination navigation. I took screenshots of the bottom of the homepage of 31 different weblogs to compare how they’ve implemented pagination navigation, if they’ve implemented it at all.
I chose sites that are run as a traditional blog, meaning the most recent posts are at the top of the page and usually where several posts are shown at once. I also chose sites that are published by people who (most likely) have thought through this sort of thing for their site.
Of the 31 sites, 19 had some sort of “older entries” style pagination navigation and 12 had something else.
Weblogs with pagination navigation: Kottke.org, Jason Santa Maria, TechCrunch, Jeffery Zeldman’s Daily Report, dooce, Seth Godin, Andy Ihnatko, 43 Folders, Cameron Moll, Panic Blog, Liz Danzico, The Hickensian, Simplebits, The Brooks Review, I Love Typography, swissmiss, This is my next…, Waxy.org, and 37signals.
Weblogs with something other than pagination navigation:
- Marco.org: A list of all archives by month
- Subtraction: A list of all categories
- Shaun Inman: A list of all categories and all archives by month
- Ignore the Code: Infinite scrolling
- Daring Fireball: Full text of the two most recent articles that were not written in the past 7 days
- Airbag Industries, Kevin Kelly, and Rands in Repose: Nothing
- Veerle’s Blog: Featured article and recommended categories
- Zen Habits, Chris Bowler: Link to full archives list
- Paul Stamatiou: List of favorite articles
Trying Something New
Since the inception of this site I’ve had the common link to Page 2. I am now testing something new here: I replaced the link to Page 2 with links to recent articles, interviews, and reviews instead. I’ve also increased the number of articles and links that appear on the home page to 25 total.
The goal is to offer the best choice for the reader, based on what I, as the publisher of my site, consider to be the most valuable. Is a link to Page 2 the best way for a reader to continue exploring my site, or would they be better served by discovering the articles I’ve written and am most proud of? 1
Honestly, I’m not sure yet. Though I do think that if I only ever wrote articles it may be a different answer.
- Some readers have written in to suggest that I offer a link to Page 2 as well as a link to recent articles, reviews, and interviews. I somewhat like this idea, but my biggest hesitancy is that it may present too many options. When a user is presented with too many choices they will likely chose none. In fact, I already am feeling like having 3 links at the bottom of the page is too many. But at least they are 3 links of the same type. ↵
Words on a weblog live a very different life than those born to the printed page.
My weblog and I have a voice that is different than if I wrote a daily tech column for the local paper. Sure, my writing style would be the same, but my voice would be interpreted differently by my readers. When my words show up on this website my voice as a writer is influenced by more factors than just the words used.
Words printed onto a physical page are tactile. They can be held, dog-eared, and stuffed into your jacket pocket or backpack. But they are always on that piece of paper.
Whereas the words published onto a weblog are dynamic and living in a way all their own. There is always stuff moving and shifting around those words. Today there will be a different advertisement sitting next to them than there was yesterday. Tomorrow there will be a new post hanging out above them. Sometimes they’ll be read on a large display and sometimes on a cell phone.
Print is physical and tactile; digital is dynamic and moving. It’s one of the juxtapositions of publishing.
It’s fascinating how websites are, in their own way, living and breathing things. They’re dynamic, with a life and personality all their own. And this is why, on a website, it is more than just the text that contributes to the voice of the writer. There is also the structure of the articles and link posts; the topics written about; the items linked to; and even the author’s sense of entitlement to their work. All of these things add up to form the whole of what is a distinct and unique voice.
And so when you consider your design, consider also your voice. When you consider the structure of your links and articles, consider also your voice. When you consider your topics, consider also your voice. Let the design and the structure and the dynamics of your website underpin the words and style of your writing. Because all of it adds up to form the voice of you and your weblog.
If anything on your website is important then everything is.
For the past several weeks I have had the privilege to beta test the soon-to-be-released Mac calendar app, Fantastical. It is still in private beta, and is due out later this month.
The developers over at Flexibits have given me permission to share a little bit about Fantastical with you guys, and I’m honored to do so because I am really loving this app.
There is a fine line between not enough and just enough — between usability and unnecessary lack. That line is defined in part by the developer but also by the user.
We, the users, define what is too much, not enough, or just right for the software we use. Often times, the best of developers will be able to aptly build in the appropriate features for all sorts of users. So that those users with less needs do not feel overwhelmed and those with more needs do not feel any lack.
In many ways I think Fantastical has hit that sweet spot.
Fantastical started out with the intentions of being a counterpart to your current calendar app. It syncs with iCal, Entourage, BusyCal, Google Calendar et al., and it works quite well as a nimble access point for viewing and adding new events.
Other plugins and utilities have sought to do this in the past. However, in all my years of experimenting with those various “helper” apps for iCal, none have ever stuck with me. Fantastical is the first one that has.
After daily usage for the past several weeks I have found that Fantastical is near wholly a stand-alone calendar app. The only thing it doesn’t do (yet) is allow you to edit an event once it’s been created. If you’re not always editing events, then Fantastical very well could replace iCal for most of your day-to-day calendaring needs. It has for me.
What I like most about Fantastical is how quick and accessible it is. It lives in your Menu Bar and you invoke it via a global hotkey (I use command+option+c), or by clicking on the Menu Bar icon, and it appears instantaneously. It is both keyboard and mouse friendly. The power users in the room will be glad to know you can navigate and operate the app without leaving the keyboard — if it were not so then I certainly would not find the same amount of utility from the app.
And what blows me away every time I use it is the entry panel for an event — Fantastical uses a natural language parser in addition to the standard new-event, iCal interface. So far, in my usage, the natural language parsing has been superb; the best I’ve ever used.
The parsing is not only good at actually understanding what I’m entering it also makes me feel quite confident that it understands me. There are some clever visuals that come to life as you type in the title, time, and location of your event. The words move to their corresponding spot in the date and time list, letting you know that the event is being created.
Fantastical is set to launch later this month. You can sign up on the teaser site if you want to be notified via email once it launches.
Last October I wrote about the potential of MobileMe:
When MobileMe re-branded and re-launched in July 2008 it was somewhat of a disaster. In an internal email to Apple employees, Steve Jobs said that “The vision of MobileMe is both exciting and ambitious.”
In its current state as “exchange for the rest of us” MobileMe seems neither exciting nor ambitious. As a web-app, me.com is beautiful and extremely functional. But I for one never use it. Instead I use the native OS X apps. And iDisk? Well, that is also collecting dust.
What would be exciting is an open service that bridged the gap for all the data which is shared between our Macs, iPhones, and iPads. What could be more ambitious than killing the USB cable?
Software development is no longer a contained relationship between a single piece of hardware and the software installed on it. Just as people who are serious about software should make their own hardware, people who are serious about mobile software should make their own cloud.
We know Apple is serious about mobile software and hardware, and it looks like they are getting ready to prove that they’re also serious about the cloud.
There have been many rumors about an iTunes digital locker, a rebranding of MobileMe, and a major software / hardware announcement in the fall. It is exciting to think that in the next several months we may see some significant new software products from Apple.
And so, as any respectable Apple-centric blogger knows, it’s part of the job description to post wild speculations about what we think will happen and when. Below you will find my iCloud predictions.
Here’s an unordered list of what I think iCloud will look like in 2011:
iTunes Music Locker: Available at a subscription cost, you can use iCloud to store your songs and movies in the cloud and then stream them to any computer or device running iTunes or iOS, such as your Mac, Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.1
I see this as being one of two premier features of iCloud touted at WWDC. I also imagine it will be one of the main focal points of the September iPod event.
Syncing of 3rd-party app data: Free for everyone with an Apple ID and part of the iOS 5 SDK announced and made available on June 6.
I see this as being the other premier features of iCloud when announced at WWDC. Because this will allow 3rd-party developers to use iCloud as a server so users can sync an app’s information between multiple iOS and Mac devices.
It will be great for Developers and could replace what Dropbox has become for apps like 1Password and the multitude of note-taking applications that use Dropbox for sharing of text documents.
This feature will also be huge for the average user. All they’ll need is their Apple ID and they can set up their app to sync with their other iOS devices.
Contacts, calendar, and bookmarks: Just like it works in MobileMe right now, but it will become free for everyone with an Apple ID.
Find My iPhone: Will continue to be free for everyone with an Apple ID, just like it already is.
iBooks Syncing: Will continue to be free for everyone with an Apple ID, just like it already is.
Email: The @me.com email addresses will still be available but at a subscription cost like they currently are within MobileMe. However, I suspect the cost of a subscription will be less than the current pricing of MobileMe’s $99/year.
File-storage: 2 GB for free and meant for sharing and accessing your documents on multiple computers and iOS devices. More than 2 GB for a price.
I don’t think iCloud will be a Dropbox killer as nerds and power users like us might think. It may be one day, but Apple is focusing on making mobile apps and data stay in sync more than they are worried about improving how nerds and power users like us move, share, and sync our large working docs.
In short, it’s likely that we will keep on using Dropbox just like we always have been.
Wild Card: iWork.com and the iWork suite: I have no idea if Apple will address the nightmare that is file-syncing and file-sharing of iWork documents between your Mac and iPad. I could totally see them making this simple and cloud-based as soon as Lion or as late as iOS 5, but I could also see them completely ignoring it for now.
My guess is that there will be two pricing plans for iCloud: free and paid.
The free features, available to everyone with an Apple ID, will include the basic syncing services (contacts, calendars, bookmarks, 3rd-party apps) and small amount of file storage for sharing documents between devices.
The paid service will include the above, as well as the iTunes storage and streaming, email addresses, and extra storage. And I bet the price is dropped from $99/year to something closer to $49.
Here are my wild guesses of when I see these features being rolled between now and the end of the year:
June 6: iCloud announced at WWDC; new beta of Lion; beta of iOS 5 and corresponding SDK
At the June 6 keynote of WWDC I suspect we’ll see a preview of iOS 5, an announcement of iCloud, and an explanation of how integral iCloud will be in bringing OS X and iOS together.
It’s also likely that the iOS 5 beta will be made available for devs, and the updated SDK will allow for 3rd-party devs to utilize iCloud in their apps, and allow users to sync their app data between multiple iOS devices using their Apple ID.
July / August: Lion Ships
Lion is scheduled to ship this summer we may see it in July, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it shipped in early August. Apple has never shipped a version of OS X in June or July — 5 of the 7 major public releases of OS X have shipped in the fall (August, September, or October).
I expect that iCloud will first become available to the public as part of Lion and include the basic OTA Mac to Mac syncing and perhaps OTA Mac to iPhone syncing.
It’s probably that the iTunes locker will ship with iTunes on Lion. While it seems to make more sense that this feature would ship in September along side the music-centric iPod event, I think Apple is chomping at the bit to get iTunes streaming out to the public. Who knows, maybe it’ll come as a major update to iTunes in June.
September: iOS 5 Ships
Since the September iPod event is always focused around iPods and music, in some ways it makes sense that this is when the iTunes Music Locker feature is rolled out. But, as I said above, I think Apple wants iTunes streaming out sooner than the Fall.
I think the September event will focus on iOS 5 and will be the final stage of the iCloud rollout. This is when we’ll see the iTunes streaming come to our iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches, and hopefully our Apple TVs as well.
- Something else interesting about iCloud and the storage of our online media is that it would make Solid State Drives much more reasonable. I would not be surprised if the MacBook lineup got a refresh sometime this fall after Lion comes out and all of Apple’s notebooks begin shipping with SSDs as the default. ↵