“Apple’s stock began to swoon in after-hours trading, and today it’s down 12 percent. Commentators are saying that Apple has “hit a wall,” that it is “slowing down,” that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Apple’s “magic.” All of that is totally bogus.”
Apple earnings report: Don’t let its stock slump fool you—the company is stronger than ever. - Slate Magazine
Apple defenders always obsess over the profits and stock prices, and while Majoo’s article here acknowledges in the very last sentence that Apple needs to do a little more than just make money to prove its post-Jobs worth, this is another lack of acknowledgement that Apple has spent the last year being wholly underwhelming:
- iTunes 11 was a big misstep that fixed nothing and broke several things.
- The iPad mini was one of the first times we’ve seen Apple clamoring to answer its competitors rather than the other way around.
- The iPhone 5 was an even smaller step up from the 4s than the 4s was from the 4, suggesting Apple is no longer capable of delivering big when they promise big.
I’m not saying that Apple is going to go bust or anything, and they’ll still have at least several more years of sick profitability, but as many people have pointed out recently, Google is the tortoise to Apple’s hare. Their iPhone apps are better than Apple’s and the Android share is growing, and even if their two breakthrough products—Glass and self-driving cars—aren’t much more than things to keep us excited, they’re keeping us excited. Apple is not. And isn’t that more than enough for us to wonder if Apple is no longer capable of being the exciting, leading company that made so many of us pay for those “premium products”?
iTunes Up Next is just iTunes DJ minus all the good parts
You’ll probably read a lot of writeups about the failings of iTunes 11, but I feel pretty confident that you won’t read (m)any others that complain about the replacing of the iTunes DJ with the Up Next feature.
I loved iTunes DJ. I started out wondering what the hell it could possibly be used for, like everyone else. But I came to realize it was the best way to listen to music on shuffle. I had control of what was coming up, I could throw a full album or a song in there at the beginning or the end, and best of all, I could poke around the rest of my iTunes library without disrupting the flow of songs I had in the queue.
I was pretty shattered when I saw that iTunes DJ had been removed in 11, but I gave it a chance anyway. Maybe the new “Up Next” feature was just DJ with a different name?
It is not. It’s harder to control, it’s harder to start, it’s much more disruptive when you want to switch from one playlist to another (DJ would let you play out a song before switching to the new playlist), it doesn’t allow you to throw in a podcast episode into the playlist like iTunes DJ did, it doesn’t let you see the full song and file detail in the list of upcoming songs, and it’s much easier to throw your upcoming songs out of whack, suddenly seeing a single song that’s getting ready to play rather than the playlist you were expecting.
Another strike for Apple. If I didn’t love their OS so much (or at least prefer it much more than Windows), I’d swear off their products.
“As with many of the features and services Apple has touted in the past, Passbook sounded great in theory. In practice, though, Apple’s rollout of Passbook has been the quietest and most low-key since the company announced Ping—and we all know what happened to that.”
One month in, iOS 6’s Passbook barely passes go | Macworld
This article presents Passbook as though its biggest flaw is that vendors haven’t adopted it enough. But have you tried it? To call it unintuitive would be generous. I started using it as someone who was honestly interested in what it was and how it could work, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Passbook is an interface for individual company’s apps that…are grouped together by Passbook? Made operational by Passbook? What the hell is Passbook?!
If those of us inclined to try it out because of our tech curiousness, just imagine someone who went with Apple because “it just works”.
I can’t be the only one thinking that post-Jobs Apple is becoming exactly the company that naysayers predicted post-Jobs Apple would be.
Comparisons on cloud storage offerings and pricings
With yesterday’s launch of Google Drive, I thought I’d do a quick comparison of the various cloud storage options, especially with their pricing for upgrading and/or features.
…has several options on upgrading space, but the free option is kind of mysterious to me: 5 GB of GDrive, 10 GB of gmail, 1 GB of Picasa. Why split them out like that? Why not just give everyone 15 GB, let them use it throughout Google as they want, and then pay to upgrade? The split between Google Drive (where you can sync photos if you want), Picasa (1 GB limit) and Google+ photos (unlimited space) is especially confusing.
The upgrade prices are decent: $2.50/month for 25 GB of storage, $5/month for 100 GB of storage and $50 a month for 1 TB. Now let’s compare it to the others:
…gives you 2 GB for free, and then lets you complete tasks, connect accounts and get referrals for extra space. I’m up to almost 15 GB, but while the game-like feel of tracking down free space is fun for a while, I hate having to do it just to have enough room.
Their upgrade plans are decent, but don’t look as good now that Google Drive has launched: 50 GB for $10/month or $100/year is competitive with Google’s 25 GB plan, but their 100 GB of storage is $200/year or about $16.50 a month, a great deal more than Google Drive’s $5 a month. And a TB or more is really only for enterprise at this point, so you don’t even have that option.
Basically, Dropbox is going to have to seriously look at their pricing and storage space plans if they’re going to want to compete with Google in the long run.
…gives the usual 5 GB for free, with storage upgrades:
- 10 additional GB (15 GB total): $20/year
- 20 additional GB (25 GB total): $40/year
- 50 additional GB (55 GB total): $100/year
Very competitive pricing to Google Drive, but as far as I can see, it caps out at 55 GB. And while I haven’t used iCloud much, the little I used it, I wasn’t impressed. It was one of the places where Apple’s “walled garden” strategy fails. Files sync across Macs just fine, but what about those of us who use both? It’s not even a consideration to replace Dropbox.
…generally gets ignored in these conversations, because we’re all long conditioned to ignore Microsoft’s offerings, but it’s actually a pretty good deal: 7 GB for free, and then to add 20 GB, it’s $10/year and $50/year for 100 GB. They have a Dropbox-like syncing tool…and even one for Macs! The 7+20 GB model blows Google and Dropbox out of the water, and their 7+100 GB plan is $10 cheaper than Google’s 100 GB plan.
…is one of the most frustrating. I have 50 GB of storage, thanks to connecting my phone to the service, and they offer 5 GB for free to start, but their syncing tool—which is what everyone loves about Dropbox—only comes with an upgrade, which costs $16 a month.
Now, I get that Box.net seems mostly primed for enterprise use, but if they want to have any shot of competing with Google in the personal market, they have to offer than syncing tool for free.
- I’m still loyal to Dropbox, but the convenience of Google Drive is hard to pass up. I can have Dropbox, GDrive and SkyDrive alongside each other for a while, though the segregation will likely get annoying.
- Both Box.net and Dropbox need to seriously consider their paid plans. Google Drive (and SkyDrive) are priced too competitively for individuals to consider anything else for paid storage.
- There’s not much need for me to pay for an upgrade. My cloud storage needs are to a) have some files available on all computers, which Dropbox does nicely for me (and now I have Google Drive & SkyDrive alongside it), and b) to have all of my music backed up and available from the cloud, but all of the plans big enough for my music collection are still too prohibitively expensive.
- I’m still a little disappointed that cloud storage hasn’t gotten larger and cheaper in the last five years. It seems like that was the way it was going, but 1 TB of cloud storage is still not really cheap enough for the vast majority of us to consider it as an option. Read another way: the idea of having everything available everywhere is still out of reach for most of us.
A few initial thoughts on Google Drive
- Everyone’s comparing it to Dropbox (for obvious reasons), but this is a huge deal to Microsoft and Apple. Neither of them have been able to touch Google in the cloud documents space already, and this just puts Google that much further ahead.
- I’m kind of surprised that they only offer 5 GB off the bat. Maybe they’re just competing with Dropbox at this point, but it seems kind of silly that gmail (which you can use for storage) is going up to 10GB. Why not let Gdrive be 10GB?
- I do wish that the pricing for extra storage was a little cheaper. It’s still pretty cheap, but when I think about how, five years ago, people were talking about how storage was getting cheaper and cheaper, it seems to have hit a point where it isn’t getting any cheaper or larger.
- I’ll really have to use it to give it a fair shake, because the intro video is relatively worthless in really explaining how it’ll work, but does anyone else feel like it’s basically just a backend to Google Docs?
A few ill-formed thoughts on Apple’s iCloud
There’s a lot to process on Apple’s iCloud Super Fun Happy Jamboree kEyNoT_E™ from yesterday. It all happened with Apple’s usual boasts that they’re doing something totally new (they so aren’t) and with the excitement that only Apple can generate in not doing something new: they almost always seem to do it better.
Here’s a bunch of poorly thought-out thoughts on it all:
A pretty good chunk of iCloud seems just like Mobile Me with a different name and a little cleaned up and optimized. But with the weird restrictions (photos are stored for 30 days?) and the 5 GB of space, I’m not really sure this is the service that’s going to move the average user to device independence and “change the way we use computers”.
The part I’m most interested in is the iTunes in the cloud, and their “one more thing” of iTunes Match. Basically, this service is what Lala did: recreates your library in the cloud. iTunes Match promises that if it will only have to upload your songs to the cloud if it can’t find it in the library of what they sell. But the iTunes cover finder tells me it can’t find album covers that I can see that they have in the store. Why should I think that they’ll be able to match music any better?
In other words, where Apple promises that your iCloud music will be synced in “minutes”, don’t believe it. It’s still going to take a pretty good long while, and those of us with 100 GB+ music libraries will still be waiting a long time.
We still haven’t seen much. Do playlists sync? Can you download some songs for offline access? I also wonder how this is going to work with ISPs and phone companies beginning to charge for larger uses of bandwidth. We’re constantly told that it’s only a select few people that go past the monthly limit, but when average people start streaming all their music at all times, won’t that start putting a whole lot more people past the limits? There may be a fight brewing here.
And this bugs me: “Users get 5 GB of storage for free”. As long as we’re still talking about 5 GB here and 2 GB there and “pay for 20 GB”, we won’t be living our lives fully in the cloud. iCloud is taking a step forward, but it’s a small one. This is an improvement in convenience for Apple users, but it’s really more of a necessary move rather than something that will get anyone getting anxious to switch to a Mac.
Seven features that would make a cloud iTunes offering immediately superior
After thinking a little more about the post I wrote on Saturday about how Apple’s deals with the major labels aren’t really that much of an advantage, I started thinking about what Apple could do with their cloud music offering that would truly make it immediately and obviously superior to what Google and Amazon have to offer. Any conversation I have with like-minded music geeks about music in the cloud always ends up the same way: that the products so far are interesting, but aren’t really worth our while. Too slow, too inaccessible, not enough storage, not worth the cost.
But what features could Apple offer that would trump Amazon and Google, and just as importantly, actually make it worth spending money on?
Make it sync exactly with iTunes
Deals with the major labels will only do so much. Apple needs to figure out a way that your cloud iTunes library looks exactly like your desktop iTunes library. I’m one of those music/Apple geeks that The Onion made fun of
with an “immaculately maintained iTunes library”, and so if my smart playlists and tags don’t mirror what I have at home, it’s a service that’s only going to have limited use for me. I’ll only turn to it when I’m desperate to hear something that I don’t have on my iPod. This is a feature that’s a must for me for a cloud iTunes to be more than a curiosity.
Make it an actual music locker/backup for your music
This is highly unlikely, both because of the label’s copyright concerns and user’s privacy concerns, but if they could have it actually upload the exact music files that you have on your machine which could be downloaded again in case of a hard drive fail, that would give them a huge advantage.
Amazon already has a limited version of this, in that if you buy music from their mp3 store, it’ll store them for you at no charge to the space and allow you to download the files, giving you a backup of everything you buy in the Amazon store.
Have an unlimited-space cloud music player, like Lala
I guess there are plenty of people who have music libraries below 20 GB, but I don’t know very many. Now, I tend to be friends with some hardcore music nerds, and I know I’m biased towards my kind, but until a service can offer something that the music nerds will use and love, nothing is going to lead the pack.
Only require uploads for songs not in the iTunes library
This is the feature that people seem to think that Lala had: that you start the uploader program, and if it matches something in the library, it doesn’t require the lengthy upload process for that song. People keep claiming that Lala had, but if they did, then I had a LOT of music that wasn’t in the Lala library, because it took months for all my music to be uploaded.
Allow listening to full albums and songs without adding to your library
This was the real beauty of Lala, and I don’t get why no one else has done it. I assume it’s because paying those royalties eats way too much into the profits. But being able to go and check out a full album out of curiosity was fantastic, and thereason I really miss Lala.
Drop Ping and incorporate Lala’s social features
I discovered a lot of great music simply through seeing what the people I was following were listening to and liking. This is almost a given in any cloud music offering that Apple will have, but they need to make it much better. Ping is worthless.
Ability to listen to your cloud library on the iPhone (at least)
This is another feature that’s all but certain, but it’s going to take some real smarts to make it good. If streaming my music starts eating a big chunk of my usage minutes, why wouldn’t I just turn back to the iPod app instead of listening in the cloud?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Apple’s deals with major music labels will not be a factor in the cloud player competitions
TechCrunch (among others) has been drooling over Apple starting to sign licensing deals with some of the major music labels for their inevitable (and, from the looks of it, coming soon) cloud music player/storage, finally making good on their purchase of the much-missed Lala.
The standard line is that, because Apple is succeeding where both Amazon and Google failed in getting the major labels, that they’ll beat their competitors handily. But what that assumption misses is that success in this area will have nothing to do with major labels. It will only have to do with the quality of the product. Now, Apple has a reputation for turning our quality products, so there’s no reason to believe that they won’t have a better product, but the deals with the music labels will be a minor factor into the quality of the product they’re able to turn out.
TechCrunch keeps mentioning how the agreements with the labels means that Apple will be able to provide a product that won’t require the user to spend weeks (or even months) uploading their music libraries to the cloud, saying that Lala was able to do that. But if they were able to do that, the feature wasn’t there when I joined Lala, because if took several months of uploading for me to get my library to the cloud. And even when I did, I only turned to the cloud player when I really wanted to listen to something that I didn’t have on my iPod. Which happened rarely, partly because what I want to listen to when I’m out is usually on my iPod, and partly because Lala’s cloud player was usable, but slow.
Lala’s greatness was in the ability to listen to full albums and not just 30 or 90 second samples without purchasing them. If Apple’s deals with the major labels allow them to do that, then that will be a huge advantage for them. But they haven’t done that in the iTunes store, and there were reports that Lala was losing money because of that face when they were purchased by Apple, so unless Apple has figured out a way to recreate that feature from Lala (and make money at it), they’re not going to have too much of a leg up on Amazon.
Even if Apple’s deals with the labels means that the uploading process is a lot faster, it’s still going to depend on the usability (and affordability) of the player itself that determines it’s success, and there’s no point in guessing whether they’ll be able to do that or not until we’ve seen their actual product.