Rhapsody 2.0 App for iPhone/iPad/touch

This video really says it all.

Now, the implications are something else.  9,000,000 songs on my iPod touch for $9.99 a month sort of competes with what Apple is selling at their iTunes Store.  However, Rhapsody isn’t trying to sell songs to iPhone/iPod/touch users – in fact, if you click the buy button inside the Rhapsody 2.0 App, Rhapsody directs your request to iTunes.  That’s very gracious of Rhapsody.  Or was that the price for Rhapsody to get into Apple’s App Store?  I don’t know, but it works for me.  Why buy songs when you can rent them so cheaply?

I loaded the Rhapsody 2.0 App on my touch, logged in, picked my current favorite playlist, and started playing music.  A breeze.  All the existing playlists I’ve built on my regular Rhapsody account showed up.  Right now you can search on albums and songs within the app, and add them to a playlist for playing, but as this video promises, soon we’ll be able to play songs and albums directly, without adding them to a list.  Although, I’m thinking it might be easier to always use the playlist, but make one called “New Albums To Try” and then when Tuesday rolls around, put anything I want to listen to on it, and clean it out before next Tuesday.

And I tried the trick in the video of downloading my the songs in the playlist and then shutting off the Wi-Fi.  The 55 songs on my Songs Rated 10 played instantly.  Very cool.  I have a first generation iPod touch and it drains the battery very fast when Wi-Fi is on, so this is a great feature for me.

It took me a bit of poking to find the random play and repeat play buttons – they are hidden away on the song time scale that only shows up if you touch the screen near the top of the album cover.  When a song plays you get cover photo to look at, and behind it if you hit the info i button, you’ll get a short essay about the artist.  Overall, the app does everything I want but I’m expecting some nice surprises in future versions.

Rhapsody is a subscription music service and most music fans don’t cotton to that marketing model.  Those that do love it.  It’s another reason why Apple allowed Rhapsody in their app store, because renting music is so unappealing to the masses.  This latest version of Rhapsody (the service, not the app) is cheaper and has more features. 

And it makes a lot of sense to stream music to a phone where people have limited storage space.  I’d need a 128GB iPhone to store the songs I own.  Streaming 9 million songs works just as easily with an 8gb phone as a 16gb or 32gb model.  Because the Rhapsody 2.0 app lets you pick out albums using your mobile device, you don’t even have to mess with a desktop other than to sign up the first time.

Rhapsody is great for people who like to try a lot of new music.  It doesn’t take much effort to try out 20-30 new albums a month, and of those, I might add 10 songs to a playlist.  I won’t own those 10 songs, but I will have tried a lot of new albums.  It’s pretty cool to read your favorite music review magazine and just play the album while you’re reading the review.

It’s also convenient to have all your favorite songs and albums tagged into playlists for quick and easy access.  Think of an artist, group, album or song and type it in the search box.  If Rhapsody has it you can play it.  I’d say 90-95% of what you can think of is available.  There are a few famous holdouts, like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.  If I could convince Rhapsody to change anything, I’d ask them not to sell songs and albums from artists that don’t stream.  I don’t like paying to promote their work.

Generally where Rhapsody and other subscription services are weak is for finding out of print albums.  Of course, no one else is selling them either.  This is why people should still buy CDs.  Any time you find an album you really love, buy it on CD to save forever, because even in the digital world where keeping things in print would be a snap, albums disappear into obscurity.

JWH – 5/2/10

Repairing Broken iPhones

Everyone loves their iPhones, and until they drop their iPhone and smash the glass screen, they won’t know just how much they really love their iPhone and how much they can hate Apple and AT&T.  The iPhone isn’t engineered to be repaired, and its especially not designed for the average user to repair.  It could have been.  Until people get addicted to smart phones, and learn how easy it is to break them, and how expensive they are to replace, they’ll never ask why they can’t be repaired.  They should be easy to repair, but they aren’t.  Our throw-away society doesn’t promote that.  It’s a shame, because these elegant devices could have been easily engineered to allow owners to replace a broken screen, or a broken screen/LCD combo.  Actually, the glass touch screen and LCD should be one unit that could be quickly replaced with only a small screwdriver, for about $30-40, or at a repair shop for $60-70.

I’m a computer guy at work, so people tend to bring me their smart phones to configure for the Exchange server or ask for help and advice even though it’s not part of my job.  And some people have a knack for breaking their smart phones repeatedly.  The other day a young woman brought me her shattered iPhone and a repair kit she had bought online.  I told her I had no experience at repairing iPhones, couldn’t guarantee my work and iPhones weren’t designed to be opened by users.  She had seen several films on Youtube and urged me to try.  So I did – and we almost succeeded. 

It’s an extremely tedious process to replace the glass touch screen on an iPhone, and we succeeded, but unfortunately, in the process we damaged the LCD.  One online repair site kept telling us to use a hair dryer to soften the glue that holds the glass screen to the frame.  They should have warned us not to use the hair dryer before we had gotten the frame off the phone.  Here’s the best Youtube video we found.  It runs 5 parts.  Watch all 5 parts before thinking about doing this repair.  This video does cover the missing steps that other videos and web sites don’t cover, which is how to carefully remove the broken screen from the thin frame, and then how to remove all the old adhesive.  Even if you don’t need to repair an iPhone, these videos are an education in how smart phones are put together.

The iPhone I was working on was the third one this lady had dropped, and understandably AT&T wasn’t going to replace it.  They wanted $199 and two more years.  But since this woman is a poor graduate student, she couldn’t afford the price of replacement.  She started looking around the net and found various repair kits and videos.  Don’t be fooled, these are not easy and cheap solutions.  You can also shop around and find repair services that run $60-250 to repair an iPhone, including at your Apple Store for $199.  I would really advise using one of these services before going to the do-it-yourself route unless you are very patient, have great skills dealing with small parts, and are willing to risk failure.  We got everything back together and working but the LCD was blurry because of heat damage, so she had to order a replacement LCD. 

The young woman I was helping is buying a second touch screen now because the first one got a tiny crack in our first repair that got much larger in the second LCD repair, which she had found a Mac repair guy to help her with, and then got completely damaged in her day-to-day use.  I’m not sure these glass touch screen replacements are as sturdy as the original Apple screens.  She wants me to help her with the third repair, but I’m mentioning this because they teach another lesson.  If you start fixing iPhones, you’ll probably have to keep fixing them.  I’m urging the young woman to hone these skills herself if she remains poor and keeps breaking her phone. 

Another warning, it takes a lot of careful pressure to disassemble an iPhone and reassemble it, and you’re working with two very delicate parts:  the touch screen and the LCD.  If you break your iPhone regularly, developing the skills to replace the touch screen or LCD might be worth pursuing, otherwise, I’d recommend paying a service company to do the job and hopefully get a repair warranty.

Also the repairs are iffy at best because they require taking glued together parts apart, and then reassembling them with bits of two-side adhesive, and the results aren’t as solid as the original glued assembly.  They phones really were NOT meant to be repaired, but sadly they are easily broken.

The iPhone is a beautiful device on the outside, but on the inside its just a bunch of ordinary parts.  It’s a shame that it wasn’t designed in a modular fashion so replacing the screen/LCD only involved a few screws.  Ditto for the battery and memory.  If we’re going to save mother nature we need to build machines that last and are repairable.  The current design of the iPhone is obviously meant to sell more iPhones, and keep users tied to contracts.

What’s needed is a smart phone that’s completely modular in design so it can be easily repaired and upgraded, and one that isn’t tied to any phone service.  Phone and broadband data service is expensive because the cost of the phones are subsidized in the contracts.  We need to separate the phone from the service.  Remember when AT&T owned your household phones?**  Remember how cheap phones got once we got to own our own phones?  There’s no reason why smart phones should cost as much as they do other than that’s what the industry wants.  Cell phones are a commodity sold in the millions, so they should be cheap to make.  I’m hoping Android phones will bring down the price of the smart phone and the monthly cost of broadband service. 

I hope we can get phone makers to go green by making their phones repairable.  The iPhone I worked on should have had the touch screen and LCD as one solid piece that snaps onto the phone body, held in place by four tiny screws.  If the user breaks their phone, just buy that piece and replace it.  That way the phone could last years, making it a much greener device.

JWH – 2/6/10

**Kids, a long time ago phones were rented from Ma Bell, the affectionate name we gave AT&T, and when you cancelled your phone service you had to give back the phone.  This was before cell phones.  Most homes had only one phone, and it was tied to the wall with a stout wire.  Kids and parents would fight over sharing the phone.  Oh, and it came in one color, black.

iPhone Revelations

The iPhone is a disturbance in the Force.  The personal computer revolution, starting back in the 1970s, has gone through many radical paradigm shifts, with the most profound brought on by the Internet.  Ripples of change, caused by Apple’s telephone, indicate revolutionary upheavals in the fabric of the cybernetic collective.  In other words, Dudes and Dames, get ready to be impacted.  For over a decade now, tech philosophers predicted the total ascendance of the Internet browser as the Imperial Interface between the real world and the digital wonderland, but now the iPhone has accidently started a rebellion, one that might overthrow that Emperor IE.

Kids say the darnedest things, now in 140 characters or less.  They have rejected talk for texting, and email for tweets.  Going further, they jettison the bloated browser for tiny applets on the iPhone.  Strangely, the byproduct of selling to twitchy unfocused minds is writing programs with jewel-like simplicity where form dictates functionality.  But then, programming has always determined what percentage of the population embraces the geek lifestyle.

Take word processing.  Remember WordStar commands?  Back then mostly secretaries and lawyers were the only people to apply their brainpower to the task.  Then came Word Perfect, with its elegant text menu making a revolutionary advance over memorized commands.  Millions switched to doing their writing on a computer because of this.  Finally, came the GUI, and WYSIWYG, with Microsoft Word becoming the Cro-Magnon of word processors, killing off Neanderthal Word Perfect.

The Internet has been around longer than personal computers, but it wasn’t until it was combined with the GUI based web browser that the mundane Dick and Jane joined the nerd herd online.  The ascent of the browser, starting with Mosaic in 1993, has slowly crowded out almost every other fat client except Microsoft Office.  And cloud computing cowboys are programming as fast as they can to dethrone that King too.  The browser has evolved to the one-size-fits all condom on every computer.

Now Apple disturbs the Force with the iPhone, with netbooks out on the ocean, being the potential next tsunami to shake things up.  Programming for the 3.5” screen is changing the game.  Safari might be a dog that talks and dances, but who cares, it’s the applet mice at play that are pointing the way to the future.   Instead of relying on the browser that can do a billion things, people seem to prefer and handful of custom tools that fit their day-to-day on-the-go lifestyle.  All designed to work specifically and elegantly on a 3.5” screen with constant Interact access.  Until you play with an iPhone or iPod touch, you will not understand what I mean, and I don’t have enough time before bed to make point by point examples.  Seeing is believing.  Get your iPhone friends to demo their favorite apps.

Netbooks are machines with 10” screens.  If they becoming baby desktops, powered by IE or FireFox, they will not rippled the Force, but if, on the other hand, developers write programs customized for the 10” window like they did for the iPhone, and netbooks are universally combined with broadband connections, we should see another disturbance in the net hive mind.

The browser owns the 13” through 24” LCD display.  Browsers suck on 3.5” screens.  Browsers are annoying at best on 10” screens.  If netbook programmers take lessons from iPhone programmers and develop functionality for the 10” form, then we should see new application species emerging that will create new paths for computing users to take.  The iPhone has been the 1849 gold rush for programmers, and the netbook should become the Alaskan gold rush.  Lets see.

JWH – 7/6/9

Predicting Technological Change

In the last few days I’ve helped many people set up their new iPhones with the campus Exchange server and wireless registration.  I can’t even count how many people I know now that have an iPhone, but they tend to be young, but not always.  I don’t own an iPhone myself, but I do have an iPod touch.  I’m too cheap to own a smart phone, even though I would love to own an iPhone, I won’t allow myself to pay another big monthly communication’s bill. 

I’ve been working with computers since 1971, and have always been gadget crazy, but I’ve yet to join the craze over expensive cell phones.  That will change when I see the right netbook.

When people come to me for help with their iPhone, they like to show off all their favorite iPhone apps, and there are an amazing variety of these little programs.  Some apps, like games, are built on concepts that developed on the desktop computer.  Other apps, like those that help find restaurants or tell you what song is playing have evolved from needs of people on-the-go.

I used to tell people that the way to predict technological innovation was to forecast tech growth in gadgets that were jettison components with moving parts.  For example, the floppy disk.  It’s been replaced by the flash drive.  Soon the CD/DVD optical drive will disappear because of high speed networking.  And finally the hard drive will disappear because of solid state devices.  Looking at the phenomenon of netbooks shows off this trend.  They don’t have optical drives.  And many users try to ditch their spinning hard drives for SSD drives.

I should have taken my own advice, and not bought a Blu-Ray player because I have only played one Blu-Ray disc so far, and instead watched 14-15 downloads from Netflix.  The no moving parts of the Netflix feature on the LD BD390 is far more appealing than the Blu-Ray player with moving parts.

Now, besides telling people to watch for gadgets that have no moving parts, I tell friends, to keep an eye out for tech with programming geared for on-the-go tech users.  That’s part of what I was getting at with my last post “My Life on a Hard Drive.”  It appears that netbooks should kindle the same excitement as iPhones.

I was watching Brink, a show on the Science Channel the other night, and they were showing off a wearable video projector that allowed people to use their hands to interact and play with computer screens  projected onto almost any kind of surface.  This gadget has no moving parts, and it’s designed for on-the-go computing.  I can easily imagine future netbooks or iPhones with a built in video projector.

One class of apps that my young iPhone acquaintances are showing me are those that help find places to eat.  None of the people I hang out with have an iPhone, we’re all too old and cheap, but one of us needs to get one, because we always argue so much about where to eat that’s new and not boring.  The idea of every nearby eatery and their menu popping up on a screen based on location is just too cool, even for us old farts.

Now think about where tech wizards could take this concept.  Last weekend I wanted a copy of The Kings of Leon’s latest album, and the only nearby place I could think to shop was Target.  I drove over only to be disappointed.  What if I had an app that told me ahead of time all the places that were selling the CD and its price.  Won’t this trump Amazon.com?   Or what if I was in my local Borders and wanted to know where a book was shelved, so instead of asking a clerk, my phone could just tell me.  I’m sure you can think of several good apps now, related to being somewhere and wanting instant information.

Of course, this leads to another prediction.  Future tech seems to put people out of work.  I’m getting very close to not wanting to buy music CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, magazines or books because of technological alternatives.  If I can listen to music, watch movies, read books and magazine articles all on a netbook or iPhone, why would I want to acquire all the physical crap required to store media I can get easier via the net?

Notice something?  My habits are changing and they just invalidated the suggested ideas I had for new on-the-go apps.  Any shopping app I predict shouldn’t involve buying things like CDs, DVDs, and other physical storage tech that’s being outdated by digital tech.  We’ll want apps not to buy stuff, but to get services like food, movies, plays, tourist sites, concerts, etc.  Again, on-the-go over the impulse to acquire.

Some stuff, like clothes, I don’t think will be replaced by tech.  Who really wants to wear a computer?  Unless the fabric design is computerized.  But I predict we’ll want smaller wardrobes because of our rolling stone natures. 

But the same predictions about computer tech can be applied to automobile tech.  Electric cars have fewer parts.  They promote on-the-go lifestyles.  The goal is to get to a point where you don’t buy physical fuel.  By the same token, mass transit does away with owning something with moving parts. 

Look at computer games.  The trend is away from buying discs to getting games off the net, and to carry around devices where you can play games anywhere.  Also, the trend is to combine devices.  Why have a phone and a portable game unit when you can have an iPhone?  Why have a GPS and travel books, when an iPhone can replace them?  Why have a camera and voice recorder when you can have an iPhone?

The question becomes:  Will the iPhone become the super gadget, or will it be the netbook?  The flip phone was too small, and the laptop too big.  What will meet in the middle?

As a society become more mobile, all of us get tired of carry around so much junk.  Every time I moved in my life, I always had more junk than the previous move, more boxes of books, LPs, CDs and other stuff.  The next time I move, I’m going to have less.  I’ve already gotten rid of my LPs.  I’m thinning out CDs.  I’m switching from buying DVDs to Netflix.  I’ve stopped buying CDs because of Rhapsody, Zune, Lala and Pandora.  I keep my photos on my computer.  And my dream retirement would be to travel light and live in a different city every six months.  See the trends?  You don’t need a crystal ball and a turban on your head to play tech swami.

But here’s a prediction that might not be so obvious.  I think programming should be nearing a breakthrough where educational computing makes a comeback.  Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, personal computing and educational software were all the rage.  People felt obligated to buy their kids computers.  Everyone talked about computer literacy.  But programs that taught never panned out.  

Online courses and degrees are a huge growth industry in the education business.  Notice the connection to on-the-go people.  Eventually the market for apps that help us get more services will saturate.  Sooner or later, I think we’ll see iPhone and netbook apps that help us learn and study.  We have portable music, portable TV shows, and portable audio books, why not portable lectures?  It’s like having a school without teachers.   The Teaching Company’s Great Courses would be fantastic on the netbook screen.  And see, this educational angle may turn the tide against the iPhone to the netbook as the on-the-go device of just the right size.

JWH – 7/1/9  

Kindle for iPhone/iPod touch

I bought the Kindle when it first came out but ended up selling it to my friend who read more books than I did and traveled far more often.  I discovered that I prefer to listen to books on my iPod rather than read them on paper or the Kindle.  My Kindle found a good home with Linda.  It’s been to Paris, all over the U.S. and Mexico, and its getting a lot more use.

However, when Amazon announced that it was releasing the free Kindle for iPhone today I jumped at the chance to try it on my iPod touch.  It took all of a minute to find, install and connect to my old Kindle library at Amazon.  There were a handful of books I bought, and a few Linda had bought while testing my Kindle, and it took much less than a minute to copy one to my touch to read.  Everything was completely simple, intuitive and perfect.  Reading is about like reading with my eReader program.

Kindle reading on the iPod touch is very nice.  The font sizing is adjustable, and the text is very sharp and dark.  The screen page real estate is much smaller than the Kindle, but not bad.  Both the Kindle and the touch have a narrow viewing area, which means the eyes have an easy time scanning back and forth.  With the Apple device you must page more often.  I’m happy enough.  Who knows, maybe I’ll start eyeball reading more often.

Since I sold the Kindle there have been times when I wished I still had one when browsing Amazon and seeing a book I wanted that’s much cheaper than a hard copy.  Especially for instant accessibility.  Although I prefer to listen to audio books, there are times when I have to read with my eyes.  I’m in two book clubs and often the monthly selections for discussion are not available on audio.  More often than not, they aren’t available for the Kindle either, but when ordering these old classic science fiction novels on Amazon, I keep seeing that notice that encourages authors to provide a Kindle edition.

Lucky for me Audible.com is actually reprinting tons of classic SF.  It’s strange waiting to see which high tech technology old science fiction will show up on first.  I’m currently listening to The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov after finishing an audio edition of The Green Hills of Earth by Heinlein.  But I considered it a bummer that Babel-17 by Delany was only available in a dead tree edition.

I especially prefer ebook reading when the book I want to read is large and heavy to hold, like The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited 4th edition, a biography of the great 1960s rock group by Johnny Rogan.  The damn tome is as big as War and Peace.  I have to fold a pillow in my lap to hold it up.  An ebook version to read would be wonderful.

The Kindle for iPhone app is a killer idea from Amazon.  No, they won’t sell another Kindle 2.0 for each new user, but they will get more converts to ebook reading.  Plus, if you’re a Kindle user who wants to read in bed without a nightlight, just load your book on an iPhone/touch.

There is no ordering books from Amazon through the Apple device, unless you use the tiny Safari.  What Amazon expects you to do is shop while on your big computer.  Books you buy for your Kindle library will show up on the little device and are easily transferred.  I hope they make Kindle readers for desktops, laptops, netbooks, notebooks, PDAs and smart phones.  I also hope Amazon license’s the software technology so other ebook makers can join the Kindle revolution.

Sadly, there seems to be no feature for reading on your Kindle for iPhone app the kinds of documents (.doc, .pdf) that you can send to your real Kindle.  I only see books that I bought at Amazon and archived in my Kindle library.   I was able to send books I bought for my Fictionwise.com library to my old Kindle, but I can’t do that now.  I can get those Fictionwise books through my eReader.

Who knows, I might learn to like reading again and buy another Kindle.  I was mighty tempted by that text to speech feature.

JWH – 3/4/9