Parallel Desktops

First impressions of iTunes 8

Since iTunes was released today I figured I’d try it out and see how it worked. It was a relatively quick download and included a new QuickTime Player update as well. All told it was 54.8MB for my Mac Pro and 67.5MB for my MacBook Pro.

After a reboot iTunes was ready to roll. It asked me if I wanted to turn the Genius on. Doing so requires that your song information is sent to Apple in an anonymous form so that trends in music can be established and dynamic playlists created. Here’s a link that tells you a little more about what Genius is actually doing behind the scenes.

The process of gathering this information, even on my monster of a Mac Pro with RAM and processors to spare, took a very, very long time. Granted, I have a rather large music collection, having put virtually every CD I had ever purchased into my collection, but wow. At least 3 hours, though it did work in the background and I could use iTunes to listen to my music while it was going on. Be prepared for a pretty long wait on this one.

Using iTunes
The majority of the interface remains the same, though there are now some additional options when you select Grid view. Within the grid view you can see your collection by Albums, Artists, Genres or Composers. The album art is then displayed, which really makes me wish I was more diligent about grabbing album art for my ripped CDs. This mode operates incredibly fast, scrolling very quickly through the entire collection.

There is now a Genius Sidebar that appears to the right of a selected Playlist. Apple is incorporating a lot of the iTunes store in there, something that likely will generate some more sales. Why? Well, if you select a song in your collection it shows top albums from that artist, a list of the “Top Songs You’re Missing” , an “Essentials” list and finally “Recommendations”. Each of the items in the list has a Buy button in it so it’s really simple to grab something that catches your fancy (ie. spend some money).

I was surprised to find that the “Top Songs You’re Missing” seemed to take into account what I had pretty well. I have several duplicates because of “Greatest Hits” collections, yet even when that was the only version of the song it didn’t appear to recommend a song I already owned.

Listening to the Genuis
Okay, so the cool part is selecting a song from the play list and clicking on the Genius button on the lower right status bar. It immediately creates a dynamic playlist from your existing collection. It’s kind of like listening to a radio station that specializes in the genre that you like to listen to. I’ve never been a big fan of simply listening to the random songs in my collection because it will switch from Michael Andrew’s version of Mad World to Burl Ives Holly Jolly Christmas. This technically will keep you listening to music that is basically similar, though it’s not without flaws in the initial version.

Listening to current, popular music seemed to generate some pretty good playlists for me. It was only when I went out on the edge that it had some trouble. I was shocked that this is what I got when I opened my 80s collections and tried to Rick-Roll myself:

Oh well, maybe that was intentional on Apple’s part.

Still, I do like the Genius feature and the generation of playlists. Great way of exploring my music without having to set up playlists beforehand.

Parallel Desktops

After a week with the iPhone, what’s great, what’s not

I’ve had my iPhone for a little over a week now and figure it’s a good time to settle in and talk about what I like and dislike about it. I have not really changed my calling habits too much as a result of having the iPhone; the way I use the phone in general is about the same as I’ve done in the past. Where it has changed my daily activities is in the additional stuff I can use it for outside of being a simple phone. No longer do I get stressed out about having to waste time standing in line or sitting in an airport terminal waiting for a family member’s flight to arrive. I simply whip out the iPhone and check my e-mail or hit the Newsgator mobile site to see if there are any new developments on my Washington Redskins.

I haven’t tried the full iPhone version because I’ve been so pleased with the web based model. I love the Safari web browser built into the iPhone. Other than Flash sites everything I’ve pulled up renders great and is readable easily by zooming in. If the font is reasonably sized I can sometimes pick it up without even having to zoom in. Scrolling is also a wonderful experience. The best part? Coming across a site that’s been optimized for the iPhone. This is going to be a requirement for any web products I build in the future. The 3G access in my area of Northern Virginia is excellent with 5 bars in many places, 4 in others. If I can’t tap into a good wireless spot the 3G provides a reasonable alternative. When I’m in Southern Delaware I don’t get 3G but I do get excellent Edge signal. It’s significantly slower than 3G though serviceable. Sending and receiving SMS messages with the iPhone is great.

I love the iChat style presentation since it makes carrying on a conversation much more natural. The fact that I have a real keyboard means that my text messaging conversations tend to be more human readable too. The Mail application is fantastic and works very well with my Gmail account. I love that it works with my online folders via IMAP, can quickly pull my recipients out of my Contacts and can deal with attachments so easily. Someone has a phone number in their e-mail sig and a simple tap allows me to call them. The Calendar application is a nice implementation of iCal, though I don’t like that fact that once I create an appointment I can’t seem to change it from Work to Home calendar. Since I sync my calendar through iTunes with iCal on my Mac if I make a mistake and place something on the wrong calendar I can change it there. The Contacts list is also a strong point, syncing seamlessly with my Mac Address Book.

I have found myself dropping in pictures for all of my contacts because it is so easy and I like seeing the face of the person calling me. The battery life on the iPhone has been decent for me, considering how I am using the device. I can generally get a full day out of a charge with reasonably heavy use. This is not a "I can go for 5 days before I have to charge my phone" kind of device; I plug it in at night while on the road or sync it up with iTunes on a daily basis when operating from my home office. Not quite perfect On the downside I’ve had to restart the iPhone a couple of times now after it locked up on me. There are also times that the iPhone can respond very slowly, especially in the Contacts application. If I activate it and then try to pull up a contact record or click on the alphabetical list on the right it can sometimes take about 5 seconds before I get a response. Once it starts being responsive everything is fine; it’s just that initial delay that’s an issue.

This is not a regular occurrence but it is often enough to be noticeable. If I could pick one feature that could be added to the iPhone that would be very helpful it would be a modest clipboard function for Copy/Cut/Paste. Finally the camera in the iPhone is pretty weak. If the lighting is perfect—basically outdoors on a bright day, sun at your back—it can take an excellent picture. Indoors with decent available light it can take reasonably good pictures. The lack of a flash and white balance controls makes it pretty unusable if there is any back-lighting. Want to take a picture of a person that has a window behind them? Forget about it. These little complaints aside I really am happy with the iPhone. When I consider all the things that the iPhone does brilliantly it makes the list of complaints I have seem pretty weak.