Clarifying the Apple Music DRM Situation

My apologies to Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore,1 for liberally quoting her piece here, but I have complaints. Not with Caldwell, but with what this piece means:

Just like with the company’s iTunes Match service, Apple Music allows you to upload the music you own on your Mac to iCloud; from there, you can stream and download it using your iCloud Music Library to your other devices.

Apple’s upload algorithm for Apple Music works in two parts. First, it scans your library for any tracks that also happen to be in Apple Music, and matches those together—so when you download a copy of your song on a different Mac, iPhone, or iPad, you’re getting the high-quality 256kbps version from the Apple Music catalog.

Then, any songs it can’t match, it uploads directly to iCloud; when you download a copy of those songs on a different device, you’re getting the same file you had on your Mac.

This all sounds exactly like iTunes Match, with one tiny exception:

… you’re getting the high-quality 256kbps version from the Apple Music catalog.

Not the iTunes catalogue — the Apple Music one. iTunes lacks DRM; Apple Music has DRM. That’s the difference: it’s subtle, and it’s poorly-explained. iCloud Music Library is a completely different pitch to that of iTunes Match and iCloud Photo Library, despite sounding similar, if not identical.

Here’s what Apple says about iTunes Match:

With iCloud, the music you buy from the iTunes Store automatically appears on all your devices. And for music you haven’t purchased from iTunes, iTunes Match is the perfect solution, letting you store your entire collection in iCloud — even music you’ve imported from CDs or purchased somewhere other than iTunes.

And for iCloud Photo Library:

iCloud Photo Library helps you make the most of the space available on each of your devices by automatically storing the original high-resolution photos and videos in iCloud and leaving behind the lightweight versions that are perfectly sized for each device — taking up only as much space as needed.

Reading between the lines, these pitches sound like Apple is saying “Hey, don’t worry about your ever-increasing media libraries taking up way too much space on all your devices. Leave it with us, and we’ll keep it safe.”

Here’s the pitch for Apple Music:

Your entire library lives in iCloud when you’re an Apple Music member. First, we identify all the tracks in your personal collection and compare them to the Apple Music library to see if we have copies. If we do, we make them instantly available in iCloud across all your devices. If you have music that’s not in the Apple Music library, we upload those songs from iTunes on your Mac or PC. And because it’s all stored in iCloud, it won’t take up any space on your devices.

Sounds pretty much the same, doesn’t it? And it has a similar name to iCloud Photo Library, so you’d expect it to behave in a similar way. But it does not. Caldwell, continued:

So what gets DRM? Any matched track you download to another device. It gets DRM because the file itself is coming directly from the Apple Music catalog, which, as we established above, has DRM on it.

Uploaded tracks that you re-download will never get DRM, because they’re not coming from the Apple Music catalog.

So: tracks that are matched to the gigantic Apple Music catalogue will have DRM applied when you download them again, whether that’s to your iOS device, or another Mac that doesn’t have the song in its local library. Apple will just store, locker style, tracks that you upload, like a live bootleg recording or something recorded by a local band that isn’t on Apple Music (or the Beatles). This is almost identical behaviour to that of iTunes Match, with the exception that tracks are being matched to the DRM-laden Apple Music catalogue, not the DRM-free iTunes catalogue.

So this makes sense:

That said: Do not upload all your tracks from iTunes to iCloud, then delete the local copy on your Mac. If you do that, you’re getting rid of your original, DRM-free copies. And you’re leaving yourself without a physical backup of your data, which I never, ever recommend.

It’s probably a bad idea to be without a local backup of your music, but that’s almost what it sounds like with iTunes Match: store everything in the cloud, and you’ll have it available any time you want. It isn’t as risky because the files are DRM-free, and are of a good enough quality (256 kbps AAC) that most people really won’t care that they’re not the “original” files.

Apple Music and iCloud Music Library are pitched so closely, and the nuanced differences are not explained very well. Yet, these differences are incredibly important to know, because a normal person could reasonably consider their library to be safely off their computer, readily accessible when it’s needed, and largely recoverable if they were to switch to a different service.

This is an article that Serenity Caldwell should not have had to write. Not because of some of the FUDdier articles around,2 but because Apple should be more clear about the difference between Apple Music and iTunes. I would bet actual money that Apple wanted to — in essence — add these features onto the existing iTunes library, but were prohibited from doing so by record labels.

The reality is more confusing than that, and Caldwell’s article helps clarify it somewhat, but I still feel a bit lost in an array of very similar products. If this sounded simple to you before reading Caldwell’s article or mine — two libraries of music with two similar matching products that behave in differing ways — you seem to be one of very few.

  1. I have my reservations about linking to this page — or, indeed, anything from Mobile Nations: depending on the ads on the page, I’m seeing over 2,000 errors and 80,000 warnings generated by the advertising and analytics scripts on the site. iMore’s site continues to be a wart on the web, and it’s barely tolerable that this hasn’t been fixed. ↩︎

  2. Thanks to Cult of Mac for reliably being the serious counterpart to Gizmodo while retaining similar journalistic integrity↩︎

iTunes Disconnect

Earlier this week, I asked what the new iTunes Connect features are like for artists. Dave Wiskus happens to be both a musician and a writer, and answers pretty much all of my questions in this post. In short, Connect sounds clunky and overwrought, and there’s this:

I can see no way to invite people to follow us on Connect. I can share the link. I can even tweet about it. Yet there’s no way to know how many followers we have, encourage people to follow us, or directly engage with anyone who hasn’t already purchased a song from us on iTunes. That feels broken.

Indeed, it does. Based on Wiskus’ documentation, it looks like it lacks the litheness of Twitter, the scale and engagement of Facebook, and the demo tape feel of SoundCloud. I don’t quite know what to make of it yet.

And then there’s this:

[Update: I got an email from Trent Reznor this afternoon. Apple is aware of the growing pains and is working to address them.]

Damn you, Dave.

Shining a New Spotlight on Spotlight

Like Ben Brooks, I switched over to Spotlight from my “power user” search utility — in my case, Alfred — shortly after Yosemite launched, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s grown up a lot, and feels way, way faster than it ever did previously. It’s pretty much exactly what I need. I do still have it mapped to Option-Space, though.

EU Plans to Ruin Net Neutrality

Glyn Moody, Ars Technica:

A two-tier Internet will be created in Europe as the result of a late-night “compromise” between the European Commission, European Parliament and the EU Council. The so-called “trilogue” meeting to reconcile the different positions of the three main EU institutions saw telecom companies gaining the right to offer “specialised services” on the Internet. These premium services will create a fast lane on the Internet and thus destroy net neutrality, which requires that equivalent traffic is treated in the same way.

Awful news. This sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world.

iCloud Music Library Woe

A classic Apple cloud service launch. Have a backup.

Update: Reddit user OMGshNicholas (not me) says [sic]:

Apple music added the song “no better” by lorde into one of my playlists six million times. Now my iTunes crashes every time I open it. What. The. Fuck.

What the fuck, indeed.

DRM Is the Difference Between iTunes Match and iCloud Music Library

Kirk McElhearn:

When you match and download files from iCloud Music Library (without having an iTunes Match subscription), however, you get files with DRM; the same kind of files you get when you download files from Apple Music for offline listening.

This means that if you’ve matched your library with Apple Music and iCloud Music Library, you need to keep backups of your original files. If not, you’ll end up with files that you can’t play without an Apple Music subscription.

This is a really confusing aspect of Apple Music. iCloud Music Library has the same 25,000-song restriction as iTunes Match and does pretty much the same thing, so I figured it would behave similarly. Because of this, I thought iTunes Match would be made redundant by iCloud Music Library and be discontinued.

It doesn’t behave the same way, though: iCloud Music Library serves DRM’d versions of your music back to you regardless of where you purchased or ripped it from. But you can still add a $25 per year iTunes Match subscription to your $10 per month Apple Music subscription and get the same DRM-free behaviour. Apple doesn’t explain this very well, and I wasn’t able to test it because my library exceeds the limit (for now). I think that I’ll just be streaming music for now, and not relying upon Apple Music quite yet.

Update: Marco Arment:

I bet iTunes Match gets Google Readered within a year. Don’t get too attached…

This would explain why the details are a little fuzzy. If Match is getting phased out, it might be less confusing when the differences are not fully explained. But for someone who understands the difference, it also feels deceptive, if unintentionally so.

Assorted Thoughts and Observations About Apple Music

It’s only been a day since Apple launched their newest streaming music service, so the thoughts I have about it are fairly preliminary and would probably comprise several shorter posts. For convenience, they’re here in a bulleted list.

  • Listening to Beats 1’s first hour of broadcasting was the most fun I’ve had with a radio station in a long time. It’s pretty clear that Zane Lowe is stoked about its launch, and his enthusiasm is infectious. The other main DJs — Ebdo Darden and Julie Adenuga — are equally exciting. Their energy makes the difference between listening to the playlist and listening to the radio.

  • Launching with a little-known band feels like it harkens back to the days when Apple could serve an artist their career on a silver platter simply by being in an iPod ad. Those days have faded somewhat, with the company opting for far bigger names to close out their events — U2, Foo Fighters, and Elvis Costello, to name a few.

    In fact, the first hour and a half of Beats 1’s broadcast was a great blend of big-name artists and lesser-known acts. Sure, there were tracks from Dr. Dre, AC/DC, and Eminem, but Lowe also played songs by Courtney Barnett, Day Wave, and Wolf Alice.

    I think Apple is very honest and genuine when they say that they love music. I don’t think it’s marketing spin or a way for them to try to acknowledge the iPod’s role in their current success. In addition to the business case, the amount of attention they’re putting into all of the different facets of Apple Music is a reflection of this love and passion for making music listening better.

  • As I alluded to above, the presence of an actual engaged DJ is what separates a playlist from a radio station. It’s what’s missing from most actual radio stations these days, and what works so well with Beats 1. Not only does it create excitement, it also offers some continuity, or at least an explanation of why different songs are being played. Ebdo Darden played Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Otis”, and then chased it with “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding. Why? Because “Otis” sampled Otis in a big way, and hearing that connection is important for understanding its context in the song. It allows listeners a way to appreciate the artistry and creativity of both artists.

  • On the other hand, Beats 1 doesn’t depart that much from terrestrial radio in ways it could on the internet. There are still too many station idents (“You are listening to Beats 1″) and ad breaks (though way shorter than typical radio stations).

    There’s also no profanity or objectionable lyrics. I understand that Apple wants to keep this family-friendly, and that some people just don’t want to listen to profane lyrics, but it does feel a little jarring to listen to Dr. Dre’s classic “Let Me Ride” with a bunch of the lyrics reversed because they contain references to drugs and violence. It numbs the song of its intentional bite.

    There are ways of doing a split stream, so an explicit stream can be broadcast alongside a clean stream, both live. Art isn’t always clean and family-friendly, and I think Apple’s insistence that it should be neuters songs that use less savoury lyrics for artistic effect.

    Darden, for example, played Jay-Z’s classic “99 Problems”. With the last word removed, the line “rap critics say that he’s ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’” has less connection to the lines that follow, wherein he dismantles the notion that he only talks about wealth and women. Similarly, the storytelling in the infamous second verse is harder to follow when some of the more profane lyrics are removed.

    Or you could take Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, with the wonderfully crude chorus “I wanna fuck you like an animal”. Drop the protagonist’s spitting “fuck” and it becomes much weaker.

    You could argue that it’s the artists’ fault for including objectionable lyrics, but I think that there’s a valid case for profanity, and that “99 Problems” and “Closer” are accessible songs that make liberal use of it. Removing it from those songs — as with many, many others — neuters the artists’ intent.

  • All of the Beats hosts seem very excited that they’re broadcasting to 100 countries worldwide, 24/7. Did you know that they’re broadcasting to 100 countries worldwide, 24/7? Well they’re broadcasting to 100 countries worldwide, 24/7.

    Doing a worldwide live music station is a potential programming nightmare, though. When I was in high school, I worked in the sound booth for a local theatre company. One of the other technicians was a guy who used to work as a radio host, and he was telling me that the programming they had for different times of day was carefully controlled, particularly in the evening. Past midnight, internal policy dictated that the DJs couldn’t play anything by the Smiths, for example, because it would be just too depressing for anyone awake at that time of night.

    But it’s even simpler than that. When it’s 8:00 in Los Angeles, it’s 4:00 in London, and midnight in Tokyo. The music someone wants to listen to during their morning commute is probably different to the music they’d want to listen to during an afternoon commute or late-night partying.

    Understanding Beats 1’s role in your music listening is complicated. For some people, like those who get most of their new music from the radio already, it could be the first thing they put on in the morning and the last thing they listen to at night. But for someone like me, who more deliberately chooses music by my mood or time of day, it’s a little more like a place to go when I am more interested in simply having something to listen to. It’s complicated, and I’m not entirely sure what problem Apple is solving with this.

    It’s kind of cool, though, when I know that someone on the other side of the world is listening to the exact same thing that I am. It carries a buzz that’s kind of like the World Cup.

  • Having a library that’s a blend of my own, local tracks and those available through Apple Music is pretty much my ideal approach. It’s something that Spotify tried to do with its local library, but I’ve built my iTunes library over the past ten-plus years, and it’s more trouble than its worth to bring it over to Spotify. Now, though, that functionality is built-in.

  • I’m digging the new psychedelic colour scheme for the app icons on OS X and iOS. For real. I know it’s a bit garish, but it’s also fun and it doesn’t look ugly, I don’t think.

    If you wanted to read too much into it, you’d notice that it uses a similar magenta as the previous icons, plus some blue and some purple, both of which could be seen as representations of the two other aspects of the service, all blended together.

    But, as I said, that’s probably reading way too much into it.

  • Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora must have been dreading Apple’s entry into the streaming music business. By effectively bundling it into the built-in apps, it becomes almost a default choice. I know a few people who have already cancelled their Spotify subscriptions, and I might do just that too. I wonder how their user base will change, and whether they’ll sue on presumed antitrust grounds.

  • The Connect feature seems to be used far more than Ping was, but it also still feels overwrought and “heavy”, as least on my Mac. (I haven’t been able to try Connect on my iPhone yet because a new beta seed hasn’t been released.) It will be very interesting to see if artists actually continually post work-in-progress pieces, non-catalogue music, and those kinds of things. It isn’t like they haven’t been able to do that already, between YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. What compels them to post on Connect? Can an artist cross-post to other social services at the same time? If you know anything about the artist publishing tools for this, please get in touch.

  • The instrumental version of The Fragile is magnificent.

I have a lot more to say about Apple Music and all that it entails. It’s a big, comprehensive array of services and apps. More to come, I’m sure.

Apple Releases OS X 10.10.4

John Gruber:

OS X 10.10.4 shipped today, and as expected based on the developer betas, Discoveryd is gone, replaced by an updated version of good old mDNSresponder. At WWDC, word on the street was that Apple closed over 300 radars with this move. Not dupes — 300 discrete radars.

Three hundred individual bugs fixed simply by reverting to mDNSresponder shows just how flaky discoveryd really was. Shocking.

Also in 10.10.4:

Fixes an issue where a website could prevent the user from navigating away by presenting repeated JavaScript alerts in Safari.

From the bottom of my radar #18927527, thank you.

A Familiar Taste

The Apple PR force is out in full swing for the launch of Apple Music, but I’ve found most of the initial impressions lacking. Kory Grow’s interview with Trent Reznor for Rolling Stone, on the other hand, is far more interesting:

That aspect of treating music like art is important. And we’ve tried to do that everywhere that you come across music in Apple Music. When you listen to a radio station here, every song has been chosen by somebody. When your recommendations pop up “For You,” that wasn’t based on some tag that came into the system; it was based on editors sitting and saying, “We like this subgenre of hip-hop which branches off into these artists which branch off into these artists,” and paying attention to the actual behavior in the app. And we believe that the result ends up being something that feels better. It makes music feel more personal and it raises it up a notch into something what it deserves, rather than a big-box-retailer feel, like, “Here’s the stuff, pick what you want.” And some people will say that none of that matters, but it does to us and we are proud of the love and care that we are treating music with.

Genius — like most recommendation engines — is entirely based on a programmatic approach to finding similar music, and the effects of that have been plain to see. Artists are suggested based on the number of common downloads, similar band members, and similar genres. That’s really limiting, and a human curator can patch that gap. This is based on the Beats Music model, but it’s vastly more integrated in its Apple Music guise to create a kind of blended library between your local files and streaming songs. I’m looking forward to trying this out as soon as I can.

iOS 9, El Capitan, Safari Content Blockers, and Shit-Ass Websites

Developer Dean Murphy spent an hour tossing together a quick content blocking extension for Safari on iOS 9, testing it against iMore:

With no content blocked, there are 38 3rd party scripts (scripts not hosted on the host domain) running when the homepage is opened, which takes a total of 11 seconds. Some of these scripts are hosted by companies I know, Google, Amazon, Twitter and lots from companies I don’t know. Most of which I assume are used to display adverts or track my activity, as the network activity was still active after a minute of leaving the page dormant. I decided to turn them all off all 3rd party scripts and see what would happen.

After turning off all 3rd party scripts, the homepage took 2 seconds to load, down from 11 seconds. Also, the network activity stopped as soon as the page loaded so it should be less strain on the battery.

That’s a big difference, which means only one thing: iMore is another one of those shit-ass websites. John Gruber in 2011:

One article at TheNextWeb weighed in at over 6 MB and required 342 HTTP requests. 73 different JavaScript scripts alone. Absurd. I did a reload on the same page a few minutes later and it was up to 368 HTTP requests but weighed “only” 1.99 MB.

So how are we doing now, four years later? That same article is now 11.0 MB requiring 236 HTTP requests. (I turned off all of my desktop Safari extensions before running these tests.)

For their part, iMore didn’t ignore Murphy’s article. Rene Ritchie:

To answer the obvious questions, yes. Everyone here and at our network, Mobile Nations, saw it. Everyone here and at our network were also well aware of it, and have been working for months already to improve it. That we haven’t made it further, faster is an indication of how hard it is when you’re talking about websites visited by tens of millions of people, and companies that employ more than a dozen writers. Of course, everyone here is going to continue working to find better, smarter ways of solving the problem, because that’s our jobs. I’m sure other large websites are doing likewise.

His “response” article — which, I should point out, is entirely text-based, unlike a media-heavy review — weighs in at a whopping 14 MB with 330 requests. That’s one shit-ass website, largely because it’s bogged down by unnecessary tools.

As someone who operates a website with an advertisement served by JavaScript, you may see me as a hypocrite: on the one hand, I’m looking forward to a faster web via content blockers; on the other, I directly profit by a lack of script blocking. But the Carbon ad on the right doesn’t seem to have noticeably degraded performance on this site, and it’s a tiny static image in the sidebar.1

By contrast, a glance through the changelog of my blacklist clearly shows certain ad networks and utilities that are disrespectful to performance and, consequently, readers. With increasing amounts of web browsing being done on mobile devices — and with iOS devices occupying a significant chunk of the mobile web market share — the pressure is going to be on for the makers of inefficient scripts and utilities. With any luck, the web will be better for it.

  1. And, unlike most web tools, it doesn’t track you site-to-site, or even within this site. There’s a referral code on the end of the link so Carbon knows if someone clicks it, but that’s it. There’s no targeting, and no other funny business. ↩︎

Facebook Hired Seven Black People in 2013

Rupert Neite, of the Guardian:

The most recent EEO filing available shows Facebook hired an additional seven black people out of an overall headcount increase of 1,231 in 2013. At that time Facebook employed just 45 black staff out of a total US workforce of 4,263. Facebook’s black female headcount increased by just one person over 2013 to 11, and the number of black men increased by six to 34. There were no black people in any executive or senior management positions.

The United States is 12% black; California is 5% so.

Over the same period the company’s white employee headcount increased by 695. There were 125 white people holding executive and senior management positions at the firm.

That’s not even close to proportionate.

Update: Angelica Coleman adds her experience from Dropbox, ironically, on Facebook:

I left Dropbox because as a black woman working on bettering myself, the tech industry doesn’t give a shit. Even with the skills to do more, if I had stayed at Dropbox, I would have always had the submissive role of serving others and never calling the shots. Why? Because a white manager didn’t want to see me do more.

There is a long way to go.

The Apple Watch Will Never Have a Killer App

And that’s okay. Ken Segall (via Federico Viticci):

If you need any proof, just look at the iPhone. We can all agree it started one of the biggest technology revolutions of our time. So … what’s the killer app?

Music? Banking? Fitness? Games? Email? Messaging? Camera?

That depends on who you are. Any one of those things, or a combination thereof, might be worth the price of admission. But what’s killer to one person is boringly insignificant to another.

Further, what you consider to be killer probably existed previously on your laptop or camera. Which means that the killer part of iPhone really isn’t an app — it’s the concept of the phone itself. One device that does all that stuff, and fits neatly into your pocket.

I’ve long thought that how the product is going to be used — its context — is a vastly more important part of software development than it has been given credit for. As the timespan of the product’s use decreases and the number of situations in which the product will be used increases, the impact of minor poor decisions becomes amplified.

Or, to put that another way, desktop software can be a little rougher around the edges than tablet software because you’re spending more time with it in more limited circumstances: usually on a desk, or on your lap. Smartphone software needed to be designed with more awareness of the context in which it would be used because it would be used for minutes, not hours, in vastly more varied situations. The Apple Watch is a distillation of software and hardware. It is strapped to you, so it goes pretty much wherever you go. It’s also physically smaller and used for significantly less time, so apps built for it need to be laser focused.

Consequently, it’s harder to determine its killer app. It’s stripped-down, and apps on the Watch are typically less feature-rich than their iOS or OS X siblings. But don’t mistake a lack of features for a reduction in usability; they are usable in far more places because of a reduction in features.

Ever since I’ve been using an Apple Watch, I’ve had people stop me in the streets, at the grocery store, and in elevators asking about it. What I’ve realized is that it is a difficult product to demo, which is odd because I use it all the time. I should know what to demo, but I find myself at a loss every time because it’s a product that can only really be demonstrated in the context of life. I usually resort to demonstrating the wrist raising gesture, though, because it is — in the words of my mother — “kind of freaky”.

We Need Detailed App Release Notes

Every time I open the App Store, I see a sea of updates with the generic “bug fixes and performance improvements” note, or some variation thereof. David Chartier has noticed the same, but for him, it isn’t merely irritating:

Developers, I know you have an internal list of these changes for each release. Withholding them from customers is wrong, lazy, and misleading, and it erodes trust with your users.

Please give us an accurate list of what’s new in each update so we can make an informed decision about whether to update.

What Chartier says is logical, but I doubt that most people look at app release notes before updating. In fact, I doubt most people look at them at all, because automatic updates are on by default. That’s a great convenience for most people, but a really crappy way to avoid being stuck with an update you don’t want.

I’d like to think most developers would be considerate to users and any escalation of permissions or the use of that information would be better documented than, say, a patch for a small feature not behaving correctly. But I want to know exactly what’s being changed with every update; I want to know what bugs are being fixed, so I can test my bug reports against updates with more knowledge. Far too many apps have joined the Facebook school of vague change logs.

Thanks to Ben Zigterman for surfacing this link for me after I forgot who wrote it.

It’s About Time

We did it in Canada about ten years ago, and it’s about time that the momentum of forty US states manifested itself in federal law. There is no straight or gay marriage in the United States — just marriage. There are a lot of new rights that come with this decision, but the right for two people to express their love in a binding way is beautiful. A true leap forward for humanity.

See Also: The full ruling (PDF), and Bloomberg’s timelines of other historic changes of mind.

A Significant AppleCare+ Improvement for Mobile Devices

Joe Rossignol for MacRumors:

Apple has updated the terms of its AppleCare+ Protection Plan for iPhone, iPad, iPod and Apple Watch to cover batteries that retain less than 80% of their original capacity within the extended warranty period, whereas it previously covered batteries that retained less than 50% of their original capacity. The change applies to AppleCare+ purchased for iPhone, iPad, iPod and all Apple Watch models on April 10, 2015 or later.

If AppleCare+ wasn’t a good deal before, it is now. While a drop below 80% capacity shouldn’t happen before two years of standard use, it’s not a rare occurrence either, as far as I can figure out. It happened to my MacBook Air after a year of standard usage, and I’ve seen very poor capacity on friends’ iPhones, too. This coverage now matches the Mac AppleCare rules, aside from covering only two years instead of three.1 Good stuff.

  1. Unless you have a Watch Edition. ↩︎

Our Half-a-Week Long National Nightmare Is Over

Taylor Swift has confirmed that all of her albums, including “1989”, will be available for streaming on Apple Music in a kind of implicit exclusive — other streaming services still offer the same library to free and paid subscribers. I have a hunch that Spotify and Rdio are working on a way to split their libraries between their tiers.

Microsoft Has a New Vapid Mission Statement to Replace Its Old Vapid Mission Statement

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in an internal email to employees:

Mission. Every great company has an enduring mission. Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I’m proud to share that this is our new official mission statement. This mission is ambitious and at the core of what our customers deeply care about. We have unique capability in harmonizing the needs of both individuals and organizations. This is in our DNA. We also deeply care about taking things global and making a difference in lives and organizations in all corners of the planet.

Read that mission statement again:

Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

“Every person”? “Every organization”? Sounds like the Microsoft of yore. “Achieve more”? Isn’t that kind of obvious for pretty much any company that makes tools or utilities? I can’t think of a company that would openly and unironically brag about making people achieve less. This statement means nothing. That’s par for the course for Microsoft, but it’s disappointing because Nadella is a very different CEO from his predecessor.

Update: Smart response from Tze-Ho Tan on Twitter:

Compare to Jobs’ for Apple in 1980: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

I still think it’s pretty hollow, as any corporate mission statement seems to be, but there is a subtle difference. Jobs’ statement clearly specifies how Apple plans to make a contribution: “by making tools for the mind”. That qualifies the statement, and it becomes meaningful as a result. It’s not much, but it’s something.

A Disaster Foretold and Ignored

Patrick Barker:

On my home forum Sysnative, a user (wavly) was being assisted with a WU [Windows Update] issue, which was going well, aside from the fact that wavly’s WU kept getting disabled randomly. It was figured out eventually after using auditpol.exe and registry security auditing that the program that was responsible for disabling WU was Disable_Windowsupdate.exe, which is part of Samsung’s SW Update software.

SW Update is your typical OEM updating software that will update your Samsung drivers, the bloatware that came on your Samsung machine, etc. The only difference between other OEM updating software is, Samsung’s disables WU.

The BBC:

Adobe has released an emergency software patch for Flash after it found a serious vulnerability being exploited by hackers.

The company said it had evidence of “limited, targeted attacks” and urged people to update their software immediately. […]

This vulnerability – which enables hackers to take control of a computer – affects Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

Craig Timberg, in the Washington Post:

Your computers, [hacker collective LOpht] told the panel of senators in May 1998, are not safe — not the software, not the hardware, not the networks that link them together. The companies that build these things don’t care, the hackers continued, and they have no reason to care because failure costs them nothing. And the federal government has neither the skill nor the will to do anything about it.


The result was a culture within the tech industry often derided as “patch and pray.” In other words, keep building, keep selling and send out fixes as necessary. If a system failed — causing lost data, stolen credit card numbers or time-consuming computer crashes — the burden fell not on giant, rich tech companies but on their customers.

It isn’t working.

“Bravely Default”

Seth Clifford:

For years, I’ve eschewed using the default iOS apps in favor of third-party offerings, because maaaan, I always knew better. Apple’s apps are for regular people, and I’m a PowerUser™, maaaan. I’d configure all kinds of workarounds and extra steps because I wanted to wring every last bit of functionality out of my devices, and the basic starter apps just weren’t ever enough.

Something’s changed though–well, two things–in the past few years. I’ve lost my taste for fiddling a little bit, and the default apps Apple ships with its devices have gotten, well, better. Better than other things I could use? Not in all cases. But better… enough.


Certainly I have specific pieces of my workflows that must remain more complex; OmniFocus is a great example. The complexity-to-ability balance is tilted way in favor of the amazing productivity gains it offers when life throws a lot of stuff at me. But that new Notes app looks hot. Dark Sky is cool, but I just end up opening Weather way more often. I’m rediscovering that using Reminders for very simple nudges can be highly effective outside of OmniFocus. Most shockingly for some nerds, I’m just using the built-in Podcasts app. Why? Because my use case is having a podcast show up, and me listening to it.

It’s interesting that Clifford called his decision to switch to mostly default apps “brave”. He’s kind of right — using the default anything amongst a tech-savvy audience is practically begging for an onslaught of confused @ replies and backlash.

Every so often, as with most nerds, I think about my workflow and reconsider my assumptions of The Way Things Ought To Be. Am I using the best Twitter client for me? Am I using the best calendar replacement, or is there a better one out there for my specific use case? And then I realize that I haven’t really changed much in my workflow in about five years because I’m largely doing similar stuff as I was then, albeit in different proportions. And that realization raises all sorts of other questions, but that’s an internal crisis for another time — first, I have different email clients to try.

What I’ve realized is that you should limit your exploration outside of default apps if:

  1. there’s an aspect of the app that you use all the time that is either not present, is woefully buggy, or is inadequate; and

  2. the app or its function is something you use constantly.

If it’s an infrequently-used app or you can live with its features, keep using the default. It’s probably fine, plus you get all of the benefits of the app being integrated with the rest of the system in some way. But if it’s an app that you use all the time and it’s driving you crazy, you may want to look into something else.

Take Clifford’s example of using the default Reminders app over OmniFocus for simple reminders. I don’t use OmniFocus at all — I only need simple reminder capabilities — but Reminders is woefully inadequate even for me, because it is my only todo list. I create reminders for specific dates and times a lot, and doing it in the Reminders app is a huge pain in the ass for something that should be such a lightweight function. It requires:

  • tapping in the blank cell to create a new reminder,

  • typing the reminder title,

  • tapping the little info icon to bring up the details view,

  • switching the date reminder to “on”,

  • using iOS’ still-a-little-clumsy date picker to assign a date and time, and

  • tapping “Done” to save it.

That’s too complicated. In Fantastical, I just tap the “new” button, type “remind”, then the title and time details in natural language, then tap “Done”. As this is something I do a lot, it saves me enough time and stress that I find the $5 I dropped on Fantastical a no-brainer. But I wouldn’t try anything else now because my grievances with Fantastical aren’t worth it. That’s really the tradeoff. Find one app that does what you need it to well enough that you can live with it, and stick with it. And, for a lot of people, that’s going to be the default.

Instagram Has a New ‘Explore’ Tab

Jessi Hempel, Wired:

First, Instagram will highlight trending places in a box across the top of the screen. The software will show you both the most attention-getting events (Houston flood; Bonnaroo concert) and also things that are close to you (Central Park concert; new restaurant opening). Second, users can scroll sideways to see curated collections of photographs that members of Instagram’s community team cull from the most popular Instagrammers’ feeds. This is where you’ll stumble across your kid skateboarders, say, or remote islands you’ll dream of visiting. Last, Instagram will highlight trending hashtags in the center of the screen, promoting the most popular tags. The bottom third of the screen will look much like it has, surfacing compelling posts, but Instagram’s new design will allow users to move seamlessly from one photo to the next, rather than returning to the Explore page between photos.

This is a huge shift for Instagram’s strategy. What once was Twitter, but for photos, is now — uh, *checks Twitter* — never mind, it’s still Twitter, but for photos. As Twitter has added features for trying to make billions of tweets topical, Instagram has done the same for its photos. Only one catch:

While Explore will initially be available only to US users, Instagram will introduce a more powerful search engine globally.

Yet again, an interesting new feature or product is only available to Americans. Nothing wrong with Americans, mind you, but as a Canadian, this is infinitely frustrating.

But you can now, at long last, search by location, so that’s good.

Google Launches Play Music

Elias Roman of Google:

At any moment in your day, Google Play Music has whatever you need music for—from working, to working out, to working it on the dance floor—and gives you curated radio stations to make whatever you’re doing better. Our team of music experts, including the folks who created Songza, crafts each station song by song so you don’t have to. If you’re looking for something specific, you can browse our curated stations by genre, mood, decade or activity, or you can search for your favorite artist, album or song to instantly create a station of similar music.


The new free, ad-supported version of Google Play Music is launching first in the U.S. It’s available on the web today, and is rolling out this week to Android and iOS.

I’m Canadian, so this doesn’t impact me in the least. It does, however, explain why I’m very excited for the launch of Apple Music. Unlike Google Play Music, Pandora, or iTunes Radio, Apple Music looks like it’s launching here, amongst something like 100 other countries. That’s unheard of in a contract-encumbered industry. It’s not the entire iTunes library available anywhere, but it’s going to be an impressive launch regardless.

I Knew You Were Trouble

Musicians may have won a victory against Apple’s onerous terms for their forthcoming Music service, but the floodgates of discontent have now opened. Kirk McElhearn clarifies who is (not) getting paid:

Apple, like most other people in this discussion, are a bit confused about their terminology; they don’t pay “artist[s],” they pay rightsholders. They make two payments: one for publishing, and one for performances. Clearinghouses for publishing rights then divvy up their share to songwriters, and record labels let some of their income trickle down to the actual artists. (Except, of course, with the smallest indie bands who actually contract directly with Apple, or any other streaming music service. Most indies go through aggregators, who distribute their music on streaming and download services, and who collect the income and pay it to individual labels.)

Charles Perry wants to know why app developers have been ignored for so long (via Michael Tsai):

So no one – not even Taylor Swift – is saying that Apple is breaking any laws. What Swift is saying, and what I agree with, is that it’s a bad deal for artists. Creators should be compensated for the use of their creations.

This debate is important to app developers because, whether we like it or not, digital music has been devalued – just as our digital creations have been. In just a few short years people have gone from paying tens of dollars for an album, to paying 99 cents for a single track, to paying pennies or even nothing to stream an entire library of music. This parallels in a rather frightening way the history of the App Store where, in an even shorter amount of time, mobile software that once sold for tens of dollars now is lucky to sell for 99 cents. Just as the music industry, now including Apple, has moved to an “all-you-can-eat” subscription model to bring down the per title cost of music below that 99 cent threshold, it now doesn’t seem unreasonable that a similar all-you-can-eat subscription model might be used to allow per title pricing of apps to fall below 99 cents as well.

Not only that, many developers feel obligated to provide free updates in perpetuity for that $0.99, or they risk the wrath of angering their users. Apple hasn’t made it easy for them: there’s no official way to offer upgrade pricing, nor is there a way to offer a free demo of iOS apps.

Esteemed photographer of many artists and bands Jason Sheldon points out that many of his contracts — including the one for shooting a Taylor Swift show — are just as anti-artist [sic]:

How are you any different to Apple? If you don’t like being exploited, that’s great.. make a huge statement about it, and you’ll have my support. But how about making sure you’re not guilty of the very same tactic before you have a pop at someone else?

Photographers need to earn a living as well. Like Apple, you can afford to pay for photographs so please stop forcing us to hand them over to you while you prevent us from publishing them more than once, ever.

It isn’t news that art gets shafted at its intersection with business, and I’m glad that we’re talking about it.1 As it has become easier for artists to make their work known, however, it seems as though we haven’t gained additional leverage over these contracts. It’s good that the Andy Warhol of music is able to influence change for the better, but it’s yet another reminder that a thousand indie artists won’t have the impact that Swift does. It is, quite simply, exploitative, and all parties involved know that.

  1. If you’re in Calgary between June 24 and July 27, come see my work. Reception is June 27 from 8 PM until whenever UAS decides to kick everyone out. ↩︎

iCloud Photo Library Can Consume a Lot of Data Over a Cellular Connection

Adam C. Engst at TidBits:

Luckily, unlike many people, I don’t have a data cap for my Time Warner Internet connection, so at least that wasn’t a problem for me, as it might be for you. Where I did run into trouble is with my iPhone, on which I’m using the Optimize iPhone Storage option to reduce the amount of data transferred and stored. Tonya, Tristan, and I now share 2 GB of data on our family plan, and before last month, we had never come close to using that much, since we’re still accustomed to having only 250 MB each. So you can imagine my surprise shortly after I enabled iCloud Photo Library when AT&T texted me to say that I was approaching my 2 GB limit. […]

There are no settings to prevent iCloud Photo Library from working over cellular, and while I disabled cellular data for the Photos app, that made no difference. I could turn off cellular data in general (and I did once or twice, but that’s a hard thing to remember every time you leave the house), but by the end of the billing period, AT&T had hit me with $30 of overage charges for two $15 blocks of 1 GB of additional data.

It doesn’t appear as though full photos are being uploaded — that should only happen over WiFi, or at least that’s what happens for me. But there should be more stringent limitations baked into iOS for how much cellular data any app may transfer. Even though LTE has the bandwidth to support broadband-level services, its users often don’t have broadband-level data caps.

To Apple, Love Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift:

I write this to explain why I’ll be holding back my album, 1989, from the new streaming service, Apple Music. I feel this deserves an explanation because Apple has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans. I respect the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.

Swift is right — there’s no three month free trial where (almost) nobody gets paid in any other industry. During that trial, Apple should pay the artists. It’s as simple as that, and I don’t see how the company could view it any differently.

It is odd that Swift is only including “1989” in her boycott, though. I think it would be way more powerful if she and other artists were able to excise all of their works from Music until this is resolved. After all, the service is nothing without their work.

Update: Good news, everyone:

I [Peter Kafka] just got off the phone with Eddy Cue. I’m going to dump some notes in here, and then turn them into something more coherent in real time. Internet!


Cue says Apple will pay rights holders for the entire three months of the trial period. It can’t be at the same rate that Apple is paying them after free users become subscribers, since Apple is paying out a percentage of revenues once subscribers start paying. Instead, he says, Apple will pay rights holders on a per-stream basis, which he won’t disclose.