It’s probably a bit late on to be making predictions for the year, but we haven’t really seen any major announcements yet, apart from that small one by Amazon the other week.
So we were all pretty surprised when Amazon announced their Cloud Player/Cloud Drive online locker service, with all the expectation and talk focussed on other services it just crept up out of nowhere and sprung itself on us.
I’m sure they were in talks with the labels and publishers to do this all along but given the to-ing and fro-ing shenanigans of the music industry I guess they thought it was simpler to fire a warning shot to wake them up and get something moving. As has been the case with a number of services in the past it seems easier to offer an apology and seek forgiveness than to seek permission in the first place.
It’s a good service at it encourages users to purchase music in exchange for additional space in the cloud, something which Amazon have available to them in abundance. I see more users being swung to using the Amazon service than having to pay an annual subscription.
Prediction 1: It’s a far from an ideal service as you have to upload your music collection to the cloud to use it and on standard asynchronous broadband connections that would take an age for a decent sized music collection. I think they will introduce some sort of matching service that will just add content to your locker if it identifies it on your local system. I think they need to seek forgiveness from the music industry for launching the cloud locker before doing this or it will surely create havoc.
Prediction 1a: I keep banging on about an Amazon device and I see this as just another sign. Expect it before the year is out.
It’s been much talked about since the purchase of Lala and the rumour mill is always turning about their cloud service. MobileMe is supposed to be the vessel for this service although knowing Steve Jobs it will probably be some new hardware that you push into your inner ear and is controlled by thought alone. This will likely be a US launch initially with a couple of months before worldwide roll out. This is likely to be a subscription service – MobileMe is already a subscription service at $99/£60 per year.
I think the interesting thing here will be about how Apple view this service. If it is just going to be something to encourage the sale of more hardware then it will be quite vanilla, like Ping. If their plan is to encourage the sale of more content, then I would be interested to see if they release apps for other platforms (Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7) to allow non iDevice users to get their music, videos and iBooks on the go. It does seem counter-intuitive but I do think that this could encourage sales of other products like Apple TV which is where I see one of their next major pushes – especially as they are never going to win the mobile OS war. It’s also unlikely to happen in the near term as it will harm their app strategy to move themselves on to Android when they are encouraging all to develop for iOS.
The last of the three big hitters, or AGA as they are collectively know at 7digital, have been rumoured to be launching a service for about a year now. They seem like they have been stifled by the music industry, like everyone else. We’ve seen screenshots of a leaked music application showing the ability to sync music content in the cloud although very few other innovative features have been shown.
Prediction 2: There are talks of the launch going ahead very soon without agreement from Warner so it’s likely to be launched at Google I/O in May. Like most Google products this is likely to be a US only service at launch which will probably not launch globally for some time, if at all. I doubt that it will be anything special compared to everything else available. I imagine it will be a big bang launch and get a lot of hype because it’s Google but will quickly fizzle out with more innovative services out there that can offer better curation of content and frequent service updates with newer features.
Spotify have been trying to get into the US for as long as I can remember. They have apparently paid all the necessary advances to the four majors and have got the signatures to do it, but something is holding them back. I think the music industry has probably been trying to tie the launches of Apple, Google, Spotify and Amazon together so that no one gets an advantage as the first mover – which is all moot now that Amazon has broken ranks and made a run for it. I’d expect to see Spotify go state-side in the next couple of months.
Prediction 3: It was interesting to see that Spotify has reduced their service to only allow 10 hours listening per month for Open account subscribers. Aside to it being aimed at getting hooked users to move onto one of their paid subscriptions, this could also be due to a few other things; an agreement with the labels for the US launch, a cost saving exercise for US launch in case of high demand or …. wait for it…. the start of what I think will become another cloud based service. They currently only allow you to stream your own music on mobile devices with premium account but I can see them offering a free service. With the option to play your own music plus 10 hours per month of free streaming as a way to listen to music that you don’t own. I imagine the music industry will like this as it should encourage purchasing where users want to be able to listen to certain tracks unrestricted.
Obviously I can’t say too much about our plans for the coming year. We’ve had our cloud based locker since I joined the company back in 2007 so this years buzz word is all a bit old hat for us, but we’re looking to offer a bigger and better service to rival all of the above.
Earlier this year we announced our partnership with RIM on the Playbook which is another big step forward in our aim of giving 7digital users access to their content whenever they want it and wherever they are. We’re really focusing on being as agnostic as possible and making our service available to as many customers as possible no matter what device, what personal computer OS or what service provider they choose. Coupled with our territorial coverage this gives us some of the widest reach out there and gives consumers the greatest choice.
In order to achieve our goal, we’ve not only been partnering with device manufacturers, we have also been working on our own mobile applications, which are available from the relevant app stores:
- Our Blackberry app has been available for some time now and that has had several refinements to support new Blackberry devices and improve performance as well as a number of great feature additions.
- Our Android app launched late 2010 and allows users to download and listen to their purchases on the go. We have some great additions to this app coming soon, so keep an eye out for those
- We’re still working on getting an iPhone app similar to our Android offering, into the app store. In the meantime, iOS users can always use our mobile optimised web store.
Expect some announcements from us soon….but that’s all I can say right now.
The renewed thought of Amazon creating their own device has made me realise how they are actually one of only a handful of companies currently able to challenge Apple’s dominance in the device arena, specifically around the emerging field of contact-less payments.
The next iPhone purportedly contains NFC technology which would allow the device to act as a contact-less payment method. This is already currently available in some Android devices, but due to the open nature of the platform there’s no single company who is going to actually implement the underlying payment service.
In order to own an iPhone you need to have an iTunes account, whilst it’s not necessary to add a card to the account I would expect all of those users who own an iPhone (or an iPad) will have at least one card registered. Apple can therefore hit the ground running with the iPhone 5 and become one if the biggest payment services in the world overnight.
Google on the other hand have little to challenge with in comparison, they have never really dealt with consumer transactions at scale; Google Checkout has never found much traction against Paypal. Due to the open nature of the Android OS, operators will want to build their own solution to charge purchases to their customer’s phone bills, which will serve to dilute Google’s ability to develop the Checkout platform.
Amazon, however, do have the customers, they also have a payment method for every single one of them. If they were to introduce an Amazon device this year, it would allow them to run head to head with the iPhone in what could potentially be the start of a very disruptive period for the finance industry.
Paypal are in a strong position with their existing user accounts for payments but obviously aren’t into manufacturing devices. They could benefit from either a manufacturer tie in or creating device specific apps that use the NFC chip to charge the user’s Paypal account. Consumer adoption is likely to be limited and the experience would be second rate to one at device level.
Facebook have recently brought on Goldmann Sachs as an investor which could potentially be linked to their strengthening of Facebook credits which, this year, will become mandatory for any purchasing inside Facebook apps. ASOS and now French Connection have built complete eCommerce platforms inside of Facebook and if it’s users are buying credits to use inside these Facebook apps this has the potential to make Facebook one of the biggest banks in the world. If that’s the case then I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them start using NFC technology which coupled with the Facebook Places/Deals platform would make them a strong contender in this race.
NFC based payments itself could pull up lame at the first hurdle as the entire success or failure of all of this rests on adoption of the technology by both the retailers and more importantly the consumers.
So, the rumours are true and Apple will announce the iPad 2 on March 2nd. How can I be sure, there’s an iPad and a big number 2 in the picture – it’s hardly the most cryptic of messages.
Unfortunately this invite wasn’t sent to me and is courtesy of Techcrunch so I won’t be there.
Amazon have announced that they are to offer free unlimited streaming movie and TV show to Prime customers in the US . The are offering about 5000 videos including many of the usual TV series, The Sopranos, The Office, Friends etc. The movies aren’t big new hits but do contain some fairly recent releases. Non of this is new to Amazon though, they have had the Unbox service for some time (now rebranded as Video on Demand) which has the big hits for rental, but this is a great way to introduce some new customers to that service. The device support is great, there are a lot of supported systems most of which are connected TVs or media centres but they also offer the option of Windows Media so you can stream via a Windows PC or an Xbox.
As I mentioned previously, following the complete acquisition of Lovefilm, Amazon looks to be on the start of a major content play which in my opinion signals them taking a serious step into the world of connected devices. The signs are all mounting up for an Amazon device to be released or even set of devices:
- Amazon bought touchscreen technology specialists TouchCo at the start of last year and have previously stated that they weren’t going to integrate these capabilities into the Kindle product line….so where are they planning to use them?
- Lab126 is the arm of Amazon that developed the Kindle and it’s thought that is where the next generation devices are being designed and built. They have been on a hiring frenzy since last year for engineers.
- Amazon’s App store is due to launch soon and the developer portal is now open for content submissions. They are planning to run a similar 70:30 split like Apple for developers wanting to sell their apps. Apps will be sold inside the regular Amazon store.
- The Amazon MP3 store and Kindle bookstore have been around for ages and will be staple additions to any hardware release.
The talk of an Amazon device has gone quiet of late but I wouldn’t be surprised if that rumour mill kicks up again following today’s announcement of an Apple press event on March 2nd – rumoured to be the iPad 2 launch.
So the internet has been awash with condemnation at Apple’s recent decision to impose it’s monopolistic tactics onto content publishers with their announcement to kiabosh any out of app purchasing. And somewhat rightly so; 30% is a lot of margin to be giving away, especially when the margins are so tight anyway that a sale can often result in a loss.
The fanbois may argue that Apple has the right to charge what they want as they have spent money building their platform over the years and I would say that they are right. Apple spent
millions billions in R&D to create the iPhone, iPod, iPad and the iOS and it’s their prerogative to make it work for them financially.
However, that’s certainly not to say that publishers should just stand by and let the “suits” from Infinite Loop have their own way. The music industry learnt this lesson a long time ago, after they let Apple define the rules and set the path for digital music downloads for almost a decade. It finally seems to have started to pick itself up and work its way out of that hole, although I do worry it’s is a bit like an absentminded old man who regularly forgets that the kettle gets hot when its boiled and happily picks it up with both hands whenever it whistles.
Apple won’t drop their prices voluntarily, despite mounting pressure and the more favourable Google rates, because they just don’t have to. Unfortunately it isn’t a fair market so they won’t be forced to change their pricing through natural market forces. My point here is, that if publishers don’t like the 30% surcharge that Apple is about to impose then they should pull their content from the platform. If no one provides their content through iOS devices then those devices become less appealing and as happens in a normal fair market economy Apple will be forced to drop their prices to get the publishers back on board.
Working for an iTunes competitor I am somewhat biased on this, but if the already slightly senile music industry doesn’t want Apple to right the rules for the subscription streaming market in the same way it did with a la carte downloads then they should stand their ground. They should look to pull their content from the iTunes platform or at least stop the impending Apple streaming service from launching. Services like Spotify, MOG, Rdio at al. won’t be able to afford to give £3 per month to Apple whilst giving the lions share to the labels. The aforementioned must also avoid backing down on what they take from music subscriptions just to make this work under the Apple dictatorship or they’ll end up bending over again while the Cupertino giant gets its way.
If you’re a Windows user, use Gmail and like me are sick of mailto: links opening Outlook this could save you any more of those argggggggh moments.
DISCLAIMER: If you don’t know how to modify the registry, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. If you do it, you do so at your own risk.
Update the registry value at:
or if you use Windows Server 2003 like me:
“C:\Documents and Settings\[YOUR_USERNAME_HERE]\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe” http://mail.google.com/mail?extsrc=mailto&url=%1
UPDATE: Someone has pointed out that there’s a Chrome extensions for that :
I’m probably amongst the minority of my peers on this but for some time I’ve questioned the actions of those of my friends who regularly risk the potential legal ramifications of torrenting 1000’s of videos and albums every year and who have fallen foul to a plethora of viruses and Trojans from bogus downloads. I’ve not been a fan of pirating since my days at university when Napster was all new and the talk of the web and even less so since I took up camp at the 7digital offices where piracy is obviously one of our biggest competitors alongside messrs Jobs and Bezos. I certainly don’t advocate the theft of copyrighted material, it puts my job at risk, but after this weekend I’ve begun to understand why it happens.
After being reminded that I still hadn’t seen the Chris Morris film Four Lions I went to 3 HMV stores on Saturday but was unable to find it in any of them. I could have ordered it from Amazon but it would have arrived mid week and I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to watching it for weeks. I wanted to watch it that night. It wasn’t available on Zune or SkyPlayer on the XBox so I had a look round a few sites online but nowhere would allow me to buy it and then stream it to my TV through the Xbox 360 due to the DRM or requirement to use proprietary software. So I chose to torrent it.
The movie downloaded in around 20mins and the torrent client I chose, Vuze, has a DNLA client to allow me to stream it directly to my Xbox with no intervention – it even automatically converts it into the right format if necessary. The endless choice, ease and speed of the process makes it so effortless – if I could have that same service and pay for it I definitely would.
With the number of connected devices in the average household increasing and the advent of connected TV sets we need better licensed services in the UK that are simple for the average non technical person to use and made available on these platforms. I’m pleased to see Sky and Lovefilm have already taken a step into console integration with their movie services on XBox 360 and PS3 respectfully. There’s iTunes too, but you need an Apple TV device to play through your TV. Outside of movies there are several good services (iPlayer, Seesaw and Skyplayer) but again they are only usable through a web browser. These existing services also need to look to make their content available through more platforms like Boxee and Roku so that they are simple plug and play services.
Oh and the title of this blog post is taken from a quote in the movie and for those of you that haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you watch it, it’s laugh out loud funny all the way through.
I signed up to a Windows Azure account earlier this week as i’m working on a project that I need hosting for, details of which will follow in due course. I had a look at a few hosting providers including (EC2 and Rackspace) and seeing as Azure is free throughout January and at 50% discount for 6 months, I thought I would give it a go.
Here’s my first impressions:
The signup process was far too long and overly complicated and on top of that the setup process just wouldn’t work for me in Google Chrome.
The principles behind Azure are quite new – unlike EC2 there is no actual Windows Server OS running on a VM that you can just access via Remote Desktop, you need to set up the VM via a UI.
You first have to set up a project, which is really the notion of the server itself. The project can then have multiple services running on it. The available services are Windows Azure (compute & storage) , Sql Azure (data) and AppFabric (service bus). The services can then have different roles which are the actual applications, for example the compute service can have a web role which is a web application or a worker role which is a windows service.
For someone who’s used to administering a server and using the managment tools to set up websites etc this seems a bit like the basic version of a settings panel. I understand the reasons behind it, making it accessible for those not used to server administration, but I feel like I’m being treated like someone that shouldn’t be allowed to touch the advanced settings.
The deployment process is actually very simple, although there are a few annoyances.
Building a Cloud Service in Visual Studio creates two files, the application package (.cspkg) and a configuration file (.cscfg) which need to be uploaded through the relatively clean Azure web interface. Strangely the Beta of Visual Studio 2010 creates the package files if you right click the Cloud Service project and click publish, but not if you click publish on the Build menu.
Once you have your packages, you can deploy the service to a staging server first without any additional setup. A url is provided for the test server so you can do some testing and then once you are happy with it you can deploy it over to the production environment with one click. Once deployed the service can be started, stopped, configured and deleted from the UI.
At work we have a Continuous Integration environment set up with Teamcity running as our buildserver and automated deployments to our webservers, as nice as the Azure UI is, it would be good if the deployment is scriptable so it could be run automatically. I’m hoping at the very least that this becomes, if it isn’t already, part of Visual Studio and TFS.
The deployment process was really really slow and my deployment failed numerous times without any feedback as to why which made it impossible to debug. I still no idea why it wouldn’t deploy – I just recreated the Cloud Service from scratch and it worked.
I see this as ideal for a web developer who’s got no idea about server administration. I’ll persevere with it for now or at least until the end of the free period (end of January) but my patience is already starting to wain and the idea of EC2 is certainly quite appealing, despite the price differential.
…makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Matt from work pointed me at an iPhone app last week called SleepCycle. It monitors your sleep patterns and can ‘apparently’ improve your morning state by waking you up at the most opportune moment, i.e. when you are in the lightest stage of sleep.
The iPhone needs to be placed on the bed while you sleep and uses the accelerometer to monitor your restlessness or lack thereof to work out how deeply you are sleeping. The first couple of days are used for calibration so it can ‘learn’ what kind of sleeper you are.
After the first night using the app I was quite surprised by the resulting sleep graph. I do distinctly remember being awake a couple of times during the night which you can clearly see on the graph around 4am and 6am. I was also surprised to see that i had gone to sleep so quickly as I feel like I normally spend ages trying to get to sleep.
I’m interested to see how it goes over the next few days and whether it makes me a ‘better’ person in the mornings!
A couple of weeks back i attended the Rewired State “Hack the government day” after seeing a post on Twitter. It seemed a little brazen at first glance; advertising for people to help hack the government on a mainstream media channel, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a touch more legal than first impressions would suggest.
The idea was like any other hack day out there in which a group of developers/designers/wonks get together and try and create something in a short space of time. In this case its using government data that is currently available openly. The point they were making is that goverment is bad at doing this kind of thing and hopefully a small number of developers can produce something good in a day to prove that the larger number of developers with a bit more time could do better if there was more data made publicly available.
This all relates closely to my previous post on the TFL journey planner and how if the data was opened up it would allow for a better set of tools to be created; which i ended discussing with someone at an OpenMusicMedia meetup who then turned out to be one of the organisers,James Darling , of Rewired State – looking back it all seems strangely coincidental.
The day itself was at the Guardian’s new offices just behind Kings Cross which are brand spanking new and rather swanky; good to see companies being frugal during the times of limited cash flow!
I started some work on a scraper for the TFL website so i could mashup joureny data with some other useful data. However the day itself was less than productive for me due to my laptop over heating after a few hours and refusing to play nicely for the rest of the day. Many of the others there were able to produce some good working examples. This was impressive in the given amount of time and there has been some talk of investment from both DirectGov Innovate and also 4IP.
UPDATE – The work i started on a TFL based system is still a work in progress and i’ll post details here as and when i have something worth showing off.