Just stop giving in to Apple’s demands!

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.


Open mailto: links in Gmail

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:

HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\mailto\shell\open\command

to be:

“C:\Users\[YOUR_USERNAME_HERE]\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe” http://mail.google.com/mail?extsrc=mailto&url=%1

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 :

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/dgkkmcknielgdhebimdnfahpipajcpjn



Rubber Dinghy Rapids

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.

DISCLAIMER: I am actually now going to buy Four Lions from Amazon, it would have been better to be able to pay the studio, Optimum Releasing, directly with some form of honesty box system though.

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.


Azure – first impressions

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:

  1. Signup
    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.
  2. Setup
    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.

    Setting up Windows Azure services

  3. Deployment
    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.

    Azure Deployment

    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.


Early to bed and early to rise…

…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!


Hacking the government

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 topic seems to be very current at the moment especially in the US with their Transparency Camp and Tim O’Reilly pushing more on the idea of working on stuff that matters.

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!

Inside the Guardian Offices by Ben Dodson

Inside the Guardian Offices by Ben Dodson

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.


What really is the best way from A to B?

It struck me earlier this month whilst treking from my home in South West London to somewhere in deepest East London that we do actually have a pretty good transport system, i just think the problem is that people don’t know how to use it very well or they aren’t well advised on how to use.

Whilst lying in bed, distraught at the fact i had to get up almost 2 hours earlier than normal, I checked the TFL website on my phone for the fastest route to get me from home to my destination. The fastest journey time it gave me was an 1hr 15mins; but  I managed to get there, taking my own choice of route, in 45mins.  The reason i got there faster (i think) was because i chose to head in the wrong direction initially – this was done on purpose and not because i was still half asleep!  I presume that the fact the train headed south before heading back north again caused the algorithm behind the journey planner to initially disregard that route. 

Don’t get me wrong, i think the TFL journey planner is very useful, especially when heading somewhere you’ve never been before,  I just feel its lacking quite a bit.  Given the size of the London Transport network (buses, tube, trams, trains, boats, cycleways and pavements – yes walking is a mode of transport) there a multitude of possible ways that i could get between any two points in this fine city.

The system is going to be flawed at some point as it would have to spend hours calculating each possible route requested. But these hours of processing are being done every single day by the inhabitants of London (and every other city of the world for that matter) as we choose to travel to and from work, to the shops or as we wander aimlessly to pass some time we make choices about which is the best way to go, but this information is lost.  

I have noticed that there is a current request on ShowUsABetterWay for TFL data to be opened up via an API. This would be perfect as it would allow everyone to contribute to making it work better. There are enough talented and intelligent developers out there to produce something that would be more useful than TFL could ever do.

What about a system for people to rate suggested routes or suggest alternative routes after they have travelled? What if you were able to give reasons for routes; less foot traffic, cleaner streets, better lighting. There is a brilliant mock up of a TFL journey planner and some crime data mash-up on ShowUsABetterway displaying which routes have a high prevalance of crime at certain times – what better for people who don’t know a particular area. There’s also the positive aspects; what about routes that are more scenic at certain times, i’d suggest walking along the Embankment or South Bank at sunset/dusk during Summer for the added eyecandy at the expense of another few minutes on your journey time rather than being lost a couple of streets back.

Boris Johnson has a seemingly impossible task to improve the London Transport network with the upcoming 2012 Olympics. What better way to tackle the problem than to get the citizens of our fine city to contribute? And if we don’t help, we can’t really complain!