Tag Archives | Apple iTunes

Rhapsody is Coming to the iPhone. Let’s Hope!

Rhapsody Logo RealNetworks’ Rhapsody is a very nicely done music service. But like all subscription music offerings it’s been profoundly hobbled by the fact that it’s incompatible with iPods, the devices that dominate portable digital music. That’s about to change. Sort of. Maybe.

Over at its corporate blog, RealNetworks its reporting that it’s submitted a Rhapsody application to the iPhone App Store. The app would bring Rhapsody to the iPhone and iPod Touch, letting owners of those devices pay a monthly fee ($14.99, apparently–the price of a Rhapsody to Go account) for unlimited access to the millions of tracks in Real’s catalog.

Here’s a video from Real showing the app in action:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3266941&w=425&h=350&fv=]

Rhapsody for iPhone is missing one key feature offered by Rhapsody to Go on other devices: It can stream music (over both 3G and Wi-Fi) but can’t store it locally. That means it only works when you have an Internet connection. Real says it may add local music storage later, and that an upcoming Android version of Rhapsody will store music locally.

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Is Apple Building iSocial? Sounds Good to Me.

Social iPhoneRumor on the Web this morning has it that Apple plans to add new social features to iTunes and maybe even launch some sort of social application, both of which would hook into popular social networks. There are even some fuzzy, could-be-real-could-be-fake screenshots showing the last.fm radio service and a “Social” playlist within iTunes. I don’t know if there’s any truth here, and don’t even have a gut reaction as to whether this stuff sounds likely or not. But this is the type of scuttlebutt that’s fun to ruminate on whether or not it leads to anything.

Apple has a huge group of passionate, engaged customers that every other tech company on the planet envies. (There may be far more Windows users than Mac ones, but there’s no comparison when it comes to the passion-per-user quotient.) Yet the company itself is a loner by nature, one that’s inherently cautious when it comes to participating in stuff it doesn’t control The company has largely opted out of the social aspect of the Web–it doesn’t blog and it doesn’t tweet. (It is dabbling in Facebook, at least, but iTunes only got an official Facebook page in May.)

The company’s social-media caution extends to product design. There are certainly social aspects to some of its apps–every time I use hotel broadband, I’m startled anew by the fact that iTunes’ library-sharing feature lets me see the music of random fellow guests. And the iPhone has become an extremely social beast thanks to third-party apps like the official Facebook one and the surging sea of Twitter clients. But I can’t think of any examples of an Apple product including built-in support for someone else’s social network except for the Facebook uploading that the company added to iPhoto ’09.

If Apple does decide to dive into social networking feet first, it would be cool. Building features into iTunes to let listeners share playlists, songs, and other music-related items across various social networks would be a relatively minor first step. As for the rumors of Apple building a social application of its own–well, being able to update statuses across multiple social networks is pretty mundane, and I have trouble believing that Apple would make that the core feature of anything it would bother building.

But…

All the apps in iLife, from iPhoto to iMovie to Garage Band, are about creating stuff. When people create stuff, they want to tell their friends about it. So it might well make sense for iLife to add an application–let’s call it iSocial–that serves as a central hub for telling friends, family, and random strangers about things you’ve created and put on the Web (as well as music you’re enjoying) via the major social networks.

More often than not, Apple’s iLife updates are on an annual schedule. (Although it’s usually been unveiled at the Macworld Expo keynote that won’t happen next January, so it’s impossible to pin even a tentative date on when the next version might show up.) Here’s hoping that the new version of iTunes that will almost certainly be announced in September and the next iLife turn out to be definitive signs that Apple is no longer a social-networking skeptic or dabbler, but a full-fledged enthusiast.


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Apple to the Pre: Your Masquerade is Over

Pre Disguised as iPhoneFile this one under Utterly Unsurprising News Stories: Apple’s new version of iTunes blocks the technique that the Palm Pre was using to provide seamless of music and video with the Apple application. That was, of course, by far the likeliest scenario all along. Pre owners can sidestep Apple’s move by keeping with the old version of iTunes for the moment, but long-term, the Pre’s iTunes syncing–which was accomplished by tricking iTunes into thinking the Pre was an iPod–is dead.

I know it would be better for consumers if Apple opened up iTunes enough to let the Pre and other non-Apple devices sync with the application. (It might even be better for Apple, since it would help it sell music to folks who don’t own its music players and phones.) But given that iTunes isn’t designed to sync with other companies’ devices, I can’t be bitterly angry at Apple for cutting off Pre owners. Or at least this ranks pretty low on my list of things to be irked at Apple about.

I remain a little mystified by Palm’s actions to date, since the company used iTunes syncing as a selling point, even though it’s run by smart people who knew that Apple probably wouldn’t stand for it. There’s a a pretty obvious step it can take now, if it so chooses: release a piece of software for Windows and Macs that handles the iTunes syncing that it’s been doing directly. It can license the technology if it needs to. It may not be morally obligated to do something like this–at the moment, the Palm site still touts iTunes sync and uses fine print (in light gray type) to say it may not work forever:

Palm Pre Fine Print

…but I still think it would be classy on Palm’s part. Maybe it’s been planning to do something like that all along.


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Bye Bye, Palm Pre Media Sync

prefootSometimes threats are angry, blustery, and public. Sometimes they come in the form of…mundane product support notes. Let’s call this one Warning Shot HT3642.

Last month, Palm announced that its Pre phone would sync directly with Apple’s iTunes software on PCs and Macs. It does, rather well, by pretending to be an iPod. It seemed unlikely that Apple would be thrilled with that scenario.

Now Apple has published a support note concerning iTunes that says that it’s aware that some “unsupported third-party media players” (read: the Palm Pre) “claim” to sync with iTunes, but that Apple can’t support or test such compatibility. And “because software changes over time, newer versions of Apple’s iTunes software may no longer provide syncing functionality with non-Apple digital media players.”

It’s conceivable that it’s just sayin’ that you never know what might happen, but virtually everybody is going to assume that the message here is that an iTunes update (possibly the next one) will kill Palm’s Media Sync feature real soon now.

I still feel like we don’t know what’s going on here. If someone sticks his head into a lion’s mouth, he’s either really, really smart or really, really dumb. Offering iTunes syncing through a clever hack is the equivalent of sticking your head into a lion’s mouth. But I don’t think anyone involved with the decision at Palm is dumb.

The thing is, Palm could implement perfectly satisfactory–if slightly less seamless–iTunes syncing by supplying its own utility that talks to an iTunes library and the music and video files on the hard drive. I wonder if it’s already done so, just in case? And if there are already lawyers somewhere drawing up suits claiming that people bought Pres because Palm told them that they’d sync beautifully with iTunes?


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Palm Pre’s iTune Sync: Destined for Oblivion?

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape…
You don’t spit into the wind…
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger…
And you don’t use clever workarounds or hacks to do things with Apple products which Apple doesn’t want you to do, because Apple will surely release an update which defeats your clever workaround or hack.

–Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” (minor revision by Harry)  

Palm PreAmong the many interesting features of Palm’s almost-here Pre smartphone is Media Sync, which lets it sync with iTunes on a Windows PC or Mac as if it were an iPod or iPhone. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber and Jon Lech Johsnsen (the uberhacker who reverse-engineered DVD encryption and Apple FairPlay DRM) have been blogging about the new feature. I’m intrigued by their take, and puzzled (so far) by what Palm is up to here.

I think that both John and Jon’s analysis is based on this video from last week’s D conference, in which Palm’s Jon Rubenstein shows the  iTunes synching feature. e specifies that it involves no additional software, and the synching is clearly happening within iTunes, which refers to the Pre as an iPod. Jon (Lech Johansen, not Rubenstein) says that the Pre must be essentially pretending to be some specific iPod model and thereby tricking iTunes into doing the sync, and John agrees, saying it “can’t be legit.”

This analysis is all well-informed and sensible. It’s possible, of course, that it’s wrong–maybe Rubenstein mispoke when he said no additional softwaere was involved, for instance. But for the moment, the Gruber/Johansen take on this is at the very least the most likely scenario.

And if it’s indeed what’s going on, it’s tough to figure out what’s going on in Palm’s head. Reasonable people can debate about whether there’s anything underhanded about one company’s device masquerading as another company’s device to gain access to the second company’s software. Reasonable people can debate about whether Apple has any moral responsibility to permit third-party hardware manufacturers to sync their devices  with iTunes. But it’s all moot: If Apple doesn’t like the Pre’s approach to iTunes synching, and there’s a technical  way for it to stop it, it will, in an upcoming iTunes update. History pretty much proves that. And considering that, it seems pointlessly risky for Palm to do what John and Jon think it’s done: There’s a high chance that anyone who buys a Pre because of this feature will end up disappointed when Apple circumvents it.

(Wild card: Maybe Palm is positive there’s no technical way for Apple to respond to what it’s done. I’m not a USB engineer, but this scenario seems unlikely.)

The odd thing is, it’s possible to write software that peeks int iTunes’ music library and syncs songs back and forth in a way that works quite well: When I owned a Windows Mobile phone, I used The Missing Sync to sync it with iTunes. But such techniques involve the installation of software on a computer, and it’s not iTunes that’s doing the synching. You’re synching with iTunes, not via iTunes. If Palm did this, there’d be no controversy and little chance of Apple striking back, and the Pre would have a neat and useful feature.

Based on the D demo, though, whatever the Pre is doing, it’s something other than that. It’ll be fascinating to get more details once the phone comes out on Saturday, and to see how Apple responds.



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