TuneChecker and I Love Stars

Legally downloading music has started to take off as more buying choices become available. At one point iTunes was the only buying option but there are now many places that sell digital music. TuneChecker is a great website that shows you where to buy music online at the cheapest price and the potential savings are pretty huge.

The site allows you to browse the Top 40 UK Album and Singles charts and also browse by genre and new releases. If that’s not enough you can search for any artist or track and the site will return the price ranges for that album or single. Searching for Radiohead shows just how wide a price there is for their Best Of album. £12.99 on iTunes and £3.47 from Tesco!

The only thing not covered is the quality of the music you are downloading and if it’s DRM’d so tread carefully before making the purchase on price alone. You can’t really go wrong with this website although the site design, in my opinion, is awful. It’s been developed in conjunction with MoneySavingExpert.com so maybe they saved money by doing the design themselves 😉

Once you’ve downloaded your new music if your like me then rating your music is an essential step in iTunes to getting better more intelligent playlists…but I always forget to do it meaning I need to do catch up sessions every so often to rate my tracks. Step forward I Love Stars, a menu bar app for the Mac. This app displays only when music is playing allowing you to adjust the rating of the track without having to move to iTunes. A video saves a thousand words…

It supports 1/2 star ratings and won’t display during podcasts – what’s not to love? For tracks you haven’t rated the app can play an alert, which can be annoying, or flash discretely alerting you to your unrated track. The latest version now supports keyboard shortcuts too so rating doesn’t get in the way of working. Did I mention it’s free? Get rating.

Spotify Launches Offline Mode

Spotify launched a new feature today to it’s desktop client – Offline Mode. Premium users selecting a playlist will now have the ability to click an ‘Available offline’ button which will download the tracks locally for playback when not connected to the internet. I tried the service this afternoon and the results can be seen in the video below.

Spotify are really stepping up and offering something different to the current digital music stores. Stream for free in lower quality with ad’s or pay for great quality music that you can access from anywhere, offline or online. Not only that but with the addition this week of PayPal as a payment option they are making it easier than ever to subscribe to their service. Couple that to 4 million tracks available via search and many great playlists available online and you’ve got a very compelling service. It’s enough to keep me subscribing for another month after the launch of their iPhone app a few weeks ago. Over to you Apple?

DigitalOutbox Episode 17

DigitalOutbox Episode 17
In this episode the team discuss Microsoft Courier, Pay for your broadband and music, Google innovates and PS3 news from the Tokyo Game Show.

Playback
Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

Shownotes
0:49 – Digital Britain – time to pay!
– 50p tax on landlines to go ahead
– Presented in bill before christmas
– Is this the right thing to do?
5:17 – Music At War
– Two camps emerging. Those that think that everything possible should be done to eliminate illegal file sharing. Although I can’t find details of what they are suggesting.
– Another camp saying that what’s the point in trying to stop file-sharing – nothing will work anyway.
– And now the two camps are at war.
– Come up with a sensible solution. Fight clever. Work with new technology and the new music listener – don’t fight a losing battle to protect old infrastructure.
– Lily Allen and artists come to some agreement on piracy stance
– http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/technology/2009/09/lily_unites_musicians_against.html
– http://www.featuredartistscoalition.com/showscreen.php?site_id=161&screentype=folder&screenid=2990&newsaction=showitem&newsid=2588&dc=6&sn=News
– We the undersigned wish to express our support for Lily Allen in her campaign to alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry and to condemn the vitriol that has been directed at her in recent days.
– Our meeting also voted overwhelmingly to support a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer’s bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional.
11:18 – Charge for iPlayer?
– Lorraine Heggessey, chief executive of TV production company Talkback Thames.
– Industry want to charge micro-payments for catch up services but BBC scuppering this.
– BBC have no plans to charge. Licence fee covers this content.
13:31 – Google Chrome Frame
– Plugin for IE 6(and 7 & 8) that replaces rendering engine in IE6 with Chrome
– Will this force Microsoft to be more aggressive on moving from IE6?
– http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-10360850-56.html?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Webware
– “With Internet Explorer 8, we made significant advancements and updates to make the browser safer for our customers,” Microsoft said. “Given the security issues with plug-ins in general and Google Chrome in particular, Google Chrome Frame running as a plug-in has doubled the attach area for malware and malicious scripts. This is not a risk we would recommend our friends and families take.”
– So, time to remove Silverlight?
18:10 – Google SideWiki
– Commenting for the web?
– Needs google toolbar
– Not original, been tried before and failed but will it be successful due to Google’s brand and market share?
– Yet another comment source – fragmentation of the conversation although there is an api
22:42 – Push GMail
– Google sync now support gmail
– Setup exchange account on iPhone to get push calendar, contacts and gmail
– Google working around Apple’s limitations and choices
– Only 1 exchange account available on iPhone
25:26 – Picasa 3.5
– Face recognition, similar to picasa albums online
– Share albums based on name
– Better geotagging and uploading/sharing options
26:15 – Bing increases market share
– From 8.9 to 9.3% in US market.
– OK it’s only a small increase but considering everyone said it was impossible to even steal a small share away from Google was impossible.
– May mean that Bing is a default choice for some users now.
27:21 – Apple Acknowledges battery concerns
– Users can log battery issues with Apple
– Also can install Battery Life Logging and report issues back to Apple
– http://www.theiphoneblog.com/2009/09/20/apple-seeking-info-iphone-31-users-reporting-poor-battery-life/
30:01 – USB IF Sides with Apple
– Palm issues dismissed
– Your letter also states that:
“Palm will shortly issue an update of its WebOS operating system that uses Apple’s Vendor ID number for the sole purpose of restoring the Palm media sync functionality.”
I attach for your information the USB-IF’s adopted and published policy regarding Vendor Identification Numbers (VIDs). Under the Policy, Palm may only use the single Vendor ID issued to Palm for Palm’s usage. Usage of any other company’s Vendor ID is specifically precluded. Palm’s expressed intent to use Apple’s VID appears to violate the attached policy.
Please clarify Palm’s intent and respond to this potential violation within seven days.
– GET OUT!
34:48 – iTunes Update
– Resolves issues browsing the iTunes Store.
– Addresses a performance issue where iTunes may become unresponsive.
– Fixes a problem where iTunes may unexpectedly quit.
– Fixes a problem syncing Podcasts in playlists to iPod or iPhone.
– Fixes a problem sorting albums with multiple discs.
– Addresses an issue with the Zoom button not switching to Mini Player.
– Improves application syncing for iPod touch and iPhone.
– Genius is now automatically updated to show Genius Mixes.
41:37 – Tiny Blu Ray PC
– Like a Mac mini – but with BluRay (kind of what we were talking about last week) £650 or £450 without the BluRay.
– Comes with media centre remote.
– Don’t know what kind of storage it has but media centre seems pretty good at streaming.
42:22 – Microsoft Courier
– A booklet, not a tablet
– Late prototype
– Touch and stylus driven,camera,7inch screens
49:24 – Sony at Tokyo Game Show
– Sony Motion Controller
– Japan release March
– Spring 2010 for rest of the world
– 4-5 million units worldwide
– Old games will be adpated to support it
– 250GB PS3 Slim
– Oct 1st
– On Amazon for £285 – bundles on the way
– PS3 Firmware issues – ian
– Tam mentioned this…
– http://www.engadgethd.com/2009/09/25/ps3-3-0-3-01-firmware-update-making-blu-ray-drive-unusable/
– Issues with 3.0 and 3.0.1 for people
– Been perfect for me
– God of War 1 & 2 bundle to include E3 demo of God of War 3
– PS3 Rumour Leaks
– wants to sell all PS2 titles on PSN – PS2 emulator ??
– special “Japanese Import” section for titles only released in Japan – ie Yakuza 3
– leaked document mentions possibility of Dreamcast titles appearing on PSN

Picks
Shakeel
Snippet
– sits on menu bar
– nice and clean interface
– pop-up menus and mini-windows, very little clutter
– easily search for your snippets of code, copy then paste into new projects.
– search by tags
– no need to hunt through previous/old projects
– easily create new snippets from any text
– select type of code, add tags
– primarily designed for programming but just as useful for storing other regularly used information
– for blocks of text, can copy a small selection instead of the whole lot, all from a mini pop-up window
– when code or text is copied, focus automatically returned to the last used app

Ian
Halo 3 ODST
– Co-op
– Firefight
– Multiplayer maps
– Good Value

Chris
MS Windows 7 Parties
– Ooooooo Mmmmmm Ggggggg

Spotify iPhone App

Spotify PlaybackToday was the day that Spotify finally landed on the iPhone. Many thought that when Spotify announced they had submitted an app to Apple that they had no chance of getting it approved. The many were wrong. I fired up the Appstore this morning, saw the app and thought I need to try this. So I updated to Spotify premium and downloaded the app. 5 minutes later I had access to over 4 million tracks as long as I had a wi-fi or 3G signal. Wow.

Trying this at work meant relying on a 3G signal. Luckily I usually get a really good signal. On firing up the app for the first time I signed in and my playlists were sync’d. Not only were they sync’d, but really quickly too. I could easily spot collaborative playlists due to the difference in colour. I selected one of the Pitchfork top 100’s, hit Shuffle and four seconds later the track started. The audio quality was excellent. Selected next track and a couple of seconds later it started. I was really impressed with the speed – none of this content was stored locally and audio quality wise it was better than Last.fm although I felt caching speed was much the same. I’ve embedded a video from Spotify that shows off the app in action (if only you could record video on the iPhone as easily as taking a screenshot – do you hear me Apple?).

In practice the app is easy to use, quick and feels like an Apple supplied app. Some of my thoughts so far:

  • Swipe to change tracks is lovely. Far easier than reaching for a button.
  • Song position and iPod volume control in the same place and look the same. Confused me today.
  • Play/pause on headphones doesn’t work in Spotify but starts iPod instead. Grrr. Hopefully a future update will support this.
  • Unplug the headphones, no pausing off track like the iPod. Not a biggie but nice to have.
  • Resuming Spotify resumes exactly from where you shutdown – in a playlist, searching or in the middle of playback of a track. Remember that when your listening to Girls Aloud and you shut the app down. Potentially embarrassing demo next time you start Spotify.
  • No artist information, bio, lyrics etc. Missed opportunity or room to grow in future versions of the app.
  • Creating playlists or adding to existing playlists is easy. Updating to/from Mac/PC client is also fast. However you can’t add multiple tracks to a playlist easily i.e. search for U2, finding lot’s of tracks but I can’t select multiple tracks and add them to a U2 playlist. One at a time only.
  • No Last.fm scrobbling.
  • Sharing of tracks or playlists form the iphone isn’t possible yet.
  • The biggest issue is nothing to do with Spotify. Apple won’t allow background applications so if you want to surf, check twitter etc then you need to close Spotify. The excellent resume features soften the blow but the built in iPod app which does run in the background has a big advantage.
  • Offline playlists works a treat – very impressive. From digging around I understand there’s a limit of 3,333 tracks that can be stored offline. Thats a lot of tracks!

Reading through that list could leave you thinking the app isn’t very good but that would be the wrong conclusion. It works really well, so much so that it’s made me seriously consider Spotify premium as great value for money. £120 a year for that much content is a bargain, especially at the quality and speed it’s available. Firing up search and looking for an artist, any artist, and seeing the myriad of songs available returned via a quick search is very liberating and a great demo of where cloud computing could take us. Spotify is a digital distribution model that works that people are willing to pay for.

I still wonder about Apple though. Everyone said they wouldn’t approve Spotify. It’s an iPod killer, who would use the iTunes store instead of this? The fact they approved it seemed to be at a time when the FCC investigation into Apple, Google and AT&T was underway. This was a different Apple. A changing Apple. I wonder if it is changing, and that they too will have a streaming option available in iTunes 9 and a future iPhone upgrade. If they did then the appearance of Spotify would make a lot more sense. Apple needs to do something with their new datacentre.

To conclude, Spotify on the iPhone is a brilliant addition to an already great platform (I mean Spotify and Apple in this case). More features over time would be welcomed. If your already a premium user this is a no brainer as the app is free. The real test will be how many people will convert from free to premium Spotify. I’ve signed up for a monthly subscription that can be cancelled at anytime. Going on today’s usage I will be keeping that subscription going but only when October hits will I truly know if it’s value for money. I’ll be sure to report back then.

One last thing – playlists. There are quite a few sites that have sprung up to help spread and share playlists. Some of the best are:

SpotifyLinks
ShareMyPlaylists
We Are hunted (opens Spotify)

If you know of anymore then leave a comment and link. Now, get listening!

X Lossless Decoder

I’ve struggled for a while to find a decent lossless converter and ripper for the Mac – X Lossless Decoder (XLD) is finally an answer for those issues. This is a free app that has a very simple front end that will allow conversion from and to:

  • (Ogg) FLAC (.flac/.ogg)
  • Monkey’s Audio (.ape)
  • Wavpack (.wv)
  • TTA (.tta)
  • Apple Lossless (.mp3) [10.4 and later]
  • AIFF, WAV, etc

The conversion from Flac to Apple Lossless was extremely quick. In fact it was so quick I thought it had failed but I was wrong – the quality is excellent too. XLD also rip’s CD’s in to a lossless format of your choosing and again it does this pretty quickly. With support for MusicBrainz and also tags in Flac I’ve been impressed with just how flexible the app is. The front end is functional but to be honest that’s all you really need. XLD – a very handy tool to have installed.