What’s In Store for the iPod?

The Apple iPod revolutionized the personal digital music world – suddenly, from clunky, impossible to use digital devices, we had sleek, slim little pieces that would store thousands of songs and fit in the palm of your hand with plenty of room to spare.  With several models available, and thousands of apps, songs, videos, and movies from which to choose, the iPod is an unqualified success.  On Wednesday, Steve Jobs is expected to announce some new developments, including some possible changes to the iPod.

The iPhone 4 prototype debacle notwithstanding, Apple is usually very secretive about developments and products.  According to Reuters, Jobs will likely announce changes to the iPod because that is what he traditionally does in September.  So while he could be announcing that he is discontinuing the iPod and bringing back the 8-track, it is much more likely that he will share upgrades to the Touch and Nano.  Those are speculated to be:

  • ·A touchscreen for the Nano and a new square body shape
  • ·Dual cameras for the Touch, along with a new shape to more closely resemble the iPhone 4
  • ·The Touch may be able to handle FaceTime software developed for the iPhone 4
  • ·High resolution retina display
  • ·Faster A4 processor
  • ·It is also expected that the iPod Classic will keep kicking

CNET, though, believes that Jobs will touch only lightly on the iPod, focusing more on changes to iTunes and to the inception of Apple TV because of the growing obsolescence (which is arguable on both sides).  “Apple still sells three-fourths of all MP3 players sold, but multifunction gadgets like the iPhone are getting the most attention from Apple customers, not to mention the rest of the electronics industry, and bringing in more revenue than iPods these days.”

Will Jobs announce these changes – and will they make a difference to consumers?  Are iPods on their way out as iPhones take over?

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Piracy Affects Sheet Music Sales as Well as Recorded Music

Songwriter Jason Robert  Brown embarked on a piracy experiment recently; Brown went on a music “trading” site and entered his name into the search box.  He got back some 4000 hits – indicated that 4000 pieces of his work were being given away, downloaded, and used without his permission – and without compensation.  Brown, whom the New York Times calls “a leading member of the new generation of composers who embody high hopes for the American musical,” was surprised to find that sheet music was a fairly hot commodity on the pirate scene and he went out in search of those who were downloading his work illegally.

He found Acting Girl, a member at one of these file sharing sites, with whom he began a correspondence of sorts.  He wrote to her, and to about 400 other people who were trading his songs  without permission:

“Hey there!  Can I get you to stop trading my stuff?  It’s totally not cool with me.  Write me if you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you about this. Jason@jasonrobertbrown.com.




“Acting Girl” wrote back, wondering who he was because she’d never traded with him.  She thought a mistake had been made, but when Brown wrote that he was actually THE Jason Brown, she didn’t believe him. “Let me get this straight.  You expect me to believe that you are Jason Robert Brown.  THE Jason Robert Brown.  And that you have taken the time to go onto random websites and create an account just to message people not to trade your sheet music?  I don’t mean to be rude, but can you see how I have a bit of trouble believing that?

After several exchanges, she changes from disbelief into the firm belief that Brown is a “jerk” and is not supporting others in the theater community by letting “starving artists” have his music for free.  It’s quite an entertaining back-and-forth, but it does highlight a big issue with sheet music piracy, and piracy in all genres.  People do not think it is wrong.  Period. Like Acting Girl, they think that if it’s out there, they are entitled to it.

Brown did get his fair share of support from those who do see that taking music online, while easy, isn’t necessarily legal, and while you can certainly do it, it doesn’t mean that you should.  He also got more than his share from those who thought he was an obsolete jerk.  It’s a tough battle to fight, and overcoming public perception of illegal use remains a big stumbling block for artists, publishers, and songwriters.

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Keeping an Eye on Your Home with iPhone

iCam costs $5 from the Apple Store; for this nominal fee, you can stream live video and audio from as many as four webcams directly to your iPhone, iPod, or iPad.  You can also view a description and time and date stamp.  Why is this useful?  You can set up a cam in your baby’s room so you can watch her sleeping while you’re doing work in the next room; you can keep an eye on your chew-loving dog while you’re at work; you can set it up as a sort of nanny cam; and if you’re Vince Hunter from Texas, you can use it to watch someone rob your house while you’re 1500 miles away.

While visiting family in Connecticut, Mr. Hunter received a text message from iCam, alerting him that his motion sensors in his Dallas home had been activated.  Hunter went to the app and watched men breaking into his home by throwing a brick through his glass doors.  He says, “I check the footage, and see in real time guys in this area, and they’re kind of hunched over. They’d just broken the glass. I said holy cow, I gotta call 911.”  He made that call and watched as the police showed up in his house, guns drawn, just minutes after the thieves made their escape.

While the two suspects are still at large, another would-be thief was foiled by an iPhone.  In San Francisco, a woman was walking down the street with her iPhone when a man pedaled by on his bike and grabbed her phone out of her hands.  Unfortunately for the thief, the woman was conducting a GPS tracking demonstration.

David Kahn of Covia Labs of Mountain view asked his assistant, Jordan Sturm, to go outside with the iPhone so he could track her via his laptop.  After she came running back without the phone and called the police, he considered turning on the phone’s camera or taking a picture, but he didn’t want to alert the thief, later identified as Horatio Toure, that he was being tracked.  Toure was picked up by the police ten minutes later.   A reader commenting on the story had this to say, “Good thing the thief wasn’t holding the phone in his hand with his thumb and pinky. Oh snap!”

Just a few of the helpful iPhone apps available to you today.

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Yoko Says No to Apple, Inc.

The Beatles had a great year in 2009: not only was a Rock Band game released in their honor, but their digitally remastered catalog was released to eager fans. While Rock Band may not have rocked as much as the old Beatles themselves, both the catalog and the game did solid business. It was expected that after this foray into the digital world, we would start seeing the Beatles in places like, say, iTunes. No such luck. Apple Corps. is not letting Apple Inc. get hold of its music, and Yoko Ono says not to hold your breath.

As you might guess, Apple and Apple have experienced some confusion: Apple Corp. is the multimedia corporation started by the Beatles. Apple Inc. is is maker of the iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac, and more. If you have trouble remembering, just think of Apple Core – the Beatles actually had a sense of humor and used the pun on the word “corps.” In any case, Apple Corp. owns the rights to the Beatles’ work and has maintained a tigh78t grip. Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s widow, told Reuters, “Steve Jobs has his own idea and he’s a brilliant guy. There’s just an element that we’re not very happy about, as people. We are holding out. Don’t hold your breath…for anything.”  What exactly that element is was left unexplained.

Paul McCartney indicated to Entertainment Weekly back in 2009 that he would like to see the Beatles’ work on iTunes: “It’s a bit of a sticky issue. We want it to happen. The record company was taken over by new people quite recently, so there is a gridlock of sorts. I’d like to make it happen.”  Looks like that’s not happening just yet.

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Back to School Apps

It’s time to head back to school.  In the old days, that would have meant buying some notebooks, a few pencils, and maybe some highlighters if you were lucky.  Today, it means apps.  There are apps for students learning to add 2+2 or to graph complex equations.  Are any of these useful?  Let’s take a look.

If you are headed to college, don’t forget about books.  This will cost you, easily, a few hundred dollars per semester, and more if you have a major that requires fancy, up-to-date textbooks.  An app from Half.com allows you to comparison shop for textbooks, DVDs, games, and other school supplies.  If you find something you need, you can buy it right from your iPhone.  Don’t pay full price for your school books.  Best of all, this app is free and available from the Apple store.

iApps for Students is having a sale for back-to-school.  It’s great for students and teachers, and anyone who finds themselves in need of a good Japanese-English dictionary or a Mac web design tool.  There are a variety of great apps for iPhone,  iPad, and Mac.  Some of these apps, like the $300 myArtist app for iPhones, are quite pricy, so the sale is a great time to buy if you’ve been needing apps for work or school.

Other good ones include Cliffs Notes on the Go, Spanish Tutor, QuickReader, Cute Math, Grockit SAT Flash Cards, and applications for graphic calculators, dictionaries, and much more.  Check out the app store before you go back to school – you may find that you can skip the actual store (like your college bookstore or to buy a pricy graphing calculator) if you try an app.

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iPhone vs. Android: Who Gets More Action?

Google and Apple are both giants in the technology field, both enormously successful, and both committed to outdoing the other.  Google jumped into the smartphone fray, and there is speculation that Apple may delve ever so gently into the search domain.  Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks that Apple will build a mobile search app.  Search expert John Battelle agrees, saying, “Apple will do search.  It won’t be search as we understand it on the Web, but it’ll be search for AppWorld, and if done right, it will be extremely profitable.”  But a new study puts Apple ahead of the competition in one key aspect.

A very serious, scientific, and unimpeachable study found that when it came to sex, iPhone users have more sexual partners than those with BlackBerries or Androids.  Really, the “study” was conducted by dating site OKCupid’s blog OKTrends and was, according to CBS News, “decidedly unscientific.”  Even so, that didn’t stop them, or a number of other sources, from having fun with the results.

According to the survey, male iPhone users had an average of 10 sexual partners.  Those with BlackBerries had 8.1, and those loser Android users had an average of 6.  Female iPhone users do even better with an average of 12.3 partners.  Blackberry owners averaged 8.8, and Android users 6.1.

How did OKTrends come to these conclusions?  First, they analyzed the impact of profile pictures in their post, “Don’t Be Ugly By Accident!”  Certain cameras made profile pictures more attractive – if you’re wondering, the PanasonicMicro 4/3s was tops. If you have the Sony Ericsson Phone, though, you may as well give up.  Different uses of flash, time of day, and other factors make a difference in how other people perceive the attractiveness of the subject.  With this information, they “crossed all kinds of user behaviors with the camera models and found we had data on the number of sexual partners for 9,785 people with smart phones. We dropped what we found into Excel, and voila.”

So, clearly the lesson here is that you don’t have to accidentally be ugly and ruin your chances at finding multiple partners?  You too can be as good as an iPhone user?  The post garnered scores of comments, including this one:

“I know this ‘study’ is trying to be entertaining and controversial, and indeed it is interesting. This may be too much to expect from a blog, but I hope your next ‘study’ will attempt to be more logical in distinguishing correlation from causation! It really is alarming that some people seem to have believed your claims.”

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BMI Royalty Collection Practices: Legalized Extortion?

TechDirt’s Mike Masnick didn’t mince any words in a recent post entitled, “A Day In the Life of Legalized Extortion: How the BMI Shakedown Works.”  It gets better from there: the post’s subtitle is “from the sickening department.”  What did BMI do to warrant such a scathing commentary from the popular blog group?

TechDirt’s stated purpose is to “analyze and offer insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies ability to innovate and grow.”  In this case, founder Mr. Masnick finds issue with a New York Times piece which followed a BMI “enforcer” for a day as she went to clubs, bars, restaurants, and other public venues to kick some small business owner butt, threaten them, and extort large amounts of money from them.  Really?  Not quite, but there are those who think that what BMI licensing executive Devon Baker is little more than a thug sent to break some knee caps.

Devon Baker travels for one week out of every month, visiting establishments that play music.  It is as simple as that: if you play music in your business, whether you own a restaurant or a skating rink, you need to pay licensing fees.  You are technically making money by offering your customers music: it is like paying your beer supplier.  Except many business owners don’t think they need to pay their music suppliers, or licensers.  Baker visits these businesses, trying to get them to pay up for a licensing agreement. 


Masnick writes, “It’s all legal, but it has all the hallmarks of a pure shakedown.”  He says that BMI, ASCAP, and other PROs are “doing more harm than good.”  Many venues stop offering live music, which closes off an avenue that up-and-coming bands have always depended on for exposure.  He offers further that the big name artists get the lion’s share of royalties, and that small business owners cannot afford to pay the fees.

Mike O’Neill, senior VP at BMI, says “Being a BMI licensing exec is one of the hardest jobs a person can have.  It’s different from other industries and sales situations.  Clients aren’t deciding whether to pay you so you can send them your product.  They’ve already got it.”  And if they’ve already got it, why pay for it?  It’s a hard sell for Baker.

Interesting, most people – 85 percent according to professional polls commissioned by BMI – support music licensing.  In theory.  Sure, if you’re using something, you pay for it. Sounds good.  If you’re making money off of the music, pay up.  What, me pay up?  Absolutely not! That’s extortion.

The argument that companies like BMI hurt businesses that offer live music, thereby shutting off a crucial source of exposure and income for up-and-coming artists is certainly viable – but again, they are using the music to make money.   Just as they are using their beer or food to make money.  They pay their suppliers, but when it comes to licensing fees, it seems to be a whole different story. Are the fees to high or are most people just unwilling to pay for something that they can really get for free (if not legal)?

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UK Music Industry Rebounding

After five years of dismal sales and much blaming of online pirates for the demise of the modern music industry, there is a glimmer of hope – at least in the UK.  In 2009, the UK music business experienced a 4.7 percent increase in revenue, which translates to £3.9 billion, or $US 6.2 billion dollars.  An impressive gain, to be sure.  What is behind the increase?

Two major factors combined to make 2009 a successful year, despite a downward trend and despite gloomy forecasts.

  • Sales of recorded music and concert tickets grew 4.8 percent (to $4.6 billion/£2.9 billion)
  • Business-to-business revenue, which includes royalty collections, licensing deals, advertising, and sponsorship increased 4.4 percent (to $1.5 billion/ £967)

PRS Music’s chief economist, Will Page, says, “Strong growth in international licensing revenues, a robust live music industry, and signs of stabilisation in the recorded sector have helped produce these impressive results.  Underpinning this is a drive by the industry to develop new sources of income from the online market.”

According to the Guardian, summer festivals in the UK have also helped sales; revenues from festivals grew by 9.4 percent.  The UK is hoping to learn from the mistakes of the US music industry, where lackluster concert ticket sales for even big-name acts are the norm.  This sector of the US music industry fell 17 percent from the previous year.  Page says, “The live party is not over, but it is starting to cool down.  The good news is that the live sector is already innovating in ways that are as impressive as the digital sector.”

These figures show an increase from 2008 to 2009.  2010’s numbers appear to be stagnating, but as Page points out, “Flat is the new up.”

It is interesting to note that UK’s increase in live music revenue is due largely to big-name acts.  In fact, according to some sources, about 40 pubs close each week, slowly erasing the forum in which new bands gain experience and a following.  This, too, is a pattern we’ve seen in the US, as many venues opt to forgo live music because of licensing concerns.

Needed to keep gains from 2009 from evaporating, according to Page, is more collaboration among those in the industry, as well as the development of new ways to harness the power of digital music, including social media.

Google to Launch Cloud-Based Music Service?

Google is looking to expand its already incredible reach into the music industry.  It is reported that the search giant/smartphone maker/insanely lucrative business will roll out an on-demand music service by November or December of this year.  What will make Google Music different – and can it succeed where so many others have failed?

According to Wired.com, Google will begin offering a paid on-demand system (because licensing companies are no longer that enthused about ad-supported music sites), as well as a free streaming service, similar to Pandora.  Wired’s sources say that Google will play 10, 15, or 30 second ads when music is streamed to Android devices and possibly, with the aid of an app, to anyone with a connection and a browser.  The source also indicates that Google’s ad-supported stations may become available on YouTube, extending the appeal to millions more viewers.

CNET reported on a possible Google Music service, saying, “Launching a music service would be simple if all Google intended to do was offer digital downloads or a subscription service. But Google has more ambitious plans to strike an unprecedented cloud-music licensing deal with the four major record companies.”  It has been reported that Google has been engaged in talks with the Harry Fox Agency, which holds the rights to thousands of producers’ materials.  Google has brought in lawyer Elizabeth Moody, who has vast experience dealing with licensing issues, to help guide them through the process.

A cloud music service would allow users to access their music, movies, and e-books from anywhere with internet access.  Google is, apparently, much closer to launching a cloud music service than their rival, Apple.  The key, though, is successful talks with licensing companies.  Without their ok or an agreeable payment arrangement, the launch could well stall for months, if not years.

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