iPhone Explorer solves stupid Apple problem

Free utility iPhone Explorer does what Apple should always have done…

It lets you access the data on your own iPhone – just like a proper grown up.

I took an audio recording of a client presentation today. It was critical that I had this audio file in order to play it back to some people who weren’t able to attend and to transcribe the content in text form. The Apple voice memo app has (to my mind) always been sorely lacking in the control department. Once you’ve recorded your audio, there’s no clear ‘click to save this’ option. You find yourself clicking the pause button which takes you to the file storage area.. where you hope your file has been stored.

Today, it appeared to tell me that my 46 minute file had recorded. But to my horror, when I tried to access the file on my iPhone although it said it was there, it ominously wouldn’t play it. Nor would it sync that file to the MacBook (although it synced another from the same session).

A quick Google search revealed a free little utility called ‘iPhone Explorer’.

Fantastic. Not only could I see my iPhone without Apple’s annoying iTunes getting in the way, but – miracles! – I could drag and copy the file that neither the iPhone or iTunes could play to my MacBook desktop. Once there, I was able to open it in Bias Peak, edit away, then levelate it and get it off to my client for reference.

Brilliant. All thanks to iPhone Explorer – and no thanks to Apple’s voice memo app and iTunes.

Spotify Premium: Review starts here

I’ve just given myself the gift of Spotify Premium.  This is my ‘as-it-happens’ review

I’ve been using Spotify off and on for most of this year.  In all of that time, it’s been a fun service to use firstly because it has been free (ad supported) and secondly because it gives me access to a million tons of music I would never have otherwise heard in the days of CDs and ‘physical music’.

Can’t fault the ad-supported version.  Yes, the frequency of ads increased over the year but even then it was a relatively small price to pay for all that free background music.  In the course of Spotify’s first year, it’s been my pleasure to help out rather a lot of people get free accounts (via this link here) many of whom, lets hope, go on to be fully paid-up Premium subscribers in turn.

So what’s the Premium experience like then?

Let me point a picture of me-as-Spotify-user first.  I’m 46, male, white.  Professional.  Critical technophile (meaning I love & hate technology in equal measures).  I don’t have a lot of music CDs.  I don’t follow any particular bands.  Live gigs bore me after 45 minutes.  These days, I’d rather hear lots of random stuff I don’t know than stuff I do know.  I’m as likely to listen to spoken word these days as music.  I don’t go to festivals :-)

There you have it: grumpy old bloke sets out to try out Spotify Premium.

Signing up for Spotify Premium

First thing is that I hate being signed up to a rolling subscription when I only want to try.  If you try to upgrade to Premium, it will assume you’re signing up month on month (leaving the onus on you to cancel).  My way around this was to ‘gift’ myself a 1-month Premium Code via a Spotify Premium e-card. £9.99 one-off card payment.

It worked – now I’m Premiumed up for one month. Thank you Sam. You’re welcome Sam. (BTW don’t bother seaching Google for an obvious phrase like ‘spotify premium gift card’.  It’s as if they don’t want you to find their e-card. Doh!)

Spotify iPhone app

Downloading the iPhone app is quick and easy.  Ignore the 1 star reviews from the muppets who have downloaded the app expecting to be able to use it with a free Spotify account.  Don’t blame the app because you couldn’t read the small print, folks.

Now, there are two things you’re going to want to test with your Spotify app: the offline playlist capability and the streaming on-the-go 3G connectivity.

Spotify offline playlist downloads

On the face of it, this feature is supposed to make Spotify available to you when you don’t have enough 3G bandwidth to stream it.  In theory, it sounds good but in reality how long a playlist takes to download will depend on the WiFi bandwidth you have available..

At home on my 450kbs broadband connection, downloading a 100 song offline playlist took several hours.  I can’t see myself having enough time to download playlists on a regular basis.

Another consideration here is that there doesn’t seem to be any indication of the size of the files that are being downloaded.  How much will my 8Gb phone take?

And finally: on the iPhone, it appears that playlists don’t download unless you open the app and start them (or let them re-start).  If I exit to do something else, the downloading stops.  I think it carries on when the phone auto-locks but, without any detailed progress indicator, I can’t be sure.

Spotify 3G streaming

At home in Devon even on a lousy 450kbs broadband, Spotify Premium streams pretty well on the laptop – with only the occasional drop-out.

At home, where the 3G coverage is also patchy or non-existent, the iPhone app gives up trying to stream altogether and reverts to any saved playlist.

Sitting in London with a chunky 3G signal the Spotify app works perfectly on the iPhone.  Right now, I’m listening to Elvis – the 68 comeback special. :-) I have no idea if / whether streaming Spotify tracks ends up costing on my O2 iPhone contract.

Spotify Premium verdict?

The downside

The usability of the Spotify app is only as good as the mobile 3G coverage and the WiFi access you have (see above).  If both are lousy you’re not going to get the most out of Premium because the fallback (downloading playlists for offline listening) can be a long-winded and impractical business.

In reality, though, fewer and fewer of us are stuck with both crap 3G and crap broadband all the time – and it’s a situation that will only improve.

A major downside to Spotify has got to be the inability to run the app in background mode while I do other things with my iPhone.  After all, iTunes can do it – so why not Spotify?  Is it a deal-breaker? I’ll let you know when my trial month is up.

The upside

On the upside, Spotify does something that’s so different from any previous mode of music ownership: it encourages me to listen to lots of new things.  With Spotify, the musical world expands.  With my real-world CD collection (or paid-for mp3s), it seems to contract, encouraging us to listen more and more to the same things.

And Spotify’s search facility is everything you’d expect of a software that learned from iTunes, YouTube, Google and everything that paved the way before it.

All in all, I keep thinking “I don’t want to own music!  I just want to listen to it” – and Spotify lets me do that for £10 a month on my handheld device of choice.  I think that’s probably worth it.

iTunes: the home of…crap, actually

When exactly did online stores stop caring about quality?

I’ve noticed that the old-fashioned idea about a store being some kind of assurance of quality no longer seems to apply online – if it ever did.

Browse the iTunes store for iPhone apps and you find an extraordinary amount of rubbish.  This only a day after an app called something like ‘BabyShaker’ (yes, a ‘game’ where you shake a baby to stop it crying) came to media attention and was – reluctanctly no doubt – removed.

Check out ‘Football Shootout Lite’ – a game that averaged 1/2 a star out of 5 from over 8000 disgusted ratings and was utterly slated by reviewers.  And that was after it’s ‘major re-architecture’.  What a absolute turd. But, like all apps, no names, no people, no tangible companies behind them.  A Google search for ‘TapTapMedia LLC’ turns up nothing credible or useful.

Since when did it make sense for Apple to showcase such crap for their flagship iPhone / iPod products?

Quality, as we used to know it, takes human intervention and editorial evaluation.  That really messes up the ‘hands-off’ monetisation model that’s the internet’s ‘holy grail’ so it’s history.

On the plus side, the ‘ wisdom of the crowd’ prounces a pretty damning verdict on trash like ‘Football ShootOut Lite’.

What do you think?

Is Spotify legal in the UK?

If Spotify IS legal it’s the end of ‘music ownership’ – discuss

As an old person, one of the things that interests me most about the online world is the enormity of some of the developments taking place versus the relative lack of comment about their significance.

Facebook is one. How often do you hear people talking about the fundamental ways it’s changing society?

The new music-streaming service Spotify is another. I can’t even get the bottom of its licensing arrangements although I assume it’s perfectly legal since it seems to have the backing of some major labels.

What I love most about it is that it throws music ‘ownership’ out of the window. We’re at the point where this kind of service, coupled with always-on wireless access means, effectively, the end of the ownership era.

Even the far-seeing iPod is, essentially, about ownership. You’ve got to put a copy of something on your own machine to take it with you. iTunes, no matter how revolutionary it seemed, is about ownership of music (actually, it’s about sellership of music).

Spotify represents a departure from ownership of music. If it is legal; if it’s business model is sustainable (ad-supported or premium) then what we’ll see is the rapid evolution of iTunes from its ‘pay-per-tune’ model of ownership towards the streaming service. That or its rapid collapse.

And here’s the ‘unspoken’ bit: everybody knows that with Spotify and Audio Hijack Pro (or similar) you can line up your favourite album or playlist, record it as one chunk of mp3 and lob it onto your iPod. Legal? Schmegal. Until everybody’s got a hand-held that effortlessly streams audio, it will happen. The only ‘cost’ is an ad every hour.

So let’s face reality. If services like Spotify are legal, then paid music ownership is dead and so is the idea of piracy – as a comment from a heated debate about Spotify confirms:

“As a hardcore pirate, I’ll just say F**K YOU. Spotify is THE most genious app ever created. I’ve fully stopped downloading music since I got Spotify”