Archive for the 'iPod' Category

How to avoid learning perhaps a little too much about Kieren’s life

I mentioned about a month ago how I was considering setting up a second blog so I could more easily separate my personal and professional life. And yesterday, twice, I was reminded that there is a bit of an unusual overlap when I spoke to two people: one, the spokesman for a company I regularly report on; and the second, the CEO of a company I also follow closely.

Both of them made mention of my paella (I note with sadness that only one was interested in the actual recipe however). Now this was a tremendous paella, there’s no doubt about that, but I suspect that there may be a few people out there that don’t want to know about my lunch and so I am going to highlight here an easy solution to the problem: separate RSS feeds.

Continue reading ‘How to avoid learning perhaps a little too much about Kieren’s life’

iWoz – Apple from the other side?

iWoz - Steve Wozniak's account of AppleMy copy of iWoz arrived from Amazon this morning and I am mildly excited about reading it – much more than I thought I would be.

The book is selling itself as the first account of Apple founder Steve Wozniak’s view of this peculiar computer company. The blurb in the book is: “Having avoided the spotlight for the last twenty-five years, Steve is finally ready to break his silence…”

Since I’m not a Mac maniac, I’m not entirely sure what he says in the book and I suspect it won’t be that extraordinary, but I bought it because I’m due to interview him in Oxford in a month’s time – something which I’m also oddly looking forward to.

I’m sure the irony of the book being called iWoz won’t be lost on Wozniak. Continue reading ‘iWoz – Apple from the other side?’

Why iTunes pricing has to change

There is an ongoing fuss about the flat-fee of iTunes. Apple dominance of the MP3 player market with the iPod and it's very close tie-in with iTunes has meant that the computer company has been able to tell the music industry what to do so far.

And in Steve Jobs' wisdom that has meant a flat 79p (or 99 cents in the US) per song, no matter what. The music industry doesn't like this and wants to be able to vary the price – charging more for the latest thing and, presumably, less for older albums.

I have to confess that after an initial burst I have stopped buying songs from iTunes. It's just works out too expensive. You don't think that 79p is very much but then you look at your credit card bill at the end of the month and think – in much the same way as you do with mobile phone bills – how the hell have I spent that much money? I never used to spend that much on music.

And so, inevitably, you wander off to file-sharing sites…

But yesterday afternoon I started singing a Lemonheads song. Confetti. It goes: “He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could’ve, The story’s getting closer to the end, He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could’ve, He’d rather be alone than pretend.”

And I went to the iPod to select it and put it on. Despite having over 30GB of music now – took me a month to convert my music collection into MP3s – I couldn't find it. I only had a tape of “Shame about Ray”, no CD, so I didn't have it on the white wonder. I decided to buy the album straight away to play the song.

I went to iTunes. It had the album. Although for some reason it wouldn't let you buy the whole album in one click – you had to buy all the 13 tracks independently at 79p. It's just as well that Apple had done this because it made me stop and think. That £10.27! For an album made in 1992!

I toyed with the idea of just buying Confetti but I really wanted the whole album at this stage because I had started remembering the other songs. So I thought I'd go check out Amazon. Sure enough on Amazon, a brand new copy costs just £6.97. iTunes was nearly 50 percent more expensive. Then I noticed I could also buy it new through Amazon's marketplace for just £3.50. So that's what I did – it cost £4.74 all in with postage and packaging.

So not only I am getting it for less than half the price of iTunes but I also have the CD. No matter which way you cut it, the CD will remain higher quality than an electronic file (at the moment). And of course I don't have to have a file in Apple's proprietary AAC format so I control what I do with the music, rather than Apple.

iTunes is, frankly, a massive, ridiculous rip-off.

And the thing is, now that I have been though this thought process, every time I even think about buying from iTunes, I will look around first. iTunes has become the last resort for music.

Apple is really screwing up here. It needs to change its pricing very, very soon.

The BBC, podcasts and the future of TV

There's a lot of fuss around podcasts, but with each iteration of technology that hands production control to the individual, we are finding that it takes less time for high-quality content to appear.

I remember when the Internet was slagged off because it was just full of dorky Americans with pictures of their cars, and porn. How stupid that opinion looks now.

Then there were blogs. It's just the ramblings of idiots, people joked, geek teenagers with an opinion on everything and experience in nothing. And then suddenly we saw experts – previously almost impossible to locate or talk to – readily and easily accessible on their blogs. Now newspapers are crawling all over blogs trying to find a way of making them work.

Now we have podcasts. Podcasts actually are different in that they require new skills that are nowhere near as common as literacy and typing. They also require new tools. All you need for a blog was a computer and a Net connection – something you already had. Now you need microphones, editing software and an understanding of how sound and sound codecs work.

But the thing is that audio has always has a certain warmth and beauty to it – we are, after all, conversational creatures. The speed with which people have learnt these new skills and applied them to the Internet has been extraordinary. And the gap is even bigger in that previously radio was a hugely difficult market to enter – you needed equipment, transmitters and licences before you could even start. Media is being democratised.

And now visual

Next up is TV. And it is with some pride that I see the BBC is leading the way, not in a protective, scared, panicky way, as has often been the case with new media and old companies. No, the BBC is pushing the technology – and it even admits that the cost of producing TV programmes is going to fall dramatically with new Net technologies.

The BBC's head of New Media and Techology, Ashley Highfield, appeared on stage yesterday with Bill Gates at the Mix06 conference in Las Vegas for 13 minutes. [You can see it all here. Highfield is on stage between 39 minutes to 52 minutes.]

It will have seemed much longer for Mr Highfield who was clearly a little nervous. American conference set-pieces inhabit a world of their own. Hyperbole, chuminess, whooping, the whole American thing. For a Brit, this world is so utterly bizarre that you constantly wonder whether these people are actually doing it for real or if they're all a little deranged.

The fact is that Americans absolutely adore being told that whatever you are talking about is the BEST! Yeah! The GREATEST! Yeah! Woo! Us Brits hate it. It's a cultural gap. And Mr Highfield did a pretty good job considering.

Anyway, Highfield spoke about how people's behaviour was changing. Over half the UK population checks out the BBC website at least once a month, he said (I know I look at it at least once a day). But recently, he said, there has been an “exponential increase” in the rich media accessed on the BBC site – and it was far more than just the uptake of broadband, he said. People now want TV on their terms, Ashfield said.

Start your own TV channel

Then some very interesting facts: it costs the BBC £7 million a year to distribute a TV channel over the existing infrastructure. It costs a tenth of that to do so over satellite. But at £700,000 a channel, we're still talking very, very far from accessible. BUT, Ashfield said, it takes a tenth of that again to distribute over a TV channel over the Net.

So there you have it, from the BBC's mouth: It costs just £70,000 a year to run an Internet TV channel. That figure is easily within the grasp of a small business. You can get a £300,000 loan if you can demonstrate profitable returns (ads or sales) to your bank, and you're in business. The possibilities are enormous.

Ashfield then talked about the BBC iMP download programme. Its recently ended a trial of 5,000 people. How it is experimenting with P2P technologies to distribute good, clean, high-quality programmes over the Net. He then demoed the iMP technology – which looks great.

Apparently, most people weren't bothered with watching TV shows on their PC but even so, the BBC wants to work at ways of getting it on the TV screen – and obviously he mentioned the Xbox, Media Centre etc etc because Bill Gates was standing right next to him.

The biggest challenge is digital rights management (DRM), Highfield said, so programmes can't be pirated. The iMP trial saw the material seize up after a week. That is the model the BBC is planning. Free for a week, then free for UK citizens and paid for by everyone else (as they don't pay the licence fee).

But here is the big, big benefit from the BBC's perspective: its archive. Ashfield said the BBC has the largest video archive in the world – 600,000 hours of footage from the 1930s on. And 99 percent of it is on the shelves, he said. The corporation wants to digitise the whole lot – but that leaves two big issues: DRM and effective search. And that's where we're up to with the cutting edge of TV and the Internet.

Back to podcasts

Getting back to podcasts, I was going on about how they were really good last week and someone asked me which ones I subscribe to. Most of them were BBC ones: Today programme, From Our Correspondent, Go Digital and Documentary Archive. The others were: Brett Fausett's ICANN blog [feed], and GoDaddy's weekly radio show [feed] (I have tried and ditched a few comedy podcasts).

The BBC podcasts were a trial and clearly they were popular as it has now extended its podcasts from just the main 8.10am interview [feed] to all the main interviews [feed] on the show – which is terrific news. The Today programmes remains one of the few beacons of sanity out there in that it covers serious events intelligently – you know, for normal, intelligent people who don't give a fuck about the latest celebrity nonsense and who don't need patronising on the important topics of the day either.

The BBC has also added a new “BBC Radio Newspod” [feed] podcast which is basically a round-up of the day's news. I look forward to seeing how it pans out. And then there are a huge range of others – check them out at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/downloadtrial/.

I was asked for my opinion of podcats by Graham Holliday for an article the other day. He subsequently wrote this article on Journalism.co.uk. I'll stick my full email to him below for anyone interested.

And well, that's it, this post is already far too long and I've got to get on with other things. But I have to say I am excited about the new possibilities. If you're enthusiastic, imaginative and determined a whole world of media is opening up like never before.


My podcast ramblings

I'll tell you the great thing about podcasting: you get to learn a huge amount about sound, and you really starting appreciating the radio.

The best thing to do is to jump straight in, record something, edited it and then stick it up and ask friends and family to listen and tell you what they think honestly.

Suddenly you learn about all sound quality, you learn all about microphones and revel in capturing a purer, rounder sound. You learn what does and doesn't work. You start listening to how the professionals do it, how they bring in different ideas through sound, how they cut interviews, how they fade in and out background noise. It all adds to a smoother listening experience.

You learn not to say “okay” when interviewing people but merely nod. You learn how to use the microphone as a controlling tool in an interview. You learn to take people aside or put them in corners to get a better sound. Better still – get in a car.

But here's what you also learn: it takes bloody ages to get a sound package right. You have to develop a system of listening and grabbing what you want. Of building an audio story as you go along – you can't just intercut points like you do in a news story – it sounds weird and disjointed.

You get faster the more you do it, but it ends up far, far easier just bunging up what you've recorded – which is something I don't like doing because as a professional journalist I want to condense the material down to the most relevant bits to save people the trouble.

It's no mistake that most podcasts are of people just saying what they think. Because that way you can self-edit as you go along. You just can't do that if you're trying to mix and blend interviews.

I am annoyed with myself that I've not done more podcasts. The problem is: I over-record. I have hours and hours of tapes and at some point it becomes overwhelming. Since I am so much more comfortable (and faster) with writing I can actually feel myself writing stories so I don't feel obliged to spend six hours going through tapes.

It's just laziness and I'm sure once I've got better and faster, it will seem less of a struggle. I also love listening to stuff – it feels so much more real than reading words. I suppose that's always been the joy of radio. It's one thing to read someone's words, but it's a much deeper experience to hear that person say them. Much more alive.

For example, I have some great recordings of the recent protests in Oxford over animal rights. You can read all you like about it, but actually hearing the sounds of chants and speeches throws you straight in there in a way words will never be able to.

Of course one of the biggest issues is the editing software. Lots of good software out there these days, and some of it pretty self-explanatory. But it's still requires a lot of learning and experimentation. Especially when it comes to getting the right sampling rate etc for a podcast. You have to finely balance quality with file size. And the only way to be certain is save it and then listen on a high-quality system.

As for software, I went with Adobe Audition for the simple reason that it is more or less the industry standard. I figured it I was going to learn a software package, I might as well skill myself up on one that could be useful later in my career. Same reason I know Photoshop.

The other problem with podcasting, journalistically, is that whether you like it or not, your notes get sloppier if you know you are recording the interview. Often if you're writing a story, you then find going through the whole interview a hassle so you end up basing an article on weaker notes than you're happy with.

And then there is the eternal issue of *not actually recording* the interview. Which is so infuriating it's unbelievable. Never ever rely on it just working. Make sure it says it is recording. Make sure you have a noise level that moves when you speak into the mic. Make sure the batteries will last (my mini-disc recorder has just given up a few times when the batteries were at 50 percent only 10 minutes ago). Make sure that the mic is on. Make sure you lock the controls once you've started recording so you don't accidentally nudge it and stop it. Just check and double check. And even then sometimes you screw it up.

But I suppose the reason why I don't do more podcasting is because no one wants to pay for it at the moment. Radio is the only real outlet – despite the whole fuss over podcasting, you just try to sell a newspaper or news site a podcast – and radio is not set up for buying quick packages. That's just not how radio works at the moment. Probably because established radio stations would turn their nose up at the quality of podcast recordings. In fact, radio stations are missing a trick here. I'd like to think some smart radio exec is out there somewhere seeing what they can do.

I now have a super interviewing mic – a Beyer M58 – and a fancy editing package and a much greater knowledge of radio.

I also use my mini-disc recorder to record interviews because – very annoyingly – the iPod records at terrible, unusable quality. I understand the new Video iPod can record at stereo quality, although I'm not sure if the accessories are there yet to get radio-quality sound into it. I'm itching to have a hard-disc high-quality recorder because then you don't have to deal with lots of discs, you can transfer the information much much faster to a computer, and you can record huge quantities without worrying about running out of space.

There you go – hope that's helpful – you've caught me in a typing mood.

A ringside seat at the future of the Internet

I’m taking a few days off writing the Sex.com book to cover what I believe to be a very important meeting in Geneva.

In fact, I write this from a hotel room in Geneva within spitting distance of the main train, tram, hotel, shop square called Cornavin.

Starting 10am tomorrow, for two days, the world’s governments, as well as academia, business, tech-heads and nosey sods like me will discuss how a new body called the Internet Governance Forum should be set up, how it should run, who should run and what it should discuss.

I am consistently finding myself faced with people who don’t seem to think this Forum is important. But the simple fact is that one very possible route will be that on 27 October this year we will have a globally agreed way of dealing with, and hopefully ending, spam.

That is if things go right and people can be persuaded to work with one another instead of scratching up against each other. There is no reason to believe that the Forum can’t act as the world’s solver of the Internet’s problems – and let’s be honest there are a few of them and they are beginning to affect every man, woman and child. I would count that as pretty bloody important.

Anyway, I’m here to see what happens and tell as many people as possible about it. I am a journalist, see.

Rotten Apple

I’m really pissed off with Apple. Not so much because of the iPod. No, this piece of hardware continues to provide me with such pathetic joy that it may actually be the best gadget I have ever had (may have to ponder that one at greater length).

What pisses me off is how Apple hides its problems under a cloak of arrogant disdain. I upgraded my iPod’s (fourth-generation 60GB photo iPod) hardware not all that long ago to version 1.2. I only just got around to upgrading it again to version 1.2.1.

And I am very, very glad I did because Apple made a huge fat mistake in version 1.2. They installed all sorts of things that I don’t use – iCalendar and other things for Mac users – but somehow they didn’t constrain them sufficiently so they drained the iPod battery about five times faster than usual.

I know this because before version 1.2, my iPod would last about eight hours play music. Recently I took the hour-and-a-half bus journey to London from Oxford and found that on the return journey the battery died on the way back. Completely gone. And no I hadn’t left it playing the whole time.

Apple had killed my iPod. Except version 1.2.1 – which, very oddly, required a big reboot of the whole hardware – resets whatever Apple did wrong and on my long journey to Geneva today – 11am to 6pm – the battery was back to normal and still have plenty of juice left.

So what am I annoyed with Apple? Because Apple has not – and will not – admit to any of this. It has made no mention that it has screwed up, and it hasn’t said to customers “look you really need to upgrade to 1.2.1 because your battery will only last two hours with 1.2”. In fact I know from bitter past experience that Apple will refuse to admit or even discuss the issue if I called up Steve Jobs himself right now and said exactly what I’ve just written above.

Arrogant sods.

On the plus side

But on the plus side, I have wireless Internet access in my hotel room – which is wonderful because it is a cheap hotel and it demonstrates that the hotel trade has finally recognised the importance of Net access.

Sort of, anyway. Because to access the hotel’s wireless network I have to go down to reception, buy a card off them and paying a ridiculous 9 Francs (£9 an hour) for half-an-hour, 19 Francs for 2 hours (£4.25 an hour) or 48 Francs for 24 hours (£1 an hour – although you can be guaranteed to be asleep for at least six hours of that).

Rather fortunately, the future – whether people like it or not – also popped up when I did a search for wireless networks in the area. An unsecured wireless network somewhere in a nearby building. A single click and I’m surfing for free.

It is becoming my firm position that not too far in the future, wireless Net access will not only be ubiquitous but frequently free. It really is extremely cheap to provide Net access once the infrastructure is in place. I wish someone with some vision would kick this artificial market in the nuts sooner rather than later. Google is threatening it.

I really, really do not understand hotels not grasping it though. Let me make it really simple: if a hotel says as part of its tariff it includes free Net access in the room, I will pay £10 more a night. Work it out. More money, more customers. Will someone get on with it! Otherwise I will have to continue take advantage of wonderful everyday citizens too foolish to stick security on their network.

Arctic Monkeys stars just by word of mouth. And 200 press articles.

I love this. A new band is rocketing up the charts, is set to become the fastest-ever something and the biggest-selling something else. And it has all been done by word of mouth.

Yes, the Arctic Monkeys have come from nowhere, there are a symbol of the new Internet world where everyday citizens are bypassing traditional outlets thanks to digital technology. Podcasting and iPods and other things like that are turning the world on its head. Now it is possible for four blokes in a shed to become international super-stars.

How do I know this? Because I have read it in The Guardian. And The Independent. And The Times. And The Telegraph. And The Star. And the BBC. And the Sun. And the Mirror. And The Belfast Telegraph. And Sheffield Today. And… and… and…

This word of mouth thing sure is powerful. Powerful enough for blanket coverage in offline national media.

Maybe people don't remember the days before Stock, Aitken and Waterman, or even the days before Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell. You see, in those days people would spontaneously get together to play music together and they would then play this music in public at events called gigs.

The music industry realised that if they recorded these people they might make money, so they hired people specifically to go to these gigs and spot any bands that were any good. And if they were, they would make them sign a contract and then would promote them heavily, hoping to get press coverage in the national media.

It's good to see that digital media is breaking down these structures, undermining the music industry and making it all one big free and open market. I wonder how long traditional media will last against this Internet-based destroyer.

Is Apple developing *too fast*?

I've been pondering Apple's latest moves – namely, the shift to Intel processors and the various new and updated products that Jobs announced this week – and it struck me that Apple may be developing things *too fast*.

Obviously that sounds ridiculous in the context of the IT industry, but bear with me. Continuing on from my theory that the only way to judge the likely future of the IT industry is to discover the patterns from the past (I've wrote an article precisely on this), Apple may be making a historic mistake all over again.

One of the biggest cock-ups Apple made with the Mac in the early days was to produce dozens and dozens of variations of it, constantly releasing new ones with barely any difference between them. It ended up overwhelming and confusing potential buyers – in exactly the same way that this modern obsession with “choice” often leads you to scratch your head in shops when faced with 20 different versions of shampoo, washing powder etc etc.

It strikes me that Apple has only half-learnt its lesson. It now continually comes up with new designs, upgrades the hardware slightly and launches it as a new product. Clearly it thinks that if the product is recognisably different, there isn't an issue. I would argue that there is a very big issue: the sheer speed by which new products arrive.

Two examples. Jobs demonstrated the new iMac with the Intel processor in. And [gasp!] he had been using it throughout his entire presentation. The point being that it looked the same as the iMac everyone in the audience was used to. Except, I didn't actually recognise the iMac design. How long has that design existed? The last iMac design that sticks in my head was the one with a flat screen stuck on a demi-globe. And, to be honest, when you say “iMac”, my mind still jumps immediately to the pastel coloured see-through computer that became so famous.

As it turns out the see-through pastel iMac came out in 1998, the semi-globe in 2002 and the latest version in 2004. So the original lasted four years, the second (too big a change to my mind) two years, and the third has lasted under two so far. I would argue that five years would be a better timeshift. Although I also know that Apple fans would be champing at the bit with a five-year delay.

Now, you could argue I should know all the different styles since I'm an IT journalist, but I don't. And if I don't, there is no way in hell that the rest of the population does. Apple – because of its fanatical followers – can often get stuck in its own world and forget what everyone else thinks.

And those people are thinking: where's the pastel iMac? “This, is the new iMac here,” says the salesman, “and it is much better and faster.” Nah, says the customer, I was after the blue one.

Apple needs more patience. It may be rushing ahead, getting excited about new things, but everyone else only likes spending £1,000 on a computer every five years. And while it is exciting to buy something new and jazzy, if people spend alot of money, they often want something they feel they can trust. That is why the bog-standard desktop computer rectangular box is still the most popular shape.

The over-speedy development also comes with the iPod. It is clearly a different market in that dozens of new MP3 players are hitting the shelves every month as companies try to grab some of the market back off Apple. But Apple is almost running away with itself. It really needs to spend more time on an iPod that will stay stationary for longer.

I got my 60GB fourth-generation in August, and yet it is already out-of-date. I can't get video – even though all I ever hear from Apple is video, video, video. The new FM radio won't work with it. The new iPod offers CD-quality recording, but mine is purposefully restricted by Apple to telephone-quality and it doesn't show any signs of producing an upgrade. Apple's entire focus is on new and exciting products and hyping them up.

I am hoping that Apple will settle on the Nano and Video iPod and build things around them, rather than trying to jump to the next one – which I suspect they will do.

Of course this is all nit-picking. Apple has done an extraordinary job in recent years and shaken up the market by producing better products. But that momentum simply cannot continue forever yet Apple has grown addicted to it, which doesn't bode well for, say, 2007/8.

This year's Jobs/Apple fairground ride

I've never really understood the collective madness that surrounds Steve Jobs keynotes. The Apple CEO is undoubtedly charismatic, and he does a great job of turning the already obsessive Mac maniacs into a frothing mass of excitement, but his announcements are starting to pick up a dangerous momentum all of their own.

“Steve” gave his latest keynote last night in San Francisco at Macworld Expo. The only real news was that Apple has moved to Intel processors from IBM's PowerPC processor. This wasn't news in as much as everyone knew they were doing it (it *was* news when Apple announced it was shifting), but it did come six months earlier than Apple had said, which is a sort of news.

Steeve Jobs, Apple CEO and Paul Otellini, Intel boss at the Macworld Expo keynote

Apart from that, it comprised some software updates and an FM radio for the latest iPod (irritating though not my 4G iPod – which was only bought in August). No explanation given as to why Apple and Jobs have consistently said no one is interested in having the radio on their iPod when everyone else in the world was thinking “well, I wouldn't mind to be honest”.

But Jobs doesn't do explanations. At this point I should link to the best run-through of the speech I've seen so far – Bobbie Johnson at The Guardian's blow-by-blow account.

The Guardian also picked up (and added to) the increasing collective madness about these Jobs speeches, running a front-page Tech section piece about how he practices these events. It was a good decision editor wise, riding the wave at its largest and guaranteeing lots of eyeballs because Mac maniacs love nothing more than reading about Steve Jobs and fantasising about being best mates with him. The more fine details they can get about him, the better. So long as it is all glowing.

And the article was glowing. With a disturbing abundances of first-person “Steves”.

I suppose most people want to find someone that they can hold up as semi-gods and go see, and get excited and hyped up about. It makes life more exciting. I am a sick individual in that I just don't have this module installed in my brain. The more I see people unthinkingly praising and gazing at someone, the more I want to get stuck in, expose their faults and so bring some kind of sanity to proceedings.

Blinkered following and faith is the complete anti-thesis of what I try to do as a journalist. I want people to form their views based on a careful balance of facts and considered reflection, and I try to supply as many of them as possible. Where people's perception strays furthest from the cold reality is where journalism is needed most.

I wasn't in San Francisco. But I was at Parliament last night at a meeting of the Internet Service Providers Association where the issue of the Data Retention Directive and its impact was being discussed. I'll go into more details in a subsequent blog, but what I found amazing was the Jobs effect when home secretary Charles Clarke came into the meeting.

He was an hour later, and he stayed only 15 minutes before heading off. He arrived, gave a very short speech that said nothing at all and then sat down for questions. During these questions it become clear that he was going to cost the people in the room running ISPs an absolute fortune. It was also clear that he will continue to push for new laws that would require more and more content, which will cost them more and more money. It will also remove yet more centuries-old civil liberties, but that's a different meeting.

Home secretary Charles Clarke (standing), with (left to right) Jim Gamble, Deputy director general of the National Crime Squad; Andrew Miller MP; and Emeric Mitszi, Tiscali security and AUP officer

How did the people in the room react? They were absolutely charmed. They roared with laughter at Clarke's political in-jokes (something that I can't stand), they nodded their heads when he said he was hoping to work with them, they applauded when he sat down having given nothing and appeared to have listened to less. And they let him leave to more applause.

Now if it had been anyone else that had walked in and done that. A civil servant, or a top council man, or even an under secretary, I imagine the men in the room – and they are no patsies, they are toughened businessmen – would have torn them to pieces. But because it's the Home Secretary, he has the strange aura of fame that causes people to not want to upset them.

Jim Gamble, Deputy director general of the National Crime Squad; Andrew Miller MP; and Charles Clarke, Home secretary

And that is why society has errant personalities like my own. Not only that but the more “famous” people I meet, the easier it is to look straight through the gloss and aura and see what is really going on. Charles Clarke is a very talented politician and a tough nut, but the laws that he introduces are doing no one any good at all. The ISPA has good reason to be worried. And this morning, away from the glamour, they will suddenly realise it.

Will Apple make the same mistakes again with the iPod?

Piece of mine in The Guardian today about the iPod and how Apple's history shows that the company may soon cock it all up and become just a bit player.

It's a shame the article was so short – 1,200 words – because the first draft covered the whole thing and gave greater overall clarity. That was 2,500 words though and in cutting down I had to kill some of the balance and instead make it a stronger piece. One of the advantages of the US newspaper style where they run long features. But then at least in the UK we're not bored to death with 5,000-word articles on the latest plumbing advance (I'm not making that up btw).

The other thing that is slightly annoying is that I split the articles up into three main points in order to make it easier to read but The Guardian sub-editors have stuck cross-heads in according to aethetics as opposed to readability, so a fundamentally different point appears suddenly in the middle of the text – something that will cause people's minds to skip a beat.

Anyway, here is the article and here is a link to it on The Guardian.


The song remains the same

After transforming the digital music industry, Apple is on a high. But the company has enjoyed success before – only to see it vanish, warns Kieren McCarthy

Thursday November 3, 2005
The Guardian

Apple has stunned everyone with its latest product: beautifully designed, streets ahead of the competition and threatening to revolutionise the market all by itself.

We're talking about the iPod digital music player, of course. But that intro could just as easily have been written about the Macintosh computer in 1984. Or the Newton handheld in 1993. Or even the Apple II in 1977.


You've heard of the Mac, you say, but the what and the what?

This is not the first time Apple has found itself with the best product in a market it has almost single-handedly created. And yet the Mac – launched with the famous TV advertisment 1984, which was aired once during that year's Superbowl – is now no more than a bit player. The Newton is long dead, and the Apple II is a museum piece.

The whole history of Apple Computer is a series of astonishing successes followed by disastrous collapses. And two clear threads run through each cycle.

One is chief executive Steve Jobs. Co-founder in 1976, kicked out of the company in 1985 only to return in 1997, Jobs is a brilliant, forward-thinking and inspiring perfectionist. But he is also an egomaniac prone to believing there is only one possible solution: his.

Then there is Apple's corporate culture, which is independent, creative, imaginative and determined. The company's engineers and designers have produced awe-inspiring technologies over the past 30 years. But this innovation comes with a price: arrogance and a deep-seated control instinct.

Having created a market, Apple's conviction has frequently mutated into stubbornness and it has seen the market run off in a different direction once competitors have caught up.

At the moment, Apple can do no wrong. But the warning signs are already there. If the company is to achieve its lifelong dream of leading and heading a market, it has to tackle three key areas. Without them, the iPod could become just another cultural footnote.

Digital dominance

It is a little-known fact that in 1985, Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates wrote to Apple pleading with it to license the Mac operating system. Apple refused. It had built its business by keeping strict control of both the hardware (the computer itself) and the software (the operating system), and feared the money from software licences would never cover lost hardware sales. It was the biggest mistake Apple ever made. Gates decided to do it himself with Windows and the rest is history.

Apple now enjoys Windows-style dominance in the digital music market – 80% of player sales and 75% of online music sales – and it has got there by keeping close control of the hardware and software. “What has made it so successful is this incredibly tight, seamless linkage between the iTunes service, the user's PC and the iPod,” explains Gartner analyst Mike McGuire.

But, as more people start downloading music, Apple risks losing the market by insisting everyone do it its way. It has its preferred format – AAC – and it makes sure the iTunes software and the iPod hardware speak only to one another. It will only take one company to produce and license a sharper piece of software for Apple's products to become just one among the compatible many.

Apple appeared to have answered this fear in September by licensing iTunes to Motorola for its Rokr phone. “Apple has shown that for the right deal, it is going to be willing to license it,” says McGuire.

But Jobs has made known his real feelings about splitting the hardware and software, slamming as “thieves” those producing alternative software for the iPod. He had a different word – “leeches” – for those that did the same with the Mac operating system. And yet the shortcomings in iTunes are enough that one such product, Anapod, can charge users $20 (£11), while Apple's version is free.

The iTunes Music Store charges a flat 99 cents (79p in the UK) per song, and has so far sold more than 600m tracks. By running a closed shop, Apple has guaranteed iPod sales and dominance. But music companies now want change. Specifically, to charge more for the latest songs. We know this, because Steve Jobs told a recent Apple conference about their “greedy” demands. Owen Linzmayer, freelance journalist and author of the company's unofficial biography, Apple Confidential 2.0, thinks Jobs knew exactly what he was doing: “Sometimes it pays to hash things out in public.”

'Commercial suicide'

Apple's apparent refusal to budge from its decided model is an echo of past stubbornness. One music industry executive said negotiating with Apple was like dealing with a cult.

Apple also made a bad name for itself by trying to use its dominance to pressure independent labels into taking a smaller cut. One executive said it would be “commercial suicide” to accept the terms.

The music companies don't have to let Apple sell their music, and since Apple doesn't own a record label, its hand will be drastically weakened once iPod's dominance is eroded. The multibillion-pound music industry has a very poor digital record, but Apple's attempts to pressure it have motivated it to look for, and push, alternatives.

Much of the iPod's allure is in its design. It has been perfected to the extent that a database of several thousand songs can be accessed with just your thumb. From the very first graphical Mac that popularised the mouse, to the curvy and colourful iMac that revamped its image, Apple has an illustrious design past.

But it has also got it horribly wrong. In 1980, Jobs's obsession with aesthetics led him to insist the Apple III not have a fan, to make it run quietly. The machines simply overheated and died. Jobs then repeated the exact same mistake with the G4 Cube in 2000.

Apple also got into hot water in 2003 when, after 18 months' use, the iPod's rechargeable batteries started dying and customers were told they could not be replaced. They would simply have to buy a new iPod, the company told them.

Small problems

Jobs's most recent design obsession with the iPod being “impossibly small” has created problems with its two latest products. Thousands of Nano customers complained within days that their screens were scratched or had simply shattered. And by keeping the new video iPod so small, its battery will power it for just two hours – putting the player's whole practicality into question.

Apple's current dominance of the digital music market can't go on forever, but how the company deals with events over the next two years will show whether it has learned lessons from the past.

“There is a chance that Apple will stumble,” says Linzmayer. “But it may simply be because they have pointed the way to the future of music, been terrifically successful, and have attracted swarms of competitors. With so many people gunning for the market leader, it's almost inevitable that you'll be shot in the back sooner or later.”

Much of it will come down to Steve Jobs – a man who has undeniably turned Apple around since rejoining in 1997. “He is somebody who has learned from his difficulties before. He now has age, experience and wisdom,” says McGuire.

Lightning success has always come naturally to Apple, but its real maturity as a company will be in avoiding failure.

Strange fruit: Apple's most famous designs

Successes

Apple II (1977), with its integrated keyboard, was many people's first foray into personal computing.

Macintosh (1984) was the first computer to popularise the now-familiar graphical user interface.

iPod and iTunes Music Store convinced the music industry that digital delivery was theway forward.

Failures

Lisa (1983), the first personal computer to use a graphical interface, was both slow to run and very expensive.

The Newton (1993) was the first PDA, but it proved clunky, difficult and failed to stop competitors from thriving.

While the Power Mac G4 Cube was stylish and small, it was too expensive, and within two years it was history.


iPod can finally record decent audio

Okay, this is really good news. Despite my reservations about the new video iPod – particularly the fact that Jobs' obsession with making it small has given it a ridiculous two-hour battery life – it turns out that Apple has fixed my main bugbear with all iPods – recording quality.

It is hard-wired into all iPods that you can only record at telephone-quality audio. As I complained months ago, this makes a mockery of the whole “Podcast” name, since no podcasts would ever have been recorded on an iPod.

Apple has now changed this. Finally. There are now two options for recording (kept very quiet and low down in the new specs). There is:

Low (22.05 KHz, mono) and High (44.1 KHz, stereo)

That little bit of info means CD-quality sound. Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately I have a new iPod Photo and I don't want a Video iPod until the next-generation comes out with what should be a bigger hard drive and better battery if Apple has any sense.

Two questions though:

1. Will there be a hardware upgrade for my iPod Photo so I can record at decent quality? and
2. Is the recording hardware on the market (Griffin iTalk for example) able to deal with this leap in quality?

I shall endeavour to find out.