On Spotify, artist payments, and supporting the music you love so that it survives

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has opined about today’s music industry. It’s an interesting read. In short, he more or less says artists must adapt or die. There are some choice quotes, such as:

[O]bviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough

And:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single artist saying ‘I’m happy with all the money I’m getting from streaming

Ek is right in that we are living in a different era, but his words also feel tone deaf when you bear in mind how little streaming services pay artists. However, some in the media are seemingly behind Ek’s words—at least to some degree. I saw one magazine editor state he’s now writing several stories before breakfast when he used to be part of a team working on just a few stories per week.

In journalism, the newer model (more; faster) can work. But music as rapid churn seems unlikely to. Even the best bands/artists aren’t going to be releasing multiple albums per year (and even if they did there’s no guarantee that’d make a great deal of difference in terms of streaming income). It’d be noise as noise. But mostly, there’s a time consideration—music is extremely time-intensive. I can often write a typical magazine feature in a day, if I already have the research done; if not, a couple of days might be enough. It’s unlikely I could write, record, mix and master even one three-minute song in a day. And even if I could, I’d need to be pretty famous already for that to be commercially viable.

It should therefore come as no surprise many musicians are responding to Ek by saying release frequency has slowed primarily because money pressures result in music becoming more a hobby than a career. And although of course no-one is owed anything from anyone—people cannot take it for granted that they should earn a living of any kind with what they do—I find it sad we are rapidly heading back in time to an age where creativity is being squeezed from education through to adulthood.

If you’re already really famous, none of this will matter too much. If you’ve legacy fame—one of those bands endlessly touring a greatest hits package—you probably have a decent shot again once COVID’s under control and you can do gigs. Beyond that, Ek appears to be saying “it’s your fault you’re not doing well” when streaming payments are bloody awful. But also, it’s hard to know what the solution is, if anything. We’ve trained an entire generation to think creative output is without worth—or at most should be all-you-can-eat for a pittance. “I do my bit because I have a Spotify sub” isn’t a great help to most artists.

As ever, this all comes down to the same thing: support what you love and you’re more likely to get more of it. Don’t support what you love and it might disappear. With music, that means directly supporting artists, beyond your 10 bucks a month to a streaming service. So if you really like an artist, buy their album direct. You might be one of a dwindling number doing so, but it all counts.

August 3, 2020. Read more in: Music, Opinions, Technology

3 Comments

Lack of external display support leaves iPad Pro second best to the Mac

And Apple should do a DeX with iPhone too


Last year, I griped that the iPad is an ergonomic disaster for traditional computing work, and needs full pointer support right now. Surprisingly, Apple responded to such complaints by reinventing the pointer system for its tablet. We didn’t even have to wait until iPadOS 14 later this year—it came as a late update to iPadOS 13. People were thrilled. They noted that now, finally, the iPad was a ‘proper’ computer. Only, it still falls short in one key way.

At the very top of my wish-list for WWDC 2020—and I wasn’t alone—was full external display support for iPad. Right now, you can hook your tablet up to an external display, and one of two things happens. With a handful of apps, the external display becomes a presentation screen, for example providing full-screen playback for work within a video editor. Mostly, the iPad display is mirrored, leaving ugly black bars left and right on your 600-buck 4K display.

This is nonsensical. Given that iPad now has desktop-grade input, it should have desktop-grade display support. Being able to transform iPad into a laptop and instantly back to a tablet when using Apple’s fancy new keyboard is only two thirds of the modular computing dream. It should also be possible to use the iPad in a desktop-like manner.

I know what some will say in response to this: get a Mac. Sure, I get it. But why get a Mac, when Apple has for years been pushing iPad as a ‘proper’ computer? Why get a Mac, when iPad has desktop-grade software that would work wonderfully on an external display? Why get a Mac, when an iPad is your primary computer? And purely from an ergonomics and health perspective, Apple should surely be promoting a means to have people use iPads in a manner that’s beneficial for their general wellbeing, rather than encouraging them to hunch over a sort-of laptop?

My hope is that there’s “one more thing” to iPadOS 14 and that Apple springs a surprise on us this autumn—although I’m not holding my breath. My fear is the company is hampering iPad a little to nudge people towards Macs. But then even if iPad gets this feature, it won’t be enough. I’d like to see a future where iPhone, too, gets full external display support.

You might think that’s a step too far, but a recent Samsung device loan showed me the way. DeX is flawed and too often a sub-optimal experience. Yet there was something amazing about hooking a phone up to an HDMI display and just getting on with work. It showed a future where a pocket computer is your only computer. Apple already has all of the pieces to make this a reality—and in a superior manner.

Perhaps it’s too soon, but that certainly isn’t the case for iPad. 2020 is the year Apple should usher in full modular computing for its touchscreen tablet; but 2021 is the year it should do the same for the iPhone.

 

July 2, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

No Comments

Android users and an unwillingness to pay for great games

Half the time, mobile is a disaster for gaming. There’s so much entitlement, and freemium fare has only intensified the idea from certain quarters that all games should be free. When they aren’t, such people tend to get very annoyed; and this problem is especially bad on Android.

I’m asked why premium games often rock up first on iOS and in some cases many months (or years) show up on Android, like an afterthought. In reality, games creators have put in plenty of thought. Mostly, said thought is whether porting their game to Android is worth the hassle, given the state of the market.

A recent case study of this occurred when a games creator whose work I’m fond of announced one of his older iOS games was coming to Android. Said game remains objectively excellent — a highly polished premium effort that is like a classic arcade title finely tuned for mobile play. Short of you being a gaming genius, it’ll take you a good few hours to get to the end of the game; and because it’s arcade fare, there’s plenty of replay value.

When the game was first announced as coming to Android, people were very excited. This games creator has a strong and loyal following. But he’s noted in the past — publicly — that free to paid conversions for his other titles could be better. In part, I put this down to a certain subtlety in his pointing people towards the paid option — this creator has a tendency towards being too generous. Even so, some reckon he’s not generous enough: I’ve seen plenty of gripes about in-game ads, in his flagship title that is otherwise free, and moans that updates from a tiny one-man indie were taking months to materialise.

With this latest title, things hit a nadir. On announcing the game would be premium, people kicked off. “Why can’t it be free?” they complained. And today, I’m told that a whopping 50% of Android users are requesting refunds on the title. Now, perhaps by some staggering coincidence, this game is just not their thing. More likely, they’re taking advantage of Google Play’s two-hour refund window, burning through whatever they can in that time, and then getting a fiver back into their pockets.

Ultimately, this event merely highlights why a lot of game developers no longer bother with Android at all. 50% refunds probably sounds extreme, but I’ve heard of similar figures from other games creators who’ve released objectively good games. In short: Android gamers as a group too often just aren’t willing to pay. (iPhone/iPad users aren’t yet quite at the same level, although things on Apple’s platform aren’t exactly rosy for creators, judging by what I hear from various quarters.)

Perhaps this is the final nail in the coffin — yet more confirmation of sorts that freemium killed mobile games. That notion everything should be free extends far beyond gaming, and is a major problem from creative indies to publishers alike. I suspect what many people forget in their entitlement is that there are creative people at the other end of these games — and their livelihoods. So, again, if you claim to love something, support it — it really is that simple. Otherwise, whatever praise you’re offering is nothing more than hot air.

April 13, 2020. Read more in: Apps, Opinions, Technology

Comments Off on Android users and an unwillingness to pay for great games

Removing bezels from TVs, phones and tablets can cause rather than solve problems in tech

Back in 2014, I wrote for Stuff about the tech industry’s obsession with thin. The point was that a fixation on making products thinner was becoming detrimental to the user experience, given that a few extra mm could house larger batteries, or superior keyboards. Now, the  tech industry seems to have its eyes set on eradicating bezels, as outlined in Pocket-lint’s piece on new Samsung tellies.

Samsung’s not alone. In phones, removing the bezel now appears to be some kind of holy grail, and, frankly, this baffles me. Sure, I don’t want a massive chunky bezel that makes a device seem like it’s rocked up from a 1985 concept video. But most of the time, I want a bezel in a screen-based device. A frame around content provides focus. And with a tablet, it provides somewhere for your thumbs to go, rather than them covering what you’re looking at and interacting with.

It’s also notable that in the Android space, attempts to remove the bezel have resulted in some horribly ugly creations. Companies triumphantly boast about stripping the bezel back, but on devices that retain a ‘chin’, thereby resulting in something that looks visually imbalanced. At that point, the breathless rush to remove the bezel has not only impacted on user experience, but also visual design.

For my money, the current iteration of iPad Pro gets everything about the bezel right. There’s a bezel around the screen, but it’s even, it’s unobtrusive, and Apple has the confidence to omit a logo. It affords focus, ensuring whatever you’re looking at doesn’t blend with the device’s surroundings. Rounded display edges soften the bezel’s impact. The bezel’s size ensures you can hold the iPad without covering what’s on the screen. And the bezel also houses Apple’s complex Face ID camera system, without an ugly notch or ‘hole punch’ impacting on the display.

I imagine Apple and many within the tech industry are desperate to make this bezel thinner. I think it’s great as it is – and the same goes for the bezels on my TVs and phones.

January 8, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

1 Comment

No, Huawei MatePad Pro isn’t an iPad Pro killer

Huawei MatePad Pro is all over the news, mostly because the company with no shame has yet again more or less cloned an Apple product. Only its sleek tablet has a camera hole punch in the corner, rather than Apple’s rather better solution of hiding the camera in the bezel. (Urgh.) Still, given that the unit will cost less than half the price of an iPad Pro, most sites are falling over themselves to label it an iPad Pro killer.

No.

I spend a lot of my time investigating, using and writing about apps on mobile. With a few exceptions, the Android tablet apps market is garbage. There is very little there. For most people, this doesn’t matter. They grab a cheap tablet and are happy with Netflix, Google Docs, Gmail, Facebook and a browser. But with iPad Pro, the clue is in the name.

A great many people using Apple’s flagship are actual professionals. They require professional software. And despite a (fortunately diminishing) number of people still screaming into the void that you “can’t do real work on an iPad”, that ship has long since sailed. Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are great for graphic design. LumaFusion is excellent for video editing on the go. Korg Gadget, GarageBand and a slew of synths cater for musicians. Scrivener, Ulysses and iA Writer exist for jobbing writers who need something more than Google Docs. And so on.

Head to Google Play and pretty much none of this kind of thing exists. So, sure, give the MatePad Pro an article, but keep your breathless headlines, because until the Android app ecosystem dramatically changes, MatePad Pro might be an answer to the iPad Pro hardware (if you can stomach the hole punch), but it then presents a tricky question: where the hell are all the pro apps I need to do my job?

November 26, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

Comments Off on No, Huawei MatePad Pro isn’t an iPad Pro killer

« older posts