iTunes shuffles deckchairs again

It’s funny to think that iTunes was once a focussed piece of software. In an age of media players with a million windows, iTunes was a breath of fresh air. Now, it’s a bloated mess, due to being forced to do too much.

As Kirk McElhearn notes, iTunes 12.4 has some improvements, some which are focussed on navigation. The best of them is back/forward arrows/shortcuts, which now work across the entire app. Bafflingly, though, each media type does not remember its state, instead switching to the equivalent used elsewhere without your say-so.

For example, if I’m my ‘My Music’ in Music and then visit Apps and click App Store, my assumption as a user would be that on returning to Music, I’d still see My Music. Instead, iTunes thinks “well, you’re in the store already, so how about I show you loads of music you can buy?” via the iTunes Store tab. This despite me having never clicked the iTunes Store tab. THANKS, APPLE!

As someone who flits back and forth between App Store and Music, this is infuriating, but at least a couple of stabs on Cmd+[ now makes the process slightly less awful. Ironically, this would all be solved if I could have an extra window.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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iOS 9.3.2 fixes Game Center, bricks iPad Pros

So iOS 9.3.2 has arrived, in a flurry of news. MacRumors states that some iPad Pros are getting bricked by it (and I’ve heard a few people saying the same about iPhones). As always, back-up your devices prior to upgrading, not only to iCloud but also iTunes.

From a personal standpoint, assuming all my devices don’t get bricked, I’m looking forward to using Game Center again. I’ve been writing about Game Center for a while, and it had been broken for a great many users since the tail end of the iOS 8 cycle last summer. It sprang into life again in the iOS 9.3.2 betas (due, I’m reliably informed, to someone actually working on it rather than Apple essentially ignoring it).

Naturally, then, because Apple cares so much about Game Center and games, the fact iOS 9.3.2 fixes Game Center isn’t even mentioned in the release notes.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: News

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The day BBC Food died

So it begins. The BBC Food website is to be axed. 11,000 recipes on a usable, inclusive website are to vanish, because Tories have been convinced by their rich friends that competition is only acceptable when the BBC is out of the running, and that the BBC Food website apparently is too dominant (i.e. not rubbish).

According to the BBC, scrapping the website is part of a plan to cut £15m from the corporation’s online budget, even though leaving the website up would cost naff-all. Furthermore, a BBC source stated:

What we do has to be high quality, distinctive, and offer genuine public value. While our audiences expect us to be online, we have never sought to be all things to all people and the changes being announced will ensure that we are not.

This is a rocky road the BBC is heading down — being forced to head down. The Conservatives would prefer at most for the BBC to become a broadcaster of last resort — a small PBS-style outfit that only creates content that others cannot or will not. Now, it’s being urged to not compete with other terrestrial broadcasters in prime-time slots, to pare back its website, and to focus on more niche fare.

We’ve seen this play out before. In a few years, Conservatives will be slamming the BBC for not having enough TV audience share/overall website users to justify the licence fee. The BBC will be told it is a broadcaster that’s supposed to cater for everyone, but now it’s only serving the few. And it’ll be ordered to pivot accordingly. Rinse and repeat.

All the while, the general public — still largely pro-BBC — will gradually get increasingly irritated by the corporation, and see less value in the licence fee. If enough people are hoodwinked, there’ll be a call for it to be scrapped entirely. And Rupert Murdock will crack an evil grin, while figuring out how he can somehow close down The Guardian and The Mirror.

Update: As Tom Pride notes, Murdoch has a couple of recipe sites waiting to launch. I can’t imagine that had anything to do with getting the BBC to scrap its recipe website, and also only have future recipes online for 30 days.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: Politics, Television

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Instagram’s new logo: about fitting in, not thinking different

The Guardian reports on Instagram’s new logo. I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the design — there are far more qualified writers for doing that kind of thing. What disappoints me, though, is any sense of individuality has been eroded from the icon, in a desire to ‘fit in’.

instagram logo

I recently wrote a piece about inspiring icon design (yet to be published), and praised Instagram:

Thumbing its nose to Jony Ive, Instagram’s icon remains resolutely old-school (as far as an app icon can be), suiting its retro nature. Even if it sticks out a bit, the icon may stand the test of time better than minimal rivals.

As of now, this is no longer the case. Instagram’s icon is yet another slice of flat design. It doesn’t look distinct, now resembling dozens of other camera app icons.

Two blog posts outline the reasoning for the changes. The new logo apparently intends to reflect the evolution of the service and “how vibrant and diverse your storytelling has become”, while “staying true to Instagram’s heritage and spirit”. Notably, the company argues that it wanted to

create a look that would represent the community’s full range of expression — past, present, and future.

It certainly succeeds on the present, in that Instagram’s logo now looks much like any other app logo in this era of flat design with occasional gradient use. But it’s largely jettisoned Instagram’s past (suggesting the gradient recalls the old logo’s rainbow is a stretch). As for the future, I suspect Instagram will find itself redesigning again once the next interface design evolution takes hold.

May 12, 2016. Read more in: Design

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NOW TV: when your competition is Netflix, you need to be better than Netflix

I have subscriptions to Netflix and NOW TV. The former is well-known. For those unfamiliar with the latter, it’s a kind of on-demand Sky, without signing up to full Sky. I mostly subscribed to it for a season of Game of Thrones, reasoning that the entire series through NOW TV would cost less than the DVDs, and there would be other things to watch. Said other things have led to the NOW TV subscription remaining active.

However, in using both services, you can see the differences between a market leader entirely reliant on everything working well, and a challenger doing so with only half an eye on the game. Netflix may have its quirks, but it’s a broadly usable, stable and reliable service. NOW TV, on the other hand, ranges from reasonable to outright user-hostile.

Despite being running for years, NOW TV lacks subtitles. And when you watch shows, there are channel stings throughout. Nothing boosts the tension or excitement in a show as much as abruptly seeing the FOX or Sky Atlantic logo twice in a row. Additionally, NOW TV frequently fails to connect, and the third-gen Apple TV app remains atrocious, ignoring even the bare basics of providing a list of recently watched shows. To get to a new episode, you therefore go to one of the vague categories, scroll until you reach the show you want, flick through to the most recent season, and then scroll to pick the latest episode. Rubbish.

Today, I received an email stating that NOW TV’s throwing another curveball. Children’s channels Nickelodeon and Nick Jr are being carved off and turned into part of a separate ‘Kids Month Pass’. The Disney Channel is also vanishing from the standard Entertainment Month Pass, for other reasons. In return for all this, a new channel is arriving in their place… Nat Geo Wild.

This all strikes me as cynical. Any parent knows how useful streaming services can be, but at least with Netflix you’re not expected to double your outlay. In combination with all the other problems, it makes me wonder what NOW TV’s end game is. It’s almost like a Netflix mole is in charge of NOW TV, and enters every meeting screaming “How can we ensure our product is worse than theirs?” while baffled but loyal underlings nod along.

May 5, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Technology, Television

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