Apple TV second look

Apple TVSo Apple finally released the software update for the Apple TV this week. It generated all kinds of excitement amongst the Apple nerd class. And yes, that kind of includes me.

When the movie rental thing was first announced — along with the Apple TV software update that would enable direct-download movie rentals, I was nonplussed. I haven’t rented a movie — or used Netflix — since we lived in Louisville, back in 2000. I’ve bought movies on DVD that I liked and that was that. We also rarely go to movies in the theater (why not buy the DVD and save money?). So movie rentals via iTunes and the Apple TV (or iPhone or Mac or PC) didn’t do anything for me.

But I may be changing my mind.

After downloading the software update to our Apple TV and messing around with it, I’m impressed. It’s a real update, not just tidying up a bit. And the rental feature is done so well that I’m rethinking my stance on rentals. It’s so easy to browse new releases and click a button to get started.

In browsing the initial collection of movies available (it’s a short list, I assure you!), there were a couple movies where I said to myself, “Hey — I’d pay $3 or $4 to watch that, but I wouldn’t want to own it on DVD.” And I think that’s the catch. I’m something of a DVD collector, but even I have my limits — I don’t want everything. Indeed, I don’t even want to keep everything I have! So rentals that are quick, easy, don’t require a trip to a brick-and-mortar store and don’t involve a subscription make a lot of sense to me all of a sudden.

Plus, you can get HD copies of movie rentals that look better than digital HD cable or satellite (though not as good as Blu-ray) if you really want to.

I have yet to rent a movie. But I think I might just do that this weekend. We’ll see if it seals the deal.

Gasping for Air

Well, I won’t be buying one because I simply don’t need one right now. But she is a beauty.

Why is it that Apple has to be the one to make the best computers?  Why isn’t there more competition in the computer and electronics design space?

Awww Yeah!

The iPhone has arrived in Alaska. And in my pocket.

Last Friday the Apple blogosphere noted a press release from AT&T indicating they were beginning their full takeover of Cellular One locations nationwide, a takeover that included bringing the iPhone to more regions in the country, including Alaska. The press release noted the iPhone would launch in Alaska on Sunday, December 9.

It did. And I was there.

I stood outside in the (thankfully somewhat warm) Alaskan winter for 1.5 hours to make sure I got one of only 200 devices being released to the store closest to me. I was about 12th in line with perhaps another 40 people behind me when I got into the store.

Activation was painless. Getting the phone number to work for local callers was not painless. I had to call AT&T tech support to request they update their call routing records so my number could receive calls from Anchorage. By early evening on Monday all was resolved.

Time for a jailbreak?

Will I jailbreak this phone? No way. I didn’t drop $400 on this rather stunning device in order to brick it with some hacky workaround. Sure, thousands have done it and sing the praises of an unlocked iPhone (I admit it, I’m tempted at least a little). But I’ll stick with the stock setup and see what comes out early next year as Apple opens up the applications floodgates (in theory).

But you just got an iPod Touch!

The iPod Touch — still a worthy device — now migrates to Stephanie’s hands. Now that I have the iPhone I’m kinda pissed that Apple has left off so many worthy applications from the Touch. Most notably the Mail and Google Maps applications should have made the jump (and still could). The widgets are also cool (weather, stocks) but can be replicated elsewhere. Thankfully Google has mobile-optimized most of their core services, like Gmail and Google Reader.

I did it. It's done.

Well, I broke down and got one. The 16GB iPod Touch. I couldn’t take it any longer. Had to have it.

The question is whether I’ll bother to get an iPhone next year when they come to Alaska. Possibly. I would like to have the iPhone’s more integrated e-mail application as well as the built-in camera and the ability to browse (albeit slowly) away from a WiFi access point. But at a minimum of $60/month for service, I’m not sure that makes sense for me. I don’t spend a lot of time on the phone, cell or otherwise.

So far, so good. The web browsing is better than I remember from testing someone else’s unit. And Google’s efforts to mobilize it’s GMail and Reader apps is impressive — they’re very easy to use and great on the mobile screen.

Anyway, it’s done.

I did it. It’s done.

Well, I broke down and got one. The 16GB iPod Touch. I couldn’t take it any longer. Had to have it.

The question is whether I’ll bother to get an iPhone next year when they come to Alaska. Possibly.  I would like to have the iPhone’s more integrated e-mail application as well as the built-in camera and the ability to browse (albeit slowly) away from a WiFi access point.  But at a minimum of $60/month for service, I’m not sure that makes sense for me. I don’t spend a lot of time on the phone, cell or otherwise.

So far, so good. The web browsing is better than I remember from testing someone else’s unit. And Google’s efforts to mobilize it’s GMail and Reader apps is impressive — they’re very easy to use and great on the mobile screen.

Anyway, it’s done.

Amazon MP3 store — good so far

Well, Amazon introduced their online MP3 store in beta this week. I just purchased my first album using the service. There are some pros and cons…

PROS

  • No DRM lock-down on downloaded tracks, allowing you to move the music where you want.
  • 256KB stereo bitrate on the MP3 files, ensuring a very-near-CD sound quality (I use the same 256KB bitrate when ripping CDs from my collection, although I create AAC files rather than MP3 files)
  • Better prices than iTunes in most — if not all — cases (I got a complete album for $7 vs. $10)
  • Automatically adds downloads to the iTunes library for you
  • Leaves an additional copy of the MP3 file in an additional folder on your Mac, so you know which tracks to back up without having to think about it (this is a big bonus)
  • Album art (nice, big images) integrated into each MP3 file

CONS

  • Requires special downloading application (Windows and Mac versions available)
  • Can’t add albums to a cart — must buy via “One Click” — which means that the purchase went to the wrong credit card in my case
  • Just like iTunes or any other non-physical service, you have to backup your music yourself because you get no physical backup (original CD)
  • Limited selection — quite limited so far, and some of the exclusions are weird as they’ll include one album from an artist, but none of the other 4 or 5 albums
  • Search function inside Amazon is not so clean — I searched for an album title with the exact spelling and it said it couldn’t find it, but then presented the album in a list of “did you mean?” results. Huh?

In short, the store works and the prices and quality are good. It’s not as smooth as iTunes, but for $3+ I can sweat the details.

In any case, I still prefer buying physical CDs. Our collection is quite large and I rather like the collecting aspect — lots and lots of CDs all lined up and on display. Downloads don’t display on a shelf well.

So far, so good. I don’t mind that Apple has competition now. But the playing field is not yet level, as Universal has turned over the goods to Amazon but has locked out Apple intentionally, at least for now. In theory they are trying to squeeze Apple for some sales concessions (variable pricing, album-only sales, etc.). At least EMI is being a responsible new media player, providing the same un-DRMed tracks to both stores.

I look forward to seeing how this plays out. Ironically, this new service comes out in the same week I received three CDs from the old mail order BMG Music Club — CDs I ordered… wait for it… three months ago. Three CDs, three months delivery time. What are they doing… shipping quarterly? Morons.