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No iTunes Subscription Model for Music, but What about Videos?

Recently Steve Jobs has again denied the possibility of a subscription model for music on iTunes, but conspicuously made no mention about a subscription model for videos.  "People want to own their music," he said.  What he means by this is that while many music subscriptions offer unlimited downloads, the catch is that when you end your subscription all the music you downloaded becomes unplayable.  So essentially, customers of these plans are just renting music.  While the concept of renting music may be unpopular, renting videos is something that everyone does.  And Jobs made no mention about the possibility of a subscription-based model for iTunes videos that would essentially allow people to rent videos.  A subscription plan for iTunes videos could be widely popular; even with the same people who would never want to rent music.  I've written about the need for an iTunes subscription plan for videos here and here, and now that the iTV is out I still maintain that a subscription plan for videos is inevitable.

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Cable Labels


I was going to write a clever little entry explaining this idea, but I think the image pretty much does a better job.  They should totally label the connector end of the cable so you A) don't unplug the wrong cable and B) know what that the cable is for, years after the gadget is long gone.  Also, for devices that use generic cables like AV equipment, or printers the manufacturer should include adhesive labels with the product name that the user can stick to cable.  Lastly, some one (or some company) could print up adhesive labels with the names of common devices (iPod, keyboard, mouse, TV, VCR, DVD) that the user can just stick on the cable or plug.  However, while most people would probably find it useful, they probably wouldn't be willing to pay for the labels.

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Electronic Paper Displays, they're here but not quite there yet


Since first reading about electronic paper displays developed by E-Ink, I've eagerly awaited their arrival.  Electronic paper displays are readable from any angle, high resolution, incredibly thin, use extremely little power, and can even be flexible.  Currently the displays are grayscale, and text appears in black on a white background.  Also once something is displayed on the screen it stays there without using any power; energy is only needed to change the image.

All those attributes make the displays perfect for a new breed of devices: electronic document readers, like Sony's E-Book reader.  The hope is that e-book readers can replace everything from printed books to newspapers.  Imagine going on a vacation with a dozen novels and travel guides all in one in compact device.  Less paper bulk isn't just convenient for you, it's also great for the environment.  The potential for signage is also huge, imagine a posted train schedule that looks just like paper but can be changed instantaneously, inexpensively, all with minimal energy use.

However, there's a significant downside to these displays: the refresh rate is between 1000ms and 500ms (or 1 second and .5 seconds).  That's at best about about 100 times slower than an LCD display.  That may be acceptable for an electronic book or signage, but until the refresh rate is dramatically decreased we may not see electronic paper displays in many PDAs, smart phones, and other gadgets that need really snappy interfaces.

I had originally thought that electronic paper displays were a perfect fit for the MedTab, a PDA for medical professionals, but with such a slow refresh rate it now seems like the device has the potential to annoy a lot of busy and impatient doctors.

The Illiad by iRex, another device using electronic paper displays, has pen and tablet capabilities.  Which is a great feature, especially for those of us who like to make notes in the margins of our books.  But I cannot imagine writing on a surface that takes (at best) half a second to display what I just wrote; it would be maddening.

Kiva.org, Microfinancing Made Easy


Microfinancing is the little idea that's making a big impact to help reduce poverty.  And Kiva.org makes it easy for anyone to get involved.  Founded and run by in impressive list of Silicon Valley celebrities, Kiva.org allows anyone to make a loan to an entrepreneur in the developing world.  The businesses, like the loans, are small, but the impact is tremendous.  Browsing the site you'll find everything from a grocery store owner in Cambodia, to a baker in the Dominican Republic.  All the business are verified by field agents from microfinancing institutes, and currently 100% of loans have been paid back.  The loan can be transferred via PayPal, which has waived their typical transaction fee so that 100% of the loan goes to the entrepreneur.  I could go on about how inspiring this is, but if you have 15 minutes, I'd strongly recommend just watching this video clip from PBS's Frontline.


Thanks Rob!

Got Ideas? Here's where to send them


Dell may have made a big slash with IdeaStorm, but there are actually lots of places to submit product ideas.  So armchair inventors, get submitting:

Dell Ideas - Dell Idea Storm
Firefox Ideas - Firefox/Feature Brainstorming Wiki
Apple Ideas - Apple Feedback Forms
Video Game Ideas - MyGameIdea.com
Everything Else - Halfbakery.com

Know of any more? Leave a comment.

Hey Apple, after you fix the green button how about the red button next?


TheAppleBlog has a great article on why the green button in OS X is broken and needs fixing.  To me the bigger annoyance is the red button.  Sometimes the red button quits the application other times it just closes the window and leaves the application running.  The logic behind the behavior is that if the application only ever has one window, such as System Preferences or Calculator, the red button quits. But if the application can have multiple windows like Microsoft Word or Safari the red button closes the window, but leaves the application running.  It sort of makes sense, but unfortunately the logic is so obtuse that the button ends up seeming totally inconsistent.  The big problem is the behavior is based on what the program is capable of, not it's current state.  Most user don't have a clue which programs can have multiple windows and which cannot, nor should they really care.  If I had to guess between iPhoto and iTunes which could have multiple windows, I'd guess iPhoto... and I'd be wrong.  It would make much more sense if the behavior of the button were based on the current state of the application, i.e. how many windows the program currently had open.

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Forget teaching gorillas sign-language, let the gorillas teach us "Gorillian"


Since the mid 60s there have been several high profile gorillas and chimps that learned American sign language. Which is cool, but if you're ever lost in the jungle and want to ask a gorilla for directions or to crash in his nest for the night, the chances he will know ASL are slim to nil. Researchers should really get the gorilla to teach them the gorilla language, or "Gorillian". It really only seems fair that if the gorillas goes to the trouble of learning ASL, then researchers should make the effort to learn Gorillian. Some Googling didn't turned up much on the effort, which I find surprising. I'd think by now some researcher working late with an ape that knew sign language would have thought to himself: "Hmm, I wonder what the ape word for banana is?" followed immediately by the realization that right in front of him was an ape who he could just ask...

Mute Web Pages


I listen to music on my computer approximately 100% of the time, so few things annoy me more than web pages with background music (worse still are those banner ads that talk, wow are those annoying).  Usually the "sound off" button is hard to find and seems to appear only well after the music starts.  I think it's time for web browsers to treat sound the same way they treat pop-ups.  By default background sound should be muted (just as pop-ups are blocked), but users are notified that sound is muted and have the option to un-mute once or always for that site.  This seems totally feasible, though it may be difficult given that most background music is played from within a Flash based website.  I'm sure there's some ambitious young plug-in developer who's up to the challenge, and if not perhaps Firefox developers will create such a feature one day.  I've already added this idea to Firefox Feature Brainstorming wiki, so my fingers are crossed.

Standalone Apple AirTunes


I love AirTunes!  For those unfamiliar, AirTunes is a feature of the Airport Express Base Station that allows your computer to wirelessly stream music to a stereo or set of speakers.  It works great and it's incredibly convenient for freeing your music from your computer without transferring music to an iPod or (bleh) burning a CD.  The problem is that the only way to get AirTunes is with the $150 Airport Express Base Station which is also a wireless router, wireless range extender and wireless print server.  While $150 for all that really is a good value, it's a little steep if all you want is AirTunes or already have a happily working router.  However, it would be really great if Apple made a $40 or $50 device that just provided the AirTunes functionality.  I'd pick one up in a heartbeat, maybe even two.  Who knows, maybe Apple could never make a standalone AirTunes device in the $40-$50 price range, but it seems pretty feasible to me.  Alternatively, it would be great if Apple added AirTunes to more devices like the iPod Hifi (as I proposed ages ago) or even an iPod dock.

More Web-Based Photo Editors


Extremetech.com has a great roundup of 5 web based photo editors.  The article is pretty comprehensive (i.e. long), and it's probably more fun to just play with each of the applications.  So without further ado:

  1. Snipshot
  2. Picture2Life
  3. Pixenate
  4. PicNik
  5. Faxto

Enjoy! And feel free to leave a comment about your favorite.

The Slow Death of Built-to-order PCs:
Part Two - No one wants to Configure

There's another huge cost to these highly configurable systems: customers have to actually configure them, and then wait for their computer to be built. Most people I know, don't understand the difference between hard drive capacity and memory capacity. And while people might enjoy selecting all the most expensive options to build that $9,000 system, when it comes to actually configuring a computer with the right balance of power and affordability, most people don't have a clue. To anyone smart enough to realize they don't know the first thing about computer components, a built-to-order PCs is hugely unattractive (which is why lots of people go to the nearest electronics big box store and buy whatever they're talked into). Instead most customers would rather just buy a computer with the specs they need and that day or the next. Before long most consumers will feel that configuring a new computer is something they just shouldn't have to do, and they're right.

EMI Goes DRM Free!

It's official!  EMI will make their entire catalog available on iTunes DRM-Free.  In press converence last night in London EMI's CEO Eric Nicoli and Apple's Steve Jobs made the announcement and took questions.  Here are the major details.

  1. The EMI Catalog will be available DRM-Free on iTunes in May
  2. The format is AAC 256kbps (twice the standard quality)
  3. These Premium Tracks will be available for $1.29
  4. Entire albums will be sold DRM-free and higher quality at no additional cost
  5. The Premium Tracks will be available alongside the standard versions that include DRM for $0.99
  6. For $0.30 customers will be able to upgrade any existing EMI music they bought to the higher quality, DRM-free version

There seems to be some ambiguity on #4, according to EMI's Press Release:

Complete albums from EMI Music artists purchased on the iTunes Store will automatically be sold at the higher sound quality and DRM-free, with no change in the price.


That would indicate that there would not be two options when buying an entire EMI album, customers would always get the premium version when they buy the album.  However, Apple makes no reference to complete albums in their press release. Additionally, Steve Jobs said in the press conference:

We are going to address both these issues [DRM and sound quality] by introducing new version of our songs and albums that will be sold alongside our existing version.  The new versions will be DRM-Free so they are completely interoperable and they will be encoded in 256 AAC...

Source - at about time 23:32

So next month we'll see if EMI albums automatically come in Premium format or if there's an option.  Hopefully, the Premium album will be the same price as the standard album as was stated in the press release.  Additionally, Steve Jobs predicts that half the iTunes catalog will be available DRM-Free by the end of the year by having more record labels agree to sell music DRM-Free.  Also, EMI's CEO Eric Nicoli said that Premium Tracks would be available to other retailers including places like emusic.com.

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