iOS 7 first impressions: Anything but flat

It can’t have escaped many geeks’ notice that on Monday, Apple previewed the forthcoming new versions of their desktop interface, OSX 10.9, and their operating system for handhelds, iOS 7.

Everybody can view the presentations from Monday’s World Wide Developer Conference keynote, and the marketing information that has been released. As a registered app developer who will have to make sure their app is iOS 7-ready in time for the public launch in the autumn, though, I can get legal access to the first beta.

And while (as early betas can be) it is slow and crashes more often than it should – the changes in iOS 7 are only apparent when using it on an actual device. Watching a slick video doesn’t give you the full impression.

NB: There are swathes of non-disclosure agreements surrounding early access to iOS 7. This article is based purely on hands-on access to the features publicly disclosed by Apple, and experience of previous iOS upgrades.

Continue reading iOS 7 first impressions: Anything but flat

Arts 2.0: a catchup and an appeal

Since I last linked to my Arts 2.0 column for The Stage, I’ve written three new pieces. First off, the launch of the BBC iPlayer Radio app just three days after the combined BBC/commercial radio RadioPlayer app led me to look at both, as well as some of the other options for audio listening. I have to say that while I’ve used both those apps since, it’s the iPlayer app that I enjoy using the most. Once you’ve started listening, of course, you tend to leave the app – but the act of selecting which audio stream to listen to should be quick, and not feel like a chore. I think the Radioplayer has some way to go on that side of things, while iPlayer Radio is closer to nailing it.

Then last week, I looked at three magic trick apps for the iPhone. I remain to be convinced that custom apps can be effective sources of conjuring – close-up magic with real life objects is far more effective than working with pixels on a screen. John Archer’s Streets app works along the right lines because it uses the maps feature within the phone itself – or at least it did, until Apple dropped Google Maps for its own service with iOS 6.

Finally, this week the news about Radio 4 releasing the Letter From America archives got me thinking about all those dramas the station has commissioned over the years, but remain locked away due to contractual or other reasons. Recent radio productions of West End hits then led me to talk about archiving contemporary performances.

An appeal for help

I’ve got a few ideas for future columns, but if you have an arts-working-with-technology story you’ld like to pitch, please email me at scott [at] thestage.co.uk.

One thing I’d like to do for next week, to tie in with the start of NaNoWriMo, is look at digital tools that writers – of books, plays, or scripts for TV, film and radio – use. An initial appeal on Twitter brought up several references to Scrivener, which combines templates for several writing projects with the ability to store research notes. I’m not just looking for scriptwriting software, though – do you use anything to incentivise you to write a certain amount each day? Other applications (from Evernote to Pocket) to collate research materials? Anything digital to remove distractions and allow you to focus?

Whether it’s PC, Mac, iOS or based on another platform – or a piece of hardware gadgetry you can’t do without – I’d like to know about it. Use the comments box below or email me at the address above!

iOS Newsstand gives Future an e-publishing boost

The Association of Online Publishers reports that Future Publishing’s titles racked up over 2 millions Apple Newsstand downloads in the first four days of iOS 5’s release.

Future launched more than 50 titles on Newsstand when it launched on Thursday 13 October, making it the most prolific publisher in the space. The mix of free, paid-for and premium products has attracted north of two million downloads, and represents consumer spending well in excess of normal monthly revenues.

Future UK CEO Mark Wood says: “Future had sold more digital editions in the past four days through Apple’s Newsstand than in a normal month. It’s clear that Newsstand creates an amazing opportunity for publishers – and I’m committed to continue driving our brands through this great new distribution channel.

“We plan to include more sampler issues in every magazine container in coming weeks, as well as uploading high price-point bookazines and premium one-shot titles.”

Newsstand’s presentation style certainly makes electronic editions of magazines feel much more integrated into iOS in ways that iBooks, which originated the “bookshelf”-style look and feel Newsstand uses, does not. And despite the gnashing of teeth regarding Apple’s commission level and the lack of personal information publishers can receive about subscribers, the revenue implications should be more than welcome.

Steve Jobs: “Death is Life’s best invention”

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and Pixar, in his Stanford University commencement address in June 2005:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

My first iPhone app

UPDATE, 2 July: the app has been added to Apple’s ‘Staff Favourites’ list, and is currently no. 2 in the Business charts for free apps!

Over the weekend, my first iPhone app went live on the App Store. A free download, it’s a simple little app that allows users to browse The Stage’s jobs and auditions that are advertised online (and, in most cases, also in our weekly print edition).

The Stage Jobs and Auditions app (which we call just Stage Jobs for short) is free to download and use (save for your own 3G/internet connection costs). It briefly hit number 3 in iTunes’ chart of free business apps, which probably says more about the small number of downloads in that category than any soaraway success.

The bulk of the app takes the data from The Stage’s recruitment section, served up as XML via a private API (thanks to our web developer James, who implemented the server side of the API). This is converted to the iPhone’s standard drill-down format of clickable lists which, when clicked, slide off to the left to reveal more information – either a list of subcategories, a list of adverts, or the advert detail itself.

Going from proof of concept to a workable prototype was remarkably quick – a matter of weeks – thanks to a few things.

Continue reading My first iPhone app

The phone that’s just a phone. Even when it’s not

Alan has good taste in phones. This Nokia [6700 Classic] not only looks great, but has superb functions, including a five-megapixel camera with auto-focus and LED flash.

There’s also fast web browsing, video recording, a memory which is expandable to 8GB, five-hour talktime and three-day standby on one charge. One tester even claims it plays music non-stop for 12 hours at a reasonable volume.

So we’ve made it our Number One Phone For People Who Just Want a Phone.

The emphasis is mine. The idiocy of listing all the non-phone features of a phone that’s “just” a phone? That’s all the News of the World’s.

The feature looks at 10 non-iPhone mobiles, on the basis that a (probably fictional) “Alan” can’t work out how to use the iPhone (“Where’s the touchpad? How can you call people?”). He also wants an unlocked phone, so that he can use any SIM card in it. So he’ll hate whoever compiled the article, as all the prices quoted are for phones locked to networks either on contract or pay-as-you-go deals.

Unfortunately the article’s not online, so I can’t link to it. It took me a while to work out that it wasn’t, though: at the top of their gadgets page, oh-so-amusingly names GADGiTS, it cites a blog link of notw.co.uk/gadgits, which leads to a ‘Page not found’ error page.

Hardly a way to incite confidence in the paper’s coverage of IT-based topics, one would think.

How to list your audiobooks in iTunes’ Audiobooks pseudo-category

Update: With iTunes 8, moving tracks into the Audiobooks category is now trivial: Go into the track’s file information (Ctrl-I or Apple-I) and change the dropdown item on the Options tab. However, if you want to rip audiobook CDs and convert tracks to chapters, the following may still be use.

One of the reasons I distrust the new version of iTunes (see _[Why I hate iTunes 7](http://matthewman.net/2006/09/22/why-i-hate-itunes-7)_) is the utter uselessness of its new Library structure. In particular, its new Audiobooks category seems to be locked off from any books you’ve ripped yourself. Setting the Genre type of each file to “Audiobooks” isn’t enough.

Nudged by a comment from Rob, I did some digging around, and it appears that audio files will show up in the Audiobooks section if they’re bookmarkable MPEG Layer 4 files — or, in iTunes parlance, “Protected AAC files”.

On a Windows PC, it **may** be possible to get your AAC files — which should end in the extension **`.m4a`** — simply by renaming them so that the extension is **`.m4b`** (I can’t vouch for this, though, as I’m working on a Mac).

Macs are slightly trickier to deal with, anyway, as files have an internally-held file type, which must also be altered. However, I did find a couple of scripts on [Doug’s Scripts](http://www.dougscripts.com) which help.

* **[Make Bookmarkable](http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=makebookmarkable)** converts your AAC-encoded files to their bookmarkable version, then updates their iTunes entry so that they move to the Audiobooks section.
* **[Join Together](http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=jointogether)** allows you to combine multiple files from the iTunes Library, optionally placing chapter marks and track artwork at the appropriate sections. However, this script requires **QuickTime Pro** and Apple’s **ChapterTool** command-line utility. It can also be very slow if you don’t check the “Passthrough” option in the QuickTime settings part of the dialog.

A bonus of both scripts is that your recordings will also show up under the iPod’s own `Audiobooks` category. Bear in mind though that, unlike the standard Music folders, it doesn’t group tracks by album. So if you decide to use Make Bookmarkable, or don’t have Quicktime Pro, you could end up with lots of individual files showing up. In that case, you could consider re-importing the original audio from CD, grouping data tracks to encode as a single file.

Why I hate iTunes 7

Okay, “hate” is too strong a word — that’s the sensationalist subeditor in me, I guess. But there was something bugging me about the latest update, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I knew that it wasn’t the new, drab, grey look — it wouldn’t have been my choice, admittedly; also, it’s a shame that Apple, who impressed me when I became a Mac OSX convert with their User Interface Guidelines, do more than any other company to repeatedly flout them.

The new album view and the CoverFlow view are nice as far as they go, so it wasn’t that. I have to admit I don’t care for the restyled iTunes Music Store, and am infuriated that, in all the talk of Apple selling full-length movies to America, very few people have noticed that they’ve stopped selling even short films to us in the UK. But I only tend to use the store for a small amount of time iTunes is running, so I knew that couldn’t be what was irritating me so.

That’s when it hit me. It’s because my own library is now structured according to how Apple want to sell me stuff.

Movies and TV shows are what Apple is pushing in a big way — to American audiences, anyway. Now that short films have been lost to the ether, the only video content you can buy from the iTunes Store are music videos — and they get pushed into the generic ‘Music’ category. iTunes adds a ‘Music Videos’ smart playlist automatically, but why should it need to? It would be far better to mirror the way my iPod structures its library, with **Videos** having separate subcategories depending on the type of video content.

At least with video content that I have loaded in myself, I can change the **Video Kind** parameter of each film so that it appears in the appropriate category. However, any audiobooks that I’ve bought on CD and ripped to MP3 remain firmly stuck in “Music”. The Audiobooks category remains firmly the preserve of iTunes Store purchases, it seems — in other words, completely useless. Yes, I can switch both it and iPod Games off in iTunes’ preferences. But I’d much rather be able to add my own content to it.

It’s this twisted attitude — structuring iTunes according how they want to sell to us, rather than making it as easy to use as possible and _inspiring_ us to buy — that really pisses me off.

It’s ironic, really. The MiniStore was another way in which Apple tried to convert normal iTunes usage into a sales tool, but that’s been severely relegated in version 7. There’s no button to activate or deactivate it any more, and the shortcut key has disappeared; hopefully the whole feature will go the same way in version 8. But the philosophy behind it seems to be present still. And that, I really **do** hate.