iTunes (2001-2019-ish)

With Monday’s news that Apple is finally retiring the Mac version of iTunes, there’s been a lot of “good riddance” chatter about the impending demise of this music/video/download-store/backup/kitchen-sink app.

I get it. For years, iTunes has been a glaring example of Apple forgetting one of Steve Jobs’ rules about the importance of saying no to things. But I also have a long history with this program–I’ve been using it continuously for as long as I have any app, maybe longer. And it hasn’t been all bad.

It’s easy to forget today how bad the music-player landscape was before iTunes, full of apps deliberately limited in features and larded with upsells. If you wanted something decent, you had to pay for it upfront–the app that became iTunes, Casady & Greene’s SoundJamp MP, was a $40 download.

And even after iTunes arrived, competitors didn’t take the hint. Typical headline, from a 2006 review of Microsoft’s Windows Media Player 11: “Nice Features, But It’s No iTunes.” So when I finally set aside time to rip every CD I owned, iTunes did the job. And it was through iTunes that I bought the vast majority of my music downloads–and then paid $25 for iTunes Match to get legit copies of the MP3s I’d downloaded off Usenet newsgroups and file-sharing apps in the days before paying $1 a song was an option.

Most of two decades since my introduction to this app, I no longer use one of its original flagship features, easy music sync. I don’t own an iPhone, and since Apple has held fast to ignoring other mobile devices in this app, I copy the songs I want to store on my Android phone via the Finder.

The new Music app that will replace iTunes may be just as good at the core tasks of music organization and playback, but I won’t know for a while. The iMac on which I’m typing this–kept in service largely because I replaced its sluggish hard drive with a solid-state drive last year–can’t even run the current Mojave edition, much less the upcoming Catalina.

And iTunes for Windows will remain–but that app looks like such a stranger in Windows 10, I can’t deal with it. Instead, it looks like I’m stuck with two other choices with their own issues: Microsoft’s Groove Music, effectively retired after a series of feature removals, and the privacy-hostile Spotify. It looks like Apple isn’t the only large tech company that needs to reboot its desktop music-player strategy.

Weekly output: Audi stoplight smarts, Big Tech banter at SXSW, SXSW strangeness, Facebook outage, Spotify vs. Apple

I’ve been recuperating from SXSW in the lamest way possible: by spending a lot of time weeding the lawn. Early returns suggest that my prior years of springtime toil have led to less chickweed, so I’ve got that going for me.

3/11/2019: How traffic lights might talk to your next car, Yahoo Finance

I spent a few days driving around D.C. and northern Virginia in an A8 that Audi loaned to test its Traffic Light Information system. The whole experience got a little more terrifying when I looked at the spec sheet for the loaner vehicle and realized that I was trying test-driving Audi’s stoplight-to-car data service in a sedan with a list price above six figures.

3/13/2019: Breaking up Big Tech: Advocates spar over how to trim sails of technology giants at SXSW, USA Today

I did not get to as many SXSW panels as I wanted, but I did watch the session featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.). Warren advocated forced break-ups of tech giants, and over the next several days multiple SXSW speakers took it to task. The critiques you’ll see in USAT comments on this piece, however, amount to trash.

3/13/2019: SXSW 2019: Synthetic sushi, a buggy demo, and other weird gadgets, Yahoo Finance

I didn’t even have the SXSW trade-show exhibits on my must-see list until meeting a friend for lunch, at which point he strongly suggested I check out Sushi Singularity. He was right.

3/14/2019: Facebook outage, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on to talk about the Wednesday outage of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. My takes: Securities and Exchange Commission regulations give us strong reasons to take Facebook at its word about the causes of this downtime; we should all work to depend less on Facebook and its vassal states for communication with bystanders, customers and fans.

3/15/2019: Spotify has a point about Apple’s App Store fees, Yahoo Finance

If you were reading me eight years ago, this column should not have surprised you. My opinion hasn’t changed since because Apple still acts as if it has a God-given right to annex up to 30 percent of the content income of many App Store developers.

Weekly output: Donald Trump’s e-mails, French startups, Hillary Clinton’s tech policy, Viva Technology Paris (x6), Spotify vs. Apple, wireless resellers

After going 25 years without setting foot in France, I returned to Paris barely a month after May’s horribly-overdue reunion to moderate a round of panels at Viva Technology Paris, a new conference put on by the French business-news group Les Echos and the Paris-based marketing firm Publicis Groupe. They covered my travel costs in return for my not zonking out from jet lag on stage, a commitment I did keep.

6/27/2016: Donald Trump has a big problem with email spam, Yahoo Finance

I filed this last Friday afternoon, but the crush of Brexit coverage at Yahoo left the post farther down the editing queue than normal.

6/27/2016: The thing that holds back French startups? Not the 35-hour work week, Yahoo Finance

I can’t make any jokes about the French work ethic after needing a good month to finish this report from May’s up-close look at the country’s attempts to make itself a tech destination. On the upside, it did inform the very next post I wrote for Yahoo.

6/28/2016: Here’s how Hillary Clinton plans to keep America the world’s tech leader, Yahoo Finance

I hustled to finish this Tuesday afternoon, then found myself with unexpected free time at National Airport as the weather made a mess of my initial itinerary. I wound up going to Paris by way of Frankfurt, but that’s another story in its own right.

Viva Tech panel intro6/30/2016: Building the digital state with data, Viva Technology Paris

I interviewed Rufus Pollock, president and founder of the U.K.-based Open Knowledge group, about how much data stays locked up in proprietary formats and behind paywalls.

6/30/2016: Electricity storage: a new frontier, Viva Technology Paris

Having whole-home batteries like Tesla’s forthcoming Powerwall won’t change how we use electricity as much as having battery-backed homes linked on a neighborhood level. At least, that’s what I learned from my talk with Engie innovation program director Mark Akehurst and Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann.

6/30/2016: Open partnerships to design new territories, Viva Technology Paris

The initial description of this smart-cities panel might have sounded a little vague, but I wound up having a good conversation with Vinci Energies innovation and development director Lydia Babaci-Victor and HAL24K founder Jérôme Mol about ways to make our cities and towns more self-aware and efficient.

6/30/2016: Will cellular agriculture help to feed us all?, Viva Technology Paris

Sadly, we had no samples of vat-grown food to share at the talk I had with Gilonne d’Origny of New Harvest and science journalist Marta Zaraska. I enjoyed the conversation anyway.

7/1/2016: How will online medicine change our relationships with doctors?, Viva Technology Paris

My other five (!) panels ran just 20 minutes, but this one featuring Doctolib CEO Stanislas Niox-Chateau, Omixy CEO Lavinia Ionita and Push Doctor CEO Eren Ozagir was booked for 30 minutes. Result: We all started to sweat under the lights in an already-toasty venue.

7/1/2016: 3D simulation and the cities of tomorrow, Viva Technology Paris

My other smart-cities panel of the week, featuring Engie’s Olivier Biancarelli and Siradel CEO Laurent Bouillot, was marred by some dead air when the one-minute videos each had brought to show their 3-D city modeling didn’t play promptly. I should have seen that coming and been prepared to talk through the holdup.

7/1/2016: Spotify just turned up the volume on its latest fight with Apple, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this between Friday afternoon’s panels, then had to revise it again after a letter from Apple’s general counsel to Spotify’s made its way to BuzzFeed’s site.

7/3/2016: Name that network: The carriers behind wireless resellers, USA Today

Not for the first time, a question from a friend led to a column that I hope will draw a good amount of search traffic over time.

Weekly output: techno-panics, unsubsidized phones, Apple and Google streaming music

Hey, August, you’ve been doing a really bad job of being a slow news month. Could you please clock out already?

8/18/2015: How to Survive the Next Techno-Panic, Yahoo Tech

When I suggested this topic to my editors, I had no idea that a day later, Spotify would uncork a self-inflicted techno-panic by… wait for it… rolling out a vague and expansionist privacy policy written by lawyers for other lawyers.

Yahoo Tech phone-prices post8/20/2015: 5 Reasons You Should Pay Full Price For Your Smartphone, Yahoo Tech

I filed the first draft of this story last week, then had to update it twice when Sprint a) said it would stop selling subsidized phones at the end of the year and b) the next day, rolled out a warmed-over version of its old “iPhone for Life” lease plan. You can guess what other, oft-updated work of mine needed repeated revisions this week; look for them to show up online shortly.

8/23/2015: What to do when Apple Music has its head in cloud, USA Today

In an alternate universe, this would have run July 5. Instead, I wrote another, timelier column and put this one back on the shelf until now. That extra time led me to discover a useful option in Google Play Music that’s missing from Apple’s music apps.

Weekly output: owning versus renting music, Tech Night Owl, DSL without phone service

This week was relatively easy on my schedule. One result: I finally edited and posted the photos I took at CE Week three weeks ago.

Yahoo Tech owning or renting music post7/7/2015: Sorry, Apple Music —I Want to Own My Tunes, Not Rent Them, Yahoo Tech

I started writing this post in 2005, when I dismissed the rent-your-music argument of Napster To Go and then found similar sales pitches from Rhapsody and Yahoo Music Unlimited (remember that?) only slightly more appealing.

7/11/2015: July 11, 2015 — Rob Pegoraro and Bryan Chaffin, Tech Night Owl

I talked about Apple Music’s resurrection of DRM, among other things, with host Gene Steinberg.

7/12/2015: How to get DSL without the phone service, USA Today

I got an update from the reader behind this question on late Saturday night, well after I’d filed the story: He had dumped Verizon, switched to EarthLink DSL, somehow doubled his speed, and finally ported his home number to Ooma. In the bargain, he only had to do without wired Internet access for a couple of days.

Weekly output: patent trolls, Apple Music (x3), robots, digital fluency

I had more to show for myself than usual on this holiday-shortened week, and I can thank Apple and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for much of that.

6/30/2015: Why The Tech Industry Hates Patent Trolls, and You Should Too, Yahoo Tech

I’d written and filed this column two weeks earlier, then shelved it so I could turn around a post on LastPass’s security breach. I’m glad we could finally get this thing out, but I fear that not many people read it on the day that Apple Music launched.

WTOP on Apple Music6/30/2015: Apple Music, the newest player in a crowded streaming field, WTOP

Washington’s news station interviewed me about my first impressions of Apple’s new music service. I emphasized how limited Apple Music’s device support is compared to that of Pandora or Spotify–even factoring in Apple’s upcoming, unprecedented shipment of an Android app for the service.

7/1/2015: CE Week Report: Are Robots Limping Forward or Finding Their Stride?, Economy

João-Pierre S. Ruth wrote up last week’s CE Week panel on robots and was kind enough to give me the last word in the story.

7/1/2015: Will Apple Music Kill Your Data Plan?, Yahoo Tech

I had thought that this would be an easy story to write, but then I realized that Apple had not bothered to document the bit rates used by Apple Music’s streaming–which are significantly higher than Pandora’s bit rate, though not as high as some coverage would have you think. I also had to batter my way through some math, an experience that reminded me how many decades it’s been since my last math class.

7/2/2015: We Do Need Digital Fluency, But We Don’t All Need To Code, Yahoo Tech

I’d written this reaction to the previous Friday’s event with McAuliffe at one of Capital One’s Tysons Corner offices on Monday, but my editors elected it to hold it for a slower time in the week. That made sense to me.

7/5/2015: Some restrictions apply to Apple Music song matches, USA Today

I wrote and filed a different Q&A column on Thursday, then decided that Apple’s undocumented imposition of DRM on matched copies of your own music was a timelier topic. That delayed the start of my long weekend until around noon Friday, but in the bargain I have a completed column in the can that we can run whenever I get around to taking a vacation.

Weekly output: Apple Music (x2), Fios battery-backup beep

In addition to the items below, I probably tweeted out an article’s worth of copy at the Techonomy Policy conference in D.C. on Tuesday. After that, this week’s other highlights were two only-in-D.C. events: the NOAA Fish Fry, an annual event that sees the Commerce Department’s courtyard turned into an open-air seafood buffet, and a reception at the National Archives hosted by nine different wine/beer/booze-industry lobbies. The catch is that both happened Wednesday night, a first-world problem that made the whole evening that much more like something out of Christopher Buckley’s brilliant novel “Thank You For Smoking.”

Yahoo Tech Apple Music post6/9/2015: Apple Music: The Song Sort of Remains the Same, Yahoo Tech

I covered Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference much as any of you could have: by watching the live video of the keynote at Apple’s site. I was sure the comments on this post would instantly degenerate into the usual Apple-versus-Android flame war, but that did not happen, and I feel like I did something wrong.

6/9/2015: Apple Music, WTOP

I spoke about Apple’s music news with WTOP’s anchors the morning my story ran. It was flattering to hear myself described as the news station’s “favorite geek.”

6/14/2015: How to stop Verizon Fios ‘battery beep’, USA Today

Most of my story research doesn’t require going into my home’s basement, but this item about how Verizon delivers phone service over its Fios fiber-optic broadband did. The column also offers some advice about a service-finding site, Go2Broadband, run by the cable industry.