Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: iTunes

Viewers now streaming nearly 5 hours of online video per month

The early days of short, fuzzy, one-off online videos are vanishing into the not-too-distant past. 

YouTube's original 2005-era tiny square video player, which did its level best to bring us thousands of short, low-resolution clips of cats skateboarding and babies talking, or vice versa, is now but a hazy memory. That wild and lawless period of online video has been paved over and lit up by ever larger online movie players, capable of plasma-TV-caliber resolution -- and with all limits on movie length removed.

(See the above clip of a cat skateboarding in high definition.)

Forget those 30-second clips of old. The average online video viewer is now watching 4 hours 38 minutes of video every month, according to the latest numbers from Nielsen, doubling the amount of online video people watched in 2008.

The proliferation of services like Netflix, Apple TV and Hulu Plus are letting more people watch entire movies and long TV episodes over the Internet, either from their PCs, TVs or tablets -- and YouTube itself is betting big on premium programming.

The one wrinkle:  Nielsen found that the total number of online viewers in the U.S. -- about 150 million as of August -- was growing at half the speed of the amount of video being watched.  Meaning people who are watching online video are watching a lot more than they used to -- but there are still plenty of people who aren't watching it at all: about half of the U.S. population.

Still, thinking back to the 2005 YouTube, the idea that half the nation would be watching hours of high- definition online video every month would've been sillier than a cat playing poker.

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Apple's iTunes Match now available; feature costs $24.99 a year

Apple

After delays, Apple's iTunes Match is now live.

For $24.99 a year, users can add music not purchased from iTunes -- such as songs imported from a CD or downloaded from other sources -- to his or her iCloud music collection. Music can then be played on any iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac or PC "whenever you want and wherever you are, without syncing," Apple said.

Here's the company's description of how it works:

"ITunes determines which songs in your collection are available in the iTunes Store. Any music with a match is automatically added to iCloud for you to listen to anytime, on any device. Since there are more than 20 million songs in the iTunes Store, chances are, your music is already in iCloud. And for the few songs that aren't, iTunes has to upload only what it can't match. Which is much faster than starting from scratch. Once your music is in iCloud, you can stream and store it to any of your devices. Even better, all the music iTunes matches plays back from iCloud at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality -- even if your original copy was of lower quality."

As we reported previously, matching a user's iTunes library in the cloud takes just minutes, Apple says. By contrast, Google's Music Beta and Amazon's Cloud Player services require users to upload song files to "cloud lockers" themselves and offer no matching options.

In order to pull all this off, Apple reached large contracts with major record labels, agreeing to give them a share of the revenue from iTunes Match subscriptions. If iTunes Match users let their subscriptions run out and don't pay to re-up, their iCloud libraries would revert to just the songs they've bought from iTunes.

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-- Andrea Chang

Image: ITunes Match will enable subscribers to access their music on multiple devices through iCloud. Credit: Apple

Stephen Colbert drops sarcasm, honors Steve Jobs

Getprev
With only a minimal amount of joking, the usually deadpan Stephen Colbert honored Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on Thursday's episode of "The Colbert Report."

"He was a visionary who changed the way we use computers, listen to music, communicate and stay awake in meetings," Colbert said. "But the thing I will miss is that no one else could make me beg quite like him."

A montage of clips from the show's archives followed with Colbert pleading, screaming and licking computer screens for Apple products over the years.

iPhone: "Apple, what part of give me a free iPhone don't you understand?"

iPad 2: "Oh my god, I need it!I need it! Oh, give it to me! Come on Apple, give me one through the TV, I know you have the technology!"

Bragging that he was "the first non-Apple person to have an iPad," Colbert replayed a clip from last year's Grammy Awards where he showed off the tablet computer months before it went on sale.

"All day, newsmen have been quoting Jobs' inspiring words through the years, like his engaging keynote announcements, his philosophical 2005 Stanford commencement speech and the soaring rhetoric of the iTunes terms and conditions," Colbert quipped. "But on a personal note, I was one of the few people who could call Steve Jobs a close personal friend, in that he communicated with me once."

The communication? A pithy one-liner email from Jobs to Colbert after the Grammy appearance.

"Subject: Last Night

Sweet!

Thanks!

Steve"

Using his iPad 2, Colbert tapped back a sweet and sincere reply while on-air:

"Right back at ya. Thanks for everything."

 

 

 

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-- Shan Li

Photo: Stephen Colbert holds his iPad at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Video: Stephen Colbert honors Steve Jobs. Credit: Comedy Central

 

 

IPhone 5 launch at Apple on Oct. 4, invite says

Apple

The call has come in: Apple will officially launch its next iPhone (or iPhones) on Oct. 4, next Tuesday. The unveiling of the much-anticipated iPhone 5, announced in an invitation sent to members of the media Tuesday morning, will be held on Apple's Cupertino, Calif., campus, in its Town Hall auditorium.

"Let's talk iPhone," the invitation says simply.

The invitation graphic, above, doesn't give much else away.  The Google maps icon on the lower left is focused on Apple's campus at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, directly adjacent to Interstate 280. And then there are the time and date. 

The phone icon, lower right, may be the only clue: For iPhone users, the little circled red "1" indicates a single message or call. Might that mean that Apple will announce only one new iPhone model, rather than two models, one of which was rumored to be smaller, cheaper, or faster version of the iPhone 4?  I'm not sure this counts as convincing evidence but it's the only thing I can think of.

Either way, check this space next Tuesday. The Times' Technology blog will have full, up-to-the-minute coverage of the iPhone's launch, price and availability.

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Apple promotes iTunes head Eddy Cue to senior executive role

Eddy Cue of Apple

Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, has made his first change to the company's top executive board, adding Eddy Cue as a senior vice president of Internet software and services.

Cue previously was vice president of iTunes at Apple, overseeing not only the most popular music selling destination online, but also iBooks and the iOS App Store. In his new role, Cue will still handle all of that, but will now be the man to guide Apple's next big (non-hardware) product -- iCloud.

Apple updated its website on Thursday, adding Cue's bio page to the executive team, which was first reported in the blog 9to5Mac.

Cue's new job will also give him responsibility for iAD, Apple's iOS advertising unit, which has so far failed to become much of a success. In mid-August, Andy Miller, Apple's then vice president of mobile advertising, resigned and headed to a venture firm called Highland Capital Partners.

The new executive has worked at Apple for the last 22 years and is credited with being a main negotiator of the deals with entertainment companies that led to iTunes having anything to sell.

"Eddy played a major role in creating the Apple online store in 1998, the iTunes Music Store in 2003 and the App Store in 2008," Apple said in Cue's bio. "He also played a key role in developing Apple's award-winning iLife suite of applications. In his early years at Apple, he was a successful manager of software engineering and customer support teams."

Cue is a graduate of Duke University, where he got a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics, Apple said.

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Photo: Eddy Cue, then Apple's vice president of iTunes, speaks during the launch of News Corp.'s The Daily news magazine for the Apple iPad in New York in February. Credit: Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg

eMusic adds a little streaming to its MP3 store

EMusic Radio

The core challenge for music subscription services is helping people find enough new and compelling tracks each month to persuade them to keep paying the monthly fee. For eMusic, this task has been complicated by the fact that its service doesn't let users stream the songs they find on the site, as its competitors do. That's because eMusic isn't an online jukebox; it's a place to buy MP3s at a discount, sort of like iTunes but with better prices ($.49 to $.89 per track) and a monthly spending requirement (the plans start at $11.99). Users have been limited to streaming 30-second samples of the tracks they were considering buying, as well as reading reviews by critics and other users.

Tuesday, eMusic took its first, limited step into streaming in an effort to help users discover unfamiliar tracks and artists more easily. Using technology from The Echo Nest, a sophisticated music preference engine, eMusic is now offering 50 virtual radio stations organized around genres or themes -- e.g., "Hearts on Fire: the Underbelly of Soul and Country" and "Gimme Indie Rock." Each station will have 50 or 60 tracks picked by eMusic's editors and contributors, aided by The Echo Nest's technology for finding songs with complementary sonic attributes.

The radio stations will be available free to eMusic subscribers. Also starting Tuesday, non-subscribers will also be able to stream the stations for free, but only for 10 hours.

It's not the same as letting users play specific songs or artists on demand. But Rich Caccappolo, eMusic's chief technology officer, said the site will integrate the stations into artist and album pages, providing links to stations featuring that artist's music.

It's also just the first in a series of steps the company hopes to take to improve its music discovery features. According to Caccappolo, future moves may include 90-second samples and even letting subscribers stream full songs once for free, as LaLa used to do. And eMusic is working with EchoNest to enable users to generate playlists automatically from their collections, potentially incorporating a few new tracks they don't own that match their tastes.

This is a good direction for eMusic, which has gone through some drastic changes in recent years as it tries to build its audience. Those changes include a sharp increase in price as the company added the four major record companies and several top independent labels to its roster.

Caccappolo said eMusic's following today is "collectors, passionate music fans" -- the sorts of people who buy whole albums rather than cherry-picking singles. This is a group that craves to discover unfamiliar artists and bands, and it's not well served at all by the heavy rotation of hits served up by commercial radio stations. 

Of course, that's also the group rival subscription services are recruiting, and some of them have very effective music-discovery tools. With The Echo Nest's help, eMusic's just got a bit better.

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him @jcahealey

Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader app bypasses Apple's rules

Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader app on an Apple iPad

Amazon's new Kindle Cloud Reader is exactly the sort of iPad app Apple isn't allowing in its App Store.

Built in HTML5, running on the Web and not just iOS, the Kindle Cloud Reader Web app enables Kindle users to not only read e-books they buy from Amazon but buy books from within the app itself.

Unlike Amazon's native iOS Kindle app, Kindle Cloud Reader skips the App Store and iTunes. No downloads required. All that needs to be done to get the Cloud Reader on an iPad is to open Safari and type the right URL, www.amazon.com/cloudreader.

But while users may see a big advantage in being able to read a book from the cloud (i.e. the Internet) and buy a new book all in the same app -- as Kindle Cloud Reader offers -- the real winner here could end up being Amazon.

That's because anything sold through Apple's App Store or iTunes gives Apple a 30% cut of revenue. Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, isn't too keen on forking over a portion of its sales, and Kindle Cloud Reader gives Amazon a book-selling iPad app that it can have full control over.

Apple doesn't allow the buying of digital content (books, video, music, etc.) from within an app unless that content is sold through iTunes and the App Store -- unless that content is delivered in a subscription, as magazines or newspapers are. Apple's iOS app rules don't allow an app to link to an outside website where users can buy anything, which is why Amazon removed a link to its Kindle store from its iOS Kindle app and Barnes & Noble did the same with its Nook app.

The HTML5 app, which also works with Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome browsers on Macs and PCs (no Firefox, Opera or IE support yet), gives Amazon and its customers a way to get around the App Store restrictions.

Amazon isn't the only company looking to HTML5 for an App Store workaround -- Wal-Mart's Vudu is doing the same with its video storefront and Rdio last week skipped the "Apple tax," as some call it.

As HTML5 becomes more popular for building websites and Web apps, we can probably expect to see more Web apps to pop up that also set their own rules.

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Image: A screen shot of the Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader HTML5 app on an Apple iPad. Credit: Amazon /Apple

Apple's new Mac mini ditches the optical-drive

Macmini

Mac OS X and the MacBook Air weren't the only Apple products to receive updates on Wednesday -- Apple's Mac mini gained a few new features and lost an optical drive too.

Like the MacBook Air laptop, Apple has worked Intel's Core i5 and i7 processors into the Mac mini, as well as beefier graphics chips, which the Cupertino company says adds up to performance that is twice as fast as the outgoing models.

The little desktop, a prime example of the tech giant's minimal design ethos (it's just an aluminum block after all), also gains a new high-speed Thunderbolt port to sit alongside the carry-over of four USB ports and one HDMI port (yes, it can be hooked up to a TV).

The new Mac mini ships with Mac OS X Lion, Apple's desktop and laptop operating system, and falls in price about $100 to start at $599, though with more memory and other options the price can hit a high of $1,849.

Like the previous generation Mac mini, which had a "super drive" CD/DVD player and burner built-in, the refreshed Mac mini has a one-piece aluminum body and is just 1.4-inches tall with a 7.7-inch square shape.

"Mac mini is designed without an optical disc drive. Because these days, you don't need one," Apple says on its website. "It's easier than ever to download music and movies from the iTunes Store. And you can download apps from the Mac App Store with a click."

However, for those not quite ready for Apple's disc-free future (there may be a couple of you out there), there are some workarounds if a DVD is needed to install software, or a CD needs to be ripped to iTunes. Mac OS X Lion enables the Mac mini to access the optical drives on other PCs and Macs wirelessly for such tasks and it also can work with an external USB optical drive.  

And, as always, the Mac mini comes without a keyboard or mouse.

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Image: The new Apple Mac mini desktop computer. Credit: Apple

Spotify live in U.S.; a vision realized for Sean Parker of Napster fame

SpotifyonMac

Spotify in now playing in the U.S.

The online music service, hugely popular in Europe, is now live in the States. But to start using Spotify, users need to be invited in -- a very Google-esque move. Well, that is unless you're willing to sign up and pay for Spotify.

The music-streaming service has been expected for more than a year now as Spotify had to reach agreements with record labels over licensing rights to songs on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Llquz5nc But now that it's here and launched, it's the realization of a vision for tech investor Sean Parker, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Parker, who was an early employee at both Napster (back when it was a file-sharing service) and Facebook (the world's largest social-networking service), sits on Spotify's board of directors and is a managing partner at the Founders Fund venture capital firm.

"For a decade I have waited for a music service that could rekindle my excitement about music by enabling music to be shared freely across the world -- all the while empowering artists to reap the economic benefits of selling their music," Parker wrote on his Facebook wall Thursday, according to the Financial Times.

The service has three tiers of membership based on what is often referred to as a "freemium" model with both a free, ad-supported option and paid subscriptions as well, which Los Angeles Times reporter Alex Pham breaks down on our sister blog Pop & Hiss:

The free tier will let users listen to the company's catalog of more than 15 million songs from a computer connection for six months. After that, free users will be capped at 10 hours a month and up to five spins for any particular song.

Spotify's paid tiers include a plan for $4.99 a month that will let users listen without ads, and another for $9.99 a month that allows users to access music from a smartphone such as an iPhone, Android, Palm or Windows 7 device.

Spotify's main competitors in the U.S. include services like Pandora, a free music-streaming service that groups music by genre or artist, and Last.fm, a streaming music recommendation service. And, of course, Apple's iTunes, which is the biggest online music store. Apple charges by the song or the album and is looking to battle challengers with its coming iCloud service, which will allow users to stream music they've already purchased.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

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Image: (Top) Spotify's desktop app running on a laptop. Credit: Spotify/YouTube

Photo: (Bottom) Founders Fund Managing Partner Sean Parker attends the eG8 forum in Paris May 25, 2011. Credit: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Apple's App Store passes 15 billion downloads, 425,000 apps available

ITunes

Apple's App Store has passed 15 billion downloaded apps and now has more than 425,000 apps available for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users to chose from, Apple Inc. announced.

"In just three years, the revolutionary App Store has grown to become the most exciting and successful software marketplace the world has ever seen," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said in a statement.

The Cupertino, Calif., tech giant, in releasing its App Store numbers on Thursday, said there were more than 200 million iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users worldwide.

Of the more than 425,000 apps for sale and in many cases free in the App Store, more than 100,000 are built specifically for the larger screen found on the iPad. Apple, which takes a 30% cut of all App Store revenue, said it has paid developers more than $2.5 billion from the sale of their apps so far.

The App Store sells iOS apps in both Apple's iTunes app for desktops, as well as through App Store apps on iOS devices.

Apple's iPad is the top-selling tablet computer, making iOS the most popular tablet operating system. But in the world of smartphones Google's Android is the most popular operating system.

In May, at Google's I/O developer conference, the search giant and Apple rival said it had more than 200,000 apps at its Android Market and more than 4.5 billion apps had been downloaded.

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Image: A screenshot of the App Store for iPad apps in iTunes. Credit: Apple

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