Apple vs the App Developers

boot.jpgPreviously I’d written about the impending launch of Garage Band for iPad, and mentioned how Apple’s release of this app will challenge smaller independent app developers in the music creation space.

Today’ I’m at it again. With yesterday’s release of iOS 4.3, it seems that Apple has again taken a bite out of a developer’s revenue stream.

I’m talking specifically about enhancements to iTunes Home Sharing that enable video and audio streaming from any properly configured iTunes-running computer on your network.

Yep, this is a good thing, and it’s very cool tech. It’s great that Apple is making it available for free. And it’s unfortunate that it’s also putting pressure on the developers of the Air Video and StreamToMe apps, both very good streaming applications.

Innovate or else. This is competition?
So now the ball is back in the developers court. They have to prove that their apps worth real money, and are better or different than iTunes Home Sharing, which is free and just an update away.

And the developers aren’t working from a position of strength that Apple is with all the resources at it’s disposal.

stream.jpg

Air Video and StreamToMe and others offer significant differentiators from Apple’s Home Sharing, in that they can be set up to stream video from your home server to your location anywhere on the Internet, provided you’ve properly configured your network and the apps. I’ve not seen an easy way to set iTunes up to extend Home Sharing to an Internet connected device. It may exist, but I’ve not seen it yet.

But wait, there’s more!
Home media streaming isn’t the only area Apple’s jumped into recently. As mentioned at the start of this post, Garage Band for iPad launched today. And it looks like an awesome app!

korg.jpgWhich has some music app makers re-evaluating their product and pricing structures when compared against Garage Band iPad.

For example, today KORG dropped the price of its hugely awe-inspiringly-complex synth, the iMS-20. Given the complexity and power of the app, KORG had it initially pegged at $32.99. Today the price dropped to half at $15.99.

No update. No improvements. Just a change in the landscape tomorrow and an app is worth $15.00 less.

Sure, comparing a $4.99 iPad Garage Band against a full featured $32.99 $15.99 synth is Apples to Oranges. But is it? Many buyers of iPad Garage Band have Macs, which already have the full computer version of Garage Band installed as part of the standard Mac bundle. A built-in audience and income stream for the iPad app.

Winning!
In the end, the consumer is winning, it seems. With Garage Band, they get a new, reasonably priced and powerful app for their iPads. And they’ll also benefit by some price cuts on other apps whose developers will feel the need to compete with Garage Band’s price, bringing them into line with consumer new expectations. Winning – for the consumer.

For the app developers? That remains to be seen.

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Need a mic? Find a Yeti.

In the last few years it’s gotten a bit easier to use a microphone to record audio on your home computer — USB headsets with quality microphones have been available for a while, but only recently have USB desktop microphones oved out of the niche and specialty retailers into the mainstream, driven mostly by the development of podcasting and Garage Band recording systems.

But quality desktop microphones were expensive — the keyword there is were — now we’re seeing a bunch of new, high quality USB desktop microphones in the retailers at a much more reasonable price-point.

The Blue Yeti is one such microphone that has quickly developed a bit of a reputation for itself, in a good way, of course. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons the Yeti is getting some buzz.

All this on a microphone?
First off, the Yeti isn’t just a microphone. Inside the sturdy, heavy, burnished aluminium case is actually 3 condenser microphone capsules, strategically located to provide 4 recording patterns. I’ll get into those in a moment.

And it’s a THX certified microphone:

THX certification is either pass or fail. And product pricing is never a driving factor. If a product meets the THX testing standards, then certification is granted. With all of this testing from THX, the consumer is assured that the TV, receiver or speaker  system they are purchasing meets the highest standards for quality and compatibility right out of the box.

backcontrols.jpgAlso inside the unit all the hardware necessary to translate the analog audio into digital audio, and then pump it out the mini-USB port and into your computer.

This hardware includes a pre-amp (controlled by the Gain knob on the back) and a zero-latency headphone jack so you can monit or the microphone audio without having to plug your headphones into your computer, and  experience that annoying bit of audio lag (latency).

Three, no four mics in one.
Cap_300.jpg You see this neat shot of the three condenser mic capsules? Well the way the Yeti uses them is kinda cool, because these three mics working together give the Yeti the flexibility of four distinct microphone pickup patterns.

The illustration below shows the patterns and their best usages.

pattern.jpg

Mobile Recording Studio
One of the other reasons I wanted to take a look at the Yeti was to explore it’s functionality in a highly mobile environment — specifically how it worked when connected to the USB input in Apple’s Camera Connector Kit for the iPad.

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By combining a high-quality microphone with some of the sophisticated digital audio editing software for iPad (such as MultiTrack DAW), a potentially powerful podcasting setup could be created.

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Sweet Sounds
Yep, the Yeti works as a very nice and clean mic in a mobile situation.

I recorded some audio of my wife setting up her acoustic guitar, and while I’m no sound engineer, was quite impressed with the sound! Much better than any of the home / consumer mic’s I’d tried previously.

Stereo Normalized by bgrier

And, of course, I recorded the first paragraph of this blog post to give you an indication of what voice sounds like through the Yeti. The Yeti was connected through an inexpensive USB hub to the iPad, which was running Multitrack DAW. Yeti gain was up a bit, and the mic was set into the Cardioid pattern.

Yeti Mic Test by bgrier

Then Apple Changed Things
Sadly, in the last OS update, Apple changed the way power was supplied through the Camera Connector Kit USB port — and the Yeti stopped working *when connected directly to the iPad*.

The workaround is that you now need to put a powered USB hub between the Yeti and your iPad in order for the system to work again.

Mostly Mobile
So, as things stand, I’ve got a mostly mobile recording and podcast studio.  The one major drawback with the Yeti is it’s heft – it weighs in at 1.85kg.

Add to that the need for a powered USB hub now, and things are a bit more complicated — but not enough that I’d not consider using the Yeti / Hub / iPad combination in a mobile setting.

Need a mic? Find a Yeti.
If you compare prices on similar mics, you’ll find the Yeti extremely inexpensive — considering the number of additional features you get built in (multi-pattern, THX certification, internal Pre-amp, etc), well worth a serious look, or listen.

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Commerce in a post-Wikileaks economy

cc.jpgYou’ve likely seen the news that Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others are under distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks by folk who feel that WikiLeaks headman Julian Assange is being persecuted for distributing sensitive information he’d received from others.

Setting aside that entire espionage, sex-by-surprise, persecution, journalism and right to information thing, what’s left is the hacking attempts — coordinated attacks on key points of the infrastructure of commerce. This, as we are in the midst of the holiday buying season. A juicy target indeed.

What’s happening
The coordinated attacks seem to be having some small effect on commerce. According to one report:

MasterCard, calling the attack “a concentrated effort to flood our corporate website with traffic and slow access,” said all its services had been restored and that account data was not at risk.

But it said the attack, mounted by hackers using simple tools posted on the Web, had extended beyond its website to payment processing technology, leaving some customers unable to make online payments using MasterCard software.

How it’s done
By using freely available tools to target and coordinate these attacks, *anyone* can join in the action. Find the right IRC server, download the tools, and turn them on — poof, you’re a ‘hack-tivist’ and  your computer (or computer network) is now part of a botnet:

The weapon of choice is a piece of software named a “Low Orbit Ion Cannon” (LOIC) which was developed to help Internet security experts test the vulnerability of a website to these assaults, the distributed denial of service attacks. The LOIC is readily and easily available for download on the Internet.

The LOIC can be controlled centrally by an administrator in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, a type of computer chat room; it can seize control of a network of computers and use their combined power in a DDoS attack. The attack is aimed at the target website and when the LOICs are activated they flood the website with a deluge of data requests at the same time.

The DDoS attack prevents the overloaded server from responding to legitimate requests and slows down the website to a crawl — or shuts it down totally. The attacks are coordinated in the IRC channel, and on Thursday, around 3,000 people were active on the Operation: Payback channel at one stage.

One side effect of all this is that the participants are also testing the limits of the commerce infrastructure for hackers and others who’s intentions may not be so noble as preventing a perceived injustice.

The impact
So what does this mean for retailers and customers in the next few weeks and months, and what does this mean for the future of online commerce?

  • Slow or blocked online commerce — if the servers are clogged, your online merchant may not be able to process your credit card or PayPal transaction, and can’t complete the sale
  • Increased attacks — depending on how this spate of incidents turns out, copy-cats will use the same techniques against new targets, or evolve their own methods and tools
  • Increased unease — new online consumers will have another reason to *not* shop online, preferring to continue shopping at brick and mortar shops as they’ll feel more secure
  • Increased security — essential to recover control of the commerce infrastructure and to demonstrate to consumers that online commerce works and is safe
  • Increased cost — better and tighter security isn’t free, so this ‘cost of doing business’ will be factored into the retail process, resulting in higher prices

The Genie is out of the bottle
Yep, the tools and techniques have been around for a while. It’s taken one event like this to catalyze a motivated and unconnected group of people around the world to participate in coordinated action. We will see more of this, maybe aimed at political institutions, national governments, or launched by environmental activists. Welcome to a new reality.

Small steps, small cups

Since this is Blog Action Day, I thought I’d take a look at how I perceive my morning routine is impacting climate change – no real hard science here, but just my pedestrian perspective on  my potential impact on the planet.My thinking may be wrong-headed in places (please let me know) but this post is really a review of a series of conscious decisions I’ve made over the years to continue to enjoy coffee, and lessen the impact I make.

It’s all about me
My morning cup of coffee is not just a ritual, it’s essential. Over the years I’ve used percolators, drip machines, French Press devices and most recently, a Keruig K-Cup device. I enjoy grinding my own beans and experimenting with various roasts.

At the drive through
Also over the years, when I’ve missed my morning brew at home, I’ve had to spend time in the Tim Hortons drive through. This is bad from an vehicle idling perspective…I’m trying to reduce this.

Impacts: Vehicle emissions, time, energy

Reduced wastage
In my perk, drip, carafe days, I used to make a full pot of coffee in the morning. This would occasionally be shared with my wife, and the remainder dumped into a thermos and taken to work and either consumed or thrown out at the end of the day.

I felt like I was saving money (not buying a fresh coffee) and not wasting the morning leftovers. Sure, it had continued stewing in the thermos for a few hours until I drank it, and it was more bitter then, but it was drinkable. Just not a good cup of Joe.

Of course, now I had to wash both my travel mug, my thermos, and the coffee brew pot / carafe. I was not happy with the water wasted on cleaning.

Impacts: Water waste, energy waste (brewing discarded coffee), time


Single cup solution

My experimentation in grinding also produced inconsistent results. Often we weren’t pleased  with the results.

So we invested in a more consistent coffee solution by picking up a K-Cup machine. For me, this makes sense in so many ways:

  • We always enjoy our coffee
  • Pre-measured water usage
  • Pre-measured coffee packets (cups)
  • Reusable coffee filter option (lets me experiment with grinds & roasts)
  • Minimal cleanup (just wash the mugs)

But, you may say, I’m increasing my impact buy increasing the amount of packaging produced and discarded for each cup I consume.

That is true, but we’ve taken some steps to even reduce that impact. You see, Edmonton (the city I live in) has a world-class recycling facility. They handle an amazing amount of recyclable material. And with a little bit of extra work, we’re able to break down those K-cups into materials that can (I believe) be safely recycled.

The K-cup consists of four components and it’s a simple matter to reduce the cup to its components for appropriate handling:

  • Plastic cup – recycle
  • Paper filter – recycle or discard
  • Coffee grounds – flush down the sink (roughage to keep the pipes clean)
  • Combination foil / plastic sealing lid – discard
Impacts: Packaging waste


Reusing the K-cup
Of course, the best solution for me is the Keurig My K-Cup Reusable Coffee Filter. It’s a mini-filter basket that sits inside a holder. Simply place your own ground coffee inside and viola, a fresh cup of coffee in a minute or so. Nothing to discard and easy to wash. And aside from initial production inputs, no real impact aside from cleaning.

Impacts: Water waste

Ok, enough about me and my quest to achieve my perfect (and climate friendly) brew. Time for your thoughts.

Is this a minor step? Perhaps a very small step, and does it matter? I think so, but then, I’m not really in a position to judge. I’m just one small consumer that’s trying to help out in my own small way. How ’bout you?

No reason NOT to get a new computer this year.

Only in Canada ‘eh? Pity!

The recently announced Canadian Budget seems to have a direct boon to me. I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting more of the same general economic stimulus packages, etc. But here’s something that applies to me directly.

Temporary 100-Per-Cent Capital Cost Allowance Rate for Computers

In light of the economic slowdown, Budget 2009 proposes a two-year 100-per-cent CCA rate for computers acquired after January 27, 2009 and before February 1, 2011. This will allow businesses to fully expense their investment in computers in one year. Businesses in all sectors of the economy, including the service sector, will benefit from this initiative, which will contribute to boosting Canada’s productivity through the faster adoption of newer technology.

Obviously I’d need to see the details regarding what kind of equipment would be covered. For example:

  • what about computer support equipment (network routers, printers, etc)
  • what are the limits and qualifications?
  • do you have to be a registered company to benefit or does it apply to sole proprietorships?

A few details need to be crafted, but this could be an interesting time in the Tech sector, especially in Tech retail! I’ll be watching this rather closely…stay tuned!