Another Rendezvous

After submitting my iCal suggestions & observations (Part 1, Part 2) to Apple I realized that I was too limited in my scope regarding Rendezvous-based content/resource sharing. Given the similarities in the interfaces of a number of Apple applications, this sort of ad-hoc peer-to-peer sharing could be implemented with minimal change to the existing interfaces.

The “Collections | Content” UI design that is currently found in iTunes, iCal, the Address Book, iPhoto, and 10.3’s Finder can be easily extended to display networked content. Observe the implementation in iTunes 4 – while the coding changes were surely substantial, the interface changes were relatively minor; a preference pane for sharing configuration and the “Shared” container in the Sources pane.

Being able to easily (key word!) share all or specific calendars, contact groups, photo albums, or Finder folders would be great for home and small business users as well as workgroups at large corporations and universities.

Apple has stated that Rendezvous will play a big part in the future of OS X and consumer technology (via partnerships with companies such as Philips and Tivo) in general – these seem like natural applications of that idea.

The Trumpeters Three

I’m listening to the newest Terence Blanchard album (AMG), which has gotten good reviews – four and a half stars at AMG and called “…a wonderful feast of aurally delightful jazz,” by All About Jazz. My opinion: well played jazz that is easy to forget. Pop hooks are obviously not the object of the record, but none of the songs stuck in my mind. The arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is particularly bland and predictable; a funky keyboard hook in duple meter with the melody played in six over it. Wahoo. Admittedly, I have a personal bias against this sort of thing: standards that have already been done to near perfection by the original artist(s) should NEVER be recorded again. Leave it alone! You aren’t going to do it any better. The versions of “Footprints” on Miles Davis’s “Miles Smiles (iTMS)” and Wayne Shorter’s “Adam’s Apple (iTMS)” are definitive. Play them live if you like (I certainly do), but don’t record them. Arrangements simply sound like self-conscious attempts to make the song different from classic versions.

Both “Transform” and “Innocence” are pretty without making lasting impressions. As for soloing, there are a couple tracks (“On The Verge” and “Fred Brown”) where they cut loose and blow. Thus far, the player I’m most impressed with is saxophonist Brice Winston, whose solos are more intense than those of the other members. His playing on “Wandering Moon” was solid yet lacking the fire and confidence he plays with on this album. The last track has a nice New Orleans streetbeat which morphs into a swinging straight-ahead walking groove, but this track is not enough to prevent me from giving the album a rating of mediocre.

I bought Nicholas Payton’s new “Sonic Trance (iTMS)” through the iTunes Music Store, saving me about $4 compared to Amazon or Tower. While it clearly owes a lot to the Miles Davis recordings of the ’70s (A Tribute to Jack Johnson, On the Corner, Dark Magus, Bitches Brew), the group adds to those concepts with influences from hip-hop and recent R&B. The song “Cannabis Leaf Rag” has a feel like the Leaders of the New School’s “What’s The Pinocchio’s Theory?” I dig it.

Roy Hargove’s “Hard Groove (iTMS)” is a good blend hip-hop, funk, and jazz without seeming forced or contrived. A few of the slower tunes almost slip into smooth jazz, but Roy Hargrove plays with fire over the top of what can be rather sugary melodies. I particularly like “Poetry,” which features both Q-Tip and Erykah Badu. Why did they choose to leave out track 4? This is the one time I broke my rule of only buying complete albums through the online store.

In addition to getting music, the iTunes Music Store allows me to financially support (I know it is not much $$) artists whose work I value and to help prove that there is a viable market for online music sales. I have yet to run into any DRM limitations as imposed by FairPlay. They are there, but flexible enough that I haven’t found them to be a bother.

MS exec on iTunes

What a shock – Dave Fester, GM of the Windows Media Division, does not like iTunes and the Music Store!

He claims that Apple is limiting users too much, in part by not offering compatibility with many portable music players – “…if you use Apple’s music store along with ITunes, you don’t have the ability of using the over 40 different Windows Media-compatible portable music devices.” To him I say, “Who fucking cares?” The iPod is BY FAR the most popular digital music player, providing the best balance of capacity, price, and quality of design. Apple doesn’t give a shit about Windows Media compatibility because they don’t have to.

Just as Microsoft is in a position to ignore long standing problems with their W3C recommendation implementations because they control what is by far the most widely used browser, Apple can ignore compatibility with Windows Media Audio and the devices that support playback of that format because of the dominant position of the iPod in the market in which it competes.

Apparently, it is perfectly fine for Microsoft to ignore compatibility when they dominate a market, but it is a heinous crime when someone else does it.

Among his other claims are that “With Windows Media 9 Series, you get faster starts, better quality music, and support for the most devices.” Faster starts? You are downloading the songs, not streaming them every time you want to listen to them. Better quality is a very subjective thing. AAC at 128Kbps sounds damn good to me, but my ears are far from perfect due to 12 years of drumming. I’ve already addressed the “most devices” argument, but I’ll say it again – who the fuck cares about “most” devices? The iPod is THE device.

iTunes artist pictures

I’d like to see Apple add the ability to associate an image with an artist in your iTunes library. The image would not need to be embedded in the files themselves as that would be rather wasteful redundancy, instead the image file would be stored in the artist’s folder in your ~/Music directory.

Not an extremely useful feature, but it might help a wee bit with navigation while using the Browse mode. It would also correct what is currently a little wording boo-boo in iTunes – “Nothing Selected” is displayed in the artwork pane when an artist (or a genre), but not an album or song is selected. Clearly, something is selected!

I have thought of Apple doing something similar to MP3 Voodoo, but don’t yet have any clear ideas on how better to implement such a thing.

Apple adding WMA support?

Given Apple’s involvement in the MPEG standards group, I can’t see them adding support for Microsoft’s proprietary media codecs.

Some argue that Apple will add it to support music purchased from other online stores. Aside from the paltry number of PressPlay and Rhapsody subscribers that existed before Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, how many people are there with pre-existing DRM protected files? There is also the matter of Apple having technical access to the DRM scheme used on files from other stores. No competitor is going to freely give Apple the ability to steal their customers.

Higher bitrate AAC files are a possibility, both for audio quality and marketing purposes. Most people know very little about audio encoding, thinking that the bigger the number, the better. Apple providing their new content at 160 or 192 Kbps would benefit consumers wanting better quality and allow Apple to market their store as providing superior content over that of its competitors.

Pasteboard, clipboard, tomato, toe-mahto!

I hope Apple has fixed the little problem with Preview referring to the clipboard as the pasteboard (File -> New From Pasteboard). I am aware that the name of the actual process is “pb,” but Apple refers to it as the clipboard in the Finder and that is what Mac apps refer to it as.

"Leave me a message"

I have previously written about recording two-way conversations in iChat. Here I spew forth my ideas regarding incorporating message recording, another step towards iChat replacing traditional telephony services.

Users should be able to specify the following:

  1. Who can leave messages:

    No one, buddies only, or anyone. Radio buttons would work for this setting.

  2. What type of messages:

    Audio or video. Even more granular – buddies can leave audio or video, non-buddies can leave only audio.

  3. Maximum length (and consequently size) of messages:

    This would also be based on whether or not a given contact was on your buddy list. Per-buddy settings might also be useful, allowing your closest friends to leave lengthy messages while others are required to be brief and to the point. Since most users would not think of a message in terms of file size, length would be a more immediately understandable metric.

  4. How long messages are retained:

    A setting to automatically delete heard/viewed messages after x number of days. A default of one week?

As far as I know, the back-end facilities for such features are already in place with a combination of existing QuickTime and iSight (and other camera/microphone) capabilities. Interfaces for managing all these things would be the tricky part.

Global defaults could be set in an iChat preference section “Messages,” while buddy specific settings would be made in an identically named section in the “Info” window accessible from the “Buddies” menu, command+shift+i, or via the contextual menu in the buddy list itself.

The method of message display is another issue to work out. Should they appear in floating windows as with text messages or should a “Message Center” type window store them all, listing them in rows with sortable column headers (sender, date/time left, type)? Alternately, if only buddies could leave messages, notification of new messages could be attached to the buddy’s name in your buddy list.

Latest Firebird nightly + Pinstripe =

Browsing goodness.

At this point, my only real complaint is that there is no way to copy an image directly to the clipboard. I use this feature a lot in Safari and Camino. I think I shall venture over to bugzilla to see if anyone else shares my discontent over the lack of this feature . . .

Additional iCal suggestions/observations

Through further use of the recently released iCal 1.5.1, I have come upon several more interface issues and one rather simple but possibly very useful idea for a future version.

  • The url pop-up menu in the Info Drawer reads “Go to Location” while the same item/menu in the Address Book reads “Go to Web Site.” Perhaps Apple should hire me as their official Interface Nitpicker.
  • The “location” input area that appears immediately beneath the title of an event or item should behave in the same manner as the address entries in Address Book, allowing the user to locate a map or driving directions online using a pop-up menu with menu items for those two services. The “From” address would be pulled from the user’s Address Book card. As an aside, the “Directions” option should be added to the Address Book as it is not currently an option. The current implementation simply shows a map of the address selected. If this were to be implemented, the input area would need to be structured with specific fields for street, city, state/province, and ZIP. The rather roomy “Notes” field could be compacted to make room.
  • Rendezvous calendar sharing. A simple checkbox in the Info Drawer when a calendar is selected could determine whether or not a calendar was shared on the local network using Apple’s implementation of the ZeroConf open standard. Setting write permissions would make it all the more useful. Yes, you can currently publish to a WebDAV server (including .Mac), but that requires configuration of or access to such a thing. Shared calendars would appear in the upper left calendar list in a “Shared” container of the sort used for iTunes sharing. A low bandwidth service such as calendar sharing could easily be handled by any Mac running OS X so I don’t think there are any real performance considerations.

Getting from point A to point B in Safari

Safari has no way (that I have found!) to switch between the bookmarks collection and the content display panes using the keyboard, even with Full Keyboard Access enabled in the “Mouse and Keyboard” preference pane.

Another annoyance with Safari: the address field does not allow for click-through dragging. To see what I mean, try dragging a link from the address bar to a new mail message or chat window which overlays the Safari window. Fun times! This should be a simple matter, but instead you get to play ping-pong between applications to position the target correctly, then perform the actual drag operation. Blech.

Apple has a fairly loose click-through guideline, recommending only that potentially destructive and difficult to undo controls (delete buttons for example) not be responsive unless the application is frontmost. Since this is not a destructive action, I cannot understand why they chose to implement it this way. My thanks to the OmniGroup, who implemented this handy feature in OmniWeb.