So Apple has now become the number one music retailer in the United States, finally surpassing Wal-Mart. It passed Best Buy a month or two ago when it captured the number two spot, and that phenomenal growth has given Apple a truly astounding 50 million customers. Apple says that through iTunes they have sold over four billion songs out of their catalog of more than six million. Who imagined five years ago, when Apple first released the iTunes Music Store, that the company would be in such a position today? The Wikipedia says that the iTMS launched with about 200,000 songs, but provides no source reference. I suppose that number is as good as any other, but I did find an article in Wired from that time that referenced that 200,000 number (http://
The Benefits of Hindsight
It is rather fun to go back and look at comments from pundits at the time the iTunes Music Store first launched, and the Wired article has a few: Iann Robinson, an MTV "news correspondent" at the time (I think that means he was a "VJ" or "video jockey") said "he was looking forward to seeing a lot more independent artists available at the iTunes Music Store." Wired quotes him saying "When independent music is on there -- boom -- it will really open up." Rather amusing, with the benefit of 20/
Another person quoted was Colin Crawford, then an executive at MacWorld publisher IDG, that "the service is likely to change significantly in coming months, with price drops and big growth in the library of available music." In his words, "It's a premium service at the moment," he said. "The audience that Apple is after here can afford the iPod and to pay for music like this. But by the time it comes to Windows, it'll be a lot different." He was half right. The library has grown but songs have generally remaining 99 cents in the United States, and iPods vary in cost from US$49 to many hundreds. But again, we are reading his words with the insight of hindsight. Perhaps some people at the time thought that iPods were too expensive and songs were too expensive. We've seen though that the market hasn't agreed with that.
I must admit that I am not an expert on music. My taste runs from the uncommon (Fresh Aire/
Another astounding revelation: the iPhone and iPod Touch are the #1 mobile browser, at least according to Dublin, Ireland-based web research company StatCounter. They say Nokia's Symbian OS is number two in the US, with Windows Mobile far behind both. Worldwide, Symbian OS is number one worldwide, but that's hardly surprising. The iPhone is only available in a few countries and hasn't been out long. StatCounter says that the iPhone and iPod Touch generated 0.
There are ways to preserve some privacy in the face of these tracking techniques, but it isn't always easy. Turning off the loading pf graphics can sometimes help prevent web bugs from biting, but you lose a lot of functionality doing that. Some tools existed at one time to hunt for these URLs and prevent their loading, but their techniques may be less effective now. You can protect yourself from scripts to some extent, and malicious scripts to a large extent, by installing Noscript, which I mentioned last month. Noscript will catch and block script web trackers, which may be what you want. But there isn't much you can do if you happen to just click the wrong link. In researching this topic, I came across a bit of urban slang I had not heard before: to be "rick rolled." The reference is to a Rick Astley video, specifically in tricking someone to click a link purported to be to some interesting and timely content, but actually going to a video of his video "Never Gonna Give You Up." I don't see the significance of that particular video, but perhaps it is something that has entered the popular culture and has simply remained symbolic. So, if a friend sends you a link which he says is about a cute cat doing something amusing and you click it and see a Rick Astley video, you have been "rick rolled." More recently, though, it can refer to any unexpected link result. So if you click on a link to a "lolcat" but go to an adult video site, much to the amusement of the person who sent you the link, you too have been rick rolled. Though usually harmless, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation has for a number of years been planting URLs in chat rooms, IRC channels, and so forth frequented by pedophiles that purport to be sources for child pornography. When someone clicks the link, the FBI logs their IP address and other information ("etc"?) and proceeds to hunt down and arrest the person who clicked the link. No doubt they have been successful in catching criminals this way. After all, who is going to knowingly try to access such a link? Setting aside the fact that the "crime" here is to click a link and not the actual possession of child pornography, it appears that a person can be arrested even if they were rick rolled. Child pornography is repellent, abhorrent, one of the things that most all people can agree is wrong, but does that make it proper that clicking a link that goes nowhere should be criminal behavior?
Painful Safari, painful iTunes
I try not to use the iPhone for browsing when I am forced to use AT&T's EDGE network, but even just a few minor changes would make browsing so much better at any time. For example, my iPhone rarely maintains a copy of a page in its cache. Frankly, I suspect it doesn't even have a cache. When I read a page and then turn the phone off for a while, when I return to Safari the page I was looking at is almost always blank. Safari must then reload the page, and I must sit and wait. And wait. Why can't the browser be smart enough to check for updated content before refreshing it, or at least give me the option to either reload the page or not. Often I simply want to continue reading where I left off, but cannot. And sometimes the reload fails, and then I can't do much of anything. I would be delighted to sacrifice some megabytes of space to be used for a cache, even 50 megabytes or more (though I don't know why it would need more than a fraction of that). Furthermore, the browser is limited to opening eight pages (they are simply eight separate web page displays that you can switch between) but the way you switch between them uses a rather fancy zoom out and zoom in function. Zoom out, then swipe left or right to slide to another page, and then tap to zoom into that page. But what is the point of all this fancy graphical manipulation when you are almost always sliding between eight blank pages? It is utterly useless. I would far prefer to tap a button and see a text list of open pages, touch one, and go right to it. If the iPhone isn't going to show me something on the screen that I will find visually useful, don't even bother. Make it faster and simpler and just show me a list. And it can take a painfully long time, as long as ten seconds or so, to enter a URL into the location field. Why? When you tap the first letter of the website, the iPhone apparently searches through Safari's bookmarks to find a match. And that can take a while if, like me, you have a lot of bookmarks. Ten seconds might not feel like a lot, but when you experience it frequently, it feels longer and longer. Perhaps a faster CPU and/
I've complained about iTunes before, specifically the nearly useless Coverflow. Actually, let me correct that, it really is useless. Great eye-candy for demos, but unusable in real life. I also find the basic playlist to be difficult to manage, too. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and some of their titles are quite long. For example, "Coast to Coast AM - Feb 18 2008 - Hour 1" but it is so long that my iPhone only displays "Coast to Coast AM - Feb 18..." Although I can probably guess which episode is Hour 1, Hour 2, and so forth, I would like to see the end of the title. Turning the machine sideways doesn't help, of course -- it switches into Coverflow mode, and looking at the Information page of the album in Coverflow shows slightly less text. iTunes on iPhone also doesn't show any extra metadata, such as Comments, and that is what I would very much like to see. We have a large, empty area in the middle of iTunes' screen, now occupied by the album art or a large musical note, and I would like Apple to offer us better use of it.
But these are shortcomings that are relatively easily addressed by Apple or perhaps third-parties. Companies like Nokia, which recently talked about its touchscreen Tube device (a somewhat peculiar name, reminding me of how US Senator Ted Stevens once described the Internet as "a series of tubes") have a lot of catching up to do, and honestly I think they'll have a very difficult time catching up. All too often, companies forget that "less is more," that fewer features implemented more elegantly are often much better than lots and lots of features that don't don't work well together or even don't work well at all. I think Apple's commanding lead will only get better, and a 3G phone and a true SDK and open third-party applications will cement Apple's position. And if you are curious about how capable the platform is for graphical apps, google for "Touch Fighter" and watch the YouTube video of that OpenGL demo app. Less than 10K lines of code and only two weeks work. We'll see more soon.