Sunday, December 04, 2011

Beam Me Up! Music in the Cloud....

If you maintain your music collection within iTunes, then you must be excited with its new music Match feature. 

Demoed at Apple's WWDC in June 2011, this looked at one of the most interesting features. For $25 per year, its not too expensive, and provides a seamless way to keep all your devices in sync with a common music collection.

So, how is different from Amazon's or Google's music in the cloud services? I have been using this service for over a month now, and here's what I think.

First, instead of taking weeks (if your music collection has thousands of songs, that is), the process of uploading the songs to Apple's data servers is fast - by fast, I mean in a matter of a few hours, I was able to upload 6000+ songs. iTunes Match services scans your library and tries to match your local songs with what is available already with iTunes music store (based on meta tags, song duration etc). It then uploads whatever songs it couldn't match. I was surprised by the number of songs it was able to match - that included Hindi and Bengali songs as well!

Second, once the music is in the cloud, you can delete your local songs from your PC, and redownload the songs from the cloud. If it was "matched" instead of uploaded, what you get is a 256 kbps AAC song file. This means, even those low quality MP3s you ripped from your friend's CD collection can now be replaced with a high quality AAC versions.

On your portable Apple devices, you have an option to "download" the song, listen to it, and delete it later to save space. I like this better than streaming, as you are not dependent on your data connection speed, data limit and availability to access your entire music collection.

Songs you directly purchase directly from iTunes music store do not count to the 25,000 song limit. And I consider 25,000 songs is an overkill for me.

Currently, this is US only, and is available only within the music app for Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch).

There were a few things which Apple does need to iron out:

1. Not all songs are uploaded / matched. I get an "error" status for some files. This may be due to the fact that the files were encoded at a bitrate lower than 128kbps.

2. Album art display is not consistent. Its been a month now, and I still don't see all my album arts on my iPad (esp. when I group songs based on artists). When I play a song, it sometimes downloads the album art, but this is not a consistent behavior.

Overall, I am quite impressed with the way all my songs are now available on all my devices. Physical storage capacity is not an issue anymore. If I want to listen to a song, I can just search my entire music library within my iPhone / iPad, download the entire album, listen to it, and delete it by swiping it.

So, is it worth $25/year? Well, if you are tied to the Apple ecosystem, and have a huge music collection, I think this is a good service I am willing to pay for. iTunes Match is not a music subscription service (like Spotify), which many had hoped for, but this is an elegant way to have access all songs you own.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Last month, Apple was in the news a lot. Chronologically speaking, there was the new iPhone launch, immediately followed by the sad news of Steve Job's demise. Then there was the usual iPhone launch excitement, huge lines in front of the stores, the "how awesome Siri is" etc etc. And, soon, the biography of Steve Jobs was released - the "authorized" one. There was, and still is, a lot of discussion about the abysmal battery performance of iPhone 4s and/or iOS5, and the subsequent release of version 5.0.1. So, let me get started on what I think of each of these.

The Launch of iPhone

The gadget and the rumor sites were filled with so called leaks and design mock ups about the new iPhone for the past few months - designs that made imaginations run wild. Sleeker and tapered form factor, 4inch screen and what not. Even I was caught in this rumor mill, against my better judgement, and had a full expectation that new iPhone will look completely different. Well, everyone who was expecting this was disappointed on the 4th October, when Apple and co took the stage and introduced the revamped iPhone 4 - with a "S" appended to its name. 

I am generally at work when Apple decides to announce new products, so incessant refreshing of blog sites is what I end up doing. The keynote was a bit subdued, but I couldn't guess why (Jobs' absence? But I expected him to pop up on the stage anytime). Anyways, they announced the phone, and the tech world was sure to be disappointed - after each of them publishing thousands of posts on the "new and revamped" design.

Anyways, my good old 3GS was out of contract, so I decided to upgrade anyways. For me, it was a worthwhile upgrade - awesome screen, awesome camera, faster processor, and finally - a 64Gb option!

Steve Jobs Passed Away

I was driving home from work in the evening, and the radio jockey announced the news. For a second, I thought I had heard it wrong. Parking outside my apartment, I immediately opened up a reader app, and was shocked, and sad.

The Pre-Order

Yes, this was the first gadget I ever bought on the launch day. I stayed up past midnight, ready with my credit card, to buy the new phone. Unfortunately, Apple and AT&T would let me - at least their website didn't. Wasted 1.5 hours, before finally giving up. But I set up a 5AM alarm, to go back and see if their websites were back up to take my order again. Which I was able to.

The New iPhone

Well, this was a Friday. And as usual, I was at work. As with all other things I order online, I expected UPS / Fedex to deliver it to the leasing office of my apartment, if I am not at home, Guess what, not this time! Instead, they asked me to drive 30 miles one way to Commerce City at 8PM to collect the phone from their sorting / storage center. And, made me wait for 2 more hours before I could get my hand on the brown box.

Siri, and the Initial Impressions

The phone is fast, and beautiful. I didn't own an iPhone 4, so I liked the phone. The screen is beautiful, the camera is awesome, and the iOS5 seems snappier on the new phone - with all the new features like notifications, iCloud etc.

I was a bit skeptical about Siri - had full faith that it wouldn't work at all with the Indian accent. But, I was in for a surprise. After initial hiccups with network connections with Siri, it started understanding me better. Yes, like everyone else, I asked the usual nonsense questions to Siri, and giggled at the responses. Now, I use it to set alarms, set timers, create meetings / reminders, and sometimes, dictate messages. Works most of the time, and I am happy.

Battery Issues

Oh yes, there were sure some HUGE battery issues in the beginning. Didn't last for a full day without plugging it in to a power source every now and then. I was disappointed - the 3GS gave me a better battery life.

Finally tried the following: took a backup of the phone, restored the os using iTunes, and then restored from the saved backup. May be the os with which the device came was corrupt? Don't know, but that fixed a lot of my battery woes (after turning off some of the useless location services).

Apple acknowledges battery issues with iOS5, and assured that a new patch will be ready with a fix for the battery problem soon.

The Biography

Well, initially, I wasn't to keen to read his biography. I had read iCon by Jeffrey Young and William Simon a few years back. I thought that the "new" biography, as it was authorized by Jobs himself, would have been controlled would end up being a toned down version.

After a week of going through a few reviews online, I decided to purchase it from Amazon Kindle store, and finished reading the book in a week's time.

The book impressed me - it showed Jobs in true light - mean, arrogant, yet a visionary and a perfectionist. The chapters went through history of Apple, NeXT, Pixar, and his comeback with launch of the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and the iTunes store - with quite a lot of trivia, and Jobs' personal opinion, quotes and conversations on each of these products. 

A good read - if you want to know more about the company and the person who created the iPhone, and those lovely and adorable Pixar movies.

The iOS OTA Update

Yes, finally, I was able to update the OS to 5.0.1 without connecting the phone and the iPad to the computer. The update was incremental (a mere ~40Mb), and the installation was complete in a matter of minutes. My phone's battery was good anyways, so I won't be able to say if this update fixed the battery issues.

“I like to think that something survives after you die,” he said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.” He fell silent for a very long time. “But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.” Then he paused again and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”
from Steve Jobs biography by Walter Issacson

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Delicate Arch

The Delicate Arch appeared all of a sudden at the end of a strenuous trail from the parking lot, at Arches National Park, in Utah. This arch is hidden from view, and the only way to get up-close to it is to hike about a mile and a half, under the harsh sun and a steady incline. No wonder this is one of the most photographed arches in the world. People seemed to flock around the base of the arch, taking pictures. 

I had to wait till sunset, to be able to photograph the arch without any people around it :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy World Photography Day!

Aug 19th 2011 is World Photography Day. Happy clicking with your Nikons, Canons, Sonys, iPhones..... - yes, we have so many devices to capture all those precious (and mundane) moments!

My Nikon and Me -

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Antelope Canyons in Arizona

Its been a really long time since I posted something on my blog. Now when I notice, this is my first post in 2011! Yes, its been that long.

This year, I can say that I have traveled a lot. I moved from Chicago to Denver. Denver has a few interesting places nearby, and this gave me a lot of opportunities to visit new places.

In the month of July, I made a trip to Utah and Arizona - a trip lasting 3 days, and covered places from Bryce Canyon in Utah to Grand Canyon in Arizona. Here is a photo which I shot during my recent trip to Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona.

Upper Antelope Canyon (and lower Antelope Canyon) are slot canyons made of Navajo sandstone, and are considered one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. These canyons are named because when they were discovered, herds of antelopes roamed the area.

I was awestruck by the beauty of these canyons. With narrow passages, and sunlight flowing through small slits, it was really a remarkable place. You can read more about the Antelope Canyons in the Wikipedia page here.

This photograph was shot in one of the darker areas. Set on a tripod, with an exposure of 1.3 sec, I was able to get good amount of detail without any flash.