Back and Forth

For a while now, I’ve been using an app called Audiogalaxy to get back to my music library at home and essentially have access to my library with over 100 gigs of music to supplement whatever tracks I have synced to my iPhone/iPad. It’s fantastic, mostly because I know two things:

  1. I have music on my iPhone that I can listen to anywhere, regardless of whether I have a data connection or not.
  2. I can, with a data connection, get access to my huge music library.

The recently-uncovered Apple patent application is simultaneously awesome and horrific for a few reasons, all of which have to do with #2.

One of the most explosive and formative things to happen to America recently is the widespread adoption of mobile data and internet usage. As I’ve discussed before, the mobile telecom providers have used this to push their agendas and create an awful dystopian future that the American wireless subscriber is going to end up paying dearly for. It’s going to be ugly, folks. Get ready for a future based on as-yet-unwritten disgusting rates based on AT&T’s greed.

If you think this reaction is a bit overblown, let’s dissect the groundwork that needs to be in place for a person to listen to music with Apple’s new system. A person would need:

  1. A computer running iTunes (for syncing purposes). This is pretty much standard, and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
  2. An iOS device with a data connection. Not everyone wants to or can run a persistent data connection. iPod touch devices are reliant on wifi, and people with the lower-tier AT&T or Verizon data plan (250 MB for $15.00/month, in AT&T’s case) may not be comfortable with a service that sucks up data every time they wan to listen to a song.
  3. Possibly: the above computer with a persistent connection to the internet. This is a variable, and the future is hazy here. Depending on how the whole “Music Locker” thing will work, or how MacOS Lion home server is structured, this may or may not be necessary. We’ll see.

Let’s assume that a person has an iPhone, is using AT&T, and is using the $15.00/month data plan for 250 MB of data per month. We don’t know how much of each song will be synced to the iOS device, but let’s assume it’s about 30% of each song to allow ample buffering time. We can then “fit” three times the number of songs on the iOS device due to the reduced footprint of each song on the device’s memory. The remaining amount of each song would then be pulled from a cloud. I say “a” cloud because it’s unclear if that cloud will be the individual’s computer or this “Music Locker” service. Let’s assume it will be from this person’s computer, so as not to incur any additional fees (yet). The computer will have to be on in order to access the library data, which means an extra power demand and a load on the person’s internet usage (we’re also assuming that internet usage is capped, which, despite some companies claiming their data is “unlimited,” is most likely the case). Most likely, the data usage through a home internet connection is insignificant (especially relative to a theoretical cap of 50-250 GB). The proposed data usage relative to mobile internet connection with a 250 MB cap is significant, however, and listening to a day’s worth of music can potentially eat up all of a person’s monthly data before they have to pony up another $25.00 for the higher 2 GB plan.

Did you catch that? Let’s look at it again.

The folks who want to use this feature will be streaming data every single time they listen to music. The amount of data that will be used is unclear, but I predict that listening to music for a prolonged period of time (even a few hours a day) will cut deeply into or completely use up a person’s data for the month (again, assuming usage of a cheaper $15.00/month, 250 MB plan). Even on a 2 GB plan, monthly data usage can quickly skyrocket, shooting people dangerously close to the ceiling or their plan. I use about 1.5 GB/month right now with occasional usage of my Audiogalaxy service to get at my home library. If I were to switch over to a model that used data every single time I played a song, I’d find myself breaking that 2 GB barrier on a monthly basis, which would cost me more money.

AT&T and Verizon made a long-term move here, and we’re staring it in the face right now. Back when AT&T first introduced tiered data pricing, I could see the act as predatory. More and more services are being pushed online, to the cloud, and so forth. What AT&T did was squeeze the pipes before the water started flowing. Netflix is growing in popularity and capability, and their long-term dominance in the mobile media marketplace (I love alliteration!), while not guaranteed, is just shy of that. How are we going to watch movies on our mobile devices if we’re being pinched to do so? How will companies innovate if they know they’re going to be dealing with hamstrung devices? People are going to be paying for subscription services and the bandwidth it takes to use them, a double whammy. The outlook doesn’t look good.

Boy am I glad I got that unlimited Clear iSpot subscription while it was still around.

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i want in…

so there’s this thing that happened recently, and it rocked my world.

well, actually, it happened in 2007, with the introduction of this thing called the iPhone.  see, i’ve always been a techie, always tinkered, modded, tweaked, and hacked.  i built computers from the ground up and tore them down again, and i was better for it.  i developed a special love for gadgets, and when something new hit the market, i got excited because it was an evolution of something that i understood and felt connected to.  phones got smaller, more powerful, more exciting.  computers got faster and more capable.  even commonplace things like cars started seeing upgrades in the form of LCD displays and GPS modules.  bluetooth, wifi, syncing, and more danced through my head all day.  i was a tech tornado.

despite things being very exciting for me, however, i always partied alone.  when i could wake up and check the weather on my phone, i thought it was awesome.  getting headlines delivered automagically every morning at 7:15AM made me feel like a high-powered wall-street executive, and every day i felt good knowing i was on the bleeding edge.  but it did take the wind out of my sails when i’d tell a friend about a new gadget i was jazzed about, and i’d see that all-too-familiar glassy-eyed stare take the place of what was previously excitement and empathy.  nobody likes whistling in the dark.

so, seeing the iPhone for the first time was a mixed bag.  suddenly, and i mean SUDDENLY, i was not alone.  there were people who had never cared about tech or gadgets who were calling me up and asking me if i was getting one.  they were asking me how it worked, how they did that cool thing, and what the screen was made out of.  the slow, chopped-up, wonkily-rendered interfaces that i had gotten used to clicking through was suddenly replaced by an elegant, beautiful UI thatjust worked.  i was now a part of a huge party, and i felt a little, well…cheated.

i had always kept up with the latest news, i knew about the market trends, i had cobbled together solutions for e-mail, news, and communication.  it had taken me months or even years to discover these methods, workflows, and services to patch holes or fill gaps that existed in the various devices i owned.  all that work rendered moot at the moment Steve Jobs pulled that little aluminumwünderhandy from his pocket.  i had no cause to be upset, either.  this is how it works, right?  i was supposed to be used to this.  innovation and change are the name of the game in tech, so seeing something new shouldn’t have fazed me.  but it was too much, too fast.  everything up to this point was slow, calculated, safe.  this?  this was something else entirely.  it was made for the way people want to use their phones instead of trying to give them something else to learn, another hurdle to jump.  hell, apple was even teaching AT&T a thing or two about the importance of data, customers, and the mobile web.  the mobile landscape changed too quickly, and i got upset.

instead of looking at what this device was capable of, or seeing the potential for the technology down the road, i put blinders on and decided instead to focus on what this thing couldn’t do.  no MMS?  weak.  no native apps?  ridiculous (let’s also keep in mind that the phone hadn’t even been released yet, and i was already scoffing at its lack of native app support).  this…keyboard?  inaccurate and slow!  what a weaksauce first offering.  my sony ericsson k790a was a champ compared to this flashy trash.

then i used it.

still…wasn’t impressed.  really?  this was it?  i mean…ok, safari was cool.  and the youtube app was a neat trick.  and…the call screen was really elegant.  but STILL.  lame.

then i’d find myself swinging by the apple store on my way to…somewhere.  ok fine…i would go to the apple store to play with the iPhone.  ok?  there, i said it.  i needed this thing.  it’s just…i liked it.  i loved it.

so i got one.  still, i tried to find ways to mess with it, tweak it, hack it.  i jailbroke it, unlocked it, got it doing things apple wouldn’t allow.  but…i got to that party late.  everyone already had one.  everybody was already knee deep in bookmarks and webapps and all sorts of things, and here i was, just configuring my email.

what a reversal, huh?  it was smooth, fast, and it browsed the web i was used to seeing, but better!  i didn’t care that it was EDGE only, because web developers were already building sites optimized for the iPhone interface because they knew they had to. they wanted to make sure people visiting their site got their content in a timely manner, so they slimmed down their code, stripped out unnecessary page elements.  there were no hiccups, just information.  the iPhone became something that the world was focused on.  its widespread adoption meant that content publishers had an omnipresent vehicle for delivering their stuff directly to our eyeballs.

then the 3G rolled up with its slick GPS and faster web access.  all those EDGE-optimized websites?  now they loaded lightning fast with the power of fat 3G pipes.  it all looked almost…planned.  like it was apple’s plan all along to make sure that the experience that people had with this device was seamless and, more importantly, always improving.  their device was almost future-proof.  a cutting-edge handheld gadget that fed content as quickly as it was requested, kept up with changing market conditions, and allowed people to communicate better was one thing, but having said device and knowing that the manufacturer was focused on supporting it with white-hot laser intensity was another unheard of fringe benefit in the tech industry.  developers had a fresh, new way of delivering their code, and they had the added boost of knowing that people were confident in their little gadget.  they felt safe, cared-for.

as apple rolled out updates and improvements, more and more people jumped on board, hungry for a piece of the iPhone pie.  now, the phone sells itself, and content will always be available, because your customer base is locked into this apple ecosystem (which is a whole separate discussion).  want to make the jump to android, but already have $500 in apps?  wave bye-bye to that money, that stability, and that support net that you’re used to.  you’re on your own now, cowboy.

that party that i always hung out at?  the one where i was the only one?  you can go there now.  go ahead!  go!  have fun!  i’ll be over here with all my friends…you know…partying.  i’ll envy you a little bit, on that frontier, but i won’t join you.  it’s fun for a while, scrolling through pages of forum posts to find that tweak, or downloading a hacked-up ROM because you want to eke out an extra 12% battery life.  but eventually, people will catch up.  they’ll build strip malls with starbucks where you once had campfires and farm-fresh eggs.

this is where apple is more subversive and more powerful than any of us know.  they’re taking us out into that country, they’re leading us into a place where no one’s gone, but they’re leading us there together.  i want the iPad because i like this party.  i want to be a part of this future, because i get to go there with my friends.

it’s not the iPad, or the iPhone, or the iGizmo, it’s the people.  that’s what i want.