A high school student enthusiastic about computers and everything around it.

Going Places

Despite not being an app anymore, iTunes is still haunting macOS and iOS to this day. macOS users joke about how Windows has so much legacy parts still left inside of it, yet that’s exactly what iTunes is, despite not having an actual app for it. But no one complains about Paint and Notepad, whereas everyone complains about iTunes. So… what happened there?

As the name suggests, iTunes lets you play your tunes. Whether it’s music from the iTunes Store, or songs that you’ve burned yourself, it works surprisingly well. That’s especially true when paired with iTunes, where it automatically sync when you plug it into your computer. Building syncing right into the iTunes app is perfect, since you’re syncing the songs in iTunes. It just works.

With the introduction of podcasts and movie/TV shows on the iPod, they need a good way to sync it. Why not put it in iTunes, the software used to sync music to the iPod? And that’s when things get wrong quick. The app name no longer make sense, as it’s not just tunes that you’re playing and syncing. And the foundation for syncing newer devices are built here, and those newer devices do so much more than just play audio and video. But the ever growing feature set of the iPod made it clear that they should have made it integrate with their respective apps, like putting movies and TV shows in QuickTimes.

When the iPhone was released, it seems to make sense that you would sync with iTunes, since you already sync your iPod with iTunes. But the iPod is a media device first and foremost, where it still kinda make sense that it would sync in iTunes. It does not for the iPhone. It’s not just a media consumption device, but also a productivity device. This gives Apple a chance to correct it, to split the functions so that iTunes wouldn’t be this bloated mess that we have now. Instead, everything still syncs via iTunes. It makes no sense.

With the introduction of iCloud, the computer is demoted to just a device, but not if you ask iTunes. The phone does more than ever without ever being synced, but the left over from the iTunes days is, again, still here. Music, TV and Podcast reeks of code from the first iPhone, where there’s just an iPod app for everything. We still don’t have metadata editing and local import, and the app is still extremely slow, whether it’s synced music, downloaded music or streamed music.

Refreshing an app while making sure it doesn’t lose features is hard, yes. So stop doing it. iTunes is stuck in the past, so let it be. Like how Microsoft keeps Explorer and Dialer the way it is, it’s fine if you leave iTunes be, and move on with a completely new Music app that just plays music, like the first version of iTunes, all over again.

Virtual Inconsistency

The concept of digital media is, in theory, incredible. It allows creators to easily distribute art. But I don't think it's working out as well as we as digital natives wanted it to be, and I want to figure out why.

The context is that the world runs on the idea of scarcity, but by nature, art isn't scarce. Maybe the medium itself is, for example, tapes and CDs certainly are, but the main thing you buy that art for isn't the medium, it's the content. So when digital media came around, it's quite revolutionary, because artists can distribute their stuff at a fraction of the cost, or even for free. But then monetising it becomes a lot more difficult.

We're seeing this with news. Online articles are either littered with ads or require a subscription which no one has. Sure, they don't have to pay for the paper and ink, but the reporting, the writing, the researching, all those things took time and effort. Yet you don't have further than Reddit to see people complaining about both ads and paywalls. You can't have the both ways, of course, but we are cheap, and anything virtual feels like something that we shouldn't have to pay for.

Somehow, the music industry figured it out, and it seems like they're the only one who has figured it out. Those "You wouldn't download a car" ads didn't work, but companies soon realised that people are just lazy. They don't want to get out of the house just to put music on their computers, so digital music stores popped up, and practically solved the whole piracy thing. It didn't completely solve it, but at least it's way less prevalent. Then Spotify made it so that pirating and maintaining a song library are no longer worth it. They have DRM, sure, but this shows that people don't necessarily hate DRM because it's there, they hate it because if you buy a good you should own it. Spotify and other services are services, so people are fine not owning them.

Movies and TV shows tried to copy the music industry but messed it up, so it ended up being quite messy. While its history is somewhat similar to music, where they became available on digital storefronts and later on subscription services, the experience is not the same. While Netflix was touted to be the similar to Spotify, Netflix licensed upfront whereas Spotify paid royalty, so it's less of an ongoing relationship. That's mostly why everyone and their dogs pulled out of Netflix and started whatever services they have. It's just not fun to have to pay for thirty services just to get the shows I could've gotten from Netflix a few years ago. That's why a lot of people pirate movies and TV shows but not music. It's nice to be able to pay for every single song on Earth, and less so for a handful of movies and TV shows.

And then there's visual art. There doesn't seem to be an industry of digital visual art, but that's because the artists are mostly independent. These artists on various platforms like Instagram, Pixiv and Twitter can post things for free, and some of them are satisfied as is. But some wants to be compensated, which is absolutely fair. That compensation has to come from somewhere though, and on different platforms, there seems to be different strategies. Some Instagram artists would take sponsors, and all the followers has to do to keep their business afloat is to continue to follow them. This scheme is actually quite good, because the income is coming from the advertisers rather than the follower. They can financially support the artists in a much greater degree. Problems may arise when they get sponsors from questionable organisations, but most of them have done their due diligence before they accept, and they usually aren’t long term collaboration, so cutting ties is as simple as deleting the post. For the audience, it does reduce the experience, and the artist may make extremely different content just to appease the advertisers, but people are fine with it, because it’s free and convenient.

Artists on Twitter and Pixiv would take another approach. They would put out free art on their public accounts, and offer subscriptions or paid art, like art packs and comics. This all sounds great, but because these are independent artists which means they usually have less following, and the number of people who buy or subscribe are only a fraction of the followers, it’s hard to get a lot of revenue this way. And remember how I said Spotify made it so that pirating isn’t worth it, and how viewing art from Instagram artists is free and convenient? It’s the exact opposite here. Pirating is easy because the art is DRM free and can be easily displayed on a website, yet the process to buy the art or subscribe is way more cumbersome than reading it on some pirate comic sites full of ads. Which sucks because some of these artist put just as much effort if not more, yet was compensated less for not selling out. They want their art to be just their art, but it’s hard to keep the price down if they do.

There are a lot more types of digital media that I can rant about, but these are the ones that I’m most familiar with, and looking at these industries, it’s fair to say that a lot of them still hasn’t figured out how to effectively digitalise everything yet. Going digital is definitely a good idea if you haven’t already, but companies and creators still have a long way to go if they want to make things better for them and their audience.

Take a Peak

That was an event alright.

Like the last event, Apple ended up sending invites 6 days in advance rather than the usual 7, and in the midst of uncertainty and chaos around the world, people were tirelessly speculating for 24 hours the day before the invite. But here we are.

Most of the products announced were leaked days ago, and quite frankly they’re not all that exciting. It could just be me being salty because of the lack of MacBook Air redesign, but it genuinely felt lacking. Apple can do more events in a digital format but that just makes each events seem less significant.

The most anticipated product today is iPhone SE, but that’s just because it’s the SE. The new features still feel like the bare minimum for a $399, sorry, $429 phone. Like the last SE, with an increasing amount of people around me who are considering switching to an iPhone, this will definitely be a huge hit, despite being extremely underwhelming and a price hike.

The headline product though is Mac Studio, and while the naming is not promising (Beats Studio, anyone?), the specs speak for itself. Unfortunately, the price too. This is the cheapest way to get an M1 Max at “just” $1999, which is not that bad considering the specs. The fact that the Ultra outperforms the maxed out Mac Pro is quite funny, though the maxed out Mac Studio is approaching Mac Pro prices.

The display though. It’s certainly a better all-in-one display than the 24 inch iMac, with a higher resolution, seemingly slightly better speakers, webcam with centre stage and a nano-texture glass option. But it’s absolutely not $300 better, especially when that iMac has a computer inside. For context, the Cinema Display costs just above $1000 after adjusting for inflation. It doesn’t solve the problem of the Pro Display XDR, where it’s just too expensive for hobbyists, yet too compromising for actual Pros. Like a lot of Apple’s products with the Pro/Max moniker.

Oh and new iPhone colours. At least the new colour is available for both the regular and the Pro. I just don’t think buying an iPhone in March is a great idea.

Going back to the problem of being too expensive but too compromising, I hope they go for the extreme high end for the Mac Pro teased during the event. Being the last device without an Apple Silicon, it has a chance of defying the consensus that Apple’s Pro desktops are overpriced compared to PC towers in terms of performance. And as a halo product, it also let us know the limit (or the lack there of) of the Apple Silicon. I can’t wait to see it, even if the price is way too high for anyone but actual studios, as long as it can wash away the criticisms that the Mac Pro has carried all these years.

Vile System

Steve Jobs wanted the file system to be inaccessible to the user, and let the app handle the files. If you want to open a photo in an editor, you don’t open the editor first. You open the photo, then “share” or copy and paste it to the editor. For well written apps, that works perfectly. The black boxes that apps are in can share data between each other, without the user having to think twice about directories, file types and file names. It just works.

But not all apps are well written, especially when it’s hard to write a well written app, like on iOS. When every other computing platform is based on the file system, developers aren’t just going to do weird abstractions that don’t translate well to other platforms. Some apps allow certain degree of “sharing”, but in complicated ways, like using a file format that no other apps can read. Some requires the use of the cloud storage just to have a more familiar file system. Some just don’t have a way to get data in or out, requiring you to sync with a computer before you can do anything useful with the data (Looking at you, VLC).

The main exception being the Photos app which, for whatever reason, isn’t a black box. There is an API for accessing all photos when no other apps can communicate this way, which defeats the abstraction because it’s no different from displaying a file selection menu. This is why a lot of iOS apps that should’ve been able to handle any file types only supports photos and videos. Because they don’t want to deal with the iOS way of dealing with files. This is likely why they introduced the Files app in iOS 11. It’s basically the Photos app for any file types. If you want to open a photo in an editor, you open the photo editor, and pick the photo.

But that’s just the file system.

A lot of newer apps just use the file picker without making a share extension. For example, if I’m doing my homework in GoodNotes and want to submit it to Teams as an Assignment, I have to share it from GoodNotes app into the files app, and open it in Teams. So now I have two copies of the same thing, one in GoodNotes and one in the Files app. On an actual computer, the app that I’m doing my homework in would be saving the file in the user-accessible file system, so after I submit the assignment, I would only have a single copy. But the fact that iPadOS is mixing metaphors simply leads to more confusion.

In an attempt to make things simpler, the iOS and iPadOS file system is now more complex than ever. Maybe some day Apple can get it fixed, but that’s on the hands of the developers, who have a lot more to deal with than the data transfer process on a single platform. The idea of having apps that pushes data around rather than having a central place for all files is actually pretty nice. It means less leftover files and tech support, and more people who can compute. But as it stands, it’s somehow more complicated than a computer.

Ah, hi.

I’m a high school student enthusiastic about computers, and everything around it. Which is most things.

This will probably be a place where I vent about anything that I find inconvenient, or talk about something imaginary. If I bother to keep it updated, that is.