iTunes Downloads- 5 Billion Served

Apple announced today that iTunes downloads have now topped 5 billion. I posted back in January 2007 that iTunes had hit 2 billion purchases…

I note we’re now comparing downloads with purchases- which may or most likely may not- be the same thing, but the growth curve looks very impressive:

It’s worth highlighting that the number of weeks required for the second 2 billion downloads took less than half the time that it took to reach the first 2 billion…hence the exponential curve, not a straight line…the rate of change growth is accelerating… Ray Kurtzweil would be pleased to see exponential growth in action.

iPhone should learn from iPod Suffle

I posted this shuffle tip ages ago:

This one is straight from Apple’s eNews March 10, 2005 newsletter:

If you’re after the highest quality tunes and regularly import songs at bit rates higher than 128 Kbps, iTunes offers you the best of both worlds, letting you keep your high-quality songs in iTunes while exporting leaner versions of the songs, sized just right for iPod shuffle.

Here’s how: Connect iPod shuffle, open the iPod Preferences dialog, and click the iPod tab. Click the check box next to “Convert higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC for this iPod.” Then click OK.

The next time you Autofill iPod shuffle, iTunes will automatically convert songs to 128 Kbps as it exports them to iPod shuffle. The original versions in your iTunes collection, meanwhile, will remain in your library at their higher encoding rate.

With everything the iPhone offers you- video, podcasts, audibooks, etc., WHY didn’t Apple offer this same option for saving space on the iPhone? If I’m out on the town listening to music, I’m probably not really going to notice the difference in quality, and would really like to more space for vodcasts, TV shows, etc… (that or simply more music!).

iPod Hi Fi Review

  iPod Hi Fi in situ 
  Originally uploaded by Jason Ball.

Well, I’m one year older today, and my wife bought me an iPod Hi-Fi for my birthday. I’m not an audiophile, but I am pretty picky about what I listen to music on. I threw out my iPod headphones on day one and bought some Sony’s, which I then replaced with my Shure’s.

I have to admit, the iPod Hi-Fi sounds great. In our bedroom, I keep it on the "Treble" setting. That provides the right amount of highs and plenty of Bass. The normal setting adds further bass- followed by the "Bass" setting, which really just thumps. YMMV, but I’m really pleased with the sound. If you keep the box at close to ear level, it sounds spectacular.

Perfect integration with the iPod makes it a winner as well. The only issue I’ve found is the "Menu" button doesn’t control the iPod in the same way as on Front Row. I’m sure this will be addressed in a future software update. If you’re in the market for speakers for your iPod, I would seriously consider the iPod Hi-Fi.

De facto standards and DRM

Red Herring reports

…”This text affirms a new principle—interoperability—which makes France a pioneer country in Europe,” Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the French minister of culture, said in widely reported remarks to France’s National Assembly as it adopted the law on Friday. “Interoperability is fundamental for consumers and creators because it allows for a greater circulation of works while respecting copyrights.

Apple’s iTunes has been so successful to date because they control the entire value chain. By controlling the hardware as well, Apple can use DRM that is invisible to the end user (at least I’ve never had any issues) and provides comfort to the record labels. If Apple is forced to open it’s DRM to support other hardware, they lose that control mechanism, which will result in a loss of confidence from the music (and video) industry.

I’ve got issues with DRM like many others, but I can’t see this helping bring more content onto digital devices. Steve Jobs has single handedly opened this market and is bringing video to market as well.

However, in a report released Friday on digital content strategies, the OECD said the rise of proprietary and incompatible standards is slowing the development of digital content. The report states “there are considerable lock-in effects due to the development of de facto standards.”

Lock-in and de facto standards are music to a VCs ears, plus de facto standards = interoperability. Seems like both the OECD and France should support DRM.

Mobile Video Content

iTunes has released Star Wars "The Clone Wars" formatted for release on iTunes. The first series  consists of 20 three-minute episodes.

It’s a great example of the right content for portable devices. I’ve been discussing with different companies providing video to mobile networks here in the UK what impact the iPod video, PSP, etc they expect to see on video sales/downloads to mobile phones. There are mixed opinions, but most believe that video downloads on mobile phones will be a long time coming.

I’m convinced that unless the consumer experience can equal that of iTunes, mobile video on phones will never really take off. If you have $10 to burn, I recommend you grab the Star Wars series and Channel Frederator (free) on iTunes.

Coldplay Video Album- Innovating around the edges [Updated]

Apple has posted the Coldplay concert from Austin City Limits as a Video Album on iTunes. Price for the concert? $9.99

I think this type of content is what’s really compelling about the video pod. If you were to buy the live album, it would cost $9.99 anyway- and as a plus you get the video footage as well. This is a product that would have never attracted me as a physical product, i.e. buying a Coldplay DVD of this concert. However, as iPod content, it really grabs me. It plays on the iPod the same whether you watch the videos or just listen to it- it all depends on which menu you select.

This type of new product innovation is what’s going to drive video pod sales and cement the iPod and iTunes (iContent?) as the defacto place to get your entertaiment.

My  only gripe is watching the concert on my iMac is less than spectacular. Apple should offer a higer-res version- afterall, those 100GB ipods are just around the corner…


I realized there’s one small issue with enjoying my Coldplay concert- I have to listen to it through my iMac’s speakers, not through my stereo via Airport Express. A quick search through Apple’s support pages revealed:

If you’re listening to music on remote speakers via AirTunes, and you then play a movie (.mov, .mp4, .m4v) or MIDI file in iTunes, the audio will play through your computer’s speaker’s instead of through the remote speakers.

Pretty lame. Even more so considering Front Row’s potential. Hopefully this will be sorted out soon. In the meantime, Airfoil provides a work around.

Shure E2c Review

Santa Claus brought me a new pair of Shure E2c earphones for my iPod this Christmas. My initial impressions:

Sound Quality

These earphones are definitely clearer than my old Sony Fontopia MDR-EX71s. There isn’t as much "boom" to the bass, but that doesn’t mean they are lacking- it’s just that the bass is tight and well reproduced. Comparing the two side by side, the Shure’s are only a subjective 10-15% better- not really a reason to upgrade if you’ve already got a pair of Sony’s, but, if you are looking to get a replacement set of earphones for the ones that come with your iPod, get these.

Build Quality

I’ve gone through two pair of Sony MDR-EX7X earphones in 2 years. The cables are very, very thin and prone to breakage. My last set just looked pitiful. I had patched them in 4 places with Scotch tape. That’s $100 spent on earphones that have broken and are in the trash. The cable on the Shures are solid. There should be no breakage with these- and hopefully these will be my last pair for a while.

Noise Isolation

They passed the in-flight test with flying colors. I had to actually take out *both* buds in order to hear the flight attendant speaking to me. No engines, no screaming kids. If they can pass this test, they’ll block out sound anywhere.

Podcast overkill?

I have to admit to being a Vodcast junkie, but podcasts haven’t won me over at all. Case in point is VentureWeek. Excellent concept and all-star participants, but really, even with a tube commute how can I dedicate ONE HOUR listening to the podcast?

I participated in the VC Show during the summer and I would never listen to myself for 40-odd minutes. It was a fun experiment and hopefully somewhere in my rambling there was an ounce of interesting content.

Which brings me to my point: We can read several times faster than we can listen- which is one reason I found audiobooks, and now podcasts, to be infuriating. I’m always thinking “Get to the point already!”. Is anyone else under-whelmed by podcasts or have I been getting the wrong ones? (or is it Attention Deficit Disorder?)