Wednesday, August 08, 2007

More on .Mac price discrepancies

In the last day or so, I've been doing some more thinking about this issue (rather than getting some real work done). In fact, I went so far as to make a spreadsheet (using the 30-day trial version of Numbers, thanks very much) of the various prices Apple charges for .Mac around the world. I listed the actual price in the local currency, then the equivalent of 99.95 USD in the local currency, and then the difference between those two prices, converted to USD.

As you can hopefully see from the chart above (click on it to view a larger size), .Mac subscribers in almost every country pay more than people in the the US do--sometimes significantly more. The only exception is the Japanese, who get a break to the tune of over US$18. The rest pay a premium ranging from less than $1 for those living in Hong Kong to over $40 for you poor suckers in Great Britain. The rest of us fall somewhere in between, with the average discrepancy sitting at just under $18.

What this means is that for every .Mac subscriber Apple has outside the US, the company is taking in about $18 more than it does for its US customers.

So I guess this isn't just about the exchange rates between two countries. This appears to be systematic for the .Mac service. Perhaps it's even Apple policy; maybe they don't want to "confuse" consumers by adjusting the price of .Mac. But it seems to me that by not periodcially adjusting their prices, Apple is hindering the adoption of what is at last shaping up to be a pretty nice service.

As a footnote to this post, just for fun I checked out the prices for the new low-end iMacs at a couple of the international Apple stores. I must say that we Canadians have it pretty good by comparison. For example, the Australians pay the equivalent of US$265 more for their machine than those in the US. The Brits have it even worse: the price of 799GBP works out to be amost US$430 more than the US price--That's almost 40 percent more. Ouch!

When will the Canadian price for dotMac reflect the exchange rate?

Among all the announcements Steve Jobs made on August 7, the improvements to dotMac were, to my mind, perhaps the most exciting and most overdue. The new web gallery feature and 10GB of on-line storage are significant improvements to the service that make its price tag a little easier to swallow.

However, for Canadian dotMac subscribers, one thing that has rankled for the last few years--and continues to rankle--has been dotMac's price. At $139, it is significantly more expensive than the $99 US subscribers pay. Now it was one thing to have a higher price when the Canadian dollar was valued at 65 or 70 cents US, but it is quite another thing to retain that price when the Canadian dollar has risen significantly in value against the US dollar over the last year or two. And this, for a service that is widely hailed even in the US as being highly over-priced.

As the US dollar has fallen over the last little while, many other currencies have gained value against it, and many goods imported from the US have fallen in price (though many consumers groups say this isn't happening fast enough). To whit, many of Apple Canada's products have come significantly down in price over the last 18 months, to the point where some are now being sold at par with US prices. This is true of the new iWork 08 and iLife 08 suites, along with the new keyboards and the Mighty Mouse.

I don't expect Apple to change its prices every two weeks to reflect the exchange rates, and I fully accept that a certain amount of rounding will occur. Indeed, I think for the most part, Apple has done a pretty excellent job of reflecting the currency exchange rate between Canada and the US in its prices. Which is why I just don't understand why Canadians still have to pay 40-percent premium on dotMac. As it stands, I refuse to pay $139; I have always managed to get it on sale, either at the one-day sale in November or from a brick-and-mortar retailer such as Future Shop. But I'd be happy to pay the full price if that price reflected the exchange rate a little more closely. Say $109.

So I'm challenging the Canadian dotMac-using blogosphere. Write a post about this issue, get people talking about it. Let Apple know you're upset about it. Maybe, just maybe, if we make enough noise about it, we can convince Apple to reconsider it's policy.

OK, so I'm living in a fantasy world, but at the very least, it's good to vent.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MacBook Pro one week in

I've had my MacBook Pro for about a week now, so I figure it's time to take stock of my impressions. First, two complaints, then a boatload of complements.

I find the wireless networking to be fairly buggy (lots of reports in the Apple support forums on this... hopefully a software update will fix it). The Airport range is pretty poor. I'm sitting maybe 40 feet away from my router and not getting full bars. I know the PB/MBP line doesn't get as good reception as the iBook/MB line, but 40 feet is well within the range where I should be getting full bars. I've tried sitting only a few feet away and I still don't always get full bars. I also find the connection somewhat flakey, often dropping out for a few seconds then resuming. So far no kernel panics or anything like that, so I guess I should count my blessings, but I'm gathering evidence for a call to Apple Care about this.

The only other issue is that I was experiencing a slight delay in the trackpad sensitivity. Sometimes I would have to move my thumb around on it for a second or two before the cursor would move. Other times, it was instantaneous. This also seems to be a known issue, one that is apparently resolved by unchecking the the "Ignore accidental trackpad input" box under the Trackpad preferencess. So far it seems to have fixed the problem, though I haven't decided which is worse, the delay or the "accidental trackpad input."

Other than these two bugs, I really love the machine. There are so many little things I appreciate about it. For instance, I never thought the MagSafe connector was such a big deal, but after experiencing it first hand, I'm blown away. My brother-in-law, a longtime PC user, was also really impressed by it. This is the sort of thing that makes Macs stand out--the kind of design detail that Apple is known for.

Battery life is about what I expected, maybe a little better: about 4.5 hours on a full charge if the screen is turned way down and with Bluetooth turned off, and not doing anything that requires the GPU to work hard. I figure I could maybe get 5 hours if I turned off the AirPort too. But if you start watching video or video conferencing, the battery run time drops like a rock.

I'm pleasantly surprised by the machine's quietness (virtually silent most of the time). Laptops are of course much quieter than desktop machines by nature, but the MBP is even quieter than my old iBook. I can't hear the hard drive spin or click at all, and unless the fans are working hard (as in watching video), I can't hear them either.

I also love the screen; it's so bright that I rarely have it turned up all the way. And the backlit keyboard is another feature I was blah about before experiencing it firsthand.

The keyboard itself is wonderful. I like laptop keyboards in general, but this one feels better than most. Just the right stiffness under the keys, and a very satisfying click. I feel like I'm typing much faster than I could on my old iBook. And two fingered scrolling on the trackpad... what a revalation!

That's my roundup of pros and cons so far. No real regrets to this point, though I have yet to take it on the road, where the poor wireless reception may be a real hindrance. I just hope Apple fixes the wireless bugs soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Finally moving to Intel

I thought I'd be able to hold out a little longer, but after a crazy week of rehearsals where it seemed everyone was toting a new MacBook, and after waiting for what seemed like hours (minutes in reality) to open a fairly large Excel file, my patience finally ran out.

A few hours ago, I clicked "Make purchase" on a low-end MacBook Pro. I've been drooling over the updated MBPs ever since they were recently updated. With 2 GB of RAM and an LED backlit screen, it's a pretty sweet machine as is. I considered the mid-range MacBook, but once the RAM is bumped up to 2 GB, the difference in price to move up to a pro machine didn't seem like such a leap.

My only real qualms are a) that I like the smaller form factor of the MacBook, and b) it is my understanding that, like the old iBooks, they get better wifi reception than the MacBook Pros. However, the MPBs are also apparently better than the old PowerBooks in that regard, so we will see. I almost went back and changed my order, but I think the pro machine will serve me better in the long run.

Now I have to wait till it gets here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nike+iPod + podcast hack

For my birthday a few months back, my wife kindly bought me a Nike+iPod unit to go along with my new red iPod nano. I must say, I'm seriously impressed with it. It worked flawlessly out of the box, and even before I calibrated the sensor, it was calculating my distance to within 10 percent. Now that it's calibrated, its accuracy is within 2 percent.

Previously, I was never one to listen to music while working out; I preferred the zen state your mind enters during a good run. But there are advantages to running to music, not the least of which is trying to keep up with a song whose tempo is just slightly faster than your normal pace--a great way to improve your speed.

But as any serious runner will tell you, it's also important to work on endurance by slowing down going for distance rather than speed. These are the times when running to music can push you faster than you want to go. In such cases, you could simply unplug your headphones and run without the music (the unit still works sans headphones), but to my mind, a good hour-long podcast (say, MacBreak Weekly... oh wait, that usually runs way overtime...) is the perfect accompaniment to a long, slow run.

Problem is, podcasts are for some reason not available in the Nike+iPod menu (I guess Apple never figured anyone would be crazy enough to listen to a podcast while running). This is where iTunes' smart playlist feature comes in handy once again (see my previous entry about rolling your own autofill feature for iPod nanos using smart playlists).

There are two solutions available, depending on how choosy you are about what you want to listen to. The first is to simply create a smart playlist that has all your most recent podcasts in it. This way, when you select the playlist from the Nike+ menu, you'll get the first podcast in the list.

In iTunes, select "New Smart Playlist..." from the File menu. Then choose Genre from the lefthand dropdown menu, "is" from the next one over and then type "Podcast" in the field at the right. Then click the "+" button to get another rule and select Date Added from the lefthand menu, "is in the last" from the middle menu and "1 weeks" in the righthand field (see screenshot).

If you want to exclude any podcasts from this list, simply add another rule that states "Name... is not... [name of excluded podcast]".

A second option is to create separate smart playlists for every podcast you'll want to run to. It's a little more time consuming, but it gives you more flexibility. In this case, select a new smart playlist, create a rule that states "Name... contains... [podcast name]", then add a rule to exclude all but the most recent episode: "Date Added... is in the last... 1 weeks".

Repeat for all your favourite podcasts. Then connect your nano and under the "Music" tab of your iPod (not Podcasts), make sure to check the new smart playlists you have just created and click "Apply" at the bottom right of the iTunes window.

Assuming you already have these podcasts on your iPod, the new playlists won't even take up any more precious space on your iPod since they are just a different way of addressing the audio file, one that the Nike+ menu can see.

Now, get out there and go on a nice long, relaxing jog!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


So, the latest Web 2.0 craze seems to be Twitter (how they avoided losing the "e" I'll never understand), and I signed up a few weeks back, but it was soooo slooow the day I signed up that I lost interest.

Now I'm trying Jaiku, which has its own growing pains but, in my opinion has several advantages over Twitter. Chief among these the plusses is the fact that Jaiku tracks not just the mini-posts you plug into the service, it also tracks things like blog posts and Flickr updates.

The other cool thing about Jaiku is that, just like a blog, you can comment on other people's posts. Which adds another layer of interactivity over Twitter. A case in point: one of my first posts in Jaiku was "I wish Jaiku had a desktop client." I made the comment because I couldn't find anything of the sort on the Jaiku site. In less than an hour, another Jaiku user (thanks Petteri) had directed me to a nice little app called Juhu. It's perfect. Lightweight, easy-to-use, and (so far) bug free.

I'm liking Jaiku so far, even if I have no friends....

Monday, April 02, 2007

New Apple-EMI deal boon for jazz and classical lovers

Unless you've been hiding under a rock the last few hours, you have heard about EMI's plan to offer DRM-free music on Apple's iTunes Store starting sometime in May. Essentially, EMI tracks on iTunes will be offered in two formats: the old DRMed version at 128 kbps for 99 cents and the new un-DRMed version at 256 kbps for $1.29. So iTunes Store patrons will have the choice of paying a premium for better quality audio and interoperability. From what I have read, the general opinion has been mixed.

One little detail that is not mentioned often is that the price for an album will remain the same, whether it is DRMed or not. Now if you're primarily a consumer of pop music, this will likely not change your buying habits. However, for classical and jazz lovers--who usually buy whole albums (actually, I am just assuming this; I have no empirical knowledge)--this is a wonderful development. Essentially, you can buy the same jazz and classical albums you would have purchased anyway, but now you get better quality (apparently, virtually indistinguishable from CD quality), no DRM--and the price is absolutely the same. Any hesitations I have previously had about buying classical and jazz CDs from the iTS have pretty much disappeared.

Assuming the artist is on EMI, that is.

At the very least, however, this should give an even further boost to on-line classical record sales, which saw a significant increase in 2006. Let's hope the other labels jump on the bandwagon soon.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Novell I'm a Mac Spoof

So the big news today seems to be that Novell Linux has posted a couple of spoofs of the now infamous "I'm a Mac" ads. I think they're pretty funny actually, but so far, I haven't seen anyone pick up on the fact that the girl playing "Linux" bears a striking resemblance to Ellen Feiss, whom you will probably remember as the 14-year-old "stoner girl" in that old switcher ad. Heck, "PC" even says "Boy, you sure grew up fast." at the end.

Or is it just me?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Roll-your-own autofill feature for iPod Nano

When Apple released the iPod Shuffle back in 2005, one of the most lauded features was "Autofill," which automatically fills your Shuffle with a random (or not-so-random, depending on how you set it up) selection of music from your library or from the playlist of your choice. When the Nano was released that fall, however, many people lamented its lack of the Autofill feature. I'm not sure what Apple's rationale is for leaving this feature off the Nano, especially given the fact that at one point they sold a 1 GB Nano--the same capacity as their biggest Shuffle at the time--but when I recently received my own Nano, I too felt that this would be a pretty nice feature to have.

But there is a way you can set up your own Autofill feature. Here's how (in the interests of citing sources, I will admit that a part of this idea came from reading a post by David Charlap on the Macintouch site. That said, it isn't rocket science, and I'm sure many people have figured this trick out on their own):

First, in iTunes, select "New Smart Playlist" from the File menu. Now, say you want to autofill from your jazz collection. Select "Genre" from the left-hand dropdown menu, choose "is" from the next parameter, and type in "Jazz" in the field at the right (see screenshot).

Next, click the "+" button to add a parameter, select "Last Played" in the left-hand dropdown list, "is not in the last" from the next parameter, and choose a timeframe (in this example, I have chosen the last two weeks, but you can set any timeframe you like). Then check the "Limit to" checkbox and decide on how much size you want to dedicate to this Autofill playlist. This will depend on your iPod's capacity. The nice thing about such a playlist, however, is that you can have several. So, for instance, on my own 4 GB Nano, I have a 1 GB Autofill classical playlist and a 2 GB jazz playlist.

You can have iTunes fill the playlist randomly, by rating, or by several other criteria. Make sure you also check "Live updating". Click "OK" and name the playlist in iTunes. Finally, attach your iPod, and under the Music tab, click "Sync music" and "Selected playlists:" and check only the smart playlist you just created. Then click Apply.

One drawback to this method is that iTunes only updates the playlist after you connect your iPod, so you'll have to resync, but to my mind, that's a minor irritation.

As people's digital music libraries continue to grow, I imagine Apple will eventually get around to implementing Autofill for the Nanos and perhaps even the larger capacity iPods, but until that day comes, this little hack does the job pretty well.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Red iPod Nano unboxing pr0n

My red Nano came in the mail today. I've always thought the Nanos were slick players, both the original 1G edition, which my wife owns, and the new version. There's something deeply appealing about the red colour of this particular model, however; I would really love to know how Apple decides on the exact hue of their coloured iPods. Even the plainest seems to scream "Buy me!" and this red one takes it to new heights. I'd also be curious to know how many they've sold, but I guess I'll have to wait until they issue a statement about how much Apple has donated to the (Product) Red project. You know that's going to happen sooner or later.

Normally, I would never post unboxing pictures, especially for a product that has been out for so long (though I must admit enjoying the whole unboxing pr0n phenomenon). But since I recently got a camera-phone, it seemed appropriate to combine my two new toys while both are relatively new acquisitions.

Even the FedEx package is well-designed. No excess here, but the plastic iPod box is completely protected.

No cellophane wrapper around the box...

...merely an easy-to-pull-off plastic tab on one end.

Out of the box.

The plastic piece that holds the iPod itself is also brillant. No twist ties holding the iPod down. And you just bend the plastic back to release the iPod.

Laid out in all its glory.

Free at last!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Joe, I think I love you

Yesterday, I finally entered the 21st century and bought myself a mobile phone. I had been hold off joining in on the cell fun, mostly to do with avoiding needless expenses, but also, of late, to do with stubbornness and a certain misplaced sense of Luddite-like pride. Anyway, the deed is done. I have the phone and a pay-as-you-go plan. I hope use it very little, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans...

I chose Rogers because of the supposedly better coverage and the fact that with the right phone, you can use it worldwide. (What's the point of having a mobile phone, I ask, if you can't use it everywhere?) And I chose the Sony Ericsson W300i for much the same reason: it's a quad-band phone. The W300 is relatively inexpensive and it packs quite a number of features, including still and video camera (albeit of execrable quality), mp3 player (that I doubt I'll ever use), bluetooth, etc. One drawback is that iSync does not support the W300 (why, I have no idea, but there you go). But before buying the phone, I had done my homework and found that iSync 2.3 plugins are available.

So, this morning, thinking I'd have to lay down a few dollars for a plugin, I searched Google and came upon Joe's blog. Joe was kind enough to build a plugin for the W300, based on info he got from a site called iSync Hilife, and hosted it for free on his blog. The plugin works perfectly and I now have all of my Address Book contacts and iCal events on my phone.

I thanked Joe in the comments on his blogpost, but I also want to thank him here. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that Joe's making the world a better place.