The Gadgets Page

November 17, 2011

Technical Innovation + 12 Years = Progress

Filed under: Articles,Audio and Video,PDAs and Phones — Michael Moncur @ 6:16 pm

Today, Apple’s iTunes Match service went live. For a small yearly fee, iTunes Match allows you to keep all of your music online. Apple stores it in their iCloud servers, and you can play or download it from your computer, iPhone, or iPad. To save you the trouble of uploading your 100GB of music, Apple’s service conveniently scans your MP3s. If iCloud already has a copy of the song—quite likely given Apple’s user base—it will simply “match” the song rather than uploading it. Thus, you can have access to your entire music library from all of your devices in a very short time.

Thanks to iTunes Match, you have a backup of all of your music, instant access from anywhere, and the chance to upgrade your MP3s to a higher quality.

Sounds like progress? To me it sounds like a blast from the past.

Remembering My.MP3.Com

January 2000. Google was only a couple of years old. Facebook didn’t exist. Apple was a company that sold funny-looking computers. They wouldn’t introduce the iPod for another year. The most sophisticated smartphone looked like this.

This was when MP3.com, originally a site for musicians to share their own music, launched a feature called My.MP3.com. This was a cloud-based music service that let you stream your entire music collection from any computer. It used a matching algorithm so that you wouldn’t have to upload a track if they already had a copy. Does that sound familiar?

Unfortunately, MP3.com didn’t ask for permission from record labels. They were sued by Universal Music Group for copyright infringement, lost to the tune of $53 million, and went out of business.

What if there were no legal objections? I’m still not sure MP3.com would have succeeded. It was limited to music you bought in CD form at a store—there was no way to buy music from their site. It’s hard to scale servers to support this kind of load, and their service was limited by the technology of the time—you had to use a computer to access your music, and few people had broadband Internet access.

Progress Takes More Than Technology

This is an important lesson in how technical innovation is only a small part of progress. MP3.com had the cloud servers 12 years ago, and they had the same matching concept as iTunes Match. They even had a great domain name. But they didn’t have the industry connections to make it legal or the infrastructure to make it practically useful.

Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, along with the first version of the iTunes music store. While the iPod and later Apple products are mainly praised for their design and technical features, Apple also made amazing progress in doing all of the legal wheeling and dealing necessary to make the whole thing legitimate. It took years for iTunes to reach the point where it had licensed music from all of the major publishers, with some popular bands like the Beatles taking 10 years. Finally, after a ton of work from Steve Jobs and Apple, iTunes Match brought the same features as My.MP3.com to the real world. The service is much more useful, too, since you can play music from your phone over a 3G network.

My point here is not to complain that copyright law needs to change (which it does) or that we live in an overly litigious society (which we do). But if you’re wondering why a new feature hasn’t been released yet on your favorite gadget, or if you’re considering selling something yourself, remember that a great idea and a technical innovation always have the potential to bring progress. But if the company doesn’t deal with the legal issues and the infrastructure, It just might take 12 years to arrive… and it might be a different company that succeeds with the idea.

April 30, 2007

How To Cheat With Your iPod

Filed under: Articles,Audio and Video — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

How To Cheat With Your iPod by Laura Moncur 04-27-07

The end of the school year is looming, which means this is the big final test of the year. How are you going to study? Do you even have to study? When you can carry the breadth and depth of human knowledge in your iPod, should you be required to memorize all those dates and names? Isn’t it more important to know HOW to find information from reliable resources? Isn’t it more important to know WHICH information should be included?

Teachers would respond with a resounding, “NO!” Me, on the other hand, I don’t know. I gave up on the educational system a long time ago and I really feel that learning how to solve problems is more important than the specific names and dates of wars long past. Let’s solve a problem, shall we?

How do I get my most important information onto my iPod, so it will be with me everywhere I go? (Continue Reading…)

March 22, 2006

Choosing a notebook PC: Size matters

Filed under: Articles,Laptops — Michael Moncur @ 1:08 am

Since I just purchased a new notebook PC, I’ve been taking a good look at the notebook market for the last couple of weeks. Prices are lower than ever for great notebooks, but the growing number of vastly different choices can be confusing. Starting today, this series of posts will look at some of the decisions you need to make to find the right notebook for you.

One of the first things to consider is the size of notebook. Notebook manufacturers and retailers divide them into three basic size categories:

  • Mainstream: The traditional “laptop” form factor. These machines have screen sizes ranging from 14″ to 15.4″, and generally weigh 6-7 pounds. They usually have standard-sized keyboards, although there are some unusual key placements to make room for everything. They’re a good compromise between portability and usability, making them the most popular category. They’re also the cheapest, although prices vary greatly based on speed, features, and quality.
  • Thin and Light: These are smaller, lighter notebooks that are much easier to carry. Screen sizes range from 10″ to 14″, and the machines weigh 3-6 pounds. While these used to be some of the most expensive machines, low-end models are now competitive with mainstream notebooks—but at this size, there’s always a compromise. The low-end models usually have slower processors and lack features, like DVD drives, that are hard to miniaturize; at the high end, all of the features are there, but the price is much higher. All ultralight notebooks have smaller keyboards, so you may find it hard to type with even the best models.
  • Desktop Replacement: These are still notebook computers, and portable in theory, but they’re large and heavy, and best suited to sitting on a desk and being moved only occasionally. Screen sizes range from 17″ to 21″, and the weight is usually 8-10 pounds. These machines usually have full-sized keyboards, and some even have numeric keypads. Like the ultralight machines, these monsters used to cost a lot more than a mainstream notebook, but the price difference is small now. If you expect the notebook to be your only PC, and don’t plan on carrying it to work every day, these are nice machines.

This is probably the choice that will have the greatest effect on how much use you get from a notebook. If it’s too small, you’ll be fighting with a tiny keyboard and squinting to read the screen, and if it’s too large, you’ll leave it at home.

So which size should you choose? My recommendation would be the largest one you can conveniently carry everywhere you want to carry it. If you plan on using it at home 90% of the time, portability is less of a concern, but if you’ll be taking it to class or work every day, a pound or two can make a big difference.

One of the biggest reasons to choose a larger notebook is the screen. In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll look at the different types of notebook screens available today, and you’ll learn that more resolution isn’t always better.

September 6, 2005

How to make DVD Home Movies

Filed under: Articles,Audio and Video — Matthew Strebe @ 1:19 am

DVDs have rapidly replaced videocassettes as the format of choice for home video. But making your own DVDs with video from a camcorder is far from easy. Understanding the process helps.

Ways to make a DVD

There are basically three methods you can use to create DVDs of your home movies. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks, and none of the methods has a clear lead in the market. The three methods are:

  1. Using a component DVD recorder
  2. Using a DVD Camcorder
  3. Using a computer

(Continue Reading…)

January 20, 2004

Understanding Resolution in Digital Cameras

Filed under: Articles,Cameras — Michael Moncur @ 1:28 am

Resolution is one of the most important factors to consider when you purchase a digital camera. If you already own one, you can choose different resolutions when shooting pictures. This article is a basic guide to camera resolution and how to choose the correct resolution for different needs.

(Continue Reading…)

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