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Archives for : May2012

Seriously, would it be so hard to ship a new Mac Pro?

Can’t be a WWDC prediction because Apple would never expend precious keynote time on it, but why oh why can’t we have a new Mac Pro? Seriously, it hasn’t been updated in nearly two years, and if sales are poor, that’s probably a reflection of selling 2010 technology at 2012 prices.

I don’t see either the Mini or the iMac as a suitable replacement for the Mac Pro. For me, there’s a specific issue of drive technology. I put an SSD in my Pro as the boot drive, which has given me much needed relief from the 10-minute disk-thrashing festival that is Lion startup (#lionsucks), and provides a substantial (if not extraordinary) improvement for large Xcode builds. But I have traditional platters in the other bays to handle enormous amounts of media: my 1,000-album iTunes library, all my DVD rips, Final Cut and Soundtrack projects, etc.

SSDs are a terrible choice for big media files: the files are large, seldom accessed, and are read sequentially, meaning they gain nothing from the fast-access traits of flash memory, and certainly don’t justify the price. It’s gruesome to think of the idea of someone sync’ing their iPad to a MacBook Air and burning up a big chunk of the laptop’s storage with backups of the apps… a problem I didn’t think about until my kids’ iPads exhausted the puny 60 GB internal drive in the Mac Mini the family shares.

On the Mini, I have a 1 TB external drive that houses iTunes libraries (and now hosts the various “Mobile Applications” directories, which insist on living at ~/Music/Mobile Applications, but can be moved to another volume with a Unix simlink), my Subversion repository, old websites, etc. It’s not bad, but it’s a little kludgy to have external drives sprawling all over the desk.

Well, in a no-Pro future, we’re all going to have to make that choice: either use a traditional platter in the Mini or iMac and suffer the slowness, or boot on an SSD and then waste half its capacity or connect a bunch of external drives to hold all our media and iOS backups. Alex Lindsay keeps saying on MacBreak Weekly that Apple sees Thunderbolt as obviating most of the need for Mac Pros — Thunderbolt’s bandwidth supporting external storage, multiple displays, video input, etc. — but a sprawl of daisy-chained devices all over the place seems like a return to the bad old 80’s (check out what happens when you connect all the available peripherals to a TI-99). Furthermore, third-party Thunderbolt adoption has been disappointing, and it’s hardly unfair to say it’s just FireWire all over again.

Perhaps the other story is that Apple expects iCloud to serve our long-term storage needs for things like iOS device backups and media storage. I admit I haven’t given iCloud much of a chance — I activated the first beta during WWDC 2011 and soon had three copies of all my calendar events and contacts, so I’ve been slow to trust it with my data again. So, maybe this is their long-term answer.

But in the here and now, when I’m at my desktop, I want 3.5″ drive bays and monstrous CPU and GPU capacity. Screw the MacBook Pro — the iPad has all but obviated laptops for me — I want the pro Pro back.

Apple TV prediction party

WWDC is just two weeks away, and this is my last iDevBlogADay spot before then (actually, yesterday was my slot, but I got thrown off by the holiday). Everyone else is going to be chiming in with predictions until then — put me down for something specific, like “Core Audio changes the canonical data types to floating-point, since ARM7 is perfectly capable of doing float” — and I don’t have much to say that I haven’t said before.

A lot of the talk is about the possibility of an Apple TV set, or an Apple TV SDK. I talked a bunch about this in my Anime Central-inspired Mac/iOS media post, but to summarize…

AirPlay is Apple’s secret weapon, to a degree that has not fully been appreciated by many. I mean that literally; Time Warner Cable’s CEO admitted to Engadget that he doesn’t know what it is. But by turning every iPhone/iPad/iPod-touch into a de facto cable box, powered by hundreds of video apps, there’s a huge potential for distrupting the existing industry. At this point, Crunchyroll is surely my favorite iOS app of all, given that it has effectively become my very own personal anime TV channel (four words, folks: Puella Magi Madoka Magica). Multiply this by a hundred niches and content providers (including 3 of the 4 big team sports in the US) and you’ve got a tsunami.

The trick is that Apple didn’t scare the incumbents with a frontal attack — they’ve let content providers slowly build up the streaming content collection. All that’s needed now is to remove the AirPlay link and run directly on the box via a Apple TV SDK. And if you’ve ever plugged an Apple TV into Xcode via the micro-USB (to test betas, as I did last year while working on AirPlay support for a client’s app), you know that Xcode recognizes the Apple TV as an iOS device and even offers a (non-functional) “enable for development” button. This is something that they could enable at a time and place of their choosing, and maybe that’ll be in two weeks.

That said, developers might not have an accurate view of what Apple TV development would be. Someone at A2-CocoaHeads said he wanted an Apple TV SDK so that he could write a game where an iPhone or iPod touch served as the game control for a TV-based game. Of course, this is possible now: the Apple TV shows up in [UIScreen screens], so you run the game logic on the handheld device and just draw graphics to the second screen.

And who knows what kinds of apps will be welcome or permitted? It would be uncharacteristic of Apple to require or even tolerate substantial keyboard-based entry on Apple TV apps — Google TV shipped a keyboard-based remote control, and how did that work out? Someone’s going to say we need streaming video apps with integrated chat, but if you really have to do that, again, you could do that today by running the app and hosting the chat interface on the iPad and streaming the video to the Apple TV.

If there is an Apple TV SDK, it should neither surprise nor disappoint anyone if the only apps that Apple accepts for it are streaming media. It’s called focus, people, something that distinguishes Apple.

Pre-announcement: All-day Core Audio tutorial at CocoaConf Columbus

Back in April, I wondered aloud on Twitter:

Wondering aloud: lots of computer conferences have a one-day tutorial beforehand, usually for beginners. Would anyone want an advanced one?

This is something I’ve been thinking about from the arrangement of the Mac/iOS conferences that typically have a beginner tutorial on day one, then eyes-forward sessions and other contents starting the next day. It seems to have the unintended effect of bifurcating the audience: the intermediate and advanced developers roll in on the second day and it changes the composition of the crowd and the feeling of the group. The sense of “we’re all in this together” gets a little lost. What could we do to get those intermediate and advanced developers in on the first day, mingling with the newbies at breakfast and lunch? Well, we could try to have a tutorial on topics sufficiently advanced that it would be worth the time and expense for intermediate and advanced developers to arrive early for tutorial day.

It seemed like an interesting experiment, and Dave Klein of CocoaConf was game to give it a try. But what goes into an “advanced” tutorial? We could do a day’s worth of stuff that you only get into after a year or two of professional development — managing large code-bases, fancy UIKit tricks, expert XCode wizardry, etc. — though it’s likely five different instructors would come up with five different sets of topics to cover.

Another idea: pick a single advanced topic and really dig into it. Maybe something that people are aware of but haven’t had time to tackle. Something that’s so renowned for its challenge that the best way to learn it would be to just sit down with an expert for a day and work through some code.

Something like, Core Audio, you suppose?

Yep, that’s exactly what we’re doing. On Thursday, August 9 — the first day of CocoaConf Columbus — I’m going to do an all-day Core Audio intro tutorial. I haven’t hashed out the schedule, but it will basically be geared to projects that we can bang out in a tutorial setting and that do something interesting. I might draw from the book, but I might throw in some all-new material… just this week, I was working on code for an ADC support incident and realized that a basic web radio client could be explained and written in about two hours, so that’s at least possible (and ironic, considering we chose to leave Audio File Stream Services out of the book). Surely, the afternoon will have to be all about Audio Units.

Pre-requisites: as with the book, you’ll need a reasonable comfort level with C — not expert level, but not afraid of malloc, sizeof, or * either. Not sure if I want to require a device or make everything simulator-friendly. Guess you can watch the CocoaConf page for that.

Anyways, Dave and family are going to be focused on CocoaConf DC for the time being, and probably won’t switch the page to Columbus until July. If you’re interested in a full day of serious Core Audio hackery and slashery, save the date (Thursday, August 9), and start thinking about how you’ll get yourself to central Ohio.

Hope to see you there. I’m looking forward to being able to do a full day of Core Audio.

Directions and Disintermediation

Apologies for a double-post to iDevBlogADay, but I didn’t want to hit the wider audience with two straight anime/manga-related iOS blogs, and I was way behind on entries for the first few months of the year anyways.

With WWDC and presumably iOS 6 approaching, John Gruber looks for obvious gaps in iOS to fill, and in Low-Hanging Fruit, he doesn’t report many. Following on reports that Apple will switch from Google to an in-house Map provider, he writes that while controlling such an essential functionality is crucial, the switch has to be flawless:

This is a high-pressure switch for Apple. Regressions will not be acceptable. The purported whiz-bang 3D view stuff might be great, but users are going to have pitchforks and torches in hand if practical stuff like driving and walking directions are less accurate than they were with Google’s data. Keep in mind too, that Android phones ship with turn-by-turn navigation.

This was an interesting graf to me, because Gruber usually gets the details right, and this time he’s pretty far off.

Start with “users are going to have pitchforks and torches in hand if practical stuff like driving and walking directions are less accurate than they were with Google’s data.” That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what the iOS SDK provides. Neither Map Kit, nor any other part of the SDK, provides directions. Map Kit only provides map tile images, and a “reverse geocoder” that may be able to correlate a given location to a street address or at least a political region (city, state/province, country). There’s nothing in Map Kit that knows that a yellow line is a road, a blue polygon is a lake, a dashed line is a state or country border, etc. More details in my write-up of writing Road Tip and my Bringing Your Own Maps talk from 2010, but the long-and-short is that any app that provides directions has to be getting its data from some source other than Map Kit, probably a web service hosted by Google, MapQuest, Bing, etc.

I also did a little research to see what the Android API for this stuff looks like, assuming it was easier, and was quite surprised to see that it’s not. A DrivingDirections class was apparently removed after Android 1.0, presumably due to the fact that implementing it required third-party data (TeleAtlas, NAVTEQ) that Google wasn’t in a position to redistribute for free. The suggested workarounds I’ve seen are all to either license a third-party directions API (embedded or webservice), or to make a specific request to maps.google.com and scrape the result as JSON… in other words, to use Google as the directions webservice and not worry about the terms of service. I only spent about 15 minutes looking, but it didn’t appear to me that getting directions is any easier for Android developers than it is on iOS. So while Gruber notes that “Android phones ship with turn-by-turn navigation”, that seems to be a user feature, not a developer feature.

So, on the one hand, third-party apps probably won’t change right away, because they haven’t counted on iOS for their directions anyways. But maybe that’s an opportunity: if Apple controls its own data, maybe it could offer an easy-to-use directions API, consisting of easy Objective-C calls rather than JSON or XML parsing like webservice clients have to do now.

There might be a licensing snag too: using Map Kit today means that developers are implicitly accepting the Google Maps terms of service. If iOS 6 switches providers, the terms presumably change as well, and I wonder how that would be handled. Would creating a MKMapView magically default to the new Apple maps in iOS 6 (and thereby inherit new Apple terms of service), or would developers maybe have to resubmit or add a credential to their apps to get the new maps?

And taking maps in-house has other interesting side-effects. The other day when I was out with my kids, I searched for “Arby’s” in Jackson, MI and the result appeared on the map as a “Sponsored Link” (I can’t re-create it here at home… maybe it’s only an ad when you’re physically nearby?). The money for that ad presumably goes to Google, a revenue stream that will start to dry up if Apple provides its own business location data when searching maps. We’ve also heard that Siri could hurt Google search if people start performing speech-based searches rather than keying terms into google.com via the mobile browser.

And isn’t this exactly what Google was afraid of, and why they felt the need to create Android? With iOS, Apple is in a position to disintermediate Google. And with Apple’s wrath towards Android, the company may be more interested and willing to do so than it might otherwise have been. Smooth move, Andy.

Apple Should Get Out of the Manga Piracy Business

Sorry for another anime/manga-related post, but a thread on Twitter reminded me of some Apple misdeeds that need rectifying. It started with a pair of tweets, first from Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network:

I’m sure this has been asked a million times, but why are there so many goddamn bootleg manga apps on the iOS store?

And then a follow-up from social-media expert and publisher Erica Friedman of Yuricon:

@ANNZac I’ve tried to write Apple/Google about the links to bootleg sites. Neither has a reasonable way for reasonable people to complain

So let me back up a second… what we’re talking about are dedicated apps that read “scanlations”, which are comics (usually Japanese manga) that have been scanned, translated by fans into English, and posted for free to various websites or made available through channels like BitTorrent.

Zac righly calls this “bootlegging” because there is no question that copyright violation is involved. Entire works are being digitally redistributed with zero compensation to the original authors or publishers. What can make this a gray area is a question of whether or not any actual harm is done: if the work is unavailable in English, nor likely to ever be, then how can a scanlation eliminate a sale that could never be made? This is a fairly bogus defense because (as we’ll see), the untranslated works are just a minor part of the story. Moreover, we could apply the established tests of “Fair Use” under US copyright law, such as:

  • Is the new work “transformative”? In other words, are we using the original to create a fundamentally different thing?
  • How much of the original is being used?
  • Does the copying impede future sale of the original work? Does it harm the creator?
  • etc.

Guidelines like this permit use like, say, presenting few pages of a comic in the context of a critical review or an academic paper: fundamentally new work, small amount of copying, doesn’t replace the original (and might actually drive new interest and sales). And obviously, a scanlation fails every one of these tests: it’s a full-on copy that changes only the language, and fully replaces a translation the original publisher might provide. It’s also been pointed out that scanlations are harming the development of a legal digital manga industry in the US. Scanlations would have zero chance of surviving a legal challenge.

So why the hell is Apple in the business of distributing them on iOS?

Search for manga on the App Store and you’ll get dozens of hits. Most of them are apps for downloading and reading scanlations on your iPad or iPhone. For the purpose of this blog, I tried the free versions of:

Note: these are not affiliate links. I wouldn’t want a cut of their sales, since I consider them illegal and illicit.

Most of these apps get their contents from three scanlation websites: MangaFox, Mangareader.net, and MangaEden. Some of these sites play at supporting the source of their titles by slapping in pseudo-legal disclaimers and vague admonishments to somehow support artists as seen on this page of The Rose of Versailles:

Manga Storm page from Rose of Versailles, with disclaimer caption

This image is hosted at mangafox.com. We take no credit for the creation or editing of this image. All rights belong tot he original publisher and mangaka. While we hosted this for free at mangafox.com, please don’t forget to support the mangaka in any way that you can once his/her work becomes available for retail sale in your region!

Some of these sites also adhere to an ethic that they don’t host scanlations of titles that have been licensed in the US. In this screenshot, Manga BDR (which awkwardly makes you browse MangaFox rather than scraping its index) shows an notice that Fullmetal Alchemist is unavailable from MangaFox because it has been licensed in the US:

Manga BDR showing MangaFox notice that Fullmetal Alchemist is unavailable

Does this mean there’s honor among thieves? Hardly. The sites are still violating the original Japanese copyright of the titles they do offer. And they’re not living up to the implicit promise to make obscure titles available to a wider audience — the Rose of Versailles manga cited above has not been completely translated, despite being more than 30 years old. And wherever Manga Rock gets its data from, it has no compunction about offering up titles that have US publishers. Here’s Manga Rock 2 offering Fullmetal Alchemist in its entirety:

Fullmetal Alchemist manga on Manga Rock 2

Not only is this stuff illicit bootlegs, these apps are popular because they allow access to pirated manga. Every single one of these apps advertises itself on the App Store with screenshots of browsing popular titles that have US publishers: Manga Storm shows Fairy Tail, Manga Rock shows Fairy Tail, Air Gear, and Negima!, and Komik Connect shows Bleach and Naruto. And the users use these apps precisely because of their illegal nature: the one-star reviews on Manga Storm don’t complain about it ripping off artists, but because it lacks US-licensed titles (due to its dependence on MangaFox and friends), and because it’s a paid app.

And speaking of the paid versions…

Apple gets a 30% cut of every sale of the full versions of these apps. That makes Apple a direct beneficiary of copyright piracy.

Everyone who stood up to say Apple does more to support creators than Google and its cavalier attitude towards IP rights, you can sit down now. So long as these apps are available on the App Store, Apple is complicit in piracy.

It’s fair game to criticize Apple for these, when the company has such a stringent review process. When it’s so careful to consider what it will and won’t sell, approval of an app has to be considered an explicit endorsement, particularly considering Apple gets a cut of the sales.

And that’s what makes it all the more galling:

The last of these may be the most galling. Erica Friedman again:

I went on a rant about why is it okay with the those of you who like shiny things that Apple just told DMP to take their BL off the iPad app? WHY?!? If the TV hardware manufacturers told you what TV stations you could receive, you’d be enraged. When your work blocks sites, you find ways around it. So why the hell is it okay will all you Apple fans that Apple censors content? I cannot understand why you are not screaming at all, much less loudly? APPLE CENSORS CONTENT. Especially LGBTQ content. Why are you still giving money to a company like that? People boycott BP and Chik-Fil-A and Target…but are absolute sheep about Apple’s censorship of content. ARGGGGGHHHH.

It’s as if Apple is saying “we won’t let anyone sell you gay manga for your iPad, but we will sell you tools to help you steal the stuff.”

This has to stop.

If nothing else, these apps are in obvious violation of section 22.4 of the iOS App Store Review Guidelines:

22.4 Apps that enable illegal file sharing will be rejected

Apple apparently won’t listen to third-party criticism (people have been calling attention to these bootlegging apps since at least 2010: 1, 2, 3), but there are channels that aggrieved parties can use. Viz and Yen Press have legitimate iOS apps for their manga titles. Since Manga Rock 2 makes bootlegs of those titles available (I saw Viz’s Fullmetal Alchemist and Yen’s High School of the Dead), these companies could use Apple’s dispute policies to at least have Manga Rock 2 taken down.

Beyond this, it’s hard to see what will work. Via Twitter, Erica noted yesterday that most US manga publishers are too small and operating on margins too thin to follow up with DMCA takedowns, and Apple may be technically in the clear on DMCA because they’re not themselves hosting the offending content.

However, since Apple’s making money off the sale of the apps used to pirate this content — in clear and obvious violation of their own policy — another option is that the Japanese publishers might want to sue Apple directly. They would presumably have more legal resources to stick with a lawsuit, and with Apple deaf to criticism, maybe it would take a few subpoenas to call their attention to the fact that making money off piracy is an awfully dirty business for one of the world’s largest and most prestigious companies to be involved in.

For the sake of Apple and the creative community, these apps need to disappear forever.

iDeveloper Live, Minus the Live

I was a guest on last week’s iDeveloper Live, which gave me a chance to talk to Scotty and John for over an hour about the Learning Core Audio book, Core Audio and other Mac/iOS media frameworks, the iOS SDK Development book, and why I decided to take a pass on WWDC this year (mostly for the reasons I discussed last year). Also, for whatever reason, we spent an inordinate amount of time up front on the fact that I live in Grand Rapids and why that is awesome.

Anyways, if you’re not already subscribed to the show’s post-facto podcast in iTunes, you can grab the episode from its show notes page.

UPDATE: The other thing I wanted to mention in this blog (and forgot to) is the response to the Learning Core Audio book in the first few weeks since its introduction. Overall, the feedback has been better than expected, as have the sales (I expected practically no sales, because of how poorly my QuickTime for Java book sold). We’re still holding onto a top-30 ranking among Mac programming books on Amazon, where the Kindle edition has been sporadically outselling the paper edition, much to my surprise.

The one rub for me is an inexplicable one-star review on iBooks that takes us to task for not covering creation of a custom audio unit, something we left out in part because it’s one of the few Core Audio topics for which Apple has a full-on tutorial. To be bashed for that, and then accused of covering only “entry level” material that’s “easily found on the web” (despite the long-standing complaint that Core Audio has little to no usable documentation), is just mind-boggling. I know, creators shouldn’t complain about reviews, but this one is so detached from reality, it makes me wonder where I’ve spent the last two years, and if I’ve maybe slipped into a parallel reality where we did a crap job and performed no original research or experimentation. Fortunately, the rest of the feedback we’re getting is a lot more positive.

What Anime Central Taught Me About Mac/iOS Media

I spent the weekend in Chicago at Anime Central 2012, the first anime convention I’ve been to since Anime Weekend Atlanta 2007. Many of us geeks have our escapes: mine is the mythical realm of “Japan”, where children are taught the value of empathy, and people default to a position of kindness and respect in their dealings with others. ぼく の ゆめ きれい です。

invalidname's ACen Badge

Along with loading up on collectibles (Angel Beats! Anohana!) and finding new shows to watch (Toradora!), I had a few encounters that, surprisingly, led to some insights about where digital media is and is going on the platforms I work with.


That iPad UStream Guy

In the Sentai Filmworks panel, I noticed a guy in the front row shooting video with his iPad. Not a bad idea — the battery life is enormous, so you might only be limited by using up the flash storage. But what I discovered later was that he was the animecon-industry channel on UStream, and was streaming all these panels live on the internet. From the iPad.

Multiply this by a bunch more iPads and a bunch more interesting pursuits and I start to wonder why I’m not already combing UStream for cool stuff streaming now.

BTW, I asked three questions in the Sentai Panel. Watch the recorded version and you can hear me asking about whether iTunes download-to-own makes still sense for them, why they went back and licensed the older ef: A Tale of _____ shows, and what led to the reissue of Clannad After Story with an English dub.


Making Music with Miku

Hatsune Miku Vocaloid 2 softwareAnother panel I went to was a how-to showing how Yamaha’s “Vocaloid” software can be used to create synthetic singers, such as the very popular (and much-cosplayed) Hatsune Miku. What I didn’t expect to find out is that the Yamaha guy who created the Vocaloid software is a big Mac fan, and despite the fact that the Vocaloid products are Windows-only, was shown in a video from last year’s Anime Expo toting a MacBook Air to a panel (it may be this one, but if not, it still shows Ito-san clearly using an Air).

Duly inspired by this, the panelists at ACen showed a MacBook-based workflow that used Vocaloid 3, despite the fact the program is Windows-only, and was only partially localized for English. They played a synth into Logic Pro to lay down a base music track, then played a second track as the vocal line. They exported that track as a .mid (MIDI sequence) in a directory shared with VMWare, where it could then be imported into Vocaloid and sung by Miku. After tweaking the Japanese phonetic lyrics, they exported a .wav back to Logic to complete the song.

Of course, wouldn’t it be nicer to cut Windows out entirely? Knowing that there are Mac fans at Yamaha and Crypton, maybe Apple should make some calls. Having Hatsune Miku as an instrument in GarageBand or Logic would be a hell of a lot of fun, and would surely lead to getting her as the vocalist of even more songs on iTunes (she already had more than 1,500 last time I checked).

I’ve also mentioned on several occasions that the AUSampler audio unit in Lion and iOS 5 is doing a pitch shift more or less equivalent to what Vocaloid does, with the key difference that AUSampler can be played live, while Vocaloid uses a render step and could look ahead to upcoming notes to produce more realistic output. I’ve meant to try hacking up a “Hatsune Mac-ku” with AUSampler one of these days… it’s on the list of experimental projects that could turn into an article/blog/session if I find the time to get it working.


There’s An App For That Anime

Kids on the Slope page on Crunchyroll iPad appOne of the first things I did on the show floor was to finally sign up as a paying subscriber for Crunchyroll, the streaming service that offers many anime shows within hours of their Japanese airdate. Considering I’m currently using it to keep up with Kids on the Slope, Bodacious Space Pirates, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I’ve come to feel like quite the freeloader.

Part of the reason I’m watching so much Crunchyroll is that it’s easy to do so on the iPad while waiting in the hallway for my kids to fall asleep. Like a lot of Flash-based websites, Crunchyroll has had the sense to build an iPad app. And one of the upsides of having a real app is that the video can be sent over to an Apple TV for proper wide-screen viewing.

Watching Bodacious Space Pirates on Apple TV with AirPlay
When I look at the “Anime” folder on my iPad — consisting of Crunchyroll, Anime Network, Funimation Free, and Adult Swim — and then look at the icons on the Apple TV screen, I can’t help but wish that these streaming apps could be on the Apple TV itself. With the latest Apple TV update presenting us with a grid of app-like icons for the various services and providers, it sure feels like this is what we’re heading towards. And when you can just subscribe to your favorite sports league as an app and not deal with cable/satellite/local-broadcast hassles and blackouts, it starts to show the promise the cord-cutters have been talking about all this time.

The New York Times had an interesting article on this the other day. After presenting the channel-as-app metaphor, they point out that this could bring about the “a la carte” model that so many viewers have wanted for so long: the ability to just buy the content that you want, and not have to buy a bunch of programming you don’t want. But they also identify the catch that I’ve worried about for years: many of the content providers are vertically integrated with distributors. All the NBC/Universal networks are owned by Kabletown Comcast, which means that they may not want to sell content directly to end-users when that cuts into the parent’s core business of selling cable subscriptions.

And would a la carte make sense for consumers? We might get sticker shock. Think about my anime apps: I’m in for $7/month with Crunchyroll. But they don’t have everything. If I want Lupin the 3rd commercial-free on Funimation streaming, that’s $8/mo, and ef on Anime Network is going to set me back another $7/mo. So just for anime, I’m in for 22 bucks a month! Do I have anything left for sports or news? Suddenly, the DirecTV bundle isn’t looking so bad anymore. [Indeed, Anime Network is also on DirecTV VOD, which is why I’d be highly unlikely to pay for it again as a streaming subscription. Last year, instead of cord-cutting, we doubled-down on DirecTV and upgraded to their “whole home” service. We’ll probably eventually want to get the nomad too. YMMV.]

Anime folder on my iPad
In fact, when I saw the much linked Oatmeal cartoon about I Tried to Watch “Game of Thrones” and This Is What Happened, I had a specific thought when I got to the frame where the protagonist is flashing his credit card in front of the computer, saying he was ready to buy if only they would sell it to him. Here’s my thinking: HBO knows full well that there are people who subscribe to the channel entirely for the sake of one show. That is their business model: you buy it for Game of Thrones or The Sopranos, and as a bonus, you get to see Splash and Independence Day 400 times a month. Which is total crap of course, since we only care about Game of Thrones. So if you’re paying just for that show, what’s the cost? Say it’s $30/month times however long a season runs, plus time to unsubscribe, leaving a little room for customers who don’t bother unsubscribing religiously. Shall we say four months? Then that means a season of Game of Thrones is arguably worth $120 per subscriber.

Now imagine if HBO put out a Blu-Ray set, day and date with the series, at that price point. Everyone would scream bloody murder. But, Mr. Oatmeal, you were flashing your credit card! Did you think that a new production should cost the same as a back-catalog show from 20 years ago that has already paid its bills several times over?

But I’m kind of digressing into old arguments. The point to make about networks-as-apps is that Apple’s treating Apple TV as a “hobby”, the lack of an SDK for Apple TV, the company’s slow movement towards backing it up with content other than the not-terribly-popular iTunes download-to-own and partners like Netflix… it could be that they’re not going to take on the entire cable/satellite industry until they’re confident there’s a real opportunity, if not an absolute certainty, that they’ll win. What I see is a long game, where they roll out technologies like HTTP Live Streaming and AirPlay, see if they take, and let the pieces quietly get into place. Not a fiendish master plan… just preparing relevant technologies and partnerships so they can enter this war at a time and place of their choosing.


Dreaming of Streaming

Speaking of HTTP Live Streaming, one last point is to acknowledge what a tremendous success story this has been? Non-existent 5 years ago, it is now the technology that delivers all streaming video on the hundreds of millions of iOS devices, in a way that satisfies the security demands of the major media companies, sports leagues, etc. As I mentioned before, my iPad is full of video streaming apps, not just the various networks and content providers, but stuff like UStream that captures and streams live video.

The thing to start watching now is what happens with MPEG DASH, which resembles HTTP Live Streaming and similar technologies from Adobe (Adaptive Streaming) and Microsoft (Smooth Streaming), all of which use HTTP (rather than custom socket connections on frequently-blocked ports) to deliver small segments of video and adjust to changing network conditions. Streaming Media reports increasing support for the proposed DASH standard from many companies, but notably not Apple. Which makes sense in a cynical view — why let the competition catch up when content providers already have to go HLS to reach the massive iOS user base? A more practical concern is that DASH seems to want to make everybody happy by just wrapping some existing standards for codecs and manifest delivery, which may end up meaning that it just becomes the “15th standard”:

And speaking of HTTP Live Streaming, I’m preparing an all-new session on HLS for CocoaConf outside DC in late June. The early-bird deadline has been extended until this Friday (May 4), so if you want to see how cool this stuff is, you’ve still got time to save a few bucks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put this Crunchyroll subscription to work and catch up on the subscriber-only new episodes, now that I just finished Angel Beats! from iTunes last night.