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I wanted to believe, I really did.  It has been over a month since my first impressions of the Amazon Kindle Fire.  Over the holidays, I processed a return for my Kindle Fire.  When the Fire was announced I was intrigued and excited as I thought that Amazon had the real potential to make a great product and the customer base to capitalize on that potential.  For me, it just didn’t live up to the hype.  I’ll stress that last sentence…this is my opinion based on my experiences/desires.  As with anything in life, your mileage may vary.

So what went wrong?

I used the Fire a lot.  I watched videos on it daily (my evening ritual of getting caught up on TV) via Netflix and Hulu apps.  I rented about 10 movies via Amazon on the device.  For video, it was great.  For everything else, it was pretty much frustrating for me.  I’ve been able to isolate it to a few areas: apps, user experience, prejudice.

Apps

I downloaded the free daily app from the Amazon Android store daily…and ended up with a device full of sub-standard products mostly.  The Hulu app really was the only 3rd party one that I felt was designed for the Fire and did most things well.  Even then it had quirks, but mostly it was fine.  Netflix’s app is horrible, lagging, confusing and not enjoyable to use before you get to the playing content.  Most other apps just weren’t doing anything for me.

The lack of a Mail solution *provided by the device* for my mail configuration led to a decreased usage in the device to me.  The responsiveness in the games that I acquired was just not there as well.  Overall I felt the only “app” I was using was video playback.  Everything else wasn’t cutting it…even the Kindle reading app was just too bright for me for long periods of reading.

User Experience

Large area of failure here for me.  Here’s my list of areas that lacked polish and just failed:

  • Hardware home button – I’m realizing how important this really is.  My kids couldn’t figure out how to get back to the ‘start’ screen.  On the iPad, they know immediately.
  • Software ‘home bar’ (not sure what to call it) sometimes appeared, sometimes didn’t.
  • Touch responsiveness – I felt like I had to do gestures multiple times to get it to respond.  The first update was said to fix some of this, but it didn’t do anything noticeable for my use.
  • Touch feedback – I know this seems odd, but there were times I couldn’t tell if I had actually completed a touch interaction…visual state changes didn’t happen, etc.
  • Orientation changing – general inconsistency here in what was supported or not within the own set of experiences delivered by the Fire.  But the transition from one orientation to another was jarring, like a snap rather than a smooth transition.
  • Apps experience – no consistency.  I’m not looking for lets-make-every-app-the-same consistency, but as a user there was know real reliability in controls usage, visuals, responsiveness, action expectations, etc.  This is the good/bad of the Android platform – ultimate freedom but at the price of confusion and quality sometimes.
  • Application lifetime – the management of the state of an application was horrible for an end-user.  The parts of Android really showed through here.  I would occasionally get “not responding” windows in an application or when trying to start one.  These types of things do not pass the mother-in-law sniff test for me.

These were some of the things that continually frustrated me.  There were other nits, but not always in my face. 

Prejudice

Aside from any technical reasons the biggest factor for my return is prejudice.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon.  I’m a Prime member, and only get my purchased digital media from them (i.e., video rentals and MP3).  They have great service offerings and catalog of goods.  These are all the reasons I thought they could execute well out-of-the-gate with the Fire.

However, I also have an iPad.

Make no mistake about it: if you use an iPad for the same amount of time you use a Kindle Fire, you will likely share the same experience that the iPad just is an all-around better product currently.  Now the media (and users like myself) are the ones drawing the comparisons of the Fire to an iPad.  Amazon itself hasn’t done any comparisons side-by-side or even remotely close.  They have never marketed (to my knowledge) the Fire as an iPad competitor.  But that doesn’t matter…because consumers rule the world and we have already drawn that conclusion.  Bottom line is that if you are making a touch device I can travel with that has media and a store where I can get application and content – you’re competing with the iPad.

Since I already am an iPad user I could not erase the experience that I have with my iPad when using the Fire.  All my user experience annoyances around touch are because it is just better on the iPad.  If I didn’t have an iPad, maybe my perception would be hugely different.  But since I have one, my prejudice is set and the comparison bar as well.

Holiday gift taste test

When I arrived to the in-laws for the holidays they mentioned they were getting my wife’s ~80yr old (*very* active) grandmother a Kindle Fire because that is what she wanted.  I shirked a bit (and probably commented too much) at the idea and told them I didn’t think this was a good idea.  GG (as we call her since she has 12 great-grandchildren) is not technically savvy and has never had anything remotely considered “new tech” in her life.  I knew that it would fall on me to be the resident Nick Burns and trainer for the holiday week.  And the time did come where I had to do that.  It went something like this *before* we started configuring her Fire…

Me: GG, why do you want a Fire?
GG: I want to get ‘with the times’ and this seems to be a hot item.
Me: Do you have an Amazon account or have ever bought anything on Amazon?
GG: No, never. Can’t I put books on it?
Me: Yes, but where do you plan on getting those books?
GG: Can’t I get them anywhere?
Me: No, you’ll be buying them through Amazon.

NOTE: I didn’t want to explain that technically you could put other publications on there as I knew that would be an action never accomplished.

GG: You mean I can’t get something from Barnes and Noble and put it on my Fire?
Me: No. But why would you, Amazon has a massive content library.
GG: Well, that seems monopolistic. What about movies?
Me: Yep, you can get movies, but through Amazon.
Me: Most of the time anything you put on there you will be buying from Amazon

This point seemed to have been lost on GG when desiring this device.  Regardless we proceeded with the setup.  Now since the device was purchased from the mother-in-law, when powered on it was attached to her account and we had to set up a new account for GG.  This was going to be fun, I thought.

The first step was to create an Amazon account since she didn’t have one.  The first screen on the Fire to do this asks for 4 simple bits of information: email, username, password, password confirmation.  This was the first introduction GG had to a software keyboard and it did not go well.  The first mistake made was to “press” the keyboard and I had to educate that click, press, push are no longer useful but rather tap, swipe, tap+hold are the new ways she needed to think.  This took some training as she continually hit wrong keys, held the key too long which produced duplicates, etc.  I am not sure if it was her bifocals or what but GG was continually ‘off by 1’ on the keyboard and we had many times to The password field was the hardest because it obfuscated the letter after typing it, providing minimal visual time to see if what was typed was correct.  Now I timed this exercise myself so I could see how long this really took.  With no exaggeration the time to complete this screen was about 30 minutes.  The password/re-enter password took up most of that time.  The next screen was address information…to which I offered to enter this data for her :-).  After that was credit card data.

GG: Why do they need my credit card?
Me: How do you plan on buying anything, money order?

In seriousness, this pointed to a generational gap of this concept of stored account information for one-click purchasing that is available on things like Amazon, Apple, anywhere.

We moved on to a review of the Fire and notable me mentioning that the user guide itself was a Kindle book.  This did not please GG as she was used to a manual.  Since she is a Scrabble lover and other folks in the house were playing Words with Friends, we downloaded that app, set her up an account, and taught her how to play that.  Again, the touch interaction here was painful to watch.

My bottom line for sharing this anecdote is that I don’t think the Fire is an every-generation device.  Contrast that to the iPad, where I think she would have had a much better on-boarding experience.  I left GG alone for the day with her device and the next day she shared her frustration that things didn’t seem to work and it was hard to use the touch keyboard and understand what to do.  Now I can easily (and will) chalk this up to a generational thing and a first-time ‘device’ user in GG.  However, it pointed to a fact to me that the Fire is only for a class of folks who are familiar with computers in a more-than-one-time-usage manner.

Summary

I will stress that again, for me, the Kindle Fire was a bust.  I still faithfully have my own Kindle reader which I will still hail as the ultimate in reading devices (and think that is what GG should exchange her Fire for).  The Fire, in current form, however is a bust in my opinion.  I think Amazon *can* get this right if they put some muscle behind it and tighten up the Android edges that show and concentrate a little more on experience refinement.  I absolutely loved the size of the device (hoping Apple takes note) and think that in a few versions they might get it right.

But for now, the Kindle Fire has been returned…and with a great customer service policy, my money fully refunded, satisfaction guaranteed.

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Well, today I received my Kindle Fire.  I pre-ordered this on Sep 28 when they were announced.  I’ve been eagerly awaiting to see if there is anything that can be a better-priced tablet-like consumption device like iPad.  I absolutely love my existing Kindle reading device.  Love it.  If you are looking for an e-reader device only, you should look no further than the Kindle reading-specific devices.  They are priced so good now that there is no excuse if you are an avid reader and have always wanted one.

Before I get to my “review” I wanted to share a little bit about myself, my usage and my reality with these types of things.  I hesitate to even call this a review because I’m not a gadget reviewer, paid jaded journalist or a fanboy of any kind when it comes to these things.  My allegiance is to awesome products that are practical for me.

I currently own an iPhone 4, iPad 2, MacBook, Lenovo, Roku, XBOXen and a Windows Phone.  In the past I’ve also had an Google Nexus One device but no longer have that (or other Android device) in my possession…until now.  I use my devices for personal use mostly, but as a super nerd…it is hard to say that I don’t use my phone as my communication device for work either.  My usage is mostly consumption.  I look at my calendar/contacts, watch movies, listen to music, read books, take pictures, play some casual games, watch television shows and other Internet TV and read/compose email content.  I am not creating large content, movie trailers, etc. with any of my devices.  I like when things work, are easy to use (or easy to figure out how to work around things when they aren’t easy to actually use) and are responsive to my needs.  I don’t care/know about any clock-speed benchmarks on performance stuff between any devices that I’ve ever owned/used because, frankly, it doesn’t matter.  What matters to me in performance is my perception and expectations…now what a high-speed camera says. 

With all that said, here are my initial impressions after a few hours (not an exhaustive use, agreed) with the device from opening to writing this.  Forgive the thoughts if they seem random…they are in order of my thoughts and usage.  Also forgive some of the Apple comparisons…but I trust you’ll understand them to be valid as they are the king of user experience.

Packaging

I friggin’ love Amazon packaging.  It is industrial but easy to use, no tools required, and just ‘get to the product’ fast.  I’ve often said I’d love to sit in a focus group and watch all the executives from cereal companies open their product boxes.  The Kindle Fire packaging is just what you’d expect from amazon and with a pull of the cardboard ‘zipper’ I was at my Fire.

Kindle Fire strapped in MoleskineI pulled it out and my gut reaction was huh, this feels heavier than I’d expect for the size.  The size also struck me as small initially…even knowing what the dimensions were.  It is just a bit smaller than my Moleskine that I use…which, in fact, is kind of an advantage as I can carry the two together (surely someone will latch onto this and make an awesome case). 

 

The one thing that disappointed me was the power cord.  The current Kindle’s that I own have a well-designed power cord.  It has personality, compact and just has that just here to give you power kind of attitude.  The Kindle Fire one feels like I just bought a ThinkPad laptop.  Disappointing.  But I realize this is a power cord…still, just feels like a step back in product design when compared to their existing platform.

First power-on experience

Sorry Amazon, you colossally failed here.  Now I’m not complaining about the speed because my iOS devices take forever from a cold boot.  But I could sense the Android-ness of the boot here.  The logo flashed a few times rather than a consistent image on screen.  This just made it feel unpolished a bit.

But that’s not the part that bothered me.  Immediately upon getting to the first screen, I was greeted with a list of wireless networks.  Very nice start.  I selected the one for my house which is WPA-2 protected and I have a long passphrase.  I was prompted quickly to enter the phrase and presented with a keyboard in portrait orientation (more on orientation in a minute).  The keyboard really felt comfortable in the portrait orientation and I could use it quickly. 

Once I entered my password and clicked next, it immediately recognized me…as the Kindle owner.  And by this I mean it said “Welcome TIm Heuer” and connected to my Amazon account.  I suspect they associated my serial number with my account pre-ship and this was a good touch.  I had the immediate impression that my library of content would be immediately available (more on that in a bit too).  However, this is where it went downhill…fast.

The screen then said it was downloading updates.  W.T.F.?! 

My first impression of a brand new device that hadn’t been on the market was that an update was already needed?  Big time un-polish.  I was not even able to get to any user screen and this update is in my face.  I figured it wouldn’t take that long though…after all, what could need updating already.

I was wrong.

I didn’t clock-time it but I was able to complete the following before the 100% mark was hit: eat a bowl of cereal (already poured), wash my bowl, vacuum my kitchen wood floor with a quick sweeper, go upstairs to take off my shoes and put some slippers on (yes, I wear slippers when I get home…don’t be jealous), come back downstairs, get a drink, get a pad of paper to start taking some notes, and then sit down in the living room.  There are a lot of factors here that could be in play like WiFi strength, bandwidth, etc. but the bottom-line for me was that this was a horrible first impression.

All that aside I figured it was done.  After all, I hadn’t even got to a real user screen yet.  Nope, it rebooted.  Ok, fine let it reboot.  After the reboot I was then presented with an Installing Updates screen.  Seriously?  Man, this was frustrating.

It applied the updates and brought me to the start screen.

Start screen organization

FIrst a note on the lock screen.  This appears to be a portrait-only orientation thing.  This seems odd, but not a deal-breaker by any means…just odd.

After a quick little walk-through on-screen of where things were, I got presented with the start screen.  There wasn’t a ton there but the Facebook logo was prominent as was some simple navigation that was obvious: Music, Video, Docs, Books, Apps, Web. 

Your 'recently used’ items are presented in sort of a bookshelf flip view thing.  Then there is another ‘shelf’ of where you can put favorites.  Fine.

The device doesn’t seem to respond fluidly to orientation changes and the change is abrupt feeling.  There were times I did the shake it a bit because that is supposed to wake up the gyro move to get it to flip.  This is slightly annoying.

The presentation of items in the shelf-flipper-thingy is pretty responsive to navigation in touch, although I felt the number of items it scrolled on a small touch gesture was too much.

Navigation

Kindle Fire touch pointsI didn’t think I’d mind not having any hardware buttons, but I do.  The lack of a ‘home’ button is kind of annoying especially since the device itself is hard to distinguish the top of it.  Having a hardware home button I think is key.  It is the eject button to get you back home no matter where you are in the device.  Kindle Fire doesn’t have one.

Instead they maintain navigation through a toolbar on the bottom, which does have a home button.  When in apps it can be visible or will be subtly hidden and you have to tap it to bring it up.  It isn’t always obvious, but it is there.  Still a hardware home would be nice.

There are also no volume hardware buttons.  This bothers me less actually.  Most of the time when needing to change volume I’ll be in an app that has these controls or me.  It’s one of those nice-to-have features but I don’t think it degrades the experience too much.

The picture presented here in this section shows you my touch points on the screen used after a few hours…this should give you an idea of all the places I had to touch to navigate in different areas.

Mail, calendar, contacts

I quickly went to configure mail.  Colossal fail #2 for the Kindle Fire.

I was presented with a screen asking what type of account I had.  Sweet, I picked Gmail.  I was then asked my login information, which I provided.  Then I was presented with What kind of account is this? screen and asked to choose POP or IMAP.

W.T.F.?!

I am currently awaiting a phone call from my relatives who bought one of these to have me help walk them through this phase.

This is horrible.  POP/IMAP is not user-friendly things to put in front of users unless you absolutely have to.  I’m not convinced for the major email providers they present as options this is at all necessary.  The problem is clearly that I use Google Apps for my domain and Fire doesn’t understand that.  This is a shame.  I was unable to complete my email setup without looking up settings.  Fail.  Fail.

I then also noticed explicitly on the mail screen that it calls out that you will not be able to connect to a Microsoft Exchange account without buying an app separate for this.  Fail #3 in the mail experience.  Seriously, I realize that they may not cater to Exchange, but iOS supports this as well in their platform!  My suspicion here is licensing…but that is just a guess that Amazon just didn’t want to do work here and rely on the Android app ecosystem…which will fail them.

So in the end I did not set up mail…it is just too cumbersome and is not going to fit my needs.  This is a minor problem as I can use web mail, but still annoying.

There doesn’t appear to be a calendar app at all.  Not just to sync with my actual calendar (which won’t work anyways since I use Exchange), but not a calendar to even look at.  This seems odd.

Contacts is there, but again, no sync. 

Basically this will not be a mail, calendar, contacts device for me.  This is a problem for my usage.

Media content

I do use Amazon media content and am a Prime member.  I have a set of music in Amazon Cloud player and also regularly rent/view movies from Amazon.  The video and music experiences are acceptable to me here for the Amazon-based content.  I have no real complaints.

As I noted earlier when I turned on my device it automatically recognized me as the user.  These media areas are tightly integrated with your account so I didn’t have to “log in” anymore to use them.

There is a Pandora app that came pre-installed and I configured it with my account.  The interesting thing is that when I launched it I was warned about data usage fees.  I realize this is because this is an Android app that is used elsewhere, but it shows the lack of customization tailored to the device.  This is a WiFI only device right now…I shouldn’t have seen that warning.

Hulu and Netflix were my next tries.  I had to go to the Store to download these apps first.  These both installed fine and I was able to configure my accounts quickly.  I actually like the Hulu app.  I think it feels right from a UX perspective and the playback was fine.

Netflix app needs some work.  Frankly it feels like they are wrapping their web site.  It sucks.  It most closely resembles their Roku app, which sucks just as equally.  Part of me suspects it actually is the same app.  The input controls, etc. just didn’t feel like they belong.  Regardless I was able to watch movies.  That’s what counts I guess.

Store

If you’ve never used Android before, then the store will appear unfamiliar in some ways.  I’ve seen this before and was able to quickly navigate, understand how purchases are queued in the background, etc.  I had no real problems here.

What I find interesting is the lack of consistency that Amazon is enforcing in the Fire.  The Facebook, Pandora, Hulu and Netflix app icons are all different sizes.  The Netflix one is clearly their iOS one…as does the Pandora one feels the same.  When these are all next to each other on the home screens in the ‘shelves’ they really do look inconsistent (size, rounded, square, etc.) and some are just blurry.  No attention to detail here.

The other thing I didn’t like about the store was the amount of email receipts in my inbox!  Amazon hasn’t figured out how to batch things.  This is only slightly annoying but after getting used to the fact I can make 10 purchases over the course of 2-3 days on iOS and get a unified one-receipt mail, this is another lack of attention to detail.  Not a show-stopper, just an observation.

Reading experience

This is a Kindle after all, right?!  I’m not an avid reader, but have been reading a lot lately.  My Kindle 3 works great for reading and is easy on the eyes.  I don’t think you can really beat e-ink.  The reading experience on the Fire is much like the iPad.  It’s a glossy screen, very bright, and for long reading intervals probably won’t be great.  I have changed my colors and font sizes to adapt to this.

Other than that the reading experience is fine.  Touch to page flip, etc.  No complaints here.

Be sure to protect your Kindle Fire with a case. Caseable allows you to create a custom case for your Kindle

“Other” category of feedback

Here are just some thoughts on some other areas of feedback

  • touch performance seems inconsistent from app to app and even within the Kindle’s own apps
  • Keyboard doesn’t auto-dismiss in areas where it should for me
  • auto-complete/correct are annoying – this is not a Kindle-specific problem as I realize every system needs to be trained
  • since the speakers are on the ‘top’ of the device, when lying on a desk to listen to music I prefer the landscape orientation and the music app actually looks better in that view, IMO
  • web browsing seems fine. it doesn’t feel as fast as they keep talking about, but so far frankly no browser seems fast to me. I wait for pages to load and deal with it. The Fire browser isn’t fast to me, but doesn’t feel terribly slow either when compared to my real use on iOS Safari as well.
    • Note that YouTube defaults to their mobile site, which royally sucks (unless iOS)
  • Web pages as apps – Facebook and Twitter actually give you icons as “apps” but really just launch the web browser to their mobile site views…nothing special as an app.  If you want a better Facebook/Twitter app experience I recommend the Seesmic app as it will do both in one app quite well
  • The Amazon settings seem to be broken on my device
    • It gave me the option to name my device, which I did, but despite that the upper left corner of my device still reads “Tim’s 3rd kindle” which was the default name…and yes I’ve rebooted a few times.
    • The app has a “Your Account” tab on the top that no matter how much I stare at it or tap it, does nothing.  No idea.
  • No opinion of battery life yet
  • The lack of camera, microphone don’t bother me.  My iPad has these and the camera sucks and I don’t use it anyway.

Overall impression

The thing that frustrates me is that Amazon cut corners here.  They have one Kindle Fire device.  They aren’t saying that Kindle Fire is available on Android tablets…they made one.  Because of this I expected a really tailored experience…and am not seeing it.  You had one platform to optimize perfomance, you owned the implementation of certain things, etc…and you took advantage of little of that.  You put a good start screen on content…but didn’t tailor the other portions…this is a shame.

If you also want to be a serious contender there are also areas you shouldn’t rely on the app ecosystem to fix for you.  I am primarily talking about the ‘work’ side of things.  Seriously, invest in a good Microsoft Exchange story here.  Get the mail client to work with it, make it better than 3rd party apps and create a calendar app too.  Give me, the user, the integration that feels right.  Don’t make me install 2 apps to get mail/calendar and then I have 3 separate apps that don’t integrate with each other *at all* – not good for the user.

For the price point, this feels like a good device for those who want to consume media and books but don’t want to shell out for an iPad.  After using it I am liking the size a bit more.  I think all the arguments of the amount of apps available for the Kindle Fire is a bunch of BS.  It isn’t about the number of apps…it is about the amount of apps that matter.  They big name casual games are there, the big media apps are there, etc.  So far there is only a few niche things that I “miss” but can still live without. 

Will I keep this device?  Not sure yet.  The mail/calendar/contacts thing bothers the heck out of me.  I’ll use it for a few weeks on my normal consumption to determine the realism of if I’ll use it.  I think I will, but need some more real-world usage on may day-to-day life to determine.

If you only want an e-reader, don’t get this.  Get the $79 Kindle or Kindle Touch.  This will be over-kill, confusing and not great on the eyes for *lots* of reading (neither is the iPad).  If you use Amazon services already and want an Amazon-driven experience for that content (books, Amazon MP3/Cloud Player, Amazon Prime, Amazon Instant Video) then this device seems reasonable to acquire for the price.

Hope this helps!

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I’ve never been so frustrated with a piece of software as I have been with iTunes lately.

NOTE: Yes, I work for Microsoft.  Yes I’m aware they make the Zune.  I’ve got years invested in hardware with iPods, and until someone makes an OEM integration kit as good as what I have, I can’t switch.  Truth be told, from a portable device player, I *do* think the Zune is better.  But let’s just leave that out of this argument for now.

In my home there are roughly 4 iPods floating around.  We have a library of over 5,000 songs both popular and not that are in our digital library.  That digital library is mostly MP3s, mixed with some iTunes purchased songs (although not since Amazon MP3 began).  That library sits on a shared drive on my Windows Home Server so it can be accessed through various streaming means (Home Server streams to iTunes software, XBOX, etc.).

Also in my home are roughly 6 computers ranging from desktop to laptops (mostly laptops).  These are used between my wife and myself (and one for the kids).

We all listen to music on our devices and via our machines.  We all want to listen to the same library, create our custom playlists and have them available everywhere.  We all want to be able to sync on whatever computer we want, but we’ll settle to be tied to one that you can pair with.

iTunes…sucks.

Yes, I’m looking at you iTunes.  I’m aware of the other options like Songbird, etc. but frankly I haven’t tried them out yet.  If you have and they will solve my woes, can you share your experiences?

Why does iTunes suck?  Easy…

  • It assumes 1 user/1 computer – the “library” is a local and static library unless the user interacts with it.  What I mean by this is it does not have the ability to monitor folders (like pretty much every other software out there for media does).  I want to point my iTunes library to my server share and whenever I add music to it via other computers, that other ‘libraries’ will be aware of it and just add it to my local library.
  • Portability sucks – try to transfer your iTunes library to another computer.  I dare you.  Navigate through all the Apple support suggestions and hacks online.  Frankly unless you are Mac to Mac migrating, it is not easy for a healthy configured library.
  • Not informative – one of my biggest issues is that when I configure the library to be a mapped drive (let’s say M:), if M: is not available for some reason, iTunes decides on it’s own without telling me that it is going to switch the library back to the local volume/hard drive.  Any future action (i.e., iTunes purchasing, Amazon purchasing, etc.) now doesn’t save to my server library.  WTF?!  Can you at least tell me: Hey user, that location you set for your library, ‘M:’ is not available right now…what would you like us to do.  Stop moving it around for me.
  • Home Sharing – what is this supposed to be again?  I thought this would save me.  I could have at least one place that would be the library and home share to other clients who could then use this feature to sync.  Um, nope.  This is basically the sharing they already had except with a new name.  Worthless.

I wish the iTunes team would put in their lab 3 iPods and 4 computers with 2 users and a library stored on the server.  Work toward making your software work in that environment as seamless as it does with 1 user and I’ll be happy.  Until then I have to navigate your changes and try my best to explain to my wife why the music we bough on the desktop is not on her laptop until she adds it to the library that is already mapped to the network share where the music already exists.  Yeah, that’s what I though.

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In a recent Twitter conversation I was having with Peter Laudati, it reminded me of another problem I’ve been having with iTunes and wondering why it isn’t working this way. 

First, here’s my setup (and logic):

    • I have one server (Windows Server 2008) at my house that manages my backup, music, photos, etc. (no it is not a Windows Home Server (yet)).
    • I have a public share there with Everyone read/write priveleges called “music” and it is shared out an accessible.
    • In each client computer I have iTunes installed at, I change the Library location to the mapped drive which is pointing to the share indicated above.
    • All is well.
    • Whenever new music is added in a CLIENT machine, it is added to the server (because the library is pointing there) and added to only that local client’s iTunes library – this is the problem Peter and I were discussing, the fact that iTunes doesn’t “monitor” folders to update it’s Library – you have to help it understand by adding.  Royal suck. (FYI, Windows Media Player has been able to monitor folders for about 9 years now.)

So that’s the setup.  Any activity in iTunes now basically uses this server as the storage…this includes podcast subscriptions.  This is all fine.  Until I want iTunes to actually honor my settings.  Here’s what I’m talking about:

As you can see in this image above, my settings say to keep “all unplayed episodes” but also as you can see, episodes that are played (as indicated by the lack of blue dot) are still there.  I’ve refreshed, I’ve ran the “updated podcast” function on the feed(s), etc.  Nothing…all played episodes are persisted.

So, dear Apple fans/experts/geniuses, why is this?  Is this because my Library is a network share?  Can iTunes not handle the fact that it isn’t stored locally?  I will point out that if I manually delete them via iTunes, it does, in fact, delete – so it isn’t a permission thing.  I’d love to take this to the ‘Genius Bar’ but obviously with a dependency on my network share it won’t be of much help.

If anyone knows the solution to this or the problem with getting iTunes to manually update libraries by monitoring folders, I’m all ears.

Yes, I’m aware that Songbird, and others are out there, but they have yet to appeal to me in their other features.

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Ok, this is getting ridiculous.  First the removal of the ‘I Am Rich’ application (which whatever your thoughts on the app itself, it didn’t violate any rules, just that the powers that be at Apple didn’t like the pricing scheme), and now others are being prevented from joining the AppStore.  Here’s the latest two I’m aware of:

Podcaster

Podcaster is a native iPhone app developed by someone in the Apple developer program and not using anything that isn’t permitted in the terms and conditions of the SDK.  It provides the ability to search/add/download podcasts from your iPhone without having to have any software on a desktop sync for updated downloads.  The developer, Alex Sokirynsky, has let the world know of the reason his app was rejected by the AppStore:

“Since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes.”

Actually it provides more functionality, Apple…is that your problem with it?  That users are able to add new podcast subscriptions from their iPhone and not wait to get to their iTunes sync machine because you don’t allow guest syncing from iTunes?  And so what if it duplicates the podcast section of iTunes?  This is an iPhone app, not an iTunes extension.

MailWrangler

The latest to get hit is MailWrangler, a native iPhone app that enables access to GMail accounts.  The developer submitted the app on July 17th and received a reply more than 30 days later indicating:

“…Your application duplicates the functionality of the built-in iPhone application Mail without providing sufficient differentiation or added functionality, which will lead to user confusion…”

There was also other feedback given to the developer, Angelo DiNardi, that seemed appropriate (no way of editing the account) to which he agrees and seems like open to fixing.

So the problem seems to be duplicity of features according to these two rejections.  Really?!  So all those calculator applications (currently over 30 doing a search on ‘calculator’) don’t duplicate the built-in calculator functionality?  What about the 10+ weather applications that seemingly provide the same features as the built-in Weather application?  What about the StockWatch app ($2.99) that provides what looks like identical functionality of the built-in Stocks application?

      

C’mon Apple, this is getting ridiculous.  Your are letting the likes of “DaysTo Christmas” in the AppStore ($0.99 by the way in case you can’t look at a calendar), but not allowing me to choose if I want to use a different mail app or download podcasts wirelessly?  This is getting absurd.

Are they violating the terms?  I don’t think so.  A look at the iPhone SDK Terms shows no restrictions on the types of applications that can be built (except for real-time route guidance/automation) only noting that applications “…may only use Published APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any unpublished or Private APIs.”  Neither of these applications do that!  It seems there is a conflict in the SDK Terms and the AppStore Terms…which I haven’t seen – anyone have a link to AppStore-specific terms that might indicate that no duplicate functionality can exist?  I’m guessing it isn’t there.

Apple – either enable alternate distribution channels for iPhone applications, or stop rejecting my choice as a consumer because it might be better functionality than you are providing.  Guess what, that’s what developers do – find ways to increase the value of the platform.  You shouldn’t have a developer program if you think people aren’t going to find ways to implement new functionality that may compete?  What gives Apple?  Why are you deciding what I can/can’t install when all other things being equal (i.e., not violating any terms of any SDK))?!  I can’t believe there is no developer outrage beyond these two developers. 

Apple is increasingly falling out of favor with the hi-tech crowds by doing things like this without explanation.  I only see this increasing.  Someone in Steve Jobs’ organization needs to get a wake-up call and start making some changes.  I think the easiest change for the AppStore would be to enable other distribution channels (and not just the beta-tester channel they finally opened up for app developers) so that anyone who has a native app built with the SDK can provide me, the user, the choice to decide what may “lead to user confusion” or what might be better functionality!

Wake up Apple…seriously.