TECHNOLOGY VS THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

From the Verge

In the past, the labels were very supportive of free streaming — they saw it as a way to bring new customers (and money) into a declining industry. But as streaming grows and money continues to shift away from digital downloads and physical media, it seems the labels are becoming less comfortable. Spotify says that a substantial free service is the only proven way to get new paid subscribers, and it argues that the data shows that streaming isn’t destroying proven revenue streams like iTunes. A spokesperson tells the Financial Times that “Spotify is monetizing people who have never been monetized before.” Despite those arguments, it may come down to backroom negotiation tactics to see if free streaming survives in its current state.

Maybe it’s not about whether or not free streaming survives in its current form. I don’t think that is the important question. Maybe it’s will the music industry ultimately survive in its current form?

DOING TAXES? THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT!

So my wife and I have been doing our taxes, and this year we (well let’s be honest here, I) decided to use an app on my iPhone for it. There are a couple of apps (maybe more) out there that I tried. One is the app with H&R Block, and the other is Turbo Tax. The first app I tried was H&R Block, and I found it to be very clunky. You first sign up, or sign in, and it wants to send push notifications. The advantage of using these apps is that they use the camera on the phone to take a picture of the W-2 and fill the information out for you. So I tried to do it with H&R Block, and it was horrible. I must have tried five times to take a picture of the first W-2, and it would not take it. Eventually, I just gave up on it.

So my wife and I have been doing our taxes, and this year we (well let’s be honest here, I) decided to use an app on my iPhone for it. There are a couple of apps (maybe more) out there that I tried. One is the app with H&R Block, and the other is Turbo Tax. The first app I tried was H&R Block, and I found it to be very clunky. You first sign up, or sign in, and it wants to send push notifications. The advantage of using these apps is that they use the camera on the phone to take a picture of the W-2 and fill the information out for you. So I tried to do it with H&R Block, and it was horrible. I must have tried five times to take a picture of the first W-2, and it would not take it. Eventually, I just gave up on it.

Next, I tried turbo tax, and the whole process was much better and smoother. It starts out much the same as H&R Block. You either sign up or sign in, and accept or reject push notifications. You then go through and fill out your personal information. Each form is on a card, and once you are done filling out one card, you swipe from right to left for the next card. It’s very intuitive. When you get to taking a picture of your W-2, you get it in the frame and take the picture. It was not perfect, but I had a much better time with it than I did with H&R Block. After you get the picture, you go through and review the information and make corrections or add information as needed. Some of my W-2’s were more accurate than others. Overall, I would say it made the whole process much easier though. Turbo tax also makes it easy to understand the new tax laws surrounding health insurance. I don’t remember the exact number, but there is a monthly penalty for each month that you don’t have insurance (the fee is smaller for children under 18). There are also quite a few exemptions to the penalty.

Once you are finished with that and go through the rest of your deductions, Turbo tax does what they call a smart check to make sure that everything is accurate and you are getting as much money back as possible. Turbo tax will then pull all of your information into the state side and take you through all the different laws and credits your state has. This is a fairly brief process, and everything is explained fairly well.

At the end, Turbo tax does a review, and then guides you through preparing to file your taxes. I never once had problems with the app, and if you have used the web version of Turbo tax, the app will be just as easy. I can’t tell you what to do if you have very complex needs, but if your needs are simple, the mobile app for Turbo tax will serve you well this tax season.



  1. The customer service is only okay. I called about an issue I was having with the child tax credit, and the phone connection was very poor. But I did get the help I needed, so they are capable.

IS APPLE TRYING TO ESTABLISH ITSELF AS A LUXURY BRAND?

There was a piece in The Verge about how Apple is trying to establish itself as a luxury brand. I disagree though. Yes, the Apple Watch Edition is clearly about appealing to people who want luxury items, but I think primarily Apple is still about, and always has been about, changing the way regular consumers live and use technology. Just because Apple has made a luxury item, does not mean that they are trying to move all their products in that direction, and if they do I think it would be a mistake. Apple started because Steve Jobs wanted to bring the pc to the masses. To move away from this would be for Apple to betray what is in its genes. Although their products are more expensive than most, it is because they make products with much value added, and that are worth spending the extra money on because they just work.


  1. I would be willing to argue that making watches does move them into the fashion market. People wear watches as much for fashion, as they do for usefulness, and Apple has clearly purposed to make the Apple Watch fashionable. That is separate though from trying to argue that Apple is trying to move all its products into a luxury fashion brand.

LUXURY WATCHES

Here is a good piece from the Verge written by someone who is actually a connoisuer of watches. He explaines how the prices of watches work and why some cost as much as they do.

With Apple Watch, the price differentiation between the entry-level Sport at $349, the standard Apple Watch at $549, and the Edition at $10,000 is about perceived value — what materials are used in the case, bracelet, and straps, but also how much people believe they should be paying for the product. In addition to perceived value, mechanical watches are also priced by human value: how much of the work is done by hand (in many cases using 200-year-old methods). For example, a watchmaker named Philippe Dufour makes just 12 watches per year, alone in his one-room atelier in the mountains of Switzerland. A simple, time-only piece can cost $100,000. Whether the case is gold or platinum, the price of a Philippe Dufour watch remains (roughly) static — you are not paying for materials, you are paying for Mr. Dufour’s time and touch. The Apple Watch has minimal human value, and that is the biggest difference between it and its mechanical counterparts.

THOUGHTS ON SPRING FORWARD

Apple Spring Forward Event
Apple Spring Forward Event

Apple had their “Spring Forward” event yesterday, and these are some thoughts that I came away with.

  1. I wasn’t expecting anything yesterday besides rehashing the Apple Watch, and maybe hearing some new features about it, plus pricing and ship dates. So everything extra we got were some nice bonuses.
  2. I am really looking forward to HBO Now. As Macsparky put it it, I think this could be the hole that breaks open the dam so to speak. It will be interesting to see a) how successful HBO is, and then b) how many other cable channels follow suit. HBO now will start at $14.99/month, and if you get it in April the first month will be free.
  3. I think the price drop of the Apple TV from $99 to $69 reflects at least three things. 1) The Apple TV models are old and getting older. 2) There is more competition and Apple is getting beat in the tv streaming box market. (To be fair, I don’t use my Apple TV as much as I used to. It’s getting older and restarts itself in the middle of episodes. I have thus been using my Roku and Amazon Fire TV stick much more.) 3) I think we will be seeing a new higher end Apple TV come out later this year, that will probably be priced at $99.
  4. The new MacBook actually stuck out to me the most. That is a computer I could actually see myself potentially getting in the next couple of years to replace my current MacBook, which will partially depend on how Apple upgrades it over the next couple years as well. It’s higher than the entry level Macbook Airs, but it doesn’t have all the power of the MacBook Pros. It’s a perfect middle which is all I need. It is incredibly light and thin, with only one usb port (called USB-c) for charging and all other cables, plus a headphone jack. They introduced a new concept for the trackpad called “Force Touch” that uses taptic technology to give you the sense that you are pressing down and clicking the mouse, when in reality, you are simply applying force and the trackpad reads it as a click and gives you that feedback. There is also a new keyboard that comes with it that uses what Apple calls the “butterfly method” for pushing keys down to support both the thinner design, as well as more stable keys. The display is retina, which has been curiously left out of the Airs, probably to keep them priced low. Overall, I think it is impressive, and shows Apple really believes the future of notebooks to be truly wireless with the single port.
  5. Apple also announced research kit, which hadn’t even been rumoured. This kit will allow for apps made by researchers to connect with it so they can do studies if you are willing to participate in them. Apple won’t see any of your medical information. I think Apple is really trying to emphasize how much it wants to go beyond the conventional use of cell phones and expand to other areas of use. Using research kit will allow scientists a lot more potential information to be able to better study certain diseases and conditions. Right away there are apps for heart disease, parkinsons, breast cancer, and asthma. I am curious if we could see too many participants though. It is possible to have too large of a sample for studies because you end up with data clutter and you get lost in the trees.
  6. I am really excited to get my hands on an Apple Watch. Unfortunately, it is too high priced for me at this point, but maybe in a year or two. I think this device could be revolutionary for those of us who use iPhones. The Apple Watch starts at $349 for the Apple Watch Sport, $649 for the Apple Watch, and $10,000 for the Apple Watch Edition (which will only be made in limited quantities and sold at select few retail stores). When Tim Cook was scrolling through the apps, I noticed an Instapaper app, which I though was interesting. At this point, I can’t imagine myself reading articles on my wrist. It seems to small. I think the watch will be best for health/fitness, checking off any notifications and texts without having to pull my phone out, and of course time, calendar, weather etc. Also, I’m kind of curious as to what games may come that you can play on your wrist. You can get the watch in two sizes: 38mm and 42mm, with the 42mm watch costing $50 more, and you pay extra depending on the type of band you want. There will also be an Apple Watch app on your iPhone that will come with iOS 8.2 (out yesterday) that you will use to manage your device and get apps for it. The battery life is all day, coming out in Apple’s tests to 18 hours, which is exactly what you would need in a smart watch. Any less than that, and it just wouldn’t work. It will be interesting to see how different the hours are when consumers begin using them en masse.

Overall, I think Apple is headed in the right direction with their products. A lot really depends on how well the Apple Watch performs. Apple has really thought this through and I think it has the potential to permanently tell us what a smartwatch should look like.

APPLE WATCH=SAVING TIME

“This will be the Apple Watch metric to track: time saved.

We’re getting a tad metaphysical here, but really the only resource we all have exactly in common is time. Kings don’t have more of it than peasants. Not everyone will be able to afford an Apple Watch (or even an iPhone), but if they’re in an economic situation where that’s feasible then they’re also in the situation where they are probably willing to trade money for time.

And that is the target market of the Apple Watch. Not “rich people” (though there’s a model specially for them), not “tech geeks” and not “Apple fanatics.” It’s people who want more time, and that is a very large target.”

This is a piece from Tech Cruch. I think this is a great point that the author makes. The ability to glance at a watch to take care of a message, or a notification, instead of pulling out your phone where there are so many other distractions, could allow us more freedom from our phones and get back more time with our loved ones. True, we could do this anyway, but the Apple Watch will make this much easier.

QUICK EMAIL UPDATE

Today, Gmail released an update that brings interactive notifications and the native iOS share sheet. Apple’s Mail.app is falling behind, even though it has some solid features to commend it, and the lack of it’s own native share sheet is really hurting it. Hopefully they will bring it in for iOS 9, if not sooner.