🎵 Streaming Service Wars

tl;dr Apple Music suffers from only one problem: iTunes. YouTube Music feels half-baked at best.

Once in a while I like to review my subscription choices to see if I am still getting the most value out of each service. Most recently I started paying for YouTube Premium as a way to legitimately skip ands and access exclusive creator content. One perk of this subscription is the inclusion of YouTube music. I have been a happy Spotify subscriber for many years now, but glitchy application behaviour and some missing catalogue items made me second guess whether I am getting the most out of that subscription. I decided to revisit Apple Music and YouTube Music to evaluate their service quality.

Apple Music feels like a quite solid option, with one huge caveat: iTunes. I am a Windows user for my primary desktop and laptop at home and iTunes is an evil that I avoid whenever possible. The Apple experience has continued to decay into near unusability on Windows. I know they have the online player so you can avoid using iTunes, but I wish they would bundle this clean experience into a distinct Windows application. Much of the legacy library and device management that iTunes provided isn’t necessary for my day-to-day music experience. Despite the iTunes nightmare, the experience on my mobile devices such as my iPad and iPhone are excellent.

While there was no direct way to port my Spotify playlists to Apple Music, there was a free online service, Tune My Music, which allowed me to move my Spotify playlists and favourites smoothly to Apple Music. Given these services are all mature at this point I was a little disappointed that this migration process wasn’t native to Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube Music. Despite the desired locked-in effect, it’d be much easier to poach me as a customer if I could easily take my music library with me.

Fresh off of this mixed Apple experience, I was hoping that Google would have produced something high quality with YouTube Music. They spent months advertising the service to me as an upgrade to Google Music (which I had used prior to Spotify), and a great value-ad to the general YouTube experience. Immediately I noticed how rushed this product felt. Like Apple, they have no native Windows application (or Mac application for that matter), and their mobile application feels like a lazy reskin of the the YouTube application. This set the tone for the entire experience I was about to endure.

While most content providers such as Tidal, Apple, and Spotify seem to have gone through the trouble to license large libraries of music with many record labels, it seems like YouTube has done the bare minimum required to be called a music service. It’s almost like they were sitting around the board room one day and someone said “hey, people upload music to YouTube, YouTube can make playlists, why not charge for this?” And then proceeded to receive a standing ovation. The quality of the experience is extremely variable. Some songs are from people who just happened to have uploaded the content, some is label-uploaded content via VEVO and others. Then I attempted to import my playlists.

While the experience using Tune My Music was good with Apple, YouTube Music was a nightmare. First since there is no sane user-level way to import, the tool integrates with the YouTube API directly, and promptly hits the 10,000 action limit as it attempts to match and write playlists via the API. My collection still is only about 3/4 imported, having to curate every re-run to get another chunk of my library imported. Then the fun starts – I would say a solid 10% of my library is unavailable on YouTube. Either people haven’t uploaded the music, or Google never bothered to sign detailed agreements with the various labels.

So, after my experience with Apple Music and YouTube Music, I can comfortably say that Spotify is still the reigning champ in my books. Cross-platform applications on Windows and Mac, decent mobile apps, integration with Sonos and most voice assistants. I’ll live with the odd quirks and bugs, at least I can experience them on every platform consistently and cleanly.

A Look at Maximum PC’s Multitouch Surface Computer

For many do-it-yourselfer’s out there, multi-touch displays may have been something you thought was out of your league. In reality, Maximum PC’s research guys have shown us that we can make a Frustrated Total Internal Reflection (FTIR for short) table for around $350. That is fantastic news because you can be the proud owner of your own touch-capable PC without having to spend $12,000 on the equivalent Microsoft Hardware product. In short, this makes it easier for developers such as myself to build our own touch PC’s and start working on the interfaces of tomorrow.

Many of the methods they used cut considerable corners, and with a bit more thought and research it would be easy to see that a few tweaks here and there would not only make it stronger and easier to make but also cheaper. In their implementation they used IR LED’s all around the table and a variation onf vellum and silicon to form an impression system for the surface. And while these solutions were quick, cheap and easy, there is another solution which is a bit more efficient in my opinion, and I will detail it below.

In my combined solution, there would be a thicker sheet of acrylic with one edge cut at a 45 degree angle. then using mounting hardware along that edge, we would mount a medium density amount of LED’s (one every 3/4 of an inch) that work at 850nm wavelength. Then we would obtain a sheet of vellum (or white tissue paper possibly is better) and press it against the bottom of the LED mounted sheet of acrylic, and sandwich it with a thinner piece of acrylic (not necessarily as polished of edges). By sandwhiching the vellum (tissue paper) we reduce the noise and provide a more even continuous surface of paper (making it seem more screen like) as well as enhance the touch capabilites of the screen. The single row of medium density LED count allows for fewer LED’s overall and allows for a cleaner hardware design, less interference and a clearer image when using a PS3 eye toy. In the eye toy, using a double or triple layer of colour film negative, it would filter out all light but the IR light cleanly. So we would have a noiseless, clean table surface and a clearer camera image. These improvements would overall reduce the cost of the project by significantly reducing the hardware cost for the LED’s and mounting them. I plan to put them to use when I get started on my surface HTPC (summer project). I will keep my blog posted as we move into the summer months!

Windows 7 (A Quick Look)

So early last week I managed to get into the Windows 7 public beta (unfortunately, they didn’t open it for my level of MSDN/TechNet subscription) and I decided to give it a shot. And thus far, it is like every other beta product I have tried from Microsoft: love at first run. Right from the start, the operating system felt smooth and responsive, managed to take care of all my driver requirements (except for my webcam, cheap Chinese brand, low driver support). Apart from the hundreds of technical improvements (no more Windows 3.0 fonts dialog, yay!) they really brought some powerful new software design concepts to the table, their biggest being the “superbar” (their name, not mine) that replaced the aging legacy taskbar. It truely feels like what Windows should have been for years.

Anyways, I will be doing a more in depth review of Windows 7 when I get to finish playing with all the features, and start to push through the pile of assignments growing on my desk. So, hopefully sometime next week I will have my full website back in the swing of things, and be back open for business in all areas. I did re-add some of the links to the repository and forum for those of you who are just itching to get your hands on the build of the game that I did a month and a half ago (haha, I kid but I will release a newer build soon, this one including audio, fast rendering and a new tileset. Exciting!). And as usual, I encourage people to talk in the comments or on the forum!