iTunes Store going DRM Free!


Apple’s “one more thing” during the Phil Shiller keynote at Macworld Expo was that the iTunes store (which has 10 million songs) will go completely DRM (Digital Rights Management) free by the end of the quarter. This means that the digital copy protection on the individual tracks won’t be there any more.


What does this mean?

Apple calls their DRM free tracks iTunes Plus. At first Apple charged 30¢ more for iTunes Plus tracks. They were $1.29 vs. 99¢. Once Amazon launched their store of all DRM free MP3’s, iTunes dropped their price for iTunes Plus to 99¢ to be competitive. Apple’s iTunes Plus tracks are also encoded at a higher bitrate. The tracks are encoded at 256k instead of 128k AAC files. Since the tracks don’t have DRM they are also compatible with other devices besides iPods and iPhones. iTunes tracks that have DRM can only be played on up to 5 different computers you own. If they are iTunes Plus then there is no restriction.



So I can now share all my music with my friends?

Well NO! Technically there won’t be a physical restriction anymore, but that doesn’t mean that these songs aren’t still copyrighted. I think what the music industry is finally getting through their heads is that DRM really punishes the honest people. People that are going to violate copyright and share songs are going to do it anyway. DRM doesn’t prevent theft. There are several workarounds. If you think about it Audio CDs don’t have any DRM on them. You can buy an audio CD, rip it and share the tracks (illegally). So why does the music you buy from an online store have DRM?


What about the songs I’ve already purchased from iTunes?


When Apple originally came out with iTunes Plus they also offered the ability to upgrade your existing purchased tracks (based on availability) for 30¢ a track. This made sense at first because it was just the difference in price between the 99¢ and $1.29 that they were charging for DRM vs DRM Free. However, now that they’ve lowered the price to 99¢ for their iTunes Plus tracks you might wonder why do we still have to pay 30¢ for the upgrades. Apple has never really said why they still charge an upgrade price. My guess is that you’re still getting a higher quality track (256 vs 128 bitrate), and of course there’s the cost of bandwidth to download all those songs (which are bigger files). 


The cost of upgrading – sucks!


Upgrading is totally OPTIONAL! You do NOT have to upgrade unless you want to. However, if you do decide to upgrade it’s all or nothing. Apple doesn’t let you pick and choose which of your tracks you want to upgrade and which ones you don’t. This kinda sucks! The reason it sucks is because you may have bought songs over the years that you really don’t care that much about anymore (that “Spice Girls Christmas Album” sounded like such a great idea at the time 🙂 ). However, in order to upgrade the songs you do care about, you’ve got to upgrade them all. My initial iTunes Plus upgrade cost me $135.57! The reason I say “initial upgrade” is because Apple is hard at work converting re-ripping tracks every day. So the first batch I upgraded included only 489 of my over 1,800 purchased tracks. As Apple gets more tracks converted to iTunes Plus, I’ll be able to upgrade again. 


Variable Pricing Model

Apple also gave in on the “one price fits all” model. So now songs will vary in price from $69-$1.29. The record labels have wanted this for some time now and it was probably a compromise in getting the labels to give up on DRM.


More drive space

Keep in mind that iTunes Plus tracks are going to be larger! This is because they are encoded at a higher quality bitrate (better sounding). While that’s not really a concern for me on my computer, I’m quickly finding out that it can cause problems on your iPod. Suddenly you could be in a situation that the same songs/playlists no longer fit on your existing iPod. You may have to do some pruning of your playlists in order to fit these larger tracks on your existing iPod/iPhone.


The Bottom Line

I’ll be happy to be DRM free! It will mean that I’ll get to use my music purchases in more places and on more devices without having to think about it. I wish that Apple was more flexible on the upgrade pricing/options, but it is still a choice and you don’t have to upgrade at all. All new songs/music videos you purchase will already be DRM free. Now if only Hollywood would learn from this, the world would be a much happier place.

Lastly don’t forget to BACK IT UP! One hard drive crash and all your purchased music could be gone. So backup your hard drive on a regular basis!

New iPod/iPhone, Old Speaker System, not charging?

If you have an iPhone 3g, 2nd gen iPod touch or 4th gen iPod nano, you may have noticed an issue with plugging them into your older speaker system. As I understand it, the newest crop of iPhones and iPods no longer allow charging over the Firewire pin in the standard 30 pin iPod connector found on hundreds of iPod accessories out there. They now only charge via the USB powered pin in the same 30 pin connector.

I first noticed this problem with my iPhone 3g. I noticed it didn’t work with the integrated iPod connection in my car. I could plug it in and play music through the car’s speakers, but the iPhone wouldn’t charge. Buy a new car? Not today! Some car manufacturers started offering a newer cable to correct the problem. Rather than wait for a new cable to be produced for my car, I was lucky to find out about the passPORT by Scosche.


passPORT to the rescue


The passPORT is an adapter that goes between your car’s cable and your iPhone/iPod. Since older iPods and iPhones can be charged over USB too, this adapter is backwards compatible. There’s really not much more to say about it. You plug it in and it works. Your iPhone 3g and newer iPods will now charge via your older cable. The adapter goes for $29.99. Amazon has it for $27.99. The price seems a little high, but it’s a lot cheaper than a new car 🙂



What about your speaker system?

If you spent good money for an iPod speaker system, then chances are you want to keep using it. However, if you bought your speaker system a while back, then you may be facing the same issue I did above. Your older speaker system may not charge or work properly with your newer iPhone 3g or iPod. While I was at Macworld Expo, I stopped by the Scosche booth while I was at Macworld Expo to buy a second passPORT for my new EOS Wireless Speaker system (a review on that is coming). Although this speaker system is not that old, it’s old enough not to work properly with the new iPhone 3g or iPods. When I got to the Scosche booth I saw a display on the wall for their new passPORT Dock product.


This adapter is designed specifically for the Universal Dock connector found in most speaker systems. As a matter of fact even Apple’s own (now discontinued) Apple iPod Hi-Fi system. When this system was being sold it retailed for $399. If you spent $400 on an iPod Hi-Fi, then you probably want to keep using it with your new iPod or iPhone 3g. Same goes for the original Bose SoundDock ($299). 

The passPORT Dock is a $40 adapter that sits right in your speaker’s universal dock connector. It sits up about an inch and has it’s own Universal Dock on top which will accept the standard Apple dock inserts that ship with the various iPods and are available for the iPhone. The passPORT dock comes in either white or black to match your speaker system. Again, I think $40 is a little pricey, but considering what you may have spent for your speaker system $40 is not much to keep using it with your newer iPhone/iPod.

You can order the passPORT Dock directly from their site.

iPhone App of the Week – Amazon Mobile


You may have noticed that I’m a fan of I use Amazon quite a bit for my shopping needs. I like them because they are basically a one-stop-shop for just about anything. The prices are usually competitive and they have been very dependable for me. Now I’ve never tried to return anything or reach customer service, so your mileage my vary.


Needless to say, when I saw that they had an iPhone app, I had to check it out. The Amazon Mobile app is a iPhone/iPod touch version of the store. You can search, price compare and even order all right from your iPhone. I actually used it to order my Logitech Playstation 3 Bluetooth keyboard. It was so convenient because of Amazon’s 1-click feature. I didn’t have to enter any credit card or shipping info. So far, nothing too exciting right?


An Amazing New Way to Shop


Take a picture of the item you’re interested in! That’s right! Your iPhone has a built-in camera, so you can take pictures of stuff. Hidden in the Amazon Mobile app is a feature that allows you to take a picture of an item and have Amazon figure out what it is and therefore how much it costs. The reason that I say this feature is hidden is because it’s tucked away under the “Remembers” button. I’m not sure why they call this feature “Remembers” and I would have NEVER thought to look there for it.



How well does it work?

Like I said you snap a picture of the item you want and that’s pretty much it. Once you snap the picture and confirm it, it is automatically uploaded to I have to image that a human on the other end (probably under paid and in a 3rd world country) figures out what the picture is and then replies with a  link to the actual item (provided that Amazon carries it). Although one of mine was so far off that it may not be a human after all. Now they don’t claim to be 100% accurate. As a matter of fact they claim to find the “closest match.” My first 3 pictures were of simple things that were already boxed and clearly marked. It got all 3 within reason. Then I gave it more of a challenge by taking pictures of items laying around that I already owned. One of those items was my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens and what came back wasn’t even close. It wasn’t even a lens. So that makes me think that it may be automated after all.

Out of the six items I threw at it, it got four of them dead on. The two that it got wrong, one was the lens which was not even close and the other was a portable hard drive and it came back with the desktop version. The results are sent back pretty quickly. In my case under 5 minutes (probably closer to 3 minutes). My buddy Dave tried this by taking a shot of something in the Skymall catalog and it came back with the right item. He was floored that it worked with a picture of a picture.


How useful is this really?

If you know what you want, then doing simple text search in the app is probably going to be faster and more accurate. However, I’m intrigued by the use of the technology and that’s why it’s my pick this week for the iPhone App of the Week.

Amazon Mobile is a FREE download for the iPhone and iPod touch. You can get it here from the App Store.

Macworld Expo: Toast 10

If you’re a Mac user and you burn DVDs or CDs, you’ve probably heard of Roxio’s Toast application. While you can burn DVDs/CDs right in Mac OS X, Toast just offers so many more features beyond the basics. I was very curious to see what the new version(s) had to offer so I caught up with the Toast product manager and asked him:

Macworld Expo: 17″ MacBook Pro

One of Apple’s big 3 announcements during the Phil Shiller keynote was the newly redesigned 17″ MacBook Pro. As you know I reviewed the 15″ MacBook Pro earlier and the 17″ has all of those same features but adds a little more…
The one thing that I find very attractive is the ability upgrade the 17″ MacBook Pro to 8GB of RAM!!! That’s unheard of on a laptop. Although I’m still not ready to carry a 17″ laptop again, I find the new very tempting. Apple also allows an “Antiglare screen” option which should make the professionals much happier. The use of a glossy screen has been a point of contention with many users. Although this will be welcomed, the NEW controversy will be the fact that the battery is built-in and not user removable or swappable. Granted the battery life has been drastically improved (Apple is claiming 8 hours!), it will be interesting to see if people buy in to the fact that they can carry an extra battery on long trips or to do work in the field.

Also check out Apple’s other New MacBook:

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Macworld Expo: Leave it to Google :)

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that with thousands of Mac users in town for Macworld Expo, there would also be thousands of iPhones in use! As a matter of fact there are so many iPhones here this week that AT&T’s data network was brought to its knees on Tuesday during and after the keynote. You could make calls, but you could just about forget about using the EDGE or 3G network.

Google is showing how they think ahead by providing an iPhone charging station for up to 8 people to charge their iPhones in the Google booth at a time. Obviously you’re not going to leave your iPhone unattended, so what are you going to do while you wait? Check out the stuff that Google has to offer. Genius!

Macworld Expo: Neat Receipts Update

I’m here at Macworld and I got a chance to check out the new software update to the Neat Receipts scanner that I reviewed in 2008. One of the number one questions I got then was “can the software (which rocks) be used with other scanners like the Fujitsu Scan Snap series. Now the answer is YES!

Macworld Expo: Joby Gorillapods

I’ll be posting some video updates over the next day or so of cool things I’m checking out here at Macworld Expo. I’m going to start with a product I’ve been meaning to review here. It’s the Joby Gorillapod SLR. Although this is a great portable, travel tripod for your Digital SLR, I found out today that it has some other cool uses. Check it out!

Live Coverage of the 2009 Macworld Expo Keynote

Today is Apple’s last Macworld Expo! I’m here live getting ready for the Apple/Phil Shiller Keynote at Macworld Expo. I’m going to attempt live updates from the keynote just like last year. If all goes well you’ll get a blow-by-blow on what’s being announced.



So if you don’t see the updates above, Click Here to follow the Live Blog starting at 9:00AM PST.

UPDATE: Apple has posted the Keynote Video – Watch it here.

Lastolite Triflector MkII



Although I’m not big on getting gifts on holidays, I did get one very cool gift. I got the Lastolite Triflector MkII. This handy compact unit comes with two adjustable side arms and three reversible (white/silver) panels that easily and quickly attach. Once setup (less than 5 minutes) the whole thing sits on a light stand (not included).


Why use a tri-flector?

If you do any type of beauty or fashion photography, a tri-flector gives the ability to light your subject from underneath and from the sides without the need for additional lights. It also provides some very distinctive catch lights in the eyes. By putting it on a light stand you can adjust the hight to your taste. Your subject/model can either stand or sit depending on your needs. In my setup above I used the Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens (shot 125th/sec f/8.0), Elinchrom 600RX (triggered with their awesome Skyport system) with a midi-octa softbox and the Lastolite Triflector MkII on a small light stand.


I used the above setup to produce this shot:





The interesting thing about the Lastolite Triflector is that it’s not easy to find. I never saw it at any of my usual sources for photography gear. However, it is available here at Adorama. Oddly enough Adorama doesn’t show the included stand or carrying case. However, I did a search for their SKU# LSTLPKWS (which is on my packing slip) and that’s the one that comes up. Pay no attention to the picture. It’s the right one. If you shoot portraits, beauty or fashion, you’re gonna want one of these!

Makeup by Renata.

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