The Predictable Consequence of Predicting Predictability

Jun 18, 2013 No Comments by

Apple launched some new stuff last week; a new mobile operating system – iOS7 – for the iPhone and iPad, a new Mac Pro desktop and some sort of music streaming service for iTunes to compete (in the US) with Pandora and also, to a certain extent, with Spotify.  The latter makes some sort of sense only if there are acts on iTunes that aren’t available on Spotify and Pandora.  Or if the iTunes streaming service is better and cheaper than the competition.  We’ll have to wait and see.

On the Tuesday there was lots of gushing about how fab the new iOS would make the on-screen experience for iPhone and iPad.  And then on Wednesday the moaning started.  But the gripes were given a teensy ration of column inches by comparison with the fawning fluff from the previous day.  It’s not unlike when newspapers splatter a headline such as, ‘Man Accused of Being Kiddy Fiddler!!!’ one day and then follow it up a few weeks later with, ‘Man Totally Exonerated.’ Except the first grabbed everyone’s attention and is all they subsequently remember and the second, inconveniently true, is a throwaway paragraph buried on page 13.

iOS 7 on an iPhone 5

Very, very few people – usually extremely well-informed bloggers and tech website hacks (not us, then…) – are able to make immediate, accurate, first-hand judgements about tech products.  Everyone else regurgitates a version of the company’s PR spin.  Or guesses.

The new operating system won’t be out until the Autumn, at which time, if you already own an Apple device, you will be hectored by pop-up alerts to upgrade your OS.  You might like the new stuff; you might not.  You might be peeved that, having just got to grips with the many nuances of iPhone operation, you slip a short way back down the learning curve.  Or not.  In any event, it’s hardly news.  Apple is very accomplished at sending the media into a tizzy every time they launch anything.  These fruity geek love-ins are the only occasions (aside from cock-ups such as their mapping software debacle) Apple speaks.  The rest of the time they keep very quiet.  A spokesperson for Apple is never available for comment.  It’s a sensible, productive strategy but somewhat ironic, given that Apple products are designed to facilitate our being social media blabbermouths.

If you’re desperate for detailed info on iOS7 click here.

That there is a new Mac Pro range at all is somewhat curious.  Desktop PCs (Apple devices are still personal computers whether you think they should be labelled PCs or not) are sooo last century.  If money was no object TF suspects we’d all have an iMac on our desks along with a hook up for a MacBook Air.  People who buy expensive cars spend just as long in traffic jams as less moneyed proles.  But we were once asked whether, on sliding behind the wheel of a well-perforated Fiat Uno, our ‘spirits soared?’  No, they were crushed like a speeding snail.  So if we are going to crawl through a contra-flow near Luton we’d feel less suicidal behind the wheel of, say, a Ferrari 458 Spider.  And if you sit behind a desk all day staring at a screen it might as well be beautiful.  Because beauty isn’t a luxury darlings; it’s a necessity!

But we digress.  Slightly.

All the blurb about what’s been dubbed ‘iTunes Radio’ likens it to Pandora, which streams music selections (over the Internet) tailored to users’ preferences – artists, genres, songs. Pandora isn’t available in the UK, so we have to compare it with the ‘artist radio’ function of Spotify, which you can only access if you subscribe to Spotify’s Premium service which is currently around a tenner a month.  Tech Fogey has this service and although artist radio sounds fine in principle, in practise it becomes soul-sappingly tedious after less than 20 minutes.  This is because all the selections based on, say, Steely Dan, will sound very similar to messrs Becker and Fagen thanks to some unshaven dweeb having written an algorithm to make the selections and that subsequent lack of human interpretation and understanding leads to Blandsville.  With iTunes Radio and Spotify you can listen by genre – rock, soul, whatever qualifies as R&B this week, folk, classical, or by era.  But achieving the variety you might enjoy by browsing your own actual collection of CDs or LPs is virtually impossible with predictive, computer-driven software that doesn’t understand that part of what makes us human is our unpredictability.  Yes, McDonalds has a menu with many items thereon, but as Morgan Spurlock discovered in Super Size Me, if you only eat that kind of food you become a greasy, overweight, unfit blob.  TF quietly despairs of any algorithm ever taking the place of human interpretation.  ‘If you liked that you might like this which is pretty much the same.’  Well, yes, I did but, no, I don’t and will you stop pestering me like a cloud of grasping flies.

Styx. Sting. Says it all, really

We can’t be fagged any more, so here’s some additional flannel courtesy of

“Because of Apple’s dominance of the paid digital music market through iTunes, and the 600 million iOS users worldwide, its entrance into music streaming could have a major impact on the emerging arena. iTunes Radio is seen as posing a threat to Pandora in particular, because it adopts the same free, ad-based model for online radio listening.

“Spotify and Google’s new music-streaming service, by contrast, rely mainly on a subscription-based service in which users pay a monthly fee for on-demand streaming.

“With more than 70 million active listeners, Pandora is by far the largest Internet radio player to date, with revenue in its fiscal first quarter rising 55 per cent to $125 million.”

So, there you have it.  Some stuff from Apple.  All of it rather comely.  All of it rather expensive.  Hardly news.