Apple Music v. Swift

The Service

Apple announced Apple Music at the WWDC ’15 keynote address. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. It seems like a good streaming service that will gain traction: it’s going to be on every Apple device you can imagine.

It will launch with a three month trial period, which I thought was generous. That’s enough time for the service to stop being a novelty and start being a part of daily behavior. But buried in the details was the fact that Apple would not be paying any royalties to rights-holders during the 3 month trial. I thought that was an interesting at the time, maybe worth a blog post or two. Then Taylor Swift wrote a letter.

There’d been some minor objections to the trial period already. But Taylor’s letter was the real spark. Apple changed its mind over the course of the weekend. They will now pay rights-holders during the three month trial.

The Real Issue

It’s important to note that the whole to-do was a negotiation. Taylor Swift wasn’t fighting for the little guy; she wanted Apple to pay her for the right to play her most popular album to date. There’s nothing wrong with that. Artists should get paid. If they can find a way to get paid more they should do so. Just don’t make Swift Taylor out to be a crusader for the indie artist.

A second note: Rights-holders, not artists will be the ones benefitting from this. Again, this isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way business works. Taylor may own digital and streaming rights to her music. She’s shown a lot of business savvy in the past. She may have worked hard to secure those rights during her contract negotiations. A lot of smaller artists don’t own those rights, their music labels do.

I haven’t researched this in the music industry, because that’s not where I work. In the book industry, publishers pay authors an advance on signing a book deal. An author doesn’t make any royalties until the publisher has earned back the advance. Getting paid for the 3 month trial will help those artists start earning royalty checks sooner, but that money isn’t going to the artist until they earn the advance.

The point is, most artists on a record deal have already been paid.

Contracts are always negotiable and anything could happen. Music labels aren’t in the business of giving up any more than they have to, though. I doubt most artists will ever see significant revenue from streaming services.


There are a lot of free things on the internet. All over the internet. I produce a couple of podcasts you can go download for free. You could contribute to my Patreon or buy one of my books if you wanted to, but the podcasts are there for you to listen to at will.

A lot of authors offer the first book in their series for free. That’s not to say the book has no value or that it didn’t take any effort to create. It means the author is confident that if you read the first one you’ll want to buy the second one and the third one. It’s a way to build a fan base, and more importantly, a customer base.

Take a look at any number of (what we used to call) bloggers(these people do a whole lot more than blog now, I’m not sure what we should call them). Almost every one of them will offer a free ebook or course or video. They offer some type of product for free (or for the cost of your email address) because they want to show that their products work (and get into your inbox). They want to provide the user with value so that the user feels compelled to provide value in return.

So why hasn’t the music industry latched on to this idea? The streaming services themselves appear to be an exception, but I see no other industry that’s as obsessed with extracting every last penny from every piece of content they own. I’m not saying other entertainment industries are giving all their content away, but I frequently see the first episode of a TV show available on Amazon Prime. When was the last time you saw the first track of an album available for free?

My point is, I think the piracy craze last decade combined with the transition from physical to digital music sales freaked the music industry out to no end. Their actions are governed by a compulsive need to ensure that someone pays for every byte, that every strum of a guitar earns them revenue directly. There are a few exceptions, 9 Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor(himself a part of the Apple Music announcement) has been progressive in this field. But for every Reznor there’s a Metallica and a Beatles. At least.


This 3 month trial isn’t a big deal. Apple has the money, they obviously want to provide a lengthy trial period more than they want to keep that money. They’ll shell out for 3 months and I have no doubt they’ll make that money back with a successful product. Don’t believe the pundits that will call Apple Music a failure. Apple’s playing with house money here. It’s going to be hard for them to lose the music game at this point.

Smartphone Adoption in Mexico

I recently traveled to Mexico and encountered an interesting phenomenon. Everyone had smartphones[1]. I looked up the numbers when I got back: the smartphone penetration rate in Mexico is 37%. That’s roughly half the rate of smartphone penetration in the US. That’s a surprising number in a country with a per capita GDP that’s 20% of the per capita GDP in the United States[2].

I’d read several places that smartphone adoption had grown outside the US. I knew that a significant part of the developing world was purchasing smartphones. These smartphones are often the first computer and internet connection people have ever had. It was different to see it in practice.

Granted, the people I encountered had owned cell phones for a decade or two. The mobile industry isn’t as onerous in Mexico as it is here. Cell phone plans in Mexico are almost always pay-as-you-go plans. Calls and texts get deducted from the caller or sender’s plan, not both, halving the cost of a call or text.

Mobile customers buy phones up front and low cost options are available. They’re affordable enough that on previous trips it made sense for me to buy a cheap phone and plan to use while I was in the country. I didn’t have time to research how that system may have changed since the arrival of smartphones on the market. A growing trend of purchasing items on credit may also be affecting smartphone adoption.

This is all fine and good from a consumer perspective, but what excites me is the economic impact of smartphone adoption. I’m look forward to discovering what effect the rapid propogation of information will have.

There’s always been an entrepeneurial attitude in Mexico. Many people own their own business or operate a side-business from their home. Small factories are common throughout Mexico City. Small convenience stores are often operated out of the front of homes.

A glance at a GDP graph shows steady growth starting sometime in the 80s. That growth has stayed pretty constant through today. But a more recent spike in GDP growth correlates[3] nicely with an increase in smartphone adoption. Obviously, a simple correlation between two charts on the internet doesn’t indicate causation. But, the fact that the growth of smartphones and the economy mirror each other indicates two possibilities. Either the two statistics are directly correlated and some causation exists (with one number driving the other), or both statistics share some inditerminate causation.

In other words, smartphones are either the canary or the minecart[4]. Either way, things are looking up for the Mexican economy

  1. Obviously, I don’t mean literally “everyone”. But the majority of people that I knew from when I lived in Mexico, as well as a significant number of people that I encountered throughout my trip were using a smartphone of some kind.  ↩

  2. GDP is Gross Domestic Product: “The monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period, though GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis.” Investopedia  ↩

  3. Correlation indicates a relationship between two numbers. For example, ice cream sales and drowning deaths are correlated. Causation indicates that one number is the result of the other. Ice cream and drowning do not share a causal relationship, but they both share a causal relationship to average temperatures, thus the correlation.  ↩

  4. If smartphones are the canary they’re the indicator of economic growth. If they’re the minecart they’re one of several drivers of economic growth. This report from GSMA seems to indicate the latter, if only as a significant growth industry in Latin America. Check out footnote 4 in the report. It indicates that of the 4.1% GDP contribution from the smartphone industry, 2.5% is due to “productivity improvments”. That’s exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about in this piece. The GSMA is an industry organization, but they’re trying to predict future growth and give a measurement of smartphone growth in Latin America, so the numbers reported should be decent.  ↩

The Battery Revolution (or How My Life Has Changed)

I’ve owned and used notebook computers for a long time now[1], but I’m doing something today that I’ve never done before. I’ve ventured out into the wild world without my safety cable. You know the one. It attaches to your computer at one end and a three-prong connecter attaches to the wall at the other. (Electric) Life-giving juice flows from the wall to your machine enabling work and play.

And for the first time in my computer-using life, I don’t have mine with me. It’s an odd feeling, and one that you may have already experienced[2]. My trusty old black MacBook had great battery life when I bought it back in 2007. I could get close to four hours of writing time if I was careful.

Yet, I was never confident enought to leave that white tether at home. If I was working at a coffee shop or library, and I wasn’t using my power cable, it was in it’s dedicated pocket in the bag at my side. It certainly wasn’t at home in the living room[3].

And I know, Macs in particular have been getting workday-length battery life for several years now. I just hadn’t exactly put the whole thing together in my mind. It doesn’t just mean a couple of pounds less equipment in my bag for a day trip. It means I can work wherever I need or want to. It means I don’t have to ask fellow patrons if they’d allow me to connect my surge protector to a crowded outlet at the coffee shop.

My new machine works where I want it to. I can now think of powering my computer the way I think of powering my phone: at night, when I get home. It’s a mobile device, not just a portable one.

Maybe I’m being a little over-the-top. Maybe I’m just super amped about my new computer. Maybe I should have bought one of these machines years ago and experienced the revelation with everyone else.

Those are all at least a little bit true. But honestly, going from two to three hours of battery life[4] to seven to ten hours of battery life is the biggest revolution in my computing life since my parents brought home our first Packard-Bell Pentium 386.

  1. Nigh on twenty years, in fact. Criminy.  ↩

  2. I’m late to the party here, I admit.  ↩

  3. Where my fancy new Magsafe 2 cord sits at this instant.  ↩

  4. If I’m being honest, it was closer to forty-five minutes towards the end.  ↩

The Rumored 12 Inch MacBook Air

I don’t usually cover rumors on Machine Compatible, but I’m excited about one about Apple. 9to5 Mac is reporting that Apple is working on a new 12" MacBook Air.

The new computer would be smaller than the current 11“ with a smaller bezel to accomodate the larger screen. One of my least favorite things about the 11” Air is the bezel. It’s such a huge wasted space and just makes the screen feel even smaller. It’s not as big an issue on the 13" because of the larger screen.

The new 12" will also only have a USB-C[1] port and a headphones jack. That’s an astounding number of ports in a device, but it makes sense. The MacBook Air was always supposed to be ultra-light and ultra-portable. It was built to contain the very barest of computing bones. Apple later found ways to give them great battery life and adequate power but that wasn’t in the original design.

The new Air will be compelling if Apple can combine the battery life and power of the current Air with a Retina display. The new Air will also differentiate the product lines by separating the MacBook Air line frm the Macbook Pro line.

Color me intrigued

  1. USB C is the new standard to replace the current USB plug format. It is smaller and reversible so you don’t have to worry about which way you’re plugging it in.  ↩

Thinking Through Email: Automate and Sort

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series on email. If you take some of these suggestions under consideration you’ll be able to start getting your inbox under control. Remember, it’s not about “inbox zero”. There will always be another email coming in to mar that clean slate. Managing email is about keeping your communications under control rather than scrambling to keep up.

Bearing that in mind, let’s go over a final suggestion before we wrap the series: automation. I mentioned it briefly in the post on limiting what arrives in your inbox. Most email clients and services offer some form of automation. If the one you use doesn’t, find a different service and forward your address to the new one.

If you’re processing lots of email and sorting it manually, you’re missing out on one of the greatest advantages of the medium. Let’s look at some of the ways different services handle sorting.


Several services offer tags as a way of sorting and organizing. Gmail[1] and Apple Mail are the most common[2]. Tags have several advantages over folders. First, they are not discrete. A message can carry multiple tags(sometimes called labels) at the same time, allowing you to find a specific message with various search terms.

For example, I could add a “2013” tag to every message I sent or received that year, but also add specific tags like “Receipt” or “Personal” to each message. Not only can I search for messages by a specific tag, I can cross-reference them and find all my receipts from 2013.

My problem with tags is the gigabytes of email that I received before tags were invented. I find the “search” functions in my email clients far more useful. If your business’ record-keeping is mission-critical[3] you may consider tagging your incoming email[4].


I love folders. I’m not ashamed of it. I’ll proclaim it loud from the rooftops. Tags are cool. They’re new and shiny and Apple wants us to use them. But I find the rigid hierarchy of folders comforting.

I think it’s easier to sort into folders. I rarely need to attach a single email to multiple categories, and if I do I can accomplish it through nesting the folders[5].

I like the feeling of knowing “where” something is[6]. All my podcasts are archived into folders. My photos live in folders. Nothing on my computer is tagged.

Even if it’s a giant “Archive” folder[7] that I frequently search, I like to know it’s all there somewhere. Tags just don’t fit the way I work.

What Should You Do?

Different things work for different people. If tags sound interesting to you, give them a try. Add some tags to your email app and let the app auto-apply those to some of your incoming messages.

If the thought of multiple tags stresses you out, sort your email into folders. Put together some rules to auto-sort your incoming messages so you can find what you need quickly.

  1. Gmail calls them “Labels”.  ↩

  2. Both services offer folders as a way of sorting as well. More on that in a moment.  ↩

  3. If you’re a doctor, lawyer, or accountant for example.  ↩

  4. Find an intern to tag your archived email.  ↩

  5. You can get away with this if one category is a subset of another: “Bananas” can’t go in the “Beef” folder, for example  ↩

  6. Look, I know it’s just bits on a magnetic platter. It’s just a metaphor, OK?  ↩

  7. Where most of my email lives  ↩