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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

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There’s a number of interesting things that journalists can take away from last week’s Apple keynote. I’ll return to things like the changes to Apple News and the possibilities opened up by Messages as a developer platform later in the week. But right now, I’m most interested by this – probably the biggest public interview any Apple staff did around the event:

An hour-long public interview conducted with Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing and Craig Federighi, senior vice president, software engineering. And who was the interview with? A blogger.

Well, OK, not just any blogger. John Gruber’s Daring Fireball has become probably the most influential site for Apple users in the decade since he quit his day job to write the blog full-time.

Last year, he pulled off a major coup by getting Schiller along to talk on the live version of his podcast – The Talk Show – at WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference. In the year since, he’s had Federighi and Eddie Cue call into the show to talk about Swift, Apple’s new programming language.

The rise of the new enthusiast press

The Mac-specific press has been in decline for years. MacWorld magazine closed its print doors a little under two year ago, even though a rump of it survives online. And new, magazine-like publications have risen to replace them online. iMore does much the same “how-to” copy you had to turn to the print editions for 15 years ago.

But throughout that time, Gruber has been establishing himself as a leading commenter on Apple, through a combination of links, analysis, commentary and occasional reviews. His site is truly of the web – it bears no similarity to anything we’d regard as a magazine. And yet, he’s landing interviews with big Apple figures.

For Apple, it’s a mixed blessing. They have a conduit to the most passionate, enthusiastic fan community via Gruber. And they have a knowledgeable questioner who is inclined to be pro-Apple. But that same immersion in Apple and its technical infrastructure means that they’ll be challenged on a depth of technical detail a lay journalist wouldn’t have the interest or knowledge to pursue. It’s interesting watching the video rather than listening to the podcast of the event, simply because you can see much more clearly that Federighi is on edge.

Beyond the softball question

Many journalists would look at the interview and dismiss it as “softball”. Certainly Gruber doesn’t challenge them on the high-level issues that the mainstream press are obsessed with. But he does extract quite a lot of interesting detail that wouldn’t have emerged otherwise.Certainly, I learned more about how we’re likely to see the various OSes evolve in the coming years from this interview than any other coverage I saw.

It is, quite simply, an interview for enthusiasts, and it’s very interesting to see Apple increasingly opening itself up to that. Others have trod this path before. Blizzard – makers of games like World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Overwatch – have had senior executives appearing on podcasts and getting into very detailed discussions on decisions that weren’t popular with the fans.

Charles Arthur suggested that Gruber might eventually aim for the top – Cook himself:

I guess they can pick from Schiller, Federighi and Eddy Cue for a few years before it has to aim for the top with Cook. After whom, what?

And I’m sure Gruber would love the opportunity to interview Cook (and Jony Ive, but it’s interesting how he’s sliding from view) – but I wonder if the WWDC event would be the right place for that. By landing Federighi, the man in charge of all Apple’s software efforts, including the operating systems, they had almost the perfect guest for the people in the room – largely developers. WWDC is, after all, a developer conference.

However, all these are details. What this event marks is the rise of a new form of specialist press (if you’ll excuse the print-centric term), one running on low overheads – Gruber is essentially a one-man band, although he does have an editor on the podcast, and had event support and videographers for the live *Talk SHow – and created by a single, insightful commentator building a useful site for people with a deep interest in a niche subject.

It’s inescapably a form of journalism, one that rests on the nexus of what we used to call the consumer press and B2B. It just looks nothing like the journalism we’re used to. One consistent lesson of the web: your competitors probably look nothing at all like you.

Surprisingly fewer and fewer designers, regardless of their particular design discipline, seem to be interested in the detail of how something is actually made. With a father who is a fabulous craftsman, I was raised with the fundamental belief that it is only when you personally work with a material with your hands, that you come to understand its true nature, its characteristics, its attributes, and I think – very importantly – its potential.

Jony Ive

Well, if you’re having problems choosing a gift for your iPhone-using digital journalist, Apple have just solved the problem for you:

Apple iPhone6S with smart battery case

The battery case, which charges with the phone, claims to over double double the talk and data life of the device – which mobile journalists who work in the field regularly will recognise as a huge boon:

Charge your iPhone and battery case simultaneously for increased talk time up to 25 hours, Internet use up to 18 hours on LTE, and even longer audio and video playback.* With the Smart Battery Case on, the intelligent battery status is displayed on the iPhone Lock screen and in Notification Centre, so you know exactly how much charge you have left.

Of course, it would be nice if the phone itself latest longer, but this isn’t a bad solution for £79. It’s certainly more practical than the external battery bank I’ve been using up until now.

(Yes, I’ve ordered one.)

Summer is ending. Temperatures are dropping. And, as is traditional, the arrival of Autumn is heralded by the announcement of a new Apple event. It’s almost certain to be iPhone-centric, but just to tease us a little, it reads:

Hey Siri, give us a hint.

For those not familiar with the usage, “Hey Siri” is how you trigger Apple’s intelligent assistant when your phone is plugged in – for example, when driving the car or cooking in the kitchen. So all that implies that there’s something coming where voice-control is important. New Apple TV?

Maybe Siri knows:

Siri hint

Does she have more to say?

Siri hint 2

Well, no I wasn’t. That was my brother. So I’ll wait, patiently, until the 9th.

And then I order my phone upgrade…

From Jason Snall’s transcript of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s remarks in the earnings call last night:

We’ve already signed 25 leading publishers representing more than 75 of the world’s most influential news, sports, business, and magazine titles, including CNN, the New York Times, the Financial Times, ESPN, Bloomberg Business, Conde Nast, Hearst, Reuters, Time Inc., and the Daily Telegraph.

It’ll be interesting to learn what “signed” means in this context, as anyone with a site and an RSS feed can apply for membership. I’m “in” Apple News, for example.

  • Have they got early access to Apple News Format?
  • Have they got revenue deals?
  • Have they got promotional deals?

Bears watching…

Apple Music arrived last night, and with it Beats 1 – a new, global music channel. And I’m not just quite hopeful that it’ll be god; I’ve been actively listening to it and enjoying it.

Like many people in their early 40s, I’ve begun to drift away from music. I still listen to it – all the time, in fact – but my range of music is barely expanding. The few albums I’ve bought over the last few years have either been classics I didn’t already own, or new albums from old, familiar voices. My music development has stalled.

It’s easy to see why – I’m time-poor, and the form of my life doesn’t tend to put me in situations where I’m encountering or discussing new music. And so, I stick with what I know.

This is rather painfully pointed up by the “For You” section of new version of iTunes, which takes my often eclectic taste and makes it depressingly familiar:

Apple music -  For You

The journey to discovery

This is one reason I’ve never signed up for Spotify long-term. I have all the music I like already, and can stream it to my devices. My listening’s sorted – and I’ve never found a good way of using Spotify to discover new music. It’s great at facilitating access to the things I know I want, but hopeless at allowing me to discover the unexpected.

And that’s the problem Apple claims to be solving.

David Hepworth, writing in The Guardian, makes the argument that there isn’t a problem which Beats 1 actively solves, largely based on Apple executive quotes that suggest they’re trying to address fragmentation.

This fragmentation is only a problem for the music business. Music fans don’t have any problem that they need Apple to solve. The music industry on the other hand needs a mass audience to hype.

That’s very much a view from within music, though. There are plenty of us – people who enjoy music, but whose life has drifted away from active discovery of new music – that probably don’t count as “music fans” in his use of that term. That doesn’t put us in the same category as the people he disparages as “like John and Kayleigh from Peter Kay’s Car Share” – people happy to just sing along to golden oldies – though. We are happy to encounter the unfamiliar; we just have fewer opportunities to do so.

The fragmentation of music – the ever-deepening niches that you might find hard to dig your way into – has made music discovery much less simple for the time poor. And that describes most of us in the early stages of middle age.

I’ve found some approaches that work for me – buying SoundSupply drops, or judicious use of Shazam while out and about – but they’re not enough to truly broaden my range of experiences with music.

Apple Music: curation from two angles

Apple Music offers us two approaches to resolving that. Beats 1 is a surprisingly eclectic listen. In one half hour stretch I heard tracks from the last few weeks, the last few months, from the early 2000s and the 1960s. The DJs I’ve heard so far are skilled at putting new music in the context of old music – and that’s great for those of us who cherish our inner “28-year-old, madly over-compensating in the shadow of approaching middle age”, in Hepworth’s words (again). I have no intention of going gracefully into that middle-aged musical night – and I feel no shame in that, either.

What I’m enjoying more – possibly because it opens me to new music without being quite so full-on – are the heavily curated channels you can pull up. In particular, the activity-based lists have been a great way to find music to, say, write to, while throwing some unexpected musical choices my way.

Music for activities

I really like the fact that there are human beings – expert human beings – underlying this work. Algorithms are fantastic things, and are great for all sorts of situations. I actually appreciate the fact that Facebook tends to make good choices about what to show me, for example. But they are pretty terrible at both contextualising – giving me the story and connections between apparently unrelated tracks – and throwing up the unexpected. The nature of algorithms (at least the ones we have now) is to show us more of what we want – and that tends to narrow our sphere of encounters, not broaden it. That’s most worrying when it comes to political issues, as Eli Pariser explores in his fascinating book The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You, but it can lead to a shallowing of cultural experience, too.

In many ways, it would be hypocritical of me not to appreciate human curation of music. I’ve always tried to expose my readers to new and unexpected ideas through this blog – just not the mainstream of thought in whatever area I’m currently most interested. It’s a skill I understand, work to improve – and respect in others. There are algorithmic systems that attempt to do some of that lifting – Fraggl, which my friend Neil Perkin is involved with – is one example of that. But this isn’t an either/or situation. Humans complementing algorithms, algorithms complementing humans gives us a richer experience.

The test will be in three month’s time, when the free period expires. Will I be finding enough value in this to carry on paying? That will depend on how much I feel my musical circle expanding again.