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September is here, and Apple is in a release frenzy! Last week’s “Let’s Rock” event brought forth new iPod nano and iPod touch models (plus a single configuration of the iPod classic) as well as iTunes 8, which adds a new Genius music-recommendation feature. Genius works on the new iPods and also the iPhone following Friday’s update to iPhone 2.1 software. Speaking of iTunes 8, Adam discovers that each podcast to which you subscribe can finally have its own settings. No Apple event is complete without numbers, so Adam runs down the figures provided by Steve Jobs to note some interesting growth on Apple’s books. In other news, Joe Kissell updates his monster list of Mac backup software, Apple’s executives may finally be done with the backdating scandal thanks to a recent settlement, and we cover the changes in today’s release of Mac OS X 10.5.5. In this week’s TidBITS Watchlist, we note the releases of NetworkLocation 3.0, Spring Cleaning 10, Front Row 2.1.6, and HP Printer Driver 1.1.1.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Mac OS X 10.5.5 Update Focuses on Bug Fixes

Apple today released Mac OS X 10.5.5, rolling in a large number of bug fixes. As far as we can tell, there are no new features, but thanks to Apple’s moderately detailed release notes (thanks, Apple!), users can get a sense of whether or not 10.5.5 is likely to resolve particular problems.

For instance, Apple claims the update addresses MacBook Air stability issues with video playback, processor core idling (the heat-related issue wherein a MacBook Air would shut down one of its two processor cores), and remote disc sharing. It’s unclear how this is similar to or different from the fixes in MacBook Air Update, which also claims to resolve a processor core idling problem.

Other general bug fixes solve a problem that could cause a Mac to turn on unexpectedly at the same time every day, a stability issue with using the color palette in TextEdit, problems syncing contacts properly to Palm OS-based devices, improved reliability when rebuilding a software mirror RAID volume in Disk Utility, and Kerberos authentication issues for Mac OS X 10.5 clients connecting to certain Samba servers (including Mac OS X Server 10.4’s Samba server – oops!).

General improvements include better Spotlight indexing performance, an improved Speech Dictionary, and extensive graphics enhancements.

Time Machine — It’s hard to avoid comparisons between Apple’s Time Machine and Dr. Who’s sometimes-recalcitrant TARDIS, given how Time Machine works well for most people most of the time, but occasionally refuses to back up, gets stuck in the middle of backups, or confuses users with odd error messages. And like the good doctor, Apple is continually working on Time Machine, now improving reliability with Time Capsule, addressing performance issues with initial and in-progress backups, and addressing a spurious message that claimed a backup volume lacked sufficient space.

Most interesting is the note that “Time Machine can now back up iPhone backups that are on your Mac, as well as other items in (~/Library/Application Support).” Does that mean that Time Machine hasn’t been backing up iPhone backups or other items in the Application Support folder? That’s not reassuring.

Improved Mail Handling — A number of the fixes in Mac OS X 10.5.5 revolve around Mail, specifically in relation to robustness. Apple addressed stability issues that could result in crashes or other problems when dragging items to Mail’s icon in the Dock, saving drafts that have attachments (a particularly annoying one, since it’s good form to attach documents early in the writing of a message to avoid forgetting the attachment), and in sending messages.

The update also improves Mail’s performance when displaying IMAP messages and fixes problems related to SMTP settings for popular mail hosts CompuServe, Yahoo, Time Warner Road Runner, and Hanmail. Lastly, the new version of Mail resolves the temporary disappearance of RSS feeds from the sidebar and makes sure dates appear in collapsed threads when using the Organized by Thread view.

MobileMe and iCal — Apple’s release notes don’t go into much detail on this front, but the words “Improves overall sync reliability” are sure to sound welcome to the small minority of MobileMe subscribers who continue to see syncing problems with the online service.

The updates to iCal include fixes for handling repeating events and working with meeting attendees. Also listed is resolution of an unspecified “issue with syncing published calendars.”

Back to My Mac apparently has also been gifted with “improve[d] reliability,” but in what way, Apple isn’t saying.

Patching DNS — Security Update 2008-006, installed as part of 10.5.5 and available separately for Mac OS X 10.4.11, includes dozens of obscure items that only system administrators can love, as well as several important fixes related to DNS.

As we have written extensively, a flaw in most systems that handle DNS lookups – the conversion of a human-readable domain name into a machine-usable number – could allow criminals and ne’er-do-wells to redirect Web browsing and other traffic to servers operated for malicious purposes. (A legitimate request for could be returned with a forged IP address for a site run by bad guys.) See our series “DNS Flaws Could Have Led to Disaster,” for full details.

In this security update, Apple cleans up three additional items related to the DNS flaw. BIND, the daemon software that handles DNS lookups, was updated to version 9.3.5-P2 for Tiger systems and 9.4.2-P2 for Leopard systems. The first patch (P1) of both releases was known to have performance issues under heavy load, a situation in which ostensibly only a few Apple server systems might find themselves.

More significantly, Apple updated libresolv, an underlying system library that provides DNS resolution – the aforementioned lookup of name to number – which is used by applications. This doesn’t affect most Mac OS X operations, but programs that have specialized needs for DNS lookups required this update. It’s unclear what lower-level and graphical software would be affected by this update.

Finally, mDNSResponder was also patched in this release, following a similar fix in the iPhone 2.1 and iPod touch 2.1 software. mDNS is the protocol which Bonjour uses to pass information over a local network, and, as such, is subject to the same kind of weaknesses that plagued regular DNS.

Clarity in File Sharing — Another item of interest is a change to how the Sharing preference pane will now display what’s accessible in the File Sharing service. Previously, the File Sharing service listed only folders and volumes that you had manually set to be shared, along with the Public folder in your Home folder. (This drove Glenn crazy while working on revisions to “Take Control of Sharing Files in Leopard,” because the list’s contents were inconsistent with what was actually available.)

The File Sharing service now shows in the Shared Folders list all folders that are shared, including Public folders in other local users’ home directories. Apple added a note – a little subtle if you ask us – that explains that all local volumes (the boot drive and all mounted drives) can also be shared by anyone with administrative access.

Tiger Flashes Its PPP — A particularly silly error in Tiger was fixed in this update: passwords used for PPP connections, typically used for dial-up modem connections, were apparently stored “unencrypted in a world readable file.” Given the credit lists three seemingly unrelated people, this flaw may have been known for some time.

Minor Mac OS X Server Updates — Apple also shipped a separate Mac OS X Server 10.5.5 update that incorporates what appear to be a few dozen fixes to relatively minor bugs in file services, collaboration services, directory services, the Active Directory plug-in, and various utilities. In addition, the WebObjects 5.4.3 Update is included to address several bugs. It’s also available as a standalone 158.5 MB download.

Getting the Updates — Mac OS X 10.5.5 is available via Software Update, or as the following standalone downloads: a delta updater (316 MB) for updating from the client version of Mac OS X 10.5.4, and a combo installer (601 MB) for updating from any client version of Mac OS X 10.5.0 through 10.5.4. Mac OS X Server 10.5.5 also comes in a version for updating from version 10.5.4 (341 MB) and in a combo
(729 MB).

Security Update 2008-006 is available in four versions of Tiger: for the PowerPC version of Mac OS X 10.4.11 (67.7 MB), for the Intel version of Mac OS X 10.4.11 (157 MB), for the PowerPC version of Mac OS X Server 10.4.11 (118 MB), and as a universal version for Mac OS X Server 10.4.11 (118 MB). Honestly, it’s easiest to let Software Update do its thing.

Jeff Carlson No comments

iPhone 2.1 Provides Highly Anticipated Bug Fixes

Unlike me, some sensible people tend to wait for a .1 (or “dot-one”) release of any software before committing to it, the idea being that major bugs that invariably ship with the first .0 version are worked out in the update. Looking at Apple’s release notes for the iPhone 2.1 software released last week, it appears the sensible people can finally move on up.

The update is available for all iPhone owners, including those still running iPhone 1.0 software, and addresses a number of high-profile bugs and annoyances. (Apple has even listed them online and in the release notes.)

Unlike the iPhone 2.0.1 and 2.0.2 releases that provided merely “bug fixes,” iPhone 2.1 addresses annoyances I and others encounter on a day-to-day basis. For example, the SMS and Phone/Contacts applications no longer dawdle when locating contacts. The time to back up the iPhone during sync is “dramatically reduced;” although I found backing up to be sluggish at times, I know people who would wait up to two hours for the backup to finish. If you have many third party applications installed, Apple claims it has fixed bugs that caused hangs and crashes. Apple also claims a “decrease in call set-up failures and call drops,” which I hope also translates into better 3G performance in general – initial reports indicate that this is
the case. This release also adds the Genius feature found in iTunes 8 and the iPods announced this week (see “Apple Reveals New iPod nano and Update iPod touch and iTunes 8 Adds Genius; iTunes Store Adds HDTV and NBC, 2008-09-09).

And now, finally, when you install new applications, the iPhone retains the placement of your application icons instead of jumbling them up. I’m already more calm.

iPhone 2.1 rolls in a handful of security fixes as well, including a resolution for the workaround that bypassed the Passcode Lock feature. Other changes include a way to prevent TCP spoofing by randomizing TCP initial sequence numbers, better application sandbox behavior, fixes to CoreGraphics, a fix to prevent DNS cache poisoning, and better CSS handling in WebKit.

iPhone 2.1 is available via iTunes as a 231 MB download; after connecting your iPhone, click the Update button on the iPhone Summary screen.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Apple Executives’ Settlement May End Backdating Saga

Reuters reports that Apple executives have agreed to settle charges brought against them by a variety of shareholders in various lawsuits relating to the company issuing backdated options. These options had their prices set on a date prior to the one on which they were issued, which typically provides a built-in financial advantage – the options have a price below the market price on their actual issue date – and, while not illegal per se, must be disclosed and properly accounted for. (For the full account of how Apple got itself into all this trouble and has apparently sorted it out, see our series, “Apple’s
Troubles with Backdated Stock Options

A number of current and former Apple executives were named in the lawsuits, including Steve Jobs, former chief financial officer Fred Anderson, and former general counsel Nancy Heinen. Anderson and Heinen were singled out in an internal investigation Apple conducted into its own behavior – although they weren’t fingered by name – and both Anderson and Heinen settled separate actions with the SEC in which they neither admitted nor denied culpability. The company was never specifically charged with any civil or criminal actions.

Reuters says all the targets of these various lawsuits have agreed to a settlement, to which a judge has given preliminary approval, in which $14 million will be paid to Apple, which in turn will pay $9 million to plaintiffs to cover legal expenses. The settlement will be paid by Apple’s insurance provider.

The suits were filed on behalf of Apple by shareholders, and they aren’t sharing in the proceeds – which means Apple gets a $5 million rebate of sorts against their insurance premiums, and executives pay nothing. Plaintiffs can’t legally get a kickback on legal fees in these sorts of cases; the Justice Department successfully prosecuted several attorneys over the last few years involved in such schemes.

Joe Kissell No comments

Monster List of Mac Backup Software Updated

I’ve just finished a significant update of my online appendix to “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups” that lists just about every graphical Mac backup program in existence. Although I had tweaked the tables here and there over the past few months, I had also been maintaining a separate list of new and updated backup programs that required more testing before I could properly list them. When that list grew to more than 20 items, I realized I’d better take action before it collapsed under its own weight.

In addition to updated details on numerous backup programs, the list now includes several entirely new entries, including ElephantDesktop, IBackup for Mac, IDrive Online Backup, and Mathusalem. In addition, I’ve promoted SugarSync to the “real backup software” portion of the tables now that it includes versioning (as discussed in “SugarSync Sweetens Online Syncing,” 2008-08-30).

I’m also aware of a couple of programs in beta testing, and as soon as I get my hands on shipping versions, I’ll include those as well. Meanwhile, as I was typing this post, I saw yet another update appear for one of the backup programs in my table (and yes, I’ve already updated it). Jeesh!

TidBITS Staff No comments

iTunes 8 Adds Genius; iTunes Store Adds HD TV and NBC

Do you have a friend who always seems plugged in to the latest music? With last week’s release of iTunes 8, Apple wants to be that hip friend, in the form of the new Genius feature.

The iTunes Genius automatically builds a playlist of songs in your library, matching artists and genres according to Apple-developed algorithms that, in theory, result in a collection of songs that sound good together.

When you install and launch iTunes 8 for the first time, the program asks whether you want to enable the Genius feature in a right-hand sidebar. If you agree, you next log into your (required) iTunes account, and Apple gathers information about your iTunes library, sends it to their servers, and then produces results. The process isn’t necessarily quick, depending on the size of your iTunes library. According to Apple, information about your library, including track names, play counts, ratings, and playlists – but no personal data – is sent to the company’s servers and analyzed each week.

Two Genius features become available after this initial process. Select a song in your library and click the new Genius button in the lower-right corner of the window. A Genius playlist is created and appears in the iTunes left-hand sidebar. (The Genius button replaces the Browse button from iTunes 7.) The Genius ties into the iTunes Store using that right-hand sidebar, suggesting other songs and artists you would like based on what’s in your library.

As with the old MiniStore (which is now gone), the Genius sidebar is not automatically enabled by default.

Grid View — An interesting evolution in iTunes is Apple’s work toward making your media library less listy and more visually interactive. The Cover Flow mode replicates the old jukebox approach of flipping panels of albums, but despite its 3D appeal, Cover Flow displays only a handful of items at a time.

So Apple has added Grid View, which displays rows and columns of album art in a grid. (Grid View replaces the list-with-artwork view.) The album covers can be resized; like iPhoto’s event icons, rolling your mouse pointer over an icon in artist, genre, or composer view displays the albums without clicking the icon. Buttons along the top let you display by album, artist, genre, or composer. Double-clicking an icon brings up the old list-with-artwork view.

In a little stylistic touch, the icons sorted by album are square (like an album cover), while the icons for the other view options have rounded corners.

It’s nice to see Apple keeping a focus on album artwork, since the digital era has made album covers almost obsolete.

HD TV Shows and the Return of the Peacock — The update of iTunes also comes with the addition of high-definition television shows through the iTunes Store; previously, only standard-definition TV episodes were available. Apple doesn’t specify the format of its new HD programs (720p, 1080i, etc.) or the bit rate at which shows will be compressed, but just about any high-definition content will look worlds better than the low-resolution TV shows we’ve been buying until now – and those didn’t even look that bad.

HD television programs from the iTunes Store may be purchased and viewed in iTunes. In fact, currently iTunes is the only source for purchasing HD TV shows, as the high-definition versions don’t show up on the Apple TV; we expect that a software update for the Apple TV will be released soon. HD movies, alas, can still be purchased and viewed only using an Apple TV; HD podcasts continue to be available in iTunes and the Apple TV. Watching high-def TV shows requires a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or faster processor (under Mac OS X or Windows), according to the iTunes 8 release notes.

HD programs are initially available from NBC Universal’s networks (such as NBC, USA Network, and Sci-Fi Channel), ABC, and Showtime, for a $1 premium over the $1.99 price for the standard-definition version of each show. (As a bonus, viewers purchasing HD programs also get an iPod-ready version with a smaller file size and resolution suitable for portable devices.)

Yes, we said “NBC Universal.” Last week’s event marked the return of NBCU content to the iTunes Store after its abrupt departure almost exactly a year ago, when, according to Apple, the company declined NBCU’s demand for a much-higher payment per episode sold. (In Macworld’s liveblogging of the event, Associate Editor Dan Moren joked about John Mayer showing up in every Genius playlist; perhaps extra exposure for Mayer, who is a Universal recording artist, was the quid pro quo that got NBCU back to the table.)

Apple says that NBC, back just in time for the fall television season, will be offering a free episode from each of their “top series,” including advance previews of premiere episodes of upcoming shows such as “Knight Rider” and “My Own Worst Enemy,” a week before the broadcast date. Several vintage shows, like “Miami Vice” and the original “Battlestar Galactica,” will also be available for 99 cents an episode.

Other Changes — iTunes 8 adds support for managing the iTunes library using the VoiceOver component of Leopard’s Universal Access preference pane; under Windows XP and Windows Vista, iTunes takes advantage of the Window-Eyes feature. You can also purchase and download media from the iTunes Store using a screen reader.

A new visualizer makes its appearance in iTunes 8, listed simply as iTunes Visualizer from the Visualizer submenu of the View menu. The effect resembles electricity arcing around spheres of dark matter in space. The old visualizer is still available as iTunes Classic Visualizer from the same menu.

iTunes 8 requires the simultaneously released QuickTime 7.5.5, available via Software Update as a 67.5 MB download, to handle the new video options. Also released was Front Row Update 2.1.6 (a 13.1 MB download), which provides iTunes 8 compatibility. Both iTunes 8 and QuickTime 7.5.5 feature security fixes, as well.

iTunes 8 is a 55.9 MB download from Apple’s Web site or via Software Update.

Adam Engst No comments

iTunes 8 Gains Per-Podcast Settings

Three years after adding podcast support to iTunes (with iTunes 4.9 in mid-2005), Apple has finally given us the ability to control podcast download and retention settings on a per-podcast basis. Until now, you could set what iTunes would do when new episodes of a podcast became available and how many episodes to keep, but those settings applied to all podcasts equally. That one-size-fits-all approach made little sense, and in his introductory article about iTunes 4.9’s podcast handling, “Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac” author Andy Affleck noted that he wanted different settings for highly perishable news podcasts than for a radio show that his son liked (see “Apple Releases iTunes 4.9
with Podcasting Support
,” 2005-08-04).

With iTunes 8, podcast settings have moved from a screen in the iTunes preferences window to a standalone dialog that you access by clicking the Settings button at the bottom of your list of subscribed podcasts (click Podcasts in iTunes’s sidebar to view them). The Podcast Settings dialog looks almost exactly like the previous settings interface, with the addition of a pop-up menu from which you can choose any of your subscribed podcasts.

At the top of the dialog is a Check For New Episodes pop-up menu, which remains a global setting that applies to all podcasts. From it, you can choose Every Hour, Every Day, Every Week, or Manually. Although an argument could be made for making this setting podcast-specific too, I think Apple’s decision to reduce complexity by applying this setting across all podcasts is correct.

Next comes the Settings For pop-up menu, from which you can pick any podcast to which you’re subscribed, or, from the top, Podcast Defaults, which is where you set your default options. Then, for each individual podcast, you can deselect the Use Default Settings checkbox and change the options as you wish.

Those options are two-fold. First, when new episodes become available, set whether you want iTunes to Download All, Download the Most Recent One, or Do Nothing. This last option is great for a podcast to which you want to stay subscribed, but for which you want to snag only the occasional episode by hand.

Second, set how many episodes you want iTunes to keep: All Episodes; All Unplayed Episodes; Most Recent Episode; or Last 2, 3, 4, 5, or 10 Episodes. This is the key setting, since with it you can finally convince iTunes to hang on to the number of episodes that makes sense for how often you listen to a particular podcast, how interested you are in that podcast, and (roughly) how much disk space you wish to allot to podcasts.

Don’t discount the disk space issue. I tend to go through phases of listening to podcasts depending on how much yard work I’m doing or time I’m spending in the car, and they can really build up on me. In fact, now that I check, it seems that my Podcasts directory is over 10 GB! I’ll leave you to fiddle with your own iTunes settings now – I need to do some cleanup.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Apple Reveals New iPod nano and Updated iPod touch

As leaves prepare to take color and drop from trees in the Northern hemisphere, so, too, does Apple release its flight of new iPods. This year’s revisions settle on one capacity for iPod classic storage, reformulate the iPod nano, and bring new hardware features to the iPod touch. Pricing remains high, in our opinion, showing Apple’s confidence in maintaining its large product pricing margins.

Slimming the Classic Line — Formerly available in 80 GB and 160 GB varieties (the latter of which was packaged in a thicker case), the iPod classic now sports a 120 GB drive and gleams either in silver or black; it’s $249. The new iPod classic supports Genius playlists, but is otherwise unchanged from the earlier version.

This may indicate that the iPod classic, and perhaps the hard drive-based iPod in general, is on the way out. 1.8-inch hard drives may be small, but they’re less durable and bulkier than flash RAM, and as RAM capacities increase and prices drop, Apple may be looking to move the entire iPod line to RAM-based storage. The problem there lies in the capacity differences; no RAM-based iPod offers more than 32 GB of storage, whereas the iPod classic goes up to 120 GB. No reason was given for dropping the 160 GB iPod classic; perhaps it simply wasn’t selling well enough.

(The iPod shuffle, unmentioned at the product launch, remains available in two capacities: 1 GB for $49, and 2 GB for $69. You can choose among silver, blue, green, pink, and awareness-raising (PRODUCT) RED.)

A Snazzier Nano — The iPod nano, as widely rumored, has returned to a long, skinny form factor to make room for a 2-inch, 320-by-240-pixel screen with LED backlighting. The new glass-and-aluminum case is curvier and thinner than the older designs.

Surprisingly, the iPod nano now includes an accelerometer (much like the iPhone and iPod touch), enabling it to switch from portrait to landscape and back as you change the iPod nano’s orientation. You can also shake the iPod nano to shuffle the song selection, a clever feature that drew cheers during Steve Jobs’s presentation. Like the other new iPods, the nano can create Genius playlists. Battery life is improved, with Apple claiming 24 hours of music playback and 4 hours of video playback.

The new iPod nano supports voice recording via a new set of headphones with a built-in microphone (as well as buttons for play/pause, track skip, and volume control), which is scheduled to ship in October 2008 for $29. Also coming in October are an armband for the nano ($29) and redesigned in-ear headphones with dual drivers (a woofer and a tweeter) for $79.

Apple offers the revised iPod nano in two capacities (8 GB for $149, or 16 GB for $199), and in your choice of nine colors – an entire spectrum including silver, black, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, (PRODUCT) RED, and pink. The 8 GB models are available immediately, with the 16 GB models expected to ship within days.

Overall, the new iPod nano seems like a winner. Most people seem happy about the return to the longer, thinner form factor, and the addition of the accelerometer is truly neat. We expect it to sell like the proverbial hot cakes this holiday season.

Touch of Class — The iPod touch received a significant overhaul as well. Now featuring a stainless steel back, the updated iPod touch is thinner than before, with curves that resemble those of the iPhone 3G. The iPod touch now has a built-in speaker (which, Jobs emphasized, is not intended to replace the headphones for music listening), external volume controls, and connects wirelessly to a $19 Nike+iPod sensor without needing the separate adapter that was formerly required. That’s a big win for people who use the iPod while running or walking for fitness; the Nike+iPod adapter messed with the clean lines of the iPod, especially when it came to shoehorning it into armbands or other cases.

The iPod touch is available in 8 GB, 16 GB and 32 GB capacities, priced at $229, $299 and $399, respectively. Those are significant price drops – $70 for the 8 GB model and $100 for the 16 GB and 32 GB models. All three models are now shipping.

In comparing the new iPod touch with the iPhone 3G, the big differences (apart from cellular capabilities, of course) are the iPod touch’s lack of a GPS chip and a camera, both of which would be awfully nice to have in an iPod touch. Apple is clearly trying to differentiate the iPhone and iPod touch on more than just the capability to make calls, but the now-subsidized iPhone prices confuse that comparison. An 8 GB iPhone 3G costs $199, or $30 less than an 8 GB iPod touch. The 16 GB iPhone 3G and iPod touch are priced identically at $299, and there is no 32 GB iPhone 3G to compare. Of course, you don’t have to factor a $75-per-month (or more) cellular service contract into the iPod touch price.

Another Shade of Green — Jobs made a point of saying that in addition to the new features, the new iPod nano and iPod touch have become more environmentally friendly by ditching PVC, mercury, and BFR, using arsenic-free glass, and being made with easily recyclable materials. That’s good, of course, but we would be remiss if we didn’t note that the most environmentally friendly thing you can do with an old iPod is make sure that it stays in use as long as possible even if, horrors, that means holding off on buying one of these hot new models until your old one bites the dust.

Adam Engst No comments

Running the Numbers with Steve Jobs

Benjamin Disraeli famously said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I certainly can’t quibble with the sentiment, but just about the only time we get any numbers out of Apple at all is when Steve Jobs shares them on stage at an Apple event. Of course, Steve shares only good numbers, and even then, only numbers that support what he’s about to announce. There’s no way to verify Apple’s numbers, so we have to take it on faith that as the head of a publicly traded company that appears to mint money he’s not just making this stuff up. Let’s look at what Steve shared at last week’s “Let’s Rock” event.

iTunes Store StatsAccording to the NPD Group, the iTunes Store in 2008 became the number one music retailer in the United States, taking over the top slot from Walmart, and followed by Best Buy, Amazon, and Target. Amazon jumped from fifth to fourth place thanks to Amazon MP3’s sales of unprotected music downloads – MP3s without DRM encryption – and due to a lower rate of erosion for online CD sales than music sold at brick-and-mortar stores. Regardless, the iTunes Store numbers are impressive:

  • 65 million accounts with credit cards in iTunes. That’s a huge number, but what’s more impressive in my mind is that as of February 2008, Apple had 50 million customers. Adding 15 million customers in seven months is astonishing. In comparison, Amazon, selling atoms since 1995 and bits over the last few years, has 81 million customer accounts used for payment.
  • 8.5 million songs. As of the last report, in June 2008, Apple was reporting “over eight million songs,” indicating that the company is still adding significant numbers of new tracks.
  • 125,000 podcast feeds. This sounds like a big number, but Apple was reporting over 100,000 different podcasts back in May 2007, which would seem to indicate that the number of new podcasts is increasing slowly. The fact of the matter is that creating a regular podcast is a fair amount of work, and the quantity of podcasts has never mattered as much as quality, as there’s little filter for getting a podcast listed at the iTunes Store.
  • 30,000 episodes of TV shows. That’s up 10,000 episodes from June, perhaps in part due to NBC rejoining the iTunes Store with its collection of shows. Amazon now has 1,200 TV seasons, which – with 20 to 30 episodes per season – could be a roughly comparable number of episodes.
  • 2,600 Hollywood movies. June’s number was “over 2,000,” which is a nice increase, but it still pales in comparison to Amazon, which claims 14,500 movies available for purchase or rental. Amazon includes all manner of items in its “movies” listing, so the unique film count is somewhat lower.

iPod Stats — Although the Mac still doesn’t have a particularly large market share (I’ve seen 11 percent bandied about recently), the numbers for the iPod are stunning, so much so that if I were Apple, I’d be taking pains to avoid activities that could be seen as monopolistic.

The iPod now has 73.4 percent of the music player market share, with the lumped-together category of “Other” hitting second place, sharing 15.4 percent of the market among a large number of companies. In third place with about 9 percent of market share is SanDisk, which has some well-reviewed music players, and in fourth place, with a minuscule 2.6 percent market share, is Microsoft’s Zune. (On 16-Sep-08, Microsoft will introduce revised Zune firmware and hardware, which includes FM tagging: listen to a song via a built-in FM receiver on certain radio stations, push a button, and instantly purchase the song if the Zune is on an active Wi-Fi network.)

Apple has sold 160 million iPods so far, and according to Edison Media Research, 37 percent of U.S. consumers as of April 2008 own a portable MP3 player; that carries the implication that 27 percent of U.S. consumers own an iPod. I don’t know how many “consumers” there are in the United States, but with that number it would be possible to split out U.S. versus international iPod sales.

What’s almost more impressive is the ecosystem support that Apple has encouraged around the iPod. According to Jobs, 90 percent of cars in the United States offer iPod integration. I assume he means new cars currently being sold, but even still, that level of support makes it much less likely that any other music player will be able to dethrone the iPod any time soon. (Plenty of inexpensive car stereos can be retrofitted into autos to add iPod support, too.)

Similarly, Apple claims over 5,000 iPod accessories are available, and since there aren’t that many categories of accessories (cases, speakers, headphones, FM transmitters, etc.), that says to me the accessory field is plenty big enough for numerous competitors.

App Store Stats — These numbers are harder to evaluate. According to Apple, there are now 3,000 applications available for the iPhone and iPod touch on the App Store, but there are still programmers who haven’t been able to get into the iPhone developer program, and I’m sure plenty of people are still working on their iPhone apps. I’m surprised that only 700 of those 3,000 apps are games, but Apple differentiates between “Games” and “Entertainment,” which seems like a slippery distinction. I’d be more interested to see how all the different App Store categories broke down.

The problem of abundance has clearly hit the App Store, too: with 3,000 programs and very simple broad categories and poor sorting abilities, most applications will wind up lost in the fray, while finding a particular program to solve your needs or interests remains hard.

Apple’s other big number related to the App Store is that 100 million apps have been downloaded so far. A followup discussion with Apple revealed that the number includes both free and paid applications, but does not include downloads of application updates. Nevertheless, that’s an awful lot of downloads – I wonder how many of those apps are actually used. I use only a fraction of the apps I’ve downloaded, almost all of them free.

Tune In At Macworld Expo — I doubt we’ll see any more numbers from Apple until the Macworld Expo keynote, so until then, ponder all those zeroes in front of the decimal point and if you remember the bad old days of being snubbed as part of the Macintosh minority, you can now enjoy being part of the iPod majority.

TidBITS Staff No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 15-Sep-08

  • NetworkLocation 3.0 from Centrix adds location awareness via Wi-Fi positioning to its configuration tool. The software already let you set profiles for settings – such as default printer, network configuration, mounted servers, and launched applications. The latest release lets you tie your location, as determined by Skyhook Wireless’s Wi-Fi Positioning System, to profiles. Skyhook is part of what powers the iPhone’s Location Services. NetworkLocation 3.0 also includes new plug-ins, a revamped action interface, and control over Spaces. The latest release requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. ($29 new, $19 upgrade, 3.1 MB)
  • Spring Cleaning 10 from Smith Micro is the latest version of the long-standing cleanup utility for the Mac, which is designed to help users reduce unnecessary file clutter, eliminate duplicates, and perform system maintenance. New in version 10 is the capability to sort and organize files in a wide variety of ways, find movies in 17 different formats, find and organize podcasts, send photos to Flickr and Picasa, create scripts in AppleScript and other languages, and more. ($49.99 new, $19.99 upgrade)
  • Front Row 2.1.6 from Apple updates the media interface with iTunes 8 compatibility and unspecified bug fixes. It requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, QuickTime 7.5.5 or later, and iTunes 6.0.4 and iPhoto 6.0.2 or later. (Free, 12.5 MB)
  • HP Printer Driver 1.1.1 seems to be a bug fix for Apple’s previous release of the HP Printer Driver Update, addressing a problem wherein printing to an HP LaserJet may not work if you select a printer preset other than Standard from the Presets pop-up menu. It may also include drivers for new printers, or updated drivers for other HP printers, but all Apple will give us is a list of supported HP printers. (Free, 405 MB)

Jeff Carlson No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/15-Sep-08

Cleaning a Mighty Mouse? Remember the days of cleaning mouse trackballs? Good thing those days are over – unless you own an Apple Mighty Mouse, which has a little scrolling trackball. What’s the best way to clean it? (13 messages)

Question: launching Top Hit in Spotlight — Leopard changed the behavior of selecting and launching the first Spotlight search result. (4 messages)

Unlocking iPhone 3G to avoid AT&T — A reader wonders if it’s possible to use an iPhone 3G on Verizon’s network. (No, it’s not.) (5 messages)

Suggestions about setting up RAID under Leopard on 10.5? A software RAID setup that worked under Tiger isn’t functioning under Leopard for some reason. (3 messages)

New iPods: Is iPod Classic Going Away? Apple now offers just one configuration for the hard drive based iPod classic. Does this mean the model will be dropped in the near future? (37 messages)

Is the Price of an iPod Touch Too High? A Web site compares the cost of the iPod touch with various PDAs. (4 messages)

MobileMe annoyances — Readers aren’t happy about being Apple’s beta testers for the paid MobileMe service. (2 messages)

ThinkTank – More – and now? The hunt is on for outlining software that replicates (or at least imports data from) these older applications. (5 messages)

iPhone 2.1 Provides Highly Anticipated Bug Fixes — Readers discuss changes in the latest iPhone and iPod touch update. (10 messages)

“LoJack” for Cell Phones — Software that helps locate a stolen cell phone could be useful for the iPhone. (3 messages)

iTunes 8 breaks AirTunes — One reader finds that the iTunes 8 update no longer plays wirelessly to an AirPort Express, but others aren’t seeing the problem. (4 messages)

Monster List of Mac Backup Software Updated — Joe Kissell discusses the fact that his list of backup applications includes only software with a graphical interface. (2 messages)